§ Motion made, and Question proposed,That this House do now adjourn.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]9.33 am
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Ms Sally Keeble)
The Government are determined to overcome the years of neglect that have left too many children growing up in poverty and too many neighbourhoods living without hope and without a future.
The legacy of 18 years of Conservative administration was shocking. Between 1979 and 1994–95, incomes rose by 68 per cent. for the richest 10 per cent. of the population, while the poorest 10 per cent. saw their incomes fall. In 1979, 10 per cent. of children lived in households with below half the average income. By 1994–95, that figure had risen to nearly a third. The legacy was a widening gap between rich and poor people and a widening gap between rich and poor communities.
So often, people in poverty means communities in poverty and neighbourhoods in poverty. For too many people, their personal poverty mirrors the problems of the community around them. Burglary rates are highest in the areas where people earn the least. Waiting lists are longer in places where people are the least healthy. Public transport is worse in places where fewer people can afford a car. Those living in the most deprived areas are more likely to die younger. For example, there is a 10-year difference in male life expectancy between Glasgow city and Chiltern district.
Children living in our most deprived areas suffer poverty three times higher than those of parents throughout the rest of the country. People living in our most deprived areas are far more likely to be members of black and minority ethnic groups. We know that 70 per cent. of people from all ethnic minorities live in the 88 most deprived local authority districts. Taken as a whole, ethnic minority groups are more likely than the rest of the population to live in poor areas, to be unemployed, to have low incomes, to live in poor housing, to have poor health and to be the victims of crime.
Statistics tell their own story: 41 per cent. of African-Caribbean and 84 per cent. of Bangladeshi people have incomes that are less than half the national average compared with 28 per cent. of white people, and 14.7 per cent. of Bangladeshi and 13.8 per cent. of African-Caribbean people have suffered personal thefts or assaults compared with 9.6 per cent. of white people. Residents of deprived communities have put up with poor housing, poor health, poor education, few job 1156 opportunities and higher crime rates for far too long. The Government are committed to resolving those problems. They represent considerable challenges that the Government are determined to meet, and are meeting.
The Government are determined that nobody should be disadvantaged by where they live. There is still a long way to go before we achieve that, but we are starting to make a real difference. We are putting our principles into practice and adopting some new approaches, and it is those that I want to set out
§ Linda Perham (Ilford, North)
Does my hon. Friend accept the real need for investment and regeneration in London, which has many disadvantaged areas? My borough is seen as a leafy outer-London suburb, but five of the eight wards in my constituency are in the top 50 per cent. of the index of deprivation. However, there are pots of money in various sources of funding, for which we are not allowed to apply. Does my hon. Friend agree that Londoners face huge pressures as a result of higher living costs, especially in terms of housing and transport?
§ Ms Keeble
My hon. Friend is right about the position in London. One of the appalling factors is that the wealthiest communities and the poorest live side by side. Often, little can be done to relieve the poverty of some of those areas. The approach that we are taking, which I shall set out, will deal with my hon. Friend's point about areas of great affluence, or comparative affluence, which mask some areas of acute need. One of the advantages of our approach is that all areas can make an application where they can identify the areas of greatest need, and can seek ways to resolve the problems.
The key to the delivery of our objective of ensuring that everybody should have a decent and sustainable community is our neighbourhood renewal strategy. It can apply to areas of apparent affluence as well as to some of the hardest-hit communities.
§ Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)
The hon. Lady is right. Will she acknowledge that there will be many areas of deprivation in other places that might be thought of as quite prosperous, such as market towns and boroughs in the countryside? She will know from her own history that Cheltenham has two of the most deprived boroughs in England. Does she agree that Cheltenham deserves as much support as many of the more obvious areas in the north of England?
§ Ms Keeble
The hon. Gentleman is right about the difficulty of targeting small pockets of disadvantage in otherwise affluent areas. We all know that virtually throughout the length and breadth of the country there are little pockets of disadvantage in areas of comparative affluence.
One of the criticisms that Labour Members always had of the approaches taken by the Conservative Government especially was that they did not target those pockets. A general improvement in the economy did not necessarily stretch to acutely disadvantaged areas. The approach that underpins our national strategy for neighbourhood 1157 renewal makes it possible even for relatively affluent areas to identify the needs of the most deprived communities, to target them and to meet them.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)
Clearly, there are areas of considerable disadvantage next to areas that are not exactly well-heeled, but are relatively prosperous. That has consequences for local government finance and standard spending assessments and can lead to the loss of objective 2 status, as has occurred in my constituency, despite the massive rundown of manufacturing in north-east Derbyshire and Chesterfield. It is important to treat the problem where it exists. My hon. Friend mentioned ethnic minorities. North-east Derbyshire has one of the smallest ethnic minority populations in the country and therefore cannot draw from the funds designated for those minorities; nevertheless it is in need of assistance.
§ Ms Keeble
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that as long as combating disadvantage relies on bolting on new initiatives, we will not achieve the turnaround that we seek in the life chances of people living in the most deprived and disadvantaged communities. That is part of the thinking that underpins the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal. It is designed to address the problems that hon. Members have identified which affect pockets of disadvantage in areas of comparative affluence. That strategy is designed to revitalise our most disadvantaged communities and to ensure that they benefit not just from add-on measures, but from the Government's extra investment in mainstream public services. Our approach involves a radical long-term programme to help poor and excluded people lift themselves into mainstream society.
The national strategy is a series of practical initiatives involving everyone in our poorest neighbourhoods. It harnesses the enormous desire among communities, businesses, local agencies, service providers and residents to make the places where they live and work safer, friendlier and more prosperous. It is a different approach from what has gone before.
Previously, attempts to tackle area deprivation have tended to be prescriptive, top-down and short term. Too much attention was paid to small, fragmented initiatives at the expense of the main Government programmes for schools, hospitals and the police, which have such a massive impact on people's lives.
Previously, Government failed to note the importance of local economies and properly to co-ordinate their efforts. Perhaps most important, communities were never properly engaged as agents for change in themselves. There was too much emphasis on physical regeneration rather than on communities. Regeneration was something that happened to people rather than with them.
In the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal, we have learned from the mistakes of the past. We have found new and innovative ways of working based on three key principles. First, every community has its own set of problems, which no single national initiative on its own can solve. Secondly, local problems often respond best to local solutions, negotiated and implemented by local businesses, service providers and residents; and, thirdly, 1158 the best solutions are often owned by the community themselves, with everyone having a stake in the revival of their neighbourhood.
We therefore stress the need for local solutions co-ordinated and delivered by local people with the help and support of a national framework. We emphasise this area-based approach because we can map poverty. The poorest people have become more concentrated in small areas of acute need and, as has been mentioned this morning, many of the most acute differences lie within regions, cities and even boroughs. Our poorest neighbourhoods often exist in the shadow of some of the most prosperous areas. England's poorest ward, Benchill in Manchester, is only a few miles from the famously wealthy Wilmslow.
Local extremes apply to jobs as well. Some of the most deprived neighbourhoods lie only a mile or two from prosperous city centres where employers find it hard to fill vacancies. So we have to get down to the local level really to understand the problems and to deliver the right solutions for the people who live there, and that justifies a neighbourhood-based approach. It is part of the reason why the Government have applied their area-based approach to programmes such as the new deal for communities and the education and health action zones. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) said, we have seen the value of making sure that all the mainstream programmes deliver properly for local people in ways that make a real difference. Combating disadvantage is not an add-on; some would say that it is the main purpose of public services, so mainstream services must bend to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged in our society. We have also seen the value of getting local people involved.
Those two concepts—delivering mainstream services better and involving communities—are the purpose behind local strategic partnerships that bring together residents and the public, private and voluntary sectors to identify local problems and deliver local solutions. They should not apply only to the most disadvantaged areas, but operate in areas of need in otherwise affluent areas such as Cheltenham and Redbridge.
Community involvement is crucial, not least because nobody better understands the strengths and weaknesses of an area than the local people. The private sector needs to be engaged because involving local businesses in neighbourhood renewal is key to rebuilding strong, sustainable communities with strong local economies. Improving neighbourhoods leads directly to greater business opportunities, by creating new markets and enabling employers to access better-skilled workers. So we are looking for ways to get local chambers of commerce and local businesses more involved in regeneration. We are also encouraging local communities to participate, although this can be difficult in communities which do not have a sound skills base. We are addressing this through a range of initiatives totalling some £107 million.
The neighbourhood renewal fund, worth £900 million over three years, provides extra resources for 88 of the most deprived local authority districts in England, but that does not mean that those districts should be the only ones looking to identify pockets of disadvantage and finding ways to tackle it.
§ Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)
A good example of that is Canary Wharf, which towers above one of the most disadvantaged areas in the country. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the skills match programme, a brokerage agency set up between Canary Wharf and the local council, which has brought 1,500 local people into employment? Does she agree that we need to do more, perhaps through planning gain to ensure that local people benefit more directly from very large regeneration projects?
§ Ms Keeble
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I congratulate the skills match programme. It is extremely important that the business community and local authorities work together, not just to provide opportunities, but to provide a range of opportunities so that people who may be trapped in particular employment sectors have a chance to access the same job choices as the rest of society. My hon. Friend is also right to say that more needs to be done. It is a key part of the Government's strategy to make sure that the good practice in her constituency extends elsewhere.
We know that the neglect of decades cannot be swept away and that there is still much to do. That is why our national strategy has a long-term horizon over the next 10 to 20 years, but we are beginning to see some practical improvements in our poorest neighbourhoods after a very short time.
In our coalfield communities—this will interest my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire—we are on track to deliver the £385 million national coalfields programme, with work under way or completed on almost half the sites. For example, at Sherwood energy village in Nottinghamshire we have reclaimed 37 hectares for industry, housing, education, recreation and leisure development, using renewable energy sources for heat and power; and at Shirebrook in Derbyshire, a burning slag heap is being transformed into a business park thanks to £24 million of investment.
There are also encouraging signs in the vital issue of combating crime. A community-driven package of crime-fighting measures in east Manchester has led to a 25 per cent. drop in crime in the area, including a 34 per cent. drop in burglaries, which amounts to 1,128 fewer crimes—or, to put it another way, at least 1,128 fewer victims.
A 43 per cent. reduction in domestic burglary is attributed to a partnership between wardens in Merthyr Tydfil and Homesafe, a burglary reduction project. Wardens in Sheffield have helped to reduce removal time for abandoned vehicles—a major source of crime—from 30 days to between a week and 10 days.
Those are examples of some of the many ways in which people's quality of life is being transformed. As a resident from east Manchester put it:It has been hell living here in recent years, but all that is changing. I'm really optimistic now.We are placing our confidence in local people to help themselves. We have underpinned the local strategic partnerships with a national framework for neighbourhood renewal, built on the platform of a stable economy and a remorseless drive against poverty, and against child poverty in particular.
The national strategy for neighbourhood renewal will deliver the lasting change that our disadvantaged communities need, but we still have a huge amount of 1160 work to do. However, we can and will overcome the waste of people's talents and the waste of land and resources, which have blighted too many of our communities for far too long.
We want to ensure that in future no one is disadvantaged by where they live and everyone has a chance to make choices in their lives in safe, secure and sustainable communities.
§ Mr. Paul Daisley (Brent, East)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my initial contribution in this Chamber. I thank the people of Brent, East for returning me to serve as their Member of Parliament. It is a genuine honour.
I have campaigned over many years for regeneration and the role of local government in achieving it. However, I have recently found myself engaged in a different kind of regeneration, courtesy of the national health service, spending seven months in hospital and the rest of last year convalescing. My recovery continues, which explains the length of time before making my maiden speech. That experience has taught me a lot about the unrecognised roles of carers in our society and given me a fresh outlook—values that I hope will never dim during my time in this House.
I would like to thank Mr. Speaker and the House of Commons staff for their understanding and assistance during a difficult time. They could not have been more helpful. I would also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) for making space available in her office. My time in a wheelchair gave me a new insight into and greater admiration of her achievements.
I would like to pay an especial tribute to the dedicated staff of the national health service who helped me during my illness, especially at St. Mary's, Paddington; Charing Cross, Hammersmith; and more recently at Willesden community hospital. I also want to place on record sincere thanks to my wife Lesley and my family and close friends on whom I have leant so heavily for support.
I had also thought about thanking both my physio and the Whips, but I did not think that anybody would believe me. In fact, as my regeneration continues, I am not sure which of the two is likely to cause me the most pain.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, Ken Livingstone, with whom I worked closely, especially during my five years as leader of Brent council. Ken worked hard for the people of Brent, East and was a valuable support in our efforts to stamp out council corruption. I do not want to forget, either, the contribution of Ken's predecessor, the right hon. Reg Freeson. Reg is still respected throughout the constituency, and won admiration among many hon. Friends in the House for his work on housing policy, as a Minister and as a Member for more than 20 years. I know that he has much more to contribute in the years to come.
The constituency of Brent, East is often called diverse and cosmopolitan and has a large ethnic minority population, yet the diversity defies any simple classification in a few sentences. Suffice it to say that 130 first languages are spoken or understood in Brent schools. Areas such as Kilburn, Willesden, Neasden and Cricklewood are testimony to enduring values of tolerance and acceptance across an extraordinary range of cultures. Perhaps our tolerance and appreciation of diversity are some of Brent, East's most valuable qualities.
1161 Local religious leaders have none the less expressed concern since 11 September about the rather patchy understanding between different cultures in the area, but our schools are helping to build that understanding, and I am proud that the council has sought to affirm diversity through celebrating festivals such as Eid, Diwali, Chanukah, Christmas and of course St. Patrick's day. Some of these Brent events are among the largest of their kind in Europe.
In fact, in the interests of community cohesion, we have grown quite accustomed to celebrating festivals in Brent, all of which have their own variations of consuming food and drink. My physio is helping me to prepare for the challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead.
I first became actively interested in Brent council in the 1980s. It was then infamous for being unstable, incompetent and inward-looking. It takes only moments to lose a reputation, but years to regain it. As leader of the council from 1996 until last year, I hope that we at least made some progress in that. That achievement is not only part of my personal political history: the role of local government is also critical in delivering effective and sustained regeneration. I would therefore like to take a moment to outline one or two of the council's achievements.
The council has modernised. The chief executive has referred to a "quiet revolution" in the council, with recent years of stability standing in stark contrast to the 10 years that preceded them. My successor as leader, Councillor Ann John, is continuing the transformation.
Achievements have included 11 charter marks; seven beacon schools; shortlisting in three categories for beacon status; 99 per cent. customer satisfaction with the one-stop shops; and numerous quality assurance awards, including ISO 9000 and Investors in People. The Audit Commission awarded the street cleansing and refuse collection service the highest best value rating in England and Wales. A private finance initiative project has dramatically speeded up the improvements in street lighting, reducing the previous estimated wait of 120 years to four years.
Brent's successes have been achieved via effective partnership and encouraging local people to have more of a say in decision making, including initiatives such as the citizen's panel, area forums and our award-winning websites.
Education has gone from strength to strength. School standards are rising. Staying-on rates are high and exclusions have dropped by a third.
Partnership with the police and the community over safety issues has been a council priority. Joint action against gun crime has been effective.
Brent's equalities work is acknowledged as an example of best practice identified in the recent Cantle report on community cohesion.
Brent has delivered services while maintaining the council tax below the London average. That has been achieved through careful financial management, setting tough targets and investing selectively in key services. Brent council tax payers have certainly got value for money.
A comprehensive regeneration strategy is now in place in Brent for tackling poverty and social exclusion.
1162 The council has certainly played a constructive role in seeking to bring the national stadium to Wembley, which is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) and just outside my constituency, but which will open up opportunities right across north-west London.
I hope that by now I have at least convinced hon. Members that Brent is not quite the shambles that it was a few years ago, even if they are not yet all persuaded that it is the best council in London—which some of us think it is.
I have talked at length about the council's achievements, because an effective council delivering quality services is vital to regeneration. Strong working partnerships are needed between central and local government, residents, business and other stakeholders. That will be central if we are to move beyond a narrow housing-based focus and develop a more integrated regeneration strategy.
That spirit of partnership will be crucial in overcoming the difficulties facing the South Kilburn new deal for communities project in Carlton ward, which is in the top 3 per cent. of most disadvantaged wards in the country. The effective use of NDC funds has enormous potential to succeed in reconnecting this vibrant yet struggling community with the surrounding regions of north London.
The role played by the council will be critical, as will be the need to explore appropriate models of neighbourhood management. Our experience shows that local involvement is a vital component in the partnership needed for success even if it is sometimes difficult to achieve. Involving the community takes time. Training and skills development is very dependent upon effective involvement by a range of agencies.
I am sure that local authorities of all political persuasions will welcome plans in the recent White Paper to lift constraints on borrowing and give greater flexibility. It is providing a valuable and flexible framework for authorities. With another spending review on the horizon, more investment as well as more modernisation of local government will be needed. Improvements in the quality of local government service delivery in areas such as Brent are vital to regeneration. Partnerships with stakeholders, realistic time frames, sustained investment and modernisation are all important.
As the Government continue to focus on those elements, they are making a growing and lasting contribution to regeneration in disadvantaged communities. Through the effective collaboration of national policy, local council leadership, local agencies and community involvement, the quality of life and the life chances of local people can be transformed.
I firmly believe that national Government working together with local government can achieve lasting improvements for our communities.
§ 10.1 am
§ Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)
I declare an interest as a chartered surveyor, as listed in the Register of Members' interests.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Daisley) on a maiden speech of clarity, vision and bravery. The House will have noted carefully what he said. It was not a partisan speech, and it is good to know 1163 that Brent council is not as badly run as it used to be. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his time as leader of that council; he will be welcome in this House.
I particularly agree with the hon. Gentleman on two points. First, I agree that to have an effective regeneration scheme, there must be an efficient council, as the local authority plays a major part in such schemes. Secondly, I agree that local people must be engaged with any regeneration scheme. If such a scheme is to work, local people must have ownership of it. The hon. Gentleman made a number of sound points and the House will appreciate the genuine nature of his speech.
We are debating Government measures to regenerate disadvantaged areas. Listening to Labour Members and Ministers, one would think that all the ills of this country started in 1979 and finished in 1997, but the world simply is not like that. Furthermore, the public are rather fed up with that approach. They want constructive policies from the Government and they want the Opposition to hold the Government to account. They want to see what realistic proposals can come out of debates such as this. I hope that, this morning, we will hear some constructive suggestions. Unless we get inner-city regeneration right, our economic growth and quality of life will suffer.
My hon. Friend and neighbour, the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), made a pertinent point—it is not just inner cities that have disadvantaged areas. I represent the Cotswolds, a relatively prosperous area of the country. However, if one carefully examines all the villages in my area, one finds small pockets of poverty. I have gone out all night with the police in Cheltenham and seen the ward to which my hon. Friend referred. One can see that it is as disadvantaged a ward as any in our major cities. Sometimes we can get a skewed view of the "disadvantaged areas" of this country. Having said that, we must put the debate in context. The scale of the problem of disadvantaged areas in our big cities is much larger and deserves much closer attention.
I was disturbed to see some unfortunate figures showing the rise in crime in some inner-city areas. I hesitate to give these figures because one does not wish to cause alarm and despondency, but the House should be aware of them. For example, in Birmingham, crimes of violence against the person for the year until March 2001 increased by 18.7 per cent. In Nottingham, the figure is 17.9 per cent., and in Tower Hamlets, it is 10.8 per cent. Those are significant increases. Reported robberies increased in Lambeth by 38.4 per cent., in Leeds by 33.8 per cent. and in Sheffield by 46.8 per cent. It is difficult to expect those areas to be regenerated if we do not tackle the increase in crime.
§ Mr. Gray
In the light of those figures, was my hon. Friend surprised to hear the Minister apparently claim some success for the Government's policies on regenerating inner cities because the crime figures had fallen? If there were to be a direct correlation between the two, presumably—since my hon. Friend has proved that crime has gone up—the Government's policies have not worked at all.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
My hon. Friend is right. Nobody likes crime to increase and I do not want to make this a political issue. Crime causes a detriment to the country as a whole—
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
I will give way in a second. Crime is something that we all deplore and something that we 1164 should discuss with our local police forces and local authorities. The Government must pay attention to it and see whether it can be reduced. We note almost every day stories in the Evening Standard concerning crime in London, which is getting distinctly worse, particularly gangland crime, vehicle crime and mobile phone theft.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
I have not forgotten the hon. Gentleman; God forbid. I could never forget him. If I do not give way, he will persist throughout the debate, so it will pay me to give way to him. Suffice it to say, crime is a blight on society.
§ Phil Hope
The hon. Gentleman quotes selectively from statistics about crime increases in certain urban areas. The fact is that crime in Britain has fallen by 12 per cent. During the Tory years, crime doubled. Before the hon. Gentleman talks about not wanting crime to increase, can he explain why, during his party's time in office, crime significantly increased?
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
That is the kind of knockabout politics that I was trying to avoid. Frankly, such comments bring the House and the hon. Gentleman into contempt. Those figures hide a lot of human misery and misfortune for the victims. I hope that the speeches of Labour Members will be constructive.[Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Gentleman is chuntering. If he cannot do better than that, he should keep quiet.
The Prime Minister once pledged:If we win the next election, I want to see us judged by how we treat the weakest as much as the strongest; to see us judged not on how the best advance, but on how far we heal the wounds in our fractured society.We would all agree with that, along with several other of the Prime Minister's pledges and statements and the high ideals that he set for his Government. The problem is that the delivery is not always quite as he portrays it.
The Government's own figures show that under Labour inequality has risen overall since 1997, and there has been little or no change in the percentage of working age adults below low-income thresholds, which vary according to median income. We all want the disadvantaged and those on low incomes to be helped on to the ladder, so that they can help themselves and play a full part in society.
We need to look at the Government's regeneration policies. During a debate in Westminster Hall the week before last, I pointed out that Labour's policy is fragmented, and I read out a list of schemes and quangos that have been introduced since the Government came to power. I do not want to make a partisan point, but the number of schemes is a major part of the problem. As practice shows, when there is a plethora of schemes and quangos, nobody knows precisely what they are and as a result their budgets are underspent. I read out some of the host of schemes in the earlier debate and I shall do so again because it is worth concentrating on this matter. They includethe neighbourhood renewal fund encompassing a national … action plan, local strategic partnerships, the new deal for communities, urban regeneration companies, the English cities fund and a host of tax incentives for regeneration."—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 29 January 2002; Vol. 379, c. 37WH.]1165 The Opposition do not believe that such schemes are the best way forward. For example, at the last election we advocated putting one Minister in charge of regeneration. The problem is that the Department of Trade and Industry has one view, the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has another, the Home Office has a third and the Department for Work and Pensions has a fourth, so we are not getting the joined-up government that we need. I urge the Minister to consider whether matters can be simplified and an explanation given to the stakeholders, so that everybody knows exactly what funds are available and best use can be made of them. For goodness sake, such a scheme should be for the benefit of this country. If it is not being used, let us get rid of it.
Opposition Members want a more effective and cohesive policy on urban regeneration. For example, we are particularly exercised about the new targets for building on green fields. We want to protect our green fields; we do not want the setting of housing and other development targets to result in the building of a huge number of houses and other buildings on our green fields. One of our fears is that the Government's new planning Green Papers will be used to force local authorities to undertake such development. We believe that, as the hon. Member for Brent, East said, local authorities have a democratic mandate to take decisions on schemes that affect their areas. We worry that the Government are increasingly taking democratic accountability away from local authorities and giving it to bodies such as regional development agencies. We do not want a regionalisation of planning policy, but I fear that the Government's planning Green Papers are moving in that direction.
Having said that, as a chartered surveyor I recognise only too well that planning is a major instrument of urban regeneration. We share the Government's aim, as expressed in the Green Papers, that planning needs to be streamlined and speeded up, and to be more responsive to local and business needs. As the Green Papers make clear, although there is often a great battle, 90 per cent. of all applications are eventually accepted. In other words, an extremely cumbersome system deals mainly with just the 10 per cent. of cases that are turned down.
We welcome some of the proposals outlined in the detail of those Green Papers. For example, one thing that slows down many major planning applications is the negotiation of the 106 agreement. I should explain to those who are not familiar with that procedure that under it, the developer provides reimbursement—such as a new roundabout—for damage done to the infrastructure by a large development. In that way, additional schemes can be put in place to boost the infrastructure and enable it to cope with that large development. The problem is that the existing 106 procedure is cumbersome and arbitrary and takes too long to negotiate. I am pleased that reference has been made to the levering-in of private sector funds, which we all want to see. That will help developments, which in turn will help our rural and urban communities.
For far too long, the Government and their supporters have said in debates such as this that regeneration must be undertaken by the monolithic hand of the state. We believe that the private sector has a major role to play in urban regeneration in our inner cities. Innovative schemes—for example, urban development corporations—proved very 1166 successful in docklands and in city centres such as Leeds and Glasgow. One reason why is that they brought the private sector into partnership with such companies. Private sector involvement is vital. It is interesting to note that some Labour Members are nodding. I am glad that they accept the need for private sector involvement in urban regeneration, but it is therefore odd that they do not accept its involvement in the running of public services such as the railways and the tube. That seems an odd dichotomy.
§ Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)
My hon. Friend mentioned section 106 agreements. Although it is right and proper that companies sometimes contribute to works associated with plans, there is always a suspicion among my constituents that when deals are negotiated between local authorities and companies, money is given for planning permission. Is not there a case for more transparency in such agreements, many of which are negotiated in great secrecy?
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
My hon. Friend does me a great service by bringing me back to my script. The Green Papers refer to the introduction of a tariff system, and in principle we do not object to that. A system that speeds up negotiation of the 106 agreement and makes it less arbitrary, so that the developer, the local authority and local people know exactly what they are going to get from a particular development, must be a good thing. We need better targeting and definition, and that is the big challenge for the Government. There must be some flexibility in the system, so that it does not become merely a betterment levy tax. We must ensure that it is properly reapplied to the local infrastructure, rather than dissipated into further, more general causes. It is all very well targeting such schemes properly on their introduction. That is what happened with the lottery, but the Chancellor soon cast his eagle eye over the proceeds and used them for causes that are not strictly aligned with the five for which it was originally invented.
In the spirit of this debate, I should explain what the Opposition believe should be done. First, we would stop the fragmentation of our urban regeneration policy. We initiated some successful, cohesive and large-scale projects—for example, city challenge, the single regeneration bid scheme and urban development corporations—that, contrary to what the Minister said, were very successful in the 1980s. Probably the most successful inner-city regeneration took place under those imaginative schemes during the 1980s, so we want the Government to introduce a more streamlined system.
§ Ms Oona King
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that while there were great strides in regeneration, many communities—such as those in Tower Hamlets, which is next door to Canary Wharf—felt that they did not benefit? That was a sincere feeling that is replicated today. For example, on the Will Crooks estate—the closest to Canary Wharf—only two out of 400 adults have a job. That is what regeneration in this decade has to change.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. We have seen this in docklands, and in Leeds, where there has been some very good regeneration of the city centre. However, within a mile of that city centre there is some of the worst deprivation to be found anywhere in the country.
1167 The challenge for the Government, having regenerated one or two beacon areas—including some of the worst areas, such as docklands—is that they now have to move out to the next band and apply some of the lessons learned from the urban development corporations. I agree with the hon. Lady that areas such as hers are among the worst in the country. It is a disgrace, 50 years on from the second world war, that such areas are still so deprived, and we must find schemes that lever in private money and also utilise all the resources of the local area. The voluntary sector, the private sector, the local authorities and business groups must all be levered into partnership to try to regenerate some of these areas.
The most serious question in the debate so far, and one that the Opposition want to address, is how we should move out into the next band after we have regenerated the centre. We should adopt some of the proposals that we used with the urban development corporations, which might supersede some of the local authority's powers by putting all those people together in partnership and coming up with a scheme to manage and regenerate those areas.
What else would we do if we were elected to power? I have already outlined our proposal for a single Minister to bring together all Departments to develop an effective, united strategy to regenerate some of the worst areas. It is a disgrace that a civilised country with the fourth biggest economy in the world still has some of the most deprived areas in Europe. We should all concentrate on that. A debate such as this is valuable in bringing the subject to the fore, so that we can discover what useful ideas can be culled from it.
During the election, we advocated spending at least £200 million on new tax cuts for deprived areas. Regeneration companies would be able to choose which tax cuts to implement, and fund a tax credit budget. Such tax cuts could, for example, take the form of lower VAT on brownfield development and conversion. It is a huge anomaly in our tax system that there is no VAT on new building on greenfield sites, yet the full rate is charged on the refurbishment of buildings on brownfield sites. We need to address that anomaly, because it sends out the wrong signal to developers.
Indeed, it is so much easier to develop greenfield sites than brownfield sites that the tax system should be skewed in favour of refurbishment and the cleaning up of our polluted areas. Many brownfield sites are polluted and difficult to develop, and no Government have so far come to grips with that problem. Having put the infrastructure into the dome site, for example, and having, at long last, started to regenerate it and clean it up, it would have been better to demolish the dome and use the area for much-needed social housing. For goodness' sake, we all recognise that there is a chronic shortage of social housing in London—there was a debate on the subject in Westminster Hall earlier this week—so why should an edifice such as the dome prevent much-needed building on a site that could be made suitable for housing?
§ Mr. Gray
My hon. Friend made an important point about the differential between VAT on new build and on regeneration. Lord Rogers made the same point when he suggested that VAT should be reduced to zero in areas of regeneration. Does my hon. Friend agree that to do the 1168 opposite and increase VAT on construction on greenfield sites would send out the wrong signal, and would in fact be a tax on housing that we would not want to encourage?
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
My hon. Friend is interpreting my remarks as I wished them to be interpreted. I chose my words carefully in saying that the tax differential should be closed. What I had in mind was that the tax on brownfield sites should be reduced to zero, and I would certainly not advocate a wholesale increase in tax on greenfield sites. Our 17.5 per cent. VAT rate is plenty high enough compared to that of some of our international competitors. I certainly would not want it to be increased.
We want to look at business rates for firms locating into regeneration areas. Some of our imaginative schemes during the 1980s included the single regeneration bid and the city challenge. We gave business rate holidays to a number of firms moving into such areas. When the new town of Milton Keynes was built, for example, the business rate holiday was a key factor in bringing businesses into the area, and Milton Keynes has been one of our most successful new build and regeneration projects since the war. We need to learn lessons from that and, perhaps, consider more carefully how we apply business rates.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
I will happily give way in a minute.
It is also an anomaly that shops in many city centres pay a higher business rate per square foot than a new build development on a greenfield site would pay. That is wrong. Those who operate similar types of business, whether in a city centre or on a greenfield site, should pay the same business rate per square foot. That would help to redress the balance. I shall now give way to the hon. Lady from Shipley.
§ Ms Shipley
I am not actually from Shipley. Will the hon. Gentleman refresh my memory? Was Milton Keynes—where all those companies enjoyed a tax holiday under the Conservative Government—a greenfield site or a brownfield site?
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
Well, it was part and part. It was a new-build city, but it also took over some previously under-utilised and under-developed brownfield sites. It was not entirely green belt land. It involved a new development corporation and it has been one of our great successes. The hon. Lady may knock that, but she will probably find that her Government will come up with similar proposals. We shall have to build new towns like Milton Keynes to accommodate the increase in housing that we need, and the only way to do that will be to have a similar structure to the one developed there.
There is too much empty housing. We would consider lowering the council tax on housing that had previously been empty. There are 750,000 empty flats and houses in this country, of which 150,000 are in the public sector. That is an utter disgrace when, at a conservative estimate, at least 150,000 people are homeless. We need to come up with imaginative proposals to regenerate the empty housing in our inner cities, where row after row of flats 1169 over shops stand empty. One way of tackling the problem would be to encourage the private rented sector to let such properties by making it simpler to deal with tenants who misbehave and do not pay their rent. Every Government proposal to regulate residential lettings and make things more difficult for private landlords makes it more difficult to bring those empty properties back into use.
We have heard a lot of bluster from the Government about urban regeneration. They produced an urban White Paper, spawned by the architect Lord Rogers, which was immediately denigrated on the basis that many of his recommendations were not followed. That was a pity. The Government had employed someone who truly knows about the problems of regenerating our inner cities and it would have been nice to have seen some of his recommendations followed.
The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has spent £2 billion less on regeneration than the Department of the Environment spent in the last four years of the previous Conservative Administration. Expenditure on the new deal for communities has been offset by the end of programmes such as the urban development corporations and city challenge funds that were so successful in the 1980s and 1990s under a Conservative Government.
Between 1993 and 1997, the Department of the Environment spent £6.1 billion on regeneration. Between 1997 and 2001, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and then the DTLR spent just £4.8 billion. Adjusting for inflation at 2001 prices, that is equivalent to a cut of £1.9 billion. Money in the rate support grant settlement is being taken away from London, which, as the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) said, has some of our most deprived areas. Why are funds being taken away from London and given to the rest of the country?
We still have a huge challenge to regenerate some of our worst areas of deprivation. Conservative Members want to come up with constructive policies—we will get back to the situation that existed in the 1980s and 1990s when we had a proud record of doing just that.
§ Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North)
May I declare a non-pecuniary interest as a member of the board of the New Life for Paddington urban regeneration scheme?
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Daisley) on his maiden speech. It has been some time in coming because he has been bravely battling against illness, but his speech showed the characteristic passion for his community that he has displayed for many years as a councillor and as leader of Brent council. His constituents will be extremely well served by him here.
My hon. Friend is my neighbour in parliamentary terms. I look out of my front window on to the South Kilburn estate. The fact that his constituency qualifies for a parliamentary additional cost allowance and mine does not is a scab that has never healed. To make matters worse, phone numbers in his constituency are prefixed by 0207, which, as every Londoner knows, is the true mark of metropolitan prestige. However, I will not hold that 1170 against my hon. Friend and I look forward to working with him as a neighbour and colleague on local issues as well as to seeing the contribution that he will make in Parliament.
I warmly welcome the Government's strategic approach to regeneration and the fact that it is linked, as it must be, to a strategy tackling social exclusion and poverty. The establishment and work of the social exclusion unit and the neighbourhood renewal strategies introduced an analysis into those serious social problems that had been lacking and allowed the development of an approach that considers multiple indicators as a way of tackling them. That is the only way to deal with them; social exclusion and the decline of some of our urban areas are rooted in multidimensional problems, and no single solution can turn them around.
I know from local experience that the Government have, over recent years, invested significantly and imaginatively in policies that will help us to tackle those problems. My constituency now benefits from four sure start programmes, which I regard as the single best and most imaginative regeneration tool, targeted at parents with very young children. Sadly, I do not have a new deal for communities programme, and I would love to have a few of those. However, we have the £13.5 million single regeneration budget for Paddington—as I said, I am a member of the board for the scheme—and an education action zone. We benefit in both Kensington and Westminster from neighbourhood renewal funding and from the neighbourhood nurseries initiative. So serious money has been invested, targeted particularly at wards and small areas with severe deprivation. The approach and the money are very welcome.
I want to talk particularly about the case for London. There is no doubt in my mind, from listening to colleagues and reading about the problems in the north, the midlands and in areas of low housing demand, that a catastrophe is taking place. I support those areas and wish them well in dealing with those problems. However, their problems are entirely different from those that we face in the capital, which require a different solution and at least proportionate support. We have had that in some cases, but not in every area.
We have already touched on the particular problems of communities with high levels of deprivation that exist cheek by jowl with areas of extreme wealth. My constituency probably exemplifies that more than anywhere else in the country. The Church Street ward, which is one of the most deprived in the country according to the index of multiple deprivation, is within 100 yd of St. John's Wood, which includes some of the most valuable real estate in the country. That not only enhances the residents' sense of inequality, but causes us a problem in applying for resources.
One of London's difficulties is what I have described in previous debates as the tyranny of the average. If a local authority area includes prosperous areas, prosperous wards and high value housing alongside areas of acute deprivation, the funding formulas will be worked out on the basis of an average. As a consequence, we are not able to secure the resources that I believe are necessary to deal with our problems. This is particularly the case, as my hon. Friend the Minister knows well from the representations that we have made, in respect of the index of multiple deprivation and the various sources of funding that flow from it. London Members will continue to lobby 1171 on that issue to see whether further refinements can be made to the index to recognise the reality of London's problems. Perhaps my hon. Friend will tell us when we can expect a crime domain to be introduced into the index, because that is an aspect of urban deprivation that needs to be recognised.
I want to put on record again the characteristics of London that deserve our attention. We have some of the highest indicators of poverty and deprivation in the country. In inner London, more than half of all children live in households on low income compared with one third for England as a whole. We have the highest proportion of children in workless households of any region in England. We have double the national average of lone-parent families, which we know to be a key indicator of poverty. We have an acute housing shortage; it has been rehearsed many times, so I will not talk about it other than to say that I believe it to be one of the most serious barriers to the city's continuing economic success and to overcoming the problems of urban deprivation.
Challenges as well as opportunities arise from the capital's cultural diversity. More than half the United Kingdom's ethnic minority and black populations live in London. Unfortunately, many of those communities experience levels of unemployment and poverty that are up to three times higher those of the white population. I believe that a Cabinet Office report, reported in the newspapers last summer, warned that unless further and faster action is taken, the gap in income and opportunities between the black and ethnic minority populations and the white population is set to widen over the next 20 years. That is a real challenge.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
Given those appalling statistics, which we all condemn, how does the hon. Lady feel about the fact that £100 million has been taken away from London in the local revenue support grant settlement over the past three years? If the estimates using the current indicators are correct, that trend will continue over the next three years at the same rate. Surely the opposite should apply—London should be getting extra money compared with the major urban corporations in the rest of the country so that it can deal with some of the worst poverty and deprivation in the country.
§ Ms Buck
Yes and no. I do not disagree. It is no secret that Labour Members lobby extremely hard to make the case for London. We did not do badly in the grant settlement that was announced recently. In fact, both my boroughs received a 7 per cent. increase, which was the joint highest increase in the country. Although there is always a case to be made for London's resources—I am making it now and will continue to do so—I do not think, considering the revenue support grant settlement for the past year and the year before, that London boroughs have done badly.
London has high social mobility, and I want the Government to take on board the fact that that indicator is not properly recognised in any funding formula. Turnover in London schools is 50 per cent. higher than in the rest of the country, which puts enormous financial pressure on them and huge psychological pressure on teachers and classmates, as well has having a knock-on effect on school standards.
London also has poor health indicators, particularly because of the disproportionate concentration of people who have mental health problems. Again, almost all 1172 funding formulas fail to recognise that, but it has vast implications for the delivery of services from policing to social services. There is a strong case for London, and I want more resources to help London to deal with its problems, including those shown by the index of multiple deprivation.
Local regeneration has been a recent success story following many years of failure. I pay tribute to everyone involved: community activists and participants, and officers in highly successful schemes ranging from sure start programmes to the New Life for Paddington scheme. The latter is a marvellous example of a regeneration scheme that works with a range of public agencies and community organisations, including tenants and residents organisations, as well as the private sector.
The Paddington regeneration partnership, which represents the private businesses involved in rebuilding the Paddington basin—an urban redevelopment zone three times bigger than the dome—has been a considerable success. The private sector has helped through a local recruitment strategy, particularly with new jobs for the Heathrow express, and we are about to issue a jobs brokerage linked to the next phase, in which new companies moving into the basin will start to recruit. I hope that that will go from strength to strength. The scheme is a tribute to the Employment Service. A few years ago, it was a deadly bureaucracy, but it has genuinely been enlivened by its new responsibilities and has become a real partner in the regeneration of the Paddington area.
The Dalgarno single regeneration budget—a small project across the large estates of north Kensington—has done exciting work in partnership with youth justice boards and young offender teams. That is welcome and shows that new sets of partnerships are being built across different agencies. A small and successful scheme also operates in the Golborne ward.
The recent success of those people-based, participatory schemes stands in stark contrast to the experience of previous schemes, which, though I am not making a party political point here, were developed under the Conservative Government and implemented by Conservative councils. Two examples spring to mind. The first is the Wornington Green estate in north Kensington, which received a large funding injection from the city challenge programme. That brought about some design changes on the estate which were not properly consulted on. Those changes are the reason for the estate's downward spiral further into urban decline and high crime and youth disorder in recent years.
That investment was entirely wasted. The money might as well have been put down the drain. The estate is still seriously blighted, and we need a new partnership between Kensington housing trust and another housing association. We also need substantial funds to try to turn the estate around. I would not live there, and one of the main urban regeneration indicators has to be whether we ourselves would live on the estates to which we condemn thousands of people. I should be delighted to live on some of the redeveloped estates in my constituency; nothing would give me greater pleasure, but I cannot afford them. There are others, however, where the programmes developed during the 1980s and early 1990s have made the problems worse rather than relieving them.
The second major example is Lisson Green estate in the London borough of Westminster. To my amazement, it received investment totalling around £65 million 1173 through the estate action programme—roughly the same as the new deal for communities. Yet conditions were so bad during that programme in the mid to late-1990s that I had to write my first ever class complaint to the local authority ombudsman on behalf of the residents, who were put through a living hell as a result of bad building management.
A bricks-and-mortar solution to regeneration failed to tackle the need for community participation and social and economic regeneration. We needed to provide proper youth facilities and to get the people who live on the estate into work. A little has been done, and very welcome it is. Many people have worked hard to turn the estate around, but it was structurally badly managed from the beginning, and it is a good example of a scheme that failed.
A great deal has been achieved in urban regeneration, but we are not yet able to say that inner-city living is an attractive option, particularly for low-income households. There is a great deal to do. We need to back regeneration funding by tackling the housing crisis. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will do all that she can during the comprehensive spending review to make a case for investment in London's housing. If that housing is chronically overcrowded, all the investment in the world to improve the physical condition of the stock will not make those houses desirable and attractive places to live.
London faces complex labour market issues, which were addressed in yesterday's debates on the Tax Credits Bill, and I shall address the same points in an Adjournment debate next week. Alongside London's economic success and dynamic growth there are serious problems of poverty and unemployment. There is also a mismatch between the jobs available and the skills of the people who live in London. Several anti-poverty measures, such as those in the Tax Credits Bill, are not yet reaching London's poorest and most deprived communities. We must understand why that is so and hone our policies to help London's unemployed.
Many of the schemes to which I have referred are excellent. They are doing good and valuable work, but they are too small. I would happily double the number of regeneration schemes in my constituency and the investment that they are bringing. The bid-driven nature of those programmes can involve people too much in the paperwork of writing and monitoring bids. There is a need to streamline some bids.
Local councils have a critical role. Many are doing marvellous work across London, on their own and in partnership, including partnership with the private sector. That is not always the case, however. In Westminster, despite improvements over the past year or two, there has been a failure properly to engage in urban regeneration, in spite of huge poverty and need in the borough. Even now, when negotiations under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 are continuing for the Paddington basin, there are problems with the priority list. The refurbishment of a public toilet in Little Venice has been placed ahead of investment in a youth project in Queen's Park, one of the most deprived and poorly served wards in the whole of London.
Local councils need both to be given their heads and watched carefully by the Government office for London to ensure that authorities such as Westminster are 1174 seriously behind urban regeneration. I wish the Minister well in her negotiations over the comprehensive spending review. We could all do with a little more investment along the lines of that which has already come.
§ Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)
I welcome the debate, and I echo the comments made by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) about the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Daisley). It was an excellent speech in difficult circumstances, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on making it. I urge his Whips to go easy on him over the coming weeks. That might give him the chance, for instance, to speak out against the public-private partnership. However, that will be up to him.
The hon. Gentleman managed to convince me that Brent has improved slightly, but he did not convince me that it is the best council in London, as that is, of course, the Liberal Democrat-controlled London borough of Sutton. I congratulate him, none the less, on the fact that he did not make a partisan speech and did not criticise Ken Livingstone. It was an entirely apolitical speech, and that is welcome.
§ Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury)
The hon. Gentleman has just extolled the virtues of his Liberal Democrat-controlled council, but does he agree that the Liberal Democrats' commitment to tackling deprivation in our cities is shown by the number of Liberal Democrat Members who are in the Chamber?
§ Tom Brake
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I have no doubt that many of my colleagues are touring the most disadvantaged areas of their constituencies as this moment.
I thank the Urban Forum, Groundwork, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, the Country Land and Business Association and the London borough of Sutton for their assistance in providing briefings for the debate. Reference to those organisations will, I hope, take away the partisan aspect of the debate, because they are actively involved on the front line in delivering regeneration. I will be inviting the Minister to respond to their comments.
Clearly, regeneration is not just about bricks and mortar but covers a range of areas: policing, access to good health services, housing and policies to tackle graffiti and to deal with abandoned cars, as well as regeneration policies. There is some optimism and there have been some success stories. The Minister and hon. Members have referred to those and I welcome them, but there are also some threats.
The Government's Green Paper on planning is perhaps one of those threats. There are proposals to abolish urban development plans. I am not sure how that will contribute to involving local communities actively in regeneration schemes. New business zones are being introduced that do not need planning consent, but I am not convinced that that is the best way to involve local communities in regeneration. Some of the organisations to which I have referred believe that one of the key problems is that it is difficult to get local communities involved in schemes such as the new deal for communities, and that there is still too great an emphasis on professionals or the local authority running schemes. I hope that the Minister will respond to that point in her winding-up speech.
1175 I do not think any other Member has referred to regeneration in the rural environment. The concern of the Country Land and Business Association is that many rural communities have been badly hit by foot and mouth. There is perhaps a need to prop up many of the rural services on which those communities depend. The association provided some interesting figures:78 per cent. of rural settlements do not have a general store, 72 per cent. do not have a small village shop and 53 per cent. are without a public house. Clearly the Government need to assist the process of ensuring the long-term viability of rural services and post offices.
Affordable housing is another of the association's key concerns. That is also an issue in the rural environment—hon. Members have already referred to it in the context of the urban environment, particularly London. According to the Countryside Agency, there is a growing problem of rural homelessness and insufficient affordable housing. The Government need to work with local authorities, private business and other providers to ensure that there is sufficient affordable housing in rural areas.
§ Mr. Atkinson
The hon. Gentleman talks about rural society and rural problems. Does he agree that rural crime is one of the big issues?
§ Tom Brake
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which was entirely constructive. As I said earlier, policing is a critical issue and although it does not have a direct impact on regenerating a particular area, we need to be aware of and to make constructive proposals about local communities' fear of crime.
The Urban Forum, which is an umbrella body for community and voluntary groups that have an interest in urban and regional policy and which was established in 1994, expresses concern, echoing comments by hon. Members, that Government programmes are on occasions so targeted that they exclude groups that are not geographically centred in a particular area: for example, people with disabilities and members of the black and ethnic minority communities, who are then unable to access funds. Because the targeting is so area-focused, it may end up assisting people who are less disadvantaged than people immediately outside that particular area. The Urban Forum has suggested that the focus on a very specific small area perhaps contributed to the problems last year with riots, where one community could look at another across the street, see that very large sums of money had been invested in that community but that nothing had spread literally across the road to their community. Targeting needs to be more sophisticated.
Some of the measures that the Government have put in place—for example, tax credits—can help, although the Urban Forum is concerned that the system is complex and that the interpretation of the rules varies from place to place, making it perhaps not as helpful as it could be to people on lower incomes and to disadvantaged areas.
The Government must ensure that the assessment of the viability of projects is conducted thoroughly before they or organisations such as the Housing Corporation agree to 1176 fund certain schemes. I am sure that other hon. Members will have seen the Heriot-Watt report, which talks about literally millions of pounds being spent since 1998, so it is not something that happened under a Conservative Administration. I am surprised that no Member has yet referred to this. Over the past four years, the Housing Corporation has built 10,000 affordable homes for people on low incomes, mainly in the north, but either those homes are empty or the tenants want to move out.
If there are limited funds, let us at least ensure that the money is spent in the right place and that homes are not being built that are not needed. An article on the report refers to the 20,000 to 30,000 houses that are needed in London to meet demand from key workers. I represent a London constituency, and many social workers and teachers have been to see me about the enormous difficulties they face in finding accommodation in and around the London borough of Sutton.
There are very few affordable homes. Under criteria for being able to access affordable homes, people are required to earn a certain income, which often they do not earn even though they are in work. I am sure that the Minister has studied the Heriot-Watt report. I hope she will say what the Government intend to do to ensure that what money is available is spent well and provides homes and regeneration projects that are successful.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that report. Does he agree that the real scandal is that the Housing Corporation had adequate evidence that the homes were not going to be wanted, yet it still carried on funding them?
§ Tom Brake
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It is clear from the article on the report that in the area where homes were built, there was already a large number of empty homes. Had the Housing Corporation looked around the surrounding area, it could probably have easily deduced that the homes were not going to be used and would remain empty. That is a crucial point, to which I hope the Minister will respond. We need to ensure that there is effective assessment of the viability of projects before they proceed.
We also need more community involvement. A report by Cambridge university—I understand that it is available on the DTLR website—assessed the success, or otherwise, of single regeneration budget projects. It clearly demonstrates the link between the degree of local community involvement in SRBs and the benefit that communities feel they have derived from such projects. In the view of the Urban Forum, even more community involvement is needed. As a counterpoint, perhaps there should be less Government involvement, or at least less controlling, centralising influence over the projects.
The Urban Forum raised the key issue of the provision of support for voluntary groups in deprived or disadvantaged areas. I am sure that hon. Members who have an active council for voluntary service in their constituency will concur with the view of the forum that where there is an active CVS—in my case, the Sutton CVS—which has core funding, ensuring continued voluntary support for voluntary and community groups year after year after year, there is much greater involvement in and activity to assist with regeneration projects.
§ Ms Shipley
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that charities can also make a contribution? In my 1177 constituency, Barnardos has a long-term commitment to a wheels project for young men, so that they can make cars from scratch and race them. Those young men are known as the wall group, because they used to sit on walls with nothing to do, but now they are busy as part of the community.
§ Tom Brake
I agree entirely with the hon. Lady. Charities do have a major role, and they can benefit from the assistance provided by organisations such as the CVS.
Many people sit on community boards as volunteers, and the Urban Forum suggested that consideration should be given to paying them an honorarium, given the time commitment. Obviously, if people were unemployed or on benefit, that would have to be addressed, but some financial assistance might encourage people to make the necessary time commitment.
The Centre for Local Economic Strategies serves a network of local authorities, regional development agencies, partnerships and other organisations. The centre's view of the new deal for local communities is that it is not working too well. For example, in the Braunstone project in Leicestershire there seemed to be acrimony between the local community and the professionals. It is possible that the local community was not sufficiently involved—the project was top-down rather than bottom-up. Furthermore, the CLES found that the projects themselves were not imaginative enough—a point echoed by the Urban Forum.
The hon. Member for Cotswold referred to the plethora of initiatives. That was not a partisan point; it was a large list. The hon. Gentleman did not read all the names, but the list included the Millennium Commission, the new opportunities fund, green spaces and heritage organisations, Sport England and so on. I am sure that there are many more bodies on the list.
The hon. Gentleman's point was not partisan. Small organisations trying to bid for funds do not have the necessary skills and do not know what funding is available so they are not as well able to access funds as bigger organisations such as local authorities which have staff who are experienced in putting bids together. The very people whom the Government presumably want to access those funds are unable to do so, owing to the complexity of the process. We want the establishment of a one-stop shop organisation so that funds could be accessed without dealing with a variety of bodies.
The CLES felt that the single regeneration projects had worked well and that they had matured to such an extent that the bidding organisations knew what was expected and how to go about the process. The CLES was sorry that the projects were coming to an end.
I do not want to exaggerate the problems that we face in the London borough of Sutton. Statistics occasionally show that Sutton is the most affluent borough in London, although I think that may be incorrect and that Richmond might be more affluent. Sutton does not have problems on the scale that I attempted to address as a councillor in Hackney in the early 1990s. I regret that during the 12 years that have passed since then those problems do not yet seem to have been tackled.
None the less, Sutton has problems. One of the major difficulties is that so many of the schemes are narrowly targeted and miss out pockets of deprivation in a relatively 1178 affluent area. Durand Close offers a good example. The council carried out some research on the estate in the 1990s; I doubt that the housing stock has changed much since then. It is the only estate in the borough with large four or five-bedroom properties where the council can house large families. During the 1990s, the estate had the highest child density in the south-east, with many single-parent families. It needs regeneration, but of course Sutton appears nowhere on any of the requisite indices. The local authority cannot provide the funds needed to meet the requests of local residents that the estate should be demolished and rebuilt.
The Minister did not say how the Government would make the targeting system more flexible so that pockets of deprivation are not missed out. I hope that she can address that point when she sums up the debate.
We were successful in our SRB bid for the Roundshaw regeneration project—the second-largest such project in London—which will be finished in a couple of years. There is one concern, however. As the funds are time-limited and all the money has to be spent by the end of the seven-year period, the local community feels driven by a timetable that is not of its choosing or making.
By comparison, the Durand Close project has an advantage because there is no timetable. If funding is awarded, it will be made available progressively over a longer period so the community will be able to work to a timetable over which it has a certain degree of control.
It is clear from the comments of hon. Members that a simple bricks-and-mortar approach will not offer a solution. The Heriot-Watt report confirms that. Reference has been made to policies that could address the problems. We need a single regeneration grant system to get rid of that plethora of pots of money. Organisations that lack the administration to tap into the funds could then apply through a single point of contact.
As other hon. Members have said, there is a need to boost the level of policing in rural and urban areas, to address the fear of crime, which clearly has a significant, and disproportionate, impact on disadvantaged communities. Proposals such as a community safe force that would involve traffic wardens and estate and other park attendants could play a role. We would support the idea of a "safer front doors for all" initiative, which would ensure that people—[Interruption.]If the hon. Member for Corby (Phil Hope) will wait, I will tell him. Such an initiative would mean that people who lived in communities that were subject to high crime levels could at least ensure they were safe in their own home. There are other proposals such as promoting local exchange trading system schemes, and ensuring that in unemployment black spots funds are transferred to a much more local level, from the Government's equal opportunities fund to finance local initiatives.
As I said at the start of my speech, there is a degree of optimism out there, but the patchwork quilt of regeneration budgets, which has created confusion and red tape, is not helpful. It needs to be streamlined and made more flexible, so that the pockets of deprivation, in rural or urban areas, that are currently excluded from bidding for funds may have much greater access to them.
§ Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge)
I welcome today's debate. There can be no more compelling issue for a Labour Government than the regeneration of 1179 disadvantaged areas and there is a moral imperative to tackle the problems that our people in disadvantaged areas face in their day-to-day lives. Whole communities throughout Britain are in desperate need of regeneration. Housing, education, health, infrastructure and policing are all major components that have to be drawn together for regeneration to be achieved in the first instance and subsequently sustained.
Whole communities have been neglected for decades. In my west midlands constituency, the urban village of Lye has been blighted by the demise of manufacturing. Many traditional metal-bashing jobs, where son would follow father into the local factory, have been lost. Schools have crumbled, starved of cash and resources. Under-invested health and social services have struggled valiantly to deal with a host of problems. The infrastructure has gradually decayed, but the people have remained. The soul of the community is alive and well; Lye is still a viable urban village, and potentially a proud one.
Many of Lye's families have lived in the area for generations. The Cartwrights, the Partridges, the Newtons and the Hindleys have names that date from the industrial revolution, when the air of Lye was thick with fumes and the sky was darkened with smoke. It is a hard-working community and it has a vision for itself that I believe will surprise the House—a vision of a place of excellence in the very heart of Britain.
The people of Lye have decided that their urban village will be regenerated in a very modern way. They have rejected initial council plans for extensive housing development on brownfield sites; instead they have formed a community action group called LARA—the Lye Area Regeneration Alliance. It includes local churches, the mosque, the allotment association—many members have tended those plots for 50 years—and local children, who want to know, quite reasonably, why there are no trees where they live. It also includes plenty of individuals who are determined to improve their surroundings.
LARA is unusual in that its vision is big and it is special. Yes, its members want to see more housing, but they also want to create a place of modern architectural excellence. They want to construct a set of community buildings that will, in their words, be a "flagship for the future", not just for Lye, not just for the industrial black country and the west midlands, but for Britain. They want their new buildings to bring hope back to an area that has been neglected and blighted and they want to do it with modern architecture of the highest possible quality. As one local woman, Carol Partridge, said, "Why can't we have the best?"
Under the LARA community vision, its members' children will have a way to reach out to Britain as a whole. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that that is a very big vision, and a brave one. We in Westminster should salute it, because it will undoubtedly be a long, hard road to achieve such a landmark project.
People in Lye desperately need the investment that, as the Minister pointed out, has been denied them for decades under Conservative Governments. Moreover, they will need to be backed by an equal amount of political willpower; I wonder whether it actually exists.
The Government have said that they will champion good design in building. A Minister in every Department has been made *a design champion. We now have a 1180 ministerial design champion for health, education and so on. But with the best will in the world, can a busy Health Minister tackling myriad national health service problems really be expected to be a true champion of construction? Would such a Minister, indeed, have the expertise to read complicated plans or understand detailed specifications? Are Departments equipped to facilitate the championing of good design? I would suggest that the answer is no, and perhaps I may demonstrate why I think so.
As joint chair of the parliamentary planning and architecture group, I was interested to discover how many new schools had been built since 1997 and what would be built in the next couple of years. I was planning—there was nothing sinister in it—to visit schools that had recently been built and to keep an eye on the new ones that were built. I therefore tabled a parliamentary question about that. I was pretty surprised to receive from the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (John Healey), a written answer to say:We do not hold the information in the form requested.All that I had asked for was a list of the new schools. I was told:It is for local education authorities to determine the need for additional school places in the maintained sector and, where necessary, to build or support the provision of new schools. The Department makes available capital funding for new school places; many of these are provided in existing schools."—[Official Report, 4 February 2002; Vol. 379, c. 720W.]Well, if the Education Minister who is entrusted with delivering design excellence in new school construction cannot even locate the new schools that have been built in the past few years and has no idea where they will be built in the next few years, I fail to see how the Government can hope to ensure that design and construction is of the highest quality.
§ Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham)
I share the hon. Lady's frustration with the answers given by the Department for Education and Skills about new schools. I have tried the same questions myself and received a similar response. What I have been able to establish is that, under the provisions of the Education Bill, there is an opportunity for new schools to be set up by new promoters. In her response to me the Secretary of State said that no more than 10 schools a year might be built.
§ Ms Shipley
The hon. Gentleman makes a supportive point to mine about trying to obtain information on new schools, but I believe that our Government should be proud that we are building schools and that we are investing—massively, as I shall show—in school buildings. It was the Conservative party, of which the hon. Gentleman is a member, that left our built education structures—schools, classrooms and the playgrounds that our children play on—in an absolutely disgraceful state. Throughout my constituency, children were literally falling over in playgrounds where the tarmac was crumbling over on itself. They were in schools where the temporary buildings were disintegrating and were damp. These are gradually being replaced by the Labour Government, but in order to reach design excellence there needs to be a much greater awareness of what that is and what is going on. Good enough is not good enough.
The Government are to be congratulated on establishing the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. CABE could point the Minister in the right 1181 direction for school buildings, because it seems to have sniffed out quite a few of them. There seems to be a particular problem with the PFI-funded school buildings initiative. According to a recent report in the journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, some 500 schools have nowexperienced life under the initiative from total rebuild to minor refurbishmentand, apparently, thegovernment has invested a further £1.2 billion in 43 further projects which are currently at planning or procurement stage.The good thing is that, at last, money is being invested in schools after years of under-investment by the Conservative party. The bad news is that the opportunity to produce buildings of architectural excellence is being squandered. According to CABE's commissioner, Richard Fielden,mediocrity is closer to the norm".It is a sad waste that communities that desperately need their schools to be replaced or refurbished are receiving buildings that, although adequate, are far from life enhancing.
In disadvantaged areas, schools may well he the only public buildings and, as such, are the community focus, but instead of a new construction providing a much-needed catalyst for rejuvenation, they are merely good enough. They are better than that which they replace, but far from good enough to enhance young lives.The Architects' Journal suggests that the Department for Education and Skills is addressing certain aspects of school-building design, but I contend that a Department that, only last week, could not supply a simple list of new schools will struggle in its task to champion design excellence in the built environment.
So what is good design? I emphasise that I am not talking about personal aesthetic taste. CABE has produced some worthwhile guidelines for good school design. To design-conscious people most of the points are extraordinarily obvious, but the truly shocking thing is that most new building work fails to address some basic principles. Those principles include, first, good, clear organisation with an easily legible plan and full accessibility; secondly, spaces that are well proportioned, efficient and fit their purposes; thirdly, circulation that is well organised and generous; fourthly, appropriate levels of natural light and ventilation; fifthly, attractiveness in design to inspire pupils, staff and parents; sixthly, good use of site; seventhly, attractive external spaces with appropriate security; eighthly, a lay-out that encourages community access and facilitates use out of school hours; ninthly, robust materials, which weather and wear well; and tenthly, scope for future adaptation. Finally—this is hugely important—the building should transcend the sum of those parts to produce genuine delight for all who use it and a sense of lasting quality.
I make a plea for environmentally sensitive construction. As I have already said, some £1.2 billion-worth of school building projects are at the planning and procurement stages. In addition, billions of pounds will go into the construction of new hospitals and housing in the next few years. That represents massive buying power, and I urge the Government to decide to require high environmental standards as part of all new 1182 building works specifications. The combined political pressures and financial considerations could be galvanised to ensure the mass production of energy-efficient devices, which would, in turn, drive down unit costs.
The Government should use their massive spending power to stimulate and support a rigorous environmental strategy. It is, frankly, scandalous that new buildings are constructed that do not utilise the best practices available to reduce energy consumption. Moreover, deprived areas surely deserve the best in terms of energy efficiency. I very much welcome the Government's fuel poverty strategy. Because of poor building insulation and inefficient heating systems, many people in Britain, particularly in disadvantaged areas, cannot afford to keep their homes warm in winter, so I am very pleased that the Government are working hard to upgrade existing housing stock.
Much stronger legislation is needed to require new buildings to be low in fuel consumption and high in insulation values. I am aware that guidelines on that matter exist, but I suggest that requirements would be more appropriate to create a level playing field. I should like the Government to commit themselves to requiring new houses, hospitals, schools and other buildings to reach the highest standards of insulation and to use alternative power sources. That would enable the Government to take a massive step towards meeting their welcome and well-meant environmental targets.
To conclude, this really is a vision thing. Could Ministers, perhaps led by the Prime Minister—the issue is as serious as that—envisage the rejuvenation of the disadvantaged urban village of Lye to the point where it becomes a centre of excellence in design and environmental standards? Could our disadvantaged areas become places of national pride, civic pride and local pride? In fact, the money is already being made available; the need is very obvious, so it is surely now a matter of political will power.
§ Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Ms Shipley) in the debate. I nearly called her the hon. Member for Shipley. She speaks with much knowledge and experience, especially of art and architecture. I took the opportunity of reading "Dod's" while she was finishing her speech, and I see that she not only has a postgraduate degree in architectural history, but is the author of 17 books, several of which are on architecture.
It is not good enough just to regenerate and provide help for the disadvantaged areas of Britain; we must find ways to do so in a decently designed environment. One of the great errors of the 1960s and 1970s was that huge tower blocks were thrown up. They were quite ghastly and horrible places in which to live. That creates some of the disadvantages that we now see in some areas, so I hope that the Minister will bear in mind what the hon. Lady said about design in the inner cities.
I was interested to hear the hon. Lady talk about Lye. In my constituency, there is a place the name of which is pronounced in the same way, but it is spelt Lea. It is probably the leafiest area in England. It is a tiny hamlet in the middle of the countryside, surrounded entirely by trees, so hon. Members may think that it would be difficult for someone from a constituency such as mine to 1183 imagine the situation in Lye, which the hon. Lady described. As I shall explain in a moment, there are definitely areas of deprivation even in a leafy area such as North Wiltshire, as well as in more obviously disadvantaged areas, such as her constituency.
Hon. Members have already asked whether we should adopt what many describe as the bricks-and-mortar approach to the disadvantaged areas of Britain, or whether there should be a much broader approach to correcting deprivation. Of course, the latter approach must be the right one to take. We must consider crime, traffic, education and health. All those are vital, and there is no point in having a regeneration strategy unless due account is taken of those difficult problems. But I fear that I shall fall into the traditional trap and address myself only to the bricks-and-mortar approach because, as the hon. Lady said, if we do not get that approach right, it is no good putting the other things in place. Hon. Members will expand on those other areas in a moment.
I should like to think from scratch for a second. The problem with planning and regeneration over the years has been that we have not paid attention to the obvious and basic physical fact that we are 55 million people living on an extraordinarily small island. We do not have the advantages of America, for example, where planning restrictions are lax and people can build and regenerate as much as they like. We cannot do that; we are incredibly short of space, especially in the south-east and south-west of England, although perhaps less so in the north. Our planning policies in the post-war years have resulted in some of the worst areas being in the north of England, as well as in the south.
The key to regeneration, not only in our inner cities but in the suburbs and rural areas, is to realise that, given the an ever-increasing population—55 million, but growing—and, more importantly, an ever-increasing number of households, we need to find a way for those people to live in the style to which they wish to become accustomed or to which they are accustomed already. They will often live in more densely populated inner cities than has traditionally been the case. We need to provide them with the sort of infrastructure, educational facilities and so on that we now all have a right to expect.
In the past 20 or 30 years, a curious mindset among town planners has prevented the regeneration and the high-density building in the inner cities that we all demand. That results from the fact that the British people seem to believe that the ideal place in which to live is a cul-de-sac. For many years, town planners have drawn their street plans and dotted the houses around the streets. The streets are therefore entirely dominated by the motor car.
In the Prince of Wales's interesting development in Dorset, that approach has been turned on its head. He has put all the houses along the streets, with facilities for the cars behind the houses. Mixed in with the houses are schools, shops, factories, churches and the rest of it. To some degree, the development has replicated the excellent model of an English village, which has a variety of different houses. There are big and small houses for rich and poor people altogether in one place. The car is not given priority; it is relegated to other places. Rather than creating more and more suburbs that consist entirely of cul-de-sacs with houses dotted round them, we should perhaps adopt the approach that the Prince of Wales's planning gurus have promoted over the years.
1184 If we adopted such an approach, we would create a mixed environment in which the young, single mothers and the elderly would be able to do what they often want, which is to live in small flats on the same level as the shops. We cannot do that at present, because our planners have traditionally expected us to leave the inner cities and to move to the suburbs and to bigger and bigger houses that we might not need. Planners do not provide the accommodation that we need in town centres.
The approach taken in this country stands in sharp contrast to what occurs in many European cities, such as Paris. The more prosperous people move into the centre of Paris. Strangely, the outer suburbs are the poorer areas while the centre of Paris is the richest part of the city. In Britain, the opposite is the case.
The figures tell us starkly what has occurred. In 1951, 19.3 million people lived in conurbations, but the figure has gone down to 17.3 million today. By contrast, the number living in out-of-town areas—in the south, in particular—has gone up from 3.4 million in 1951 to 4.8 million today. The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions acknowledged that when it said that migration flows haveprincipally … been down the urban hierarchy"—as it rather patronisingly calls it—from the bigger urban areas to the suburbs, the smaller urban areas and the shire towns and rural areas".We are progressively allowing our people to move from the inner cities. One of the first messages that we should learn from the debate is that we should seek a way of reversing that trend if we are to save areas, such as mine, from extensive rebuilding and extensive use of greenfield sites. If we are to provide the housing that people want, we must find a way of building it in the centre of towns.
Lord Rogers clearly sent that message and one of the great disappointments of the Labour Government is that, having appointed him to produce a first-class report with about 130 recommendations, they have—principally, I suspect, because of the Treasury—decided that they are unable to implement his proposals. Ministers in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions might argue passionately in favour of Lord Rogers' proposals in Cabinet Committees, but they are constrained by their colleagues in the Treasury. We must consider Lord Rogers' views and seek to create his image of an urban renaissance in the nation.
We should be extraordinarily worried by the destruction of greenfield sites. North Wiltshire is already suffering from Labour's regional house building policy, which means that an estimated 1.5 million buildings will be constructed on greenfield sites during the next 20 years. To put that figure into context, that is the equivalent of building 40 towns the size of Slough. I would not be as unkind as Mr. Betjeman in calling for friendly bombs to fall on Slough. However, if 40 Sloughs were replicated across the nation, friendly bombs might have a role to play.
As the hon. Lady said, we face the problems of declining schools, closing shops, rising crime and wrecked cars on the streets. We should be concerned about such problems, which form the centre of this debate. I have already mentioned the Prince of Wales's development at Poundbury in Dorset. It is an exemplar that we should follow. We must find a way of rehousing 1185 our young and elderly people in cities as much as possible. That is the first lesson that we must learn from this debate.
Docklands was mentioned earlier, but the Barbican was the first such development after the war. Different kinds of housing with the appropriate infrastructure were built on a huge bomb site. The windy corridors of the Barbican are perhaps an example of how not to solve the problem, but a good attempt was made to do so.
Another such development is likely to take place shortly and I should declare an interest in that my flat overlooks the area. I hope that the Government will act shortly to remove the ghastly Government buildings in the three huge tower blocks in Marsham street and replace them with something that can be considered best practice. It should be a mixed development with different kinds of housing, shops and business. We should try to use the development in Marsham street to show what can be done to regenerate a pretty scruffy area. The buildings have been vacant since I was a special adviser there seven years ago, but I hope that the Government will move quickly to get rid of those ghastly excrescences on the landscape and that they will construct something that will act as an exemplar for the rest of the nation.
I accept that there are problems with the approach that I have outlined and I wish to touch on a couple of them. In many inner cities and deprived areas, there is a pattern of diffuse ownership. We do not know who owns the properties. One individual may own one patch of a site and someone else may own other bits. I therefore hope that the Government will consider changing the arrangements for compulsory purchase orders so that we can find a way of bringing land together and creating a worthwhile scheme as a result.
VAT on housing constructed on the derelict areas of inner cities has been mentioned and it is an important point. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has suggested that he intends to act. If he can bring the rate of VAT for such housing down to at least 5 per cent. and if he can persuade his colleagues in the European Union to do what he has not so far allowed them to do—which is to bring the rate down to zero—that would be great. It is bizarre that our Chancellor can put the rate of VAT on a particular good or service up but, if he wishes to abolish it, he cannot do so. That is a strange aspect of European law, but he should be ready to bring the rate of VAT on regeneration projects down to zero.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
My hon. Friend describes the situation as bizarre. It is particularly bizarre since the VAT rate for such schemes in most European countries is in single figures. This country faces a peculiar anomaly.
§ Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart)
Will the hon. Gentleman remind the House which Chancellor raised the rate of VAT in this country from 15 to 17.5 per cent? That happened after the rate had been raised from 8 per cent. to 15 per cent. in 1979. Will the hon. Gentleman remind us who did that?
§ Mr. Gray
The hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood the thrust of my remarks. I was not talking 1186 about the rate of VAT, but he is right to suggest that we raised it to 17.5 per cent. He will recall that we did that to do away with the poll tax. Perhaps he would prefer the poll tax still to be in existence and VAT to be at 15 per cent. My remarks had nothing to do with the level of VAT. I was referring to the differential in the rate of VAT for rebuilding on inner-city sites and for brand-new building on greenfield sites. That differential has remarkably unfortunate effects on planning decisions.
I know that my hon. Friends will focus on other issues, but I should like briefly to focus on the problem of housing. If we can get the bricks and mortar right, we can get the rest right. The Labour party has been bold in its comments about what it will do for housing. When I was a special adviser to a Minister with responsibility for housing, we were constantly placed under pressure because people said that we were not building enough council houses. Shelter and others shouted at us, and Labour Members spent much time telling us how disgraceful our housing policy was.
However, the House will recall that, between 1993 and 1996, we built precisely 150,600 new social dwellings. In the equivalent three years between 1997 and 2000, the Labour Government have built 95,500 new social dwellings. Their provision of social housing has fallen by 37 per cent. compared with ours, but they said that the figure that we achieved was lamentably low. If that is their view, they must put their money where their mouth is.
We have housing problems throughout the nation. People with homelessness problems come to my surgery all the time. The Government are not building new housing. They say they are doing all sorts of things and they blame us for the problems. The truth is that we have a significant homelessness problem and the Government are doing nothing to address it.
§ Mr. Harris
I am delighted that the Conservative party has suddenly discovered the value of social housing. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we have a major problem with council house stocks because his Government sold off so many council houses and refused to allow local councils to use the receipts to build new ones?
§ Mr. Gray
The country will note that the hon. Gentleman opposes the right to buy. Some 2.5 million families now live in a house that they own. Previously, they would have been tenants of pretty useless landlords in Labour local authorities. They will have heard what he said and will be thankful to the Conservative Government for allowing them to determine their own future.
§ Ms Oona King
Although everyone would agree that it is proper that people, and low-income families in particular, have the right to buy their houses, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should move towards the equity-based approach that the Government are trying to introduce? Although 3,000 new houses were built in London last year, 11,000 were sold off through the right to buy.
§ Mr. Gray
The hon. Lady makes my point for me. It is a disgrace that the Government are building so few new houses. She is right and must address her remarks to her Front-Bench spokesmen. We cannot understand the situation. In our years in government we built countless new social housing units, but her Government are failing to do so.
§ Mr. Gray
I have taken enough interventions. Labour Members do not seem to understand that they are not building sufficient social housing.
The Labour party is also failing badly with regard to empty council houses. All the time that we were in power, we were under attack by Labour Members who said that it was scandalous that so many council houses were empty. The fact is that when they came to power, there were 81,200 empty council houses in England. In April 2000, there were 87,186 empty council houses. The figure has increased enormously. One has only to glance at the political control of the local authorities where those empty homes are to discover that in Conservative-controlled councils 1.5 per cent. of the stock is vacant and in Liberal Democrat-controlled councils, to do them a favour, 1.9 per cent. is vacant. Labour-controlled councils, however, have 2.7 per cent. management vacant, as they are called. I suspect that the local authority that covers the constituency of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), Tower Hamlets, is one of the worst offenders.
§ Mr. Harris
I understand the hon. Gentleman's criticisms of Labour local authorities. Does he think that they could learn from the example of Dame Shirley Porter?
§ Mr. Gray
That is the hon. Gentleman's third intervention. He seems to think that this is a party political debate. I do not think that it is. We must find a way to accommodate 55 million people in this small island of ours in the most satisfactory way. To make constant party political points reduces the level of debate unnecessarily.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
Perhaps I can bring the debate back to a more sensible level. My hon. Friend will know 1188 that we introduced large-scale voluntary transfers, a policy that this Government have continued. Is he aware of the Library figures? They state that between 1998 and 1999, the stock transfer of 400,000 council houses has resulted in £5.9 billion of private investment being levered into the housing sector. Despite that huge amount of money, the Government have managed to build fewer social housing units than we did.
§ Mr. Gray
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The excellent Westlea housing association in North Wiltshire is a key example of what can happen when we transfer housing from bad local government landlords into the hands of true housing professionals. That was a great triumph of the Conservative Government.
We have mainly talked about inner cities, but rural areas also have problems. It is easy for people to look at North Wiltshire and think that we have it easy. They see it as full of millionaires and people who live in leafy suburbs. It is easy for them to think that people there are lucky and that people in inner-city areas are disadvantaged. Labour Members would be surprised by the cases that come into my surgery in Chippenham. They often involve problems with housing and benefits. Although we do not have as much overall deprivation, our individual cases of deprivation are as severe.
§ Ms Shipley
Will the hon. Gentleman take if from me that Labour—myself excluded, because I represent an urban constituency—is well represented by MPs for rural constituencies? I believe that we represent more rural constituencies than the Conservatives and my hon. Friends have held their seats through two general elections because their constituents know what it is like to be under a Conservative Government. It is our rural MPs who are fighting to regenerate those rural areas that the Conservative party failed so badly.
§ Mr. Gray
The hon. Lady may well be right about constituency representation. I invite Labour Members who claim to represent rural constituencies to put their hands up, because there are not an awful lot of them. Remarkably few Labour Members of Parliament truly represent rural seats. For example, on the list of so-called rural seats are my neighbouring constituencies of North Swindon and South Swindon. No one who really knows about the countryside would describe them as rural. However, Labour does represent some rural constituencies in the north of England. I welcome the fact that her hon. Friends who represent them are ready to argue the case on behalf of rural deprivation just as much as her urban colleagues are prepared to argue the case on behalf of urban deprivation. Rural deprivation is just as bad in many ways.
We know about agriculture. Tourism in my area was decimated by foot and mouth disease. As I mentioned in Prime Minister's Question Time this week, Malmesbury, which is a Cotswold town that one would think was in a prosperous area, has been decimated. Lucent Technologies has closed, with 150 jobs being laid off just before Christmas. In addition, Mr. Dyson laid off 180 at Christmas and has announced that 820 more jobs are to go because he is moving his manufacturing base to the far east. Some 1,200 to 1,500 jobs have gone in the past few months in a town with a population of 4,500. I hope that we find ways to avoid the worst effects of that, but I 1189 anticipate a significant level of poverty and difficulty in the town, which on the face of it seems an extremely pleasant place to live.
That problem is compounded by something that the Government can put right, but they are taking a lamentably long time to do so. We heard how the standard spending assessment grant in London has been reduced by £100 million, but the grant in the rural shire areas has been reduced by £300 million. North Wiltshire spends £2,500 per secondary pupil per year. The neighbouring county of Berkshire and a similar county such as Kent spend about £3,500 per pupil per year. In inner London, about £5,000 is spent per pupil per year. Although those figures are indicative rather than accurate, about twice as much is spent on educating children in central London than is spent in North Wiltshire.
The SSA system is badly skewed. It needs to be put right. The Government have said that they will do that, but the review is taking a long time. When it is complete, I hope that they will find ways to take funds back from some of the areas that do not need them, in the inner cities and elsewhere, and return them to the shire counties that have been so badly treated for such a long time.
My hon. Friends will have things to say about the fragmented nature of what the Labour party is trying to do with regard to the inner cities and funding, which is very low. After four years of a Government who came to power with such great claims that they would put right the wrongs and the ills of the inner cities, it is disappointing to see the figures that demonstrate that things are significantly worse since then. I say, "Come back, the Conservative Government. All is forgiven. What you did in the inner cities was a great deal better than what this lot are doing." All Labour Members are good at is initiatives and spin, and targets and bragging. The only regeneration that our inner cities have seen was in the 18 years when we were in power.
§ Mr. Iain Coleman (Hammersmith and Fulham)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me in this important debate on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. I shall talk briefly about a major Government-funded regeneration scheme in my constituency, which is in year 1 of its 10-year programme, and discuss briefly the issue of regeneration for London.
The regeneration scheme that I want to talk about is one of the 39 new deal for communities projects located in various areas of the country. The NDC for north Fulham is home to a population of 8,000. It lies in the west of the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, and has 4,000 households, which are predominantly in social housing. As for the exact geographical location, the area is bounded by the nice, discreet and posh Queens tennis club, Barons Court underground station to the west, Earl's Court to the east, Talgarth road to the north and Fulham broadway to the south.
The area has five quite large housing estates, which were built between 1912 and 1977. Housing tenure in the area is 67 per cent. social housing, 13 per cent. privately rented and 19 per cent. owner occupied, and the average price of a two-bedroom flat or maisonette is £190,000. 1190 That compares with a borough average of £206,000 and a rate of owner occupation of 43 per cent. Much to my regret, the area has been in long-term decline and the rate of unemployment is well over 10 per cent. Twelve per cent. of households have an annual income of less than £5,000, and 25 per cent. of households have an annual income of under £10,000.
I am talking about a highly mixed area, much like the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), where high levels of poverty and deprivation mix somewhat uneasily with wealth and significant affluence. By itself, that brings particular problems that are complex and difficult to manage. Thirty-five per cent. of households in the area have an income of over £25,000 a year, and many have a great deal more than that. That distorts the average income in the NDC area to one of £23,000 per annum per household, which is obviously well above the regional and national average.
Nearly 15 per cent. of the families living in the area are headed by single parents. The area has a significant non-white population, well above the Greater London and national average. Eighteen per cent. of the population have English as a second language, of whom 15 per cent. have no or very little English. Educational attainment in the area is significantly below the borough and the regional average. Interestingly, while at key stages 1 and 2 attainment is in line with the borough average, there is a noticeable drop in performance at key stage 3. Thirty-six per cent. of residents of working age have no recognised qualification compared with a borough average of 15 per cent.
I am trying to paint a picture of the area. Crime is high—nearly 50 per cent. higher than the regional average. Victims of crime are much more likely to be elderly, black or from an ethnic minority. Poor health is another fact of life for far too many people in the NDC area. The social services mental health case load is substantial, and the area has a disproportionately large number of children on the child protection register. As a result of poor diet, very high levels of smoking and drug and alcohol abuse, life expectancy is well below the national average.
When after careful consideration the local authority selected the area for its bid for funding under the NDC programme, the first task was to put together the key elements of the bid—the delivery plan for north Fulham. At this stage, a steering group, comprising a range of local partners, residents and tenants' representatives and other interested agencies was formed, and I chaired it. It met on a fortnightly basis for several months.
Consultants were employed by the local authority to prepare the bid and, after considerable debate and more than a few problems and interesting discussions within the steering group, the bid was submitted to the Department last year. As I have said, the bid was for a 10-year programme of £44 million. I am pleased to report that the bid was successful in achieving that level of funding.
Having secured the funding, we formed a shadow community board consisting of community representatives drawn from a number of small geographical areas. The community representatives meet monthly and elect one or two representatives to serve on the shadow board, which I now chair.
1191 A number of strategic partners who also sit on the board are drawn from key local agencies such as the local authority, the health service and the Benefits Agency, and include the chief executive of a major local registered social landlord. There is also a representative from the local black and ethnic minority forum. All those representatives have voting rights at the shadow board. Again, the board meets on a monthly basis and considers a range of issues related to the implementation of the NDC programme. These include recommendations from appraisal panels, which meet to consider the relative strengths and weaknesses of different funding proposals.
Community representatives on the board have attended training programmes to assist them with the monitoring and evaluation of those proposals. The management of the staff employed to date by the NDC has comprised consultants and secondees from agencies such as the local authority and the national health service. I am pleased to report that last week the permanent director of the programme was appointed, and the recruitment of the rest of the permanent delivery team will commence shortly.
The success or otherwise of the NDC programme for north Fulham will not be possible to evaluate for several years to come. To be frank, our early spending programme has been modest but has included the recruitment of a team of five extra police officers, headed by a sergeant, to work exclusively in the north Fulham NDC area. Their role is to act as a highly visible police presence in the area, where the fear of crime has been constantly raised as a major concern for local residents. Early signs are that the level of crime has been significantly reduced.
Three new learning mentors have been funded to work in the local primary schools that score highest on levels of deprivation. One of these primary schools has 78 per cent. of children in receipt of free school meals, and in another primary school, 39 separate languages are spoken. We have also agreed proposals to appoint special co-ordinators in the areas of health, youth and employment. The NDC, in partnership with the local authority, has funded a project called Operation Fresh Start, which has provided for projects to undertake a major clean of the streets in the NDC area, the removal of fly-tipped items and a service offering one-off removal of all unwanted household goods and the removal of graffiti. It has also provided for two refuse service enforcement officers to patrol the area, which suffers the dumping of all sorts of detritus.
Early feedback has been positive. A business network development programme has been set up and a community chest fund started for small grants for which local community groups can bid. A highly successful community carnival was held last year and a shop frontage improvement grant has been established. These are early days, but we have had a successful year in that we have spent 95 per cent. of our projected budget in the first year of the programme. In time, we will need to establish a full community board with democratic elections for all community representative posts. For the next two years we have set a much more ambitious programme of spending, including at least one major new capital scheme for the area.
The NDC programme has not been without its problems, its tensions and its rows; but so far we have been largely successful in establishing a genuine spirit of community engagement in the area. For far too long this 1192 part of an affluent area—indeed, it is one of the wealthiest in London—has been neglected. Many people have been left isolated and vulnerable and the area has fallen into decline. The NDC programme represents the best opportunity for the poor and the socially excluded to have a share of what they deserve but have been denied for too long.
Too many regeneration projects in the past dealt with the physical fabric of the local area and failed to challenge social problems in the community. Fear of crime, poor health, lack of access to proper facilities and a high incidence of drug and alcohol abuse have allowed areas such as north Fulham to lose confidence. The NDC represents a new approach to tackling decline. It genuinely seeks to allow the local community to work in partnership to challenge that sense of lethargy and helplessness. It is an exciting time to be in north Fulham.
North Fulham is a classic example of many areas in London where there are huge disparities between economic and social prosperity. Too often, out-of-date notions about the north-south divide mask the reality. It is not a matter of geography: the real issues are poverty, deprivation, unemployment and social exclusion.
The real picture on the ground is far more complex then some regional indicators may show. However, hon. Members may be surprised by a few of them. London has the highest number of unemployed people of all UK regions. There are more unemployed people in London than in Scotland and Wales combined. Of the 74 parliamentary constituencies in London, 20 have employment rates of 65 per cent. or less and nine have employment rates of less than 60 per cent. In addition, 26 per cent. of the London-employed work force have very low qualifications and 40 per cent. of the unemployed have no qualifications. Three out of the five most deprived boroughs in England are in London, and 2.7 million London residents live in one of the 20 most deprived wards in England. Those stark facts show that parts of London are far different from the exclusively affluent picture that some may wish to paint.
I recognise the problems that my colleagues representing other regions may face. I sympathise with them and I would not deny them the support that they deserve, but it is the duty of Members representing constituencies with high levels of need and deprivation to argue our case in the coming months and years, and we believe that we have the facts to back up our call for our share of the regeneration cake.
§ 12.2 pm
§ Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)
Let me say in his absence how much of a pleasure it was to listen to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Daisley). He need not worry about having made such a late maiden speech. Historically, new Members were told not to make a maiden speech for at least six months to a year. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has let himself down and I appreciate why he has not spoken before. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman shares his predecessor's fondness for toads—or newts—but I hope that he will be as independent as his predecessor and not become just another Labour toady, but we shall have to wait and see.
It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman). I lived happily in Fulham for many years. I enjoyed my time there 1193 greatly, but one thing I could never say about Fulham was that it was an exciting place. It was very nice, but I would hardly describe it as one of the country's hot spots. I am glad to hear that it is doing well.
The hon. Gentleman made an interesting point about the high rates of unemployment in London. This brings us to the theme of today's debate. Everyone knows that our capital city would not function without the large numbers of people coming from abroad to work here—many of them asylum seekers or refugees working illegally. New Zealanders, South Africans and Australians are found serving in many pubs in London. The city is drawing in tens of thousands of workers to help it survive, yet there is enormous unemployment among the native population. That skills gap needs to be addressed. It is nonsensical that people should come from abroad and get jobs, while people in the east end of London and other problem areas such as north Fulham remain unemployed. Solving that problem is a challenge to us all.
In reading out her prepared text, rather hurriedly, the Minister broke a convention of our Friday debates, which we try to make more thoughtful and restrained than our mid-week ones. Once again, she promoted the myth that all the problems that exist today are something to do with 18 years of Tory misrule. That is absolute nonsense. Every commentator knows that the tough economic decisions taken by Conservative Governments in that time laid the foundations for the prosperity that we have today.[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond) may laugh, but independent commentators will substantiate that.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister's remarks are an insult to the good sense of the British people, who elected, re-elected and re-elected again Conservative Governments, presumably because they thought that they were doing rather a good job?
§ Mr. Atkinson
Indeed, that is precisely why the British people re-elected Conservative Governments. They knew that they were taking tough decisions that needed to be taken.
I can see those Governments' legacy in my region in the north-east of England. Under our stewardship, failing industries closed and derelict land was cleared. Newcastle upon Tyne now has one of the best cityscapes in this country, because of the Tyne and Wear development corporation, set up by a Conservative Government, which did so much to regenerate a rundown area on the riverside. The development corporations were good and efficient organisations, and the Government should learn some lessons from them when they redraft their regeneration projects.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
My hon. Friend is making an important point. Labour Members always denigrate our record on urban regeneration. He has mentioned the west end of Newcastle, but many other major city sites were 1194 transformed by the urban development corporations, including the centre of Glasgow, Leeds, London docklands and the Albert dock in Liverpool.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Yes, our record is extremely good indeed, and we had a much tougher time, with much greater problems to deal with, than the present Government.
The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) put her finger on it when she mentioned Canary Wharf. Here was a tremendously successful urban regeneration scheme cheek by jowl with pockets of extreme poverty. That is the problem that we face. It is the same in the north-east of England. People say that the north is depressed, and it is true that we have a lower than average percentage of gross domestic product and some more social problems, but to write it off as a depressed area gives the wrong impression entirely.
Much of the region is affluent, with content, healthy and well-educated people, and we have a most beautiful and wonderful landscape, but there are pockets of severe deprivation, especially in the old coalfield areas, that certainly need help. Are the Government targeting the areas of poverty efficiently? I suggest that they are not. I had hoped that the Minister would give us some better ideas about what they intend to do, but all I heard were the usual words: "top-down strategy", "framework", "planning".
§ Mr. Atkinson
Was the hon. Lady going to keep them open? She has her history utterly confused. She may remember that it was her former colleague, Tony Benn, who closed more collieries in the north-east of England than anyone else: more than 1,000 collieries were closed by a Labour Government because they were uneconomic. We did precisely the same thing. Is she saying that she and her Government would have kept all those pits open?
§ Mr. Atkinson
Nonsense again. The Minister clearly has not been to the north-east for a while; if she had she would have seen the regeneration effected under a Conservative Government in those coalfield areas. If she drives down to the coast from the city of Newcastle, she will see the industrial landscape on both sides of the Tyne, transformed as a result of Conservative initiatives. To say that we did nothing is nonsense: we did immeasurably more than the Labour Government have done. As far as I can see, we have a plethora of initiatives with very little happening on the ground.
1195 My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) referred to rural poverty and disadvantage. I have a striking example of that in my constituency: a community called Haltwhistle, a little settlement midway between Newcastle and Carlisle. It is actually in the centre of Britain, a feature the local tourist board makes something of.
As well as being a very old border town, Haltwhistle was also a small industrial town. It made a living off the local coalfield—which more or less collapsed in the 1930s—but it had an industrial base. In the last few months, there have been job losses in the town, with the consequence that, according to the local press, nearly half the working population of a town of 3,500 people is either currently unemployed or will be unemployed in the next few months. A paint factory that has been there for generations is closing and production has been moved away. The last coal mine is closing down, with 100 jobs going, and a construction company has gone bankrupt. All the associated jobs, in transport and elsewhere, are suffering and that is devastating for a town such as Haltwhistle.
I was hoping to find out from the Minister what the Government will do to address the problems of rural areas. We have the rural development plan and the market town initiative, neither of which is capable of reviving a town such as Haltwhistle unless the Government make some proper infrastructure improvements. Isolated communities depend on infrastructure.
Because of the Government's continual refusal to upgrade main highways in the north-east of England, such communities are hugely disadvantaged. We ask for the roads to be improved but the Government reply that traffic flows do not justify it in value-for-money terms. However, it is value for money if we build roads to open up and develop areas that need that. I appeal to the Government, the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the Highways Agency to make the improvements to the roads for the community of Haltwhistle.
§ Mr. Tom Harris
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the deregulation of bus services in 1996 had a catastrophic effect on the travelling public? Would he like to see some modification of that, such as the franchising of local bus routes?
§ Mr. Atkinson
I would not, and I disagree fundamentally with that idea. I know that the hon. Gentleman—who likes to intervene so much—was a Labour spin doctor for many years, but he must look at the facts. Deregulated bus services have vastly improved services in city areas, but in areas such as mine—the most sparsely populated constituency in England—running buses is an impracticality. It is not practical to leave Haltwhistle to travel 13 miles by bus to work and then return that day. Jobs need to be found for people in the areas where they need them, which the Government are singularly failing to do.
I wish to refer to the regional development agencies set up by the Government. The situation reminds me of the old joke about the lost traveller who asks the rustic for directions to the nearest town and is told, "If I were you, I would not be starting from this point." Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I would not be starting from this point because we oppose regional development agencies.
1196 It was wrong to spread a network of agencies across the whole of the country. It is important for disadvantaged areas such as the north-east of England to get some additional advantage by having development agencies, and we used to have a development corporation. But if every area has a development agency, it simply means that other parts of the country will compete for funds out of the same pot, to the disadvantage of the genuinely disadvantaged areas.
I have no complaint about the staff or the board of my local agency, One NorthEast, which does the best job it can. However, it has no real power. Every decision it takes depends on somebody else. It has no power over education, planning, economic policy or highways. All the action needed to regenerate an area depends on somebody else doing something. The agency does not have enough priority. If we are to make the RDAs better, they should concentrate on fewer things, such as economic regeneration, and not on peripheral things that local authorities can do better.
Finally, I want to discuss regional government, which is another threat to the north-east. As we know, many Labour Members are frightfully keen on regional government. They want to balkanise England and turn it into a series of regions—an idea that is being pursued with great vehemence in the north-east. Fortunately, as I understand it, the move towards regionalism was torpedoed by No. 10 Downing street. According to leaked reports, the Government's White Paper will insist on dismantling an entire tier of local government if regional government in the north-east is to go ahead. That will involve abolishing Durham and Northumberland county councils.
I should tell the House and the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) —he is not allowed to speak because he is a Whip—that people in the north-east will not vote for a regional assembly in those circumstances. They do not want their local county councils or district councils to be taken away and replaced by a regional assembly that is located far away from their communities. We should bring government closer to people, not move it further away. In effect, the Government have sabotaged regionalism—probably deliberately—by demanding the withdrawal of an entire layer of local government.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis
In spite of what my hon. Friend said, Opposition Whips are allowed to intervene, fortunately. I recently asked the Minister for Local Government how many letters he had received requesting the introduction of regional government in the south-east, and the answer was not a single one.
§ Mr. Atkinson
There we are. That is right—the British people are not at all anxious to go down that path.
Regional government in the north-east has been a monstrous distraction. The northern assembly, which has taken on a self-appointed role as a campaigner for regional government—funded, of course, by the taxpayer—would do far better to concentrate on regenerating the region and addressing bread-and-butter problems such as under-achievement in education. That is what the people of the north-east want; they do not want regional government consisting of another talking shop, full of Labour cronies.
§ Mr. Anthony D. Wright (Great Yarmouth)
I am very pleased to be able to contribute to this debate, because the regeneration of disadvantaged areas is certainly crucial to the people of Great Yarmouth, whom I represent. My comments will probably mirror what could be said of many other seaside resorts around the country.
If this Government are to be judged, as they should be, on whether they deliver improvements to the quality of life of those in greatest need, Great Yarmouth is precisely the type of place in which they must deliver such improvements. It gives me no great pleasure to say that Great Yarmouth suffers from one of the highest unemployment levels in this country, and from some of the worst social deprivation. There are a number of reasons why, some of them historical, and others more connected to the present. Among the historical reasons are the ending of the herring fishing industry, and the decline of the traditional seaside holiday destinations in the face of competition from cheap foreign package deals. Although the offshore oil and gas industry remains a major employer in the borough, it is a mature industry, rather than the rapidly growing enterprise of the 1970s.
A shortage of skills in certain areas definitely numbers among the current reasons for economic and social deprivation in Great Yarmouth. All too often, local employers in the engineering sector have told me that they have had to look far beyond Great Yarmouth for employees with the necessary training and qualifications. However, in my view the single biggest factor negatively affecting Great Yarmouth is its totally inadequate transport infrastructure. Great Yarmouth is often referred to in terms of its peripherality, which is both real and perceived, but the fact is that poor transport links are severely hindering economic development and job creation in the town, and there is an urgent need for real improvements. I shall return to that issue later in my speech.
Before I talk about the Government initiatives that have already helped the regeneration process, and their future role in regenerating my constituency, I want to describe the current situation there. Hon. Members will be aware of the travel-to-work-area method of measuring unemployment. According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics for December 2001—the most recent figures available—Great Yarmouth had an unemployment rate of 6.6 per cent., the third highest travel-to-work-area rate in England. There, as in other towns with a large seaside holiday industry, unemployment peaks in the winter months and falls in summer.
Recent history has shown that the unemployment rate in Yarmouth usually reaches its maximum in February. When this month's figures are eventually released, we may well regain our unwanted spot at the top of the English league table for unemployment. The borough had the unwelcome distinction of being top of that table between December 2000 and March 2001. The availability of short-term summer jobs removes a number of people from the unemployment statistics who return a few months later. That undoubtedly masks the true picture of long-term unemployment in the borough.
It is now widely accepted—I certainly believe it to be the case—that unemployment and economic deprivation have a direct causal link to social problems. The 1198 Government have endorsed this view by making their drive to improve employment opportunities and to make work pay a central plank of their policy to fight poverty. I agree with that approach, but Great Yarmouth unfortunately remains a prime example of that link, and has a range of social problems to mirror its economic ones.
Those problems were highlighted by the national index of multiple deprivation drawn up by the then Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions in 1998 and in 2000. This study examined 8,414 borough council wards in England, using the following indicators: income deprivation; employment deprivation; health deprivation; education, skills, and training deprivation; housing deprivation; and geographical access to services. In the overall ranking, the borough of Great Yarmouth was the fifth most deprived borough in England, placing it alongside the worst and most deprived of the major inner-city areas that have been well documented today. In fact, I have often heard Great Yarmouth described as the equivalent of an inner-city area, but without any of the surrounding suburbs.
The situation regarding deprivation in education, skills and training is particularly acute in Great Yarmouth. Half the council wards are in the bottom 10 per cent. for education nationally, and one fifth are in the bottom 1 per cent. Our Regent ward is rated the 19th most deprived ward in England, out of 8,414, and Nelson ward is rated 37th. Great Yarmouth also has problems in areas that were not used as indicators in the DETR's study, such as drugs, crime, high rates of teenage pregnancy and environmental concerns such as litter, rubbish in the streets and abandoned cars.
I want to draw to the attention of hon. Members the disparity between Great Yarmouth and other parts of East Anglia. Much has been said recently about the disparity between regions, particularly in the context of the north and south. But a classic example of how these disparities can exist on a smaller scale within regions is the comparison between Great Yarmouth, Norwich and Cambridge.
When I draw attention to the economic and social problems of Great Yarmouth, I sometimes feel that people think I am exaggerating. After all, Great Yarmouth is part of East Anglia, and it is widely accepted that East Anglia is a relatively wealthy region with high employment and a good standard of living. However, the latest unemployment figure for Great Yarmouth is 6.6 per cent. of the population, while the figure for the county of Norfolk is only 2.6 per cent. and for East Anglia as a whole, 2.2 per cent. In other words, unemployment in Great Yarmouth is three times the rate for the rest of the region.
Conditions in the city of Norwich, only 20 miles from Great Yarmouth, are very different. Norwich is a booming city that has had hundreds of million of pounds of inward investment in the last few years and is renowned for its quality of life. A further 50 miles south-west is the city of Cambridge, whose economy is growing almost exponentially and threatening to overheat. While Great Yarmouth is the fifth worst borough in England in terms of social deprivation, Cambridge ranks 204th on the same list. I do not for a moment begrudge Norwich and Cambridge their success, but the contrast between them and nearby Great Yarmouth is indeed stark.
1199 Having spoken of the present situation in Great Yarmouth and its regional context, I also want to consider what has happened in the recent past. From the outset, it must be said that things have improved significantly in the past few years, particularly in respect of employment. For example, in January 1997, the rate of unemployment in the borough stood at more than 10 per cent., as opposed to 6.6 per cent. today. There is no doubt that the Government's new deal programme has been a major factor in reducing unemployment in Great Yarmouth in the past few years.
It is far harder to quantify the figures across the range of indicators for social deprivation. None the less, I am hopeful that when the next study is carried out by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, the situation in Great Yarmouth will have improved.
As for education, where Great Yarmouth has had particular problems, I am happy to say that exam and test results for pupils across the borough last summer showed a step forward in quantity and quality—a tribute to both the pupils and their teachers.
The situation is far from one of doom and gloom. I wish to pay tribute to the support and resources that Great Yarmouth has received from the Government to help alleviate some of the problems that we face. The funding comes in a variety of guises, with the largest single grant being the £4.5 million that the borough received from the neighbourhood renewal fund. I know that the "no strings attached" nature of the grant was appreciated locally and that discussions are under way as to how this large sum of money can best be spent.
Another Government initiative from which Great Yarmouth has benefited has been sure start. Funding started in 1999 and has already been extended until 2004, making a total cash injection of £4.2 million. Initial research has shown that sure start in Great Yarmouth is already succeeding in its goal of working in a new way with families who have children under four to give them the best possible start in life. Next week I will be attending the opening a new £500,000 nursery on one of Great Yarmouth's most deprived estates, which is part of the sure start initiative.
Only this week it was announced that from April 2005, Great Yarmouth's education action zone will become an excellence cluster. As a result, it will receive about £1.8 million a year in funding, compared with the present total sum of £150,000. Those in charge of the education action zone are particularly pleased with this early commitment, as it allows them to plan for the long term.
There has been some controversy over the achievements of education action zones in some parts of the country, but the one in Great Yarmouth has been a great success. Key stage 3 and 4 results are now higher than the national average, attendance levels have improved at many schools and 80 per cent. of pupils have shown measurable progress in reading. The Great Yarmouth education action zone has also been successful in setting up partnerships with a number of local businesses for sponsorship and workplace training.
I have highlighted three major funding boosts that Great Yarmouth has received from the Government, but there have been many others. They have included assisted area status and single regeneration budget moneys for Regent, Nelson and Colholm and Lichfield, three of the 1200 most deprived wards in the area. In addition, the East of England development agency has invested about £3.6 million in projects in the town since 1997, with more to come.
We have also received one of the largest grants for closed circuit television in response to the need to reduce crime. It has been a huge success, and I hope that more bids from other parts of my constituency will be looked on favourably by the Minister at the appropriate time.
The borough has benefited recently from a number of major lottery funding awards, such as that given to Tower Curing Works, a museum that will celebrate Great Yarmouth's rich maritime heritage. Heritage regeneration has also been boosted by grants from the heritage economic regeneration strategy and the town heritage initiative. These, together with a range of public and private funding partners, have paid for the Nelson museum, a major new attraction which will open on the town's south quay in April.
Finally, there have been funds from Europe in the shape of objective 2 and objective 3 grants. For example, £771,000 was given in October last year under objective 2 towards the Innovation Centre, a high-quality and high-tech centre for the energy industry, currently under construction on the South Gorleston business park.
Improvement must come from within the area, and that is happening in Great Yarmouth. Perhaps the single most important example is the development of the Great Yarmouth outer harbour. Should the project go ahead, it will undoubtedly safeguard thousands of jobs in Great Yarmouth and, I hope, create hundreds of new ones. The scheme has been talked about for more than 30 years, but today I believe that it is closer to becoming a reality than at any other time.
A company called EastPort has been set up to drive the project through. It is talking with four private operators which have tendered to run the ferry service from Great Yarmouth to Holland three times a day. The bulk of the cash for the project will be raised by the private sector, with some money coming from public sources. I am pleased that the Government have agreed that public funding for the outer harbour can be considered, so long as certain conditions are met.
Great Yarmouth is closer to Amsterdam than to London, and the port has a long history of trade with Europe and Scandinavia. Development of the outer harbour will, I hope, be a catalyst in establishing Great Yarmouth as a gateway to Europe as well as creating new jobs in a regeneration area.
The sea front partnership is another important local initiative. That joint bid, under the heading "InteGreat Yarmouth", is intended to invigorate and upgrade the town's seafront and town centre, improve the local environment, and stimulate tourism. It is a comprehensive plan that covers building improvements, traffic management, public spaces, the beach, the town centre's heritage, the environment, and information and communications technology. A funding package of £32 million—again both public and private money—has been proposed, and it will, if it goes ahead, provide a massive boost for tourism and the Great Yarmouth economy.
Those are two of the major local projects but there are many others, including the Great Yarmouth recommissioning partnership, a body formed to try to 1201 ensure that Great Yarmouth has the infrastructure and skills base to deal with recommissioning and decommissioning of huge oil and gas rig structures as they reach the end of their working lives in the southern part of the North sea.
The Scroby sands wind farm project is another exciting local development. It will provide up to 38 wind turbines on a sandbank about two miles off the Great Yarmouth coast. The plan is already well advanced, and if the scheme goes ahead, it will be the largest offshore wind farm in Great Britain, generating clean, green power and creating new jobs.
In spite of Great Yarmouth's serious problems, much is being done, both by the Government and by the people of the area. An issue remains, however, that could be characterised as a spectre at the feast. Our transport infrastructure is one of the most important matters that the Government must address if they are to help with further regeneration. For many years, Great Yarmouth has been the largest seaside town and resort not to be connected to the national motorway network by a dual carriageway. That is exacerbated by the fact that the rail connection between the town and Norwich—the nearest city—is mostly single-tracked.
Improvements have been made to various parts of the road network over the past few years, but the overall picture is patchy. One section of the network has become a cause for significant local concern. The dualling of the section of the A47 that links Acle with Great Yarmouth, commonly called the Acle straight, is probably the single biggest issue facing the area. Discussions about dualling that stretch began in earnest in 1971: today, it remains a single carriageway. The overwhelming majority of my constituents feel that that is not good enough.
The Acle straight is about eight miles long. It is not much different today than it was when it was built in the 19th century. It is particularly narrow for an A road, and it is banked on both sides by water-filled dykes. It is totally inadequate for the volume of traffic that uses it. Regrettably, its safety record over the years has been poor. Judging the distance and speed of oncoming vehicles is notoriously difficult because the road is so straight and because it has no landmarks on either side to act as reference points. Accidents on the Acle straight are not a lot more common than on other roads, but when they occur, they are often head-on crashes that result in death or serious injury.
The terrible safety record is not the only concern about that stretch of road. Delays are commonplace. That is particularly true in the summer months at the height of the tourist season, but it happens at any time. The overwhelming opinion of the people of Great Yarmouth is that the report commissioned by the Government from the consultants Maunsell failed to draw a sensible balance between environmental concerns and safety, economic regeneration and social concern. Huge weight was given to the marshland environment beside the road, but little to the population of 90,000 people. I have received 177 letters about the report from people in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk and further afield. Of those, 175 supported dualling the road, and two were against it.
Among the supporters of dualling the road are all the local authorities in Norfolk as well as the local chamber of commerce and Norfolk police authority, which believes 1202 that there is a strong case on safety grounds for making the Acle straight a dual carriageway. Surely they cannot all be wrong.
Recently there have been further developments. At its meeting on 17 January, the east of England local government conference considered the issue and instead of endorsing the consultants' report in full called for further studies to consider the economic, social and environmental impact of dualling the Acle straight. Although the prospect of further delay is frustrating, I generally support that decision, because any study that objectively considers all these matters cannot fail to support dualling. I will do all that I can to continue making that case, and I hope that when the matter finally reaches my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, he will come to the same conclusion.
Much has already been done to regenerate the town of Great Yarmouth but sadly there is still much work to do. There is no better place for that work to start than on the Acle straight and the development of our new harbour.
§ Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright). I know that part of the world very well, and I can well understand the problems to which he refers. I was particularly interested to hear his remarks about the A47. I know the stretch of road to which he refers. It is indeed a bad stretch. It reminds me of the A36 that runs through my constituency.
This debate will inevitably focus on the regeneration of disadvantaged urban areas but cities do not exist in isolation. What goes on in them affects small towns and the countryside, whether it is the middle classes relocating from decaying city centres, or highly mobile criminals fleeing closed circuit television and the lean pickings of their urban bases. We must not suppose that disadvantage is an exclusively urban phenomenon, or that the effects of urban deprivation are confined to city centres. I was pleased to hear comments to that effect by my hon. Friends the Members for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) and for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray).
I intend to slate the Government for their unfair treatment of Wiltshire and for their failure to lift deprivation in my constituency but I am happy that the Government are attempting, so they say, to deal with urban deprivation, by which they largely mean deprivation in city centres, I think.
§ Dr. Murrison
I am grateful to the Minister for clearing up that point. In west Wiltshire, it sometimes seems that that is not the case. I shall explain our concerns over things such as homelessness, which is a particular problem in my district.
West Wiltshire does not exist in a vacuum. Our interests interdigitate with those of urban areas. To that extent I have a parochial as well as a general interest in the regeneration of large urban areas.
If cities have high crime rates, badly performing schools, unacceptable pollution, high mortality and poor morbidity, people who are able to will choose to live 1203 elsewhere, particularly when they are sold leafy life styles by developers, who will be delighted by the Government's recent Green Paper, which will give them carte blanche to develop in the countryside against the wishes of local people. Urban deprivation leads inexorably to pressure on rural areas and more concrete countryside.
In November 2000, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions put out a useful publication called "The State of English Cities". It suggested that migration trends reinforce the picture of decline in our cities, with only four moving in for every five who move out. We are told that there are two flows of migration: flows from the north to the south; and down the urban hierarchy, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire has already referred, from cities to suburbs to shire towns and the countryside. In most conurbations, rates of net migration are highest for high-status professional, technical and managerial workers. That is certainly evident in the south-west.
Clearly that has implications for house prices in rural areas, pricing out those who wish to live in villages not because they are searching for a developer-fuelled rural idyll but because of work or family ties. That leads to the ludicrous situation whereby poorer rural dwellers are obliged to swap places with well-off commuters from the cities. The incomer rarely gets the satisfaction that he desires from his moving, because it destroys the very thing that he is trying to achieve for himself and his family—life in a rural area. The ex-villager also loses out because he is cut off from work, family and social ties.
That all adds more grief to a creaking transport system and means that formerly healthy and vibrant communities in city centres are increasingly socially polarised. In a written answer I was informed that332 households in west Wiltshire were accepted as being homeless in 2000–01. As at 31 March 2001 there were 90 households in temporary accommodation and 15 households in bed and breakfast accommodation." —[Official Report, 14 November 2001; Vol. 374, c.731W.]Homelessness, especially priority homelessness, has risen in England during the past four years, but disproportionately so in my constituency.
The true picture may be worse than the official statistics show. Homelessness charities claim that people were put in hostels or even threatened with arrest overnight while counts were being made in order to meet Government targets. The charity Shelter observed:During the election, a lot of attention was given to improving education and health services. We hear much less about the thousands of families stuck in grotty B and Bs … The current crisis-driven approach to homelessness is not working.Homelessness charities in and around my constituency would echo those remarks.
I represent green and pleasant Wiltshire, a beautiful part of the country that many Labour Members might suppose to be untouched by their problems of homelessness and deprivation. The problem faced by my constituency, in common with many others with a similar urban-rural mix, is that although we are by and large spared the remorselessness of vast post-war estates, our deprivation is scattered. It is there for sure, but because it is diffuse it is hidden and is difficult and relatively expensive to get at, so it is ignored.
1204 The ludicrous local government funding formula that acts against the interests of shire counties in general, and mine in particular, as well as the Government's manifest failure to act—despite their admission that there is a problem—strongly suggests that the Government cannot or will not rid themselves of the mindset that holds that constituencies such as mine are populated exclusively by the well-to-do and must be tapped to distribute largesse to what are seen as more needy urban areas.
When I was listening to some of the comments of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) I thought that I had heard them somewhere before. Indeed, I and many hon. Members have heard them before, because they were in this morning's mailbag in a letter from the Country Land and Business Association.
The third paragraph of that letter is especially apposite, and sums up quite well the attitude towards deprivation that is held by many people who live in rural areas. It states thatrural poverty and deprivation is all too often sidelined while the inner-city slums and estates grab the headlines. Homelessness exists in rural areas, a lack of adequate (indeed a basic lack) services and facilities—education, transport, policing—pervades many rural areas. Such problems are less visible and therefore more easily ignored.I fear that that is what is happening.
A local primary school head teacher told me this week that at a recent conference she had bearded the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on the funding formula for Wiltshire. We should remember that at the beginning of last year we heard in the House that funding for Wiltshire was inadequate. When faced with my primary school head teacher the right hon. Lady apparently threw up her hands, rolled her eyes to the heavens and said, "Do not ask me to defend the indefensible with respect to Wiltshire."
Well, I ask the Government to defend their position. When Secretaries of State admit an inequity but carry on regardless, disadvantaged people in my constituency have every right to ask what on earth is going on. Is not the truth of the matter that spending Ministers, for all their warm words and good intentions, are merely onlookers who are powerless to act against the shire-county-averse long screwdriver of the Treasury?
§ Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)
Given the crucial importance of regeneration, it is amazing how easily it can send us all to sleep. I am delighted to detect some signs of consciousness among the remaining Members in the Chamber, although I fear for those in the Public Gallery. However, I shall press on because, in my view, no British Government have ever invested as much time and energy as the present Government have in tackling, reducing and eradicating poverty and deprivation. That is reflected in the Government's regeneration policy, which leaves no stone unturned in its search for a comprehensive and effective route out of poverty.
We have learned some lessons. We have learned over the last two decades that simply changing the way that communities look will not change the way that communities live. However, failing to change the poor and brutal quality of the built environment condemns disadvantaged communities to live in concrete cages, which is equally deplorable and unacceptable. Therefore it is crucial that we have a balance.
1205 In Tower Hamlets, inner-city regeneration is make or break. Unfortunately, during the '80s and '90s, many people felt that regeneration broke apart, and even supplanted, their local communities. As the Minister said at the start of the debate, there was too much emphasis on physical regeneration and not enough on communities, and even when physical regeneration did take place it often went over the heads of local people, who remained untouched by the money that was ploughed in. In fact, the '80s and '90s were the greatest period of degeneration that this country's housing estates have ever known.
We have done two things since. First, we have massively increased investment in the fabric of those estates. Secondly, we have recognised that local problems best respond to local solutions, not Whitehall prescriptions. That means local people deciding where the money is ploughed in and having responsibility for disbursing public money. Regeneration policy also focuses on better delivery of mainstream services to disadvantaged areas, and there is no better example of that than the new deal for communities programme.
I listened with interest to the comments of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). However, my experience as chair for two years of the new deal for communities programme in Tower Hamlets was utterly different from that which he described, because our NDC programme genuinely engaged local communities. Do not take my word for it—obviously, the hon. Gentleman never would—but take the word of the people who have engaged in the programme themselves.
§ Ms King
I would just like to ensure that the hon. Gentleman understands that no single programme has made a bigger difference to the life of people on one of the poorest estates in the country than the NDC programme. It was introduced on the Ocean estate in Tower Hamlets to improve the life of more than 6,000 residents there. We had one of the highest rates of infant mortality in Britain, and the sure start programme—which is integrated with a range of other programmes to challenge and reverse those appalling statistics—is making inroads. I have been honoured to work with many people who used to be in permanent confrontational mode with every form of authority, and I have found it incredibly inspiring to see their energy transformed into constructive engagement in the decision-making process.
There were problems, however, and one of the biggest problems that we had in our area surrounded the right to buy. Although the Government allocated Ocean NDC £56 million, as soon as people on that incredibly run-down estate heard that literally loads of money would be pumped into their estate after they had received nothing—not a bean—for decades, the first reaction for many of them was to make a right-to-buy application because they thought that they could make money on their properties.
One estimate is that, as a result, 80 per cent. of the £25 million earmarked for the housing element of the project will have to be spent buying up houses sold under 1206 the right-to-buy scheme. I do not believe that any hon. Member—whether in the Opposition or the Labour party—could possibly think that a good idea. I hope that, in the interests of regeneration, the Minister and the Government might consider suspending the right to buy in regeneration programmes if that right negates the entire regeneration programme so that no one is enabled to have a better quality local environment.
On right-to-buy schemes, I tell Opposition Members that I agree with the sentiment behind giving people, many from low income families, the opportunity to buy their houses. I fundamentally disagree with them that the price of handing over that opportunity is to remove vast swathes of social housing. Hon. Members will know that, for whatever reason—I shall try to say this diplomatically—after 20 years during which many present Conservative Members were in government, we were left with a £19 billion repair backlog.
The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) suggested that fewer houses have been built under Labour. That is not true. Hon. Members should remember that the right to buy is about social housing, and more social housing units are being built in London than were ever built in any comparable time frame under the previous Administration. However, we are having to spend a huge amount of money repairing the damage that occurred as a result of degeneration. That is where a lot of money is spent.
It is appalling to think that, last year, 11,000 social housing units were sold off, but only 3,000 have been built to replace them. We need to take measures to deal with that problem. The maximum right-to-buy discount could be limited to £25,000, and the time before people were able to sell on those properties for a quick buck could be lengthened. Those sales create more sink estates. For example, people in Tower Hamlets are selling on their right-to-buy properties to rather disreputable private landlords. There are many reputable private landlords, but those properties have been sold to companies that put leaflets through the door, saying, "Let us buy your property", because they know that house prices in Tower Hamlets have exploded.
A year and a half ago, a four-bedroom terraced house in Wapping sold for £600,000. The same property was inhabited by a teacher in the 1970s—not even a Member of Parliament could afford it now, never mind a teacher. So we obviously have to consider key-worker housing in our regeneration strategies. Most of all, we have to increase the provision of affordable housing, so that those people on average and below average incomes can afford to live in areas such as Tower Hamlets.
What has the council done? It has engaged in many specific regeneration projects. It has also engaged in a variety of private-public sector partnerships with Canary Wharf. I gave an example earlier of the skills match employment brokerage agency, which has helped 1,500 local people into jobs in the last year alone. I also mentioned the Will Crooks estate, which is one of the estates closest to Canary Wharf—it is within spitting distance. Of the 400 adults of employment age living there, only two have managed to obtain employment in the metropolis that overshadows them. The local Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick)—two Members represent Tower Hamlets—is working hard to ensure that people on that estate enjoy the fruits of regeneration.
1207 That takes us back to the issue that we discussed earlier. How do we enable local people who live in the shadow of vast regeneration projects to benefit from them? One of the answers is through community-led regeneration organisations such as the Isle of Dogs community foundation and the Bromley-by-Bow centre, which is a nationally recognised social enterprise that serves as a role model for many newer voluntary and community organisations gaining a foothold on the regeneration ladder. I pay tribute to Tower Hamlets education and business partnership, which is nationally recognised as a model of good practice.
I also want to mention some of the innovation that has been taking place. There has been a great willingness to test out new approaches and take risks. For instance, networks of community-based access and vocational training providers offer courses that reflect the specialist finance, banking and knowledge economies of Canary Wharf and the City fringe. Specialist enterprise support agencies have emerged and they range from the cultural industries development agency to the ethnic minority enterprise project. Such agencies have helped more than 250 businesses to start up and grow. I also pay tribute to the work of the Prince's Trust in east London. It has helped many young people who have often been in long-term unemployment into jobs, which is a wonderful achievement.
I hope that the continuing wave of regeneration will take into account the needs and wishes of local communities. Some huge projects are involved and they have an influence far beyond Tower Hamlets or east London. For example, the Bishopsgate goods yard, to where the East London line will be extended, will open up transport opportunities for an entire region. In Spitalfields, another very large regeneration project has yet to receive the support of all residents, although many local businesses write to me to say how much they welcome such new development. However, an equal number of correspondents who are local residents are terrorised by the idea of this development project. We do not need more bland, enormous, dehumanising slabs of corporate office blocks, which add no character to the neighbourhood. We need projects that bring together the community's aspirations and reflect some of the community's character. Unfortunately, that has not happened in the past.
I want to sum up by looking at how much has been achieved. In Tower Hamlets in 1997, the unemployment rate was 16.6 per cent. As a result of the projects, local efforts—especially by the local council and the community—and the Government's strategy, our unemployment rate has fallen in five years to 11.6 per cent. That is a fantastic achievement. However, we still have one of the highest unemployment rates in London and, indeed, in the country.
My hon. Friends the Members for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) and for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman) made the case for London. I know that people outside London get infuriated because they think that all its streets are paved with gold, but I wish that they would recognise this one fact: there are more poor people proportionately in London than in any other region. That fact seems to have been lost in the same way as Londoners once did not recognise the extent of rural poverty, which we must acknowledge. I hope that people outside the capital realise that although some of the richest people in Britain live in London, some of the poorest also 1208 live here. We must ensure that our regeneration policy takes that into account. We must use planning gain agreements—section 106 agreements—to promote the regeneration that helps the poorest people.
I hope that the comprehensive spending review will give a significant boost to investment in social housing. The Labour Government have trebled the amount of money for social housing and, as I said in a debate on Tuesday, we are millions of pounds better off under Labour. However, we also know that we need more. We have to ensure that regeneration benefits all stakeholders—residents, businesses, schools and school children, faith organisations and the voluntary sector—because we have to eradicate the poverty that stalks the capital and this country.
§ 1.2 pm
§ Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)
I declare an interest as a director of a family building and property company, in case anything that I say relates to that.
The debate is important; we know that from the number of hon. Members present and from what they have said about their communities. Regeneration impacts on all of us. Hon. Members on both sides of the House come into politics to do some good or make a difference. Political action on regeneration, especially in disadvantaged areas, can make a difference providing that it is sensible and measured and that it involves the communities.
We have heard much about the built environment and individuals in communities. The key factor is that community leaders need to have a vision and set out the way forward. We all know about cycles of decline: firms move out of an area, housing deteriorates and the most enterprising people decide to leave; public services are not at their best, and people struggle with inadequate health, education and transport infrastructures. That creates terrible problems, resulting in crime and lawlessness. It is frustrating for people who live in such areas, and who have known their communities in better times, to see that happen. Ministers and politicians have to put regeneration high up the political agenda. It must be a priority. We need to put our efforts into ensuring that we provide leadership and a vision so that communities can pull themselves out of those circumstances.
A few years ago I visited the Heritage Foundation in Washington. I talked to some fairly right-wing individuals who said that for a long time they were relaxed about the fact that most of America's problems were in the ghettos and inner cities until they realised that being indifferent to them meant that they spread. The problems had a cultural impact on adjacent districts, and the rising crime rates spread there. It is beneficial for everyone in society to tackle such problems because they can easily move into other areas. Sometimes that will require more public investment, but overall that would be to our benefit.
In most of our major cities—Manchester, Birmingham or wherever—many of the prosperous suburbs feed off what happens in the city centres. There is great interlinkage. No politician can be indifferent about the fate of people who are left in our inner cities.
The Government have a surprisingly wide range of measures to deal with the matters that we are discussing; indeed, I agree with those who say that there are probably too many measures that are too complex. Perhaps much more should be done to publicise all the grants and other 1209 schemes that are available. I was unaware of many of the schemes that could be accessed, and I suspect that many people in many communities are similarly unaware.
There are some measures that I welcome. In the past, I fought the seat of Walsall, North. In doing so, I noticed that there were many contaminated sites. The accelerated tax credit of 150 per cent. to encourage owners and investors to get contaminated land back into the system is a positive move. The private sector will not do that; however, it can take advantage of the scheme for the benefit of communities.
I welcome also the 100 per cent. capital allowance for putting flats over shops. One of the problems is that when people move out of cities, we cease to have communities. People are no longer looking down the street to see what is going on. We must repopulate some areas of our cities. Some business districts depopulate in the evenings, which is not good. Anything that encourages more people to live over the shop may be good for the general community.
I am not enthusiastic about the recent Budget announcements of reductions in stamp duty for people who buy houses in some deprived wards. It is a rough-and-ready approach. There is expensive and prosperous housing in some extremely deprived wards. People will have to apply for discounts in areas where they are likely to be available, and the scheme will be a minor part of any regeneration activity.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
My hon. Friend has raised an important point about the reduction of stamp duty in deprived areas, which will ghettoise them. That will be one effect of the scheme. Is my hon. Friend aware that if the Government bring forward their seller's pack proposals, they will replicate the ghettoising, making it even more difficult to sell houses in some areas?
§ Mr. Syms
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. Stigma is important. People's perceptions of an area can do an area a great deal of harm.
I have concerns about what the Government are aiming to do following publication of the White Paper on local government. For example, they are aiming to introduce corporate performance assessments of local councils. They have four classifications: high performing, striving, coasting and failing. That system takes no account of whether a council is trying to improve, for example. It is a broad-brush approach. I fear that an authority that may be improving will still be classified as failing. In an inner-city area, that in itself may lead to stigma and send out the wrong signals to a potential investor.
We must be careful about targeting measures such as tax relief on an area because that area is perceived as being deprived. We must be careful also about measures that the Government have in mind to try to improve the performance of local government. That could lead to concern that local government in some areas is not working as well as it is.
I know that the Government whom I supported were keen on league tables, but those tables and classifications can confuse as much as inform people. I have concerns about the direction the Government are taking. Although the language concerning change in local government is 1210 one of freedom of opportunity, there is still a substantial degree of ministerial control. We seem to be going down the road of rather more specific grants, which will diminish local autonomy.
I spent a long time in local government. One of my deepest regrets was that the Conservative Government did not trust local government more but sought to interfere. The present Government, despite the language, seem to be moving in the same direction. If we had let local authorities have more freedom, I doubt whether some of the problems in some major conurbations would be as great. In the great days of local government—the Victorian era—a great deal was produced and built by local business men and leaders of local communities who had a great deal of independence and authority. The way forward is to give local government a lot more support and latitude and to encourage local leaders to get involved in local government.
Like many of my hon. Friends, I am not a great enthusiast for regions. I can see no great benefit in the South West of England regional development agency. No doubt one day I shall change my mind and surprise myself. I would prefer the emphasis to be at local government level—with the people on the ground who know their communities—and I hope that the Government will give local authorities more support.
We are dealing with a complex matter. We may not be able to solve all the problems of inner cities, but we should do our best to improve local communities.The Economist has drawn attention to current trends. The economy is growing and there is evidence of repopulation of many of our inner-city areas. Houses are being done up and there is a certain vitality in many parts of central London as young people move in and there are more nightclubs and so on. There are, however, problems in certain suburban areas that are not as well served by transport links and do not offer the opportunities that people saw there 20 or 30 years ago. There is a trend whereby people are moving back into inner cities, but, as has been pointed out repeatedly today, there is a great deal of inequality. There are extremes of wealth and poverty and many local job opportunities are taken by Australians, New Zealanders and others travelling across the world. We have to do more to improve the skills base to match local potential with the jobs available, instead of looking to people who travel long distances to take advantage of the opportunities in London.
London Members have highlighted the problems facing London. London has always had high unemployment and areas of deprivation, often in areas that are a little off the beaten track—the ones that we do not see on the way into town. We have a great opportunity for the renaissance of our capital. Hon. Members see a great deal of London and we can do more to reverse these trends, but we have to make it a priority.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) pointed out when he described the regeneration in Newcastle upon Tyne, there are many opportunities for improvement providing that there is vision, that the private sector and local communities are involved and that there is a long-term strategy so that people do not think that politicians will walk away. I do not have to tell Labour Members that politicians are often tempted to change schemes and to rebrand and relaunch 1211 them, but this can undermine regeneration schemes as people think that they are here today and gone tomorrow. Long-term commitment is required.
We are discussing an important issue. As a Conservative I feel strongly that as one nation we have to do the best for all our citizens, particularly those who do not have the ability to help themselves. With leadership, vision and Government help, and by enhancing the great talents of our people, I believe that we can create a better Britain in which all our people can be proud of their communities.
§ Phil Hope (Corby)
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this important debate. I represent 60 villages in my constituency, together with the town of Corby. I have often spoken on rural policy, but today I shall focus on the urban regeneration that is so desperately needed.
It was interesting to hear Conservative Members talk about a non-partisan approach, promptly criticise the Government and Labour councils for failing to tackle the problems that we have inherited and then complain when we remind them of the cause of those problems—18 years of Tory rule.
It does not help when the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) declares himself to have been a political adviser to the Tory Government on those policies. In sharp contrast, the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), made a very different kind of one-nation Conservative speech, praising a lot of Labour policies and criticising those of the former Conservative Administration. We will not let the Conservatives airbrush out their record of abandoning our disadvantaged areas, because we, in government, now have to clear up the mess that they left behind.
I listened carefully to the proposals. Let us have some constructive options, said the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown). What did he offer? He said that we should streamline the money and appoint another Minister, have some more tax cuts, and protect greenfield sites. In my book that does not add up to much of a policy for improving disadvantaged areas.
Perhaps we should not be surprised that Madame Tussauds has today decided not to make or display a waxwork model of the Leader of the Opposition—arguably, we already have one here—and said, "We've always done the three party leaders, but we thought, hang on, is this guy really going to provoke any excitement in the people?" Clearly, as with the absence of any regeneration policies, the answer is no.
We must recognise the problems, and the work that the Government have done to overcome them. Our programmes are providing tremendous opportunities for towns such as Corby, hit hard in the Conservative 1980s and 1990s with massive unemployment and disinvestment in housing, health and education. The local economy is now recovering. With Labour, the spirit of Corby has come to the fore. We are all proud of our constituencies, but Corby really is special. It is the town that would not die, despite the tremendous challenges that it faced. I hope that, with Government help for regeneration, it will not just survive but flourish and grow.
We have problems, though. We have low unemployment—less than 3 per cent., as a result of the Government's policies—but we have a low-skill, 1212 low-wage economy. Public transport is still woefully inadequate: we are possibly the largest town in Europe without a passenger railway station. We have more than our share of health problems, with the highest incidence of coronary heart disease in the country. The legacy of poor 1960s urban design has left us with rundown housing estates and a town centre in urgent need of new investment.
We have done a good deal, but we cannot be complacent. I want to set out some particular highlights and challenges. As part of the massive extra public and private investment in our first term, children in Corby have benefited from the education action zone, which the Government have just extended with £5 million of extra investment targeted on schools and children in the areas of greatest need.
Education is a mixed story in Corby: we have one of the top-performing comprehensives in the country, but we also have a few schools struggling to give pupils the best start in life. The education action zone is pulling those schools together to get co-operation and common endeavour in the interests of all the children in Corby, not just a few.
I want to record my appreciation of the tremendous commitment and dedication of teachers, classroom assistants, ancillary staff, and especially the heads, who are working together to raise standards. We are now giving them the tools to do the job: repairing the roofs, providing new equipment for science laboratories and building new classrooms and facilities. Results are improving as a consequence, particularly in the primary sector, and now increasingly in the secondary sector, too.
A key feature of the debate about regeneration is having what the Deputy Prime Minister called a progressive universalism in our approach. We need to fund education and health for the whole community while taking a progressive approach and doing more for those people and areas that need it most. That is what we are doing through the new deal for communities. That targeted help is raising standards and pulling people together in a way that no other scheme has achieved.
The urban regeneration company and the neighbourhood renewal strategy are further examples of how we are doing something for everyone but more for those who need it most. Sure start has been mentioned today. We have an excellent scheme in Corby, targeted at children and families in some of our poorest neighbourhoods. We have good nursery and playgroup provision for three and four-year-olds but sure start targets the most disadvantaged areas and gives them an extra boost just when they need it most.
One of Corby's greatest success stories is the Pen Green centre—my own children went there, some 15 or 16 years ago—which is now a centre of excellence, working with children and families. Sure start is based at that centre, working in the most disadvantaged communities. I describe it as a success story, but I have concerns that my county council, in reshaping its budget, is proposing a significant reduction in funding for Pen Green. I am having a good dialogue with the council—officers and members—to ensure that they listen to my representations not to proceed with that cut and to listen to the hundreds of local parents who rely on the centre for support.
1213 In regeneration, it is the holistic approach that really counts. In Corby, we have established an urban regeneration company called Catalyst Corby. Ministers know of our regeneration plans; the Deputy Prime Minister visited Corby a year ago this month and launched the company. Since then, the Minister for Employment and the Regions, the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), and the Minister for Sport have visited Corby to see our successes. These include Rockingham Speedway, a massive new investment of £48 million in an Indy-style racetrack—one of the first of its kind in Europe—which is located in Corby.
Catalyst Corby is building on that investment. In every sense, it is a public-private partnership, directly involving on the board the private sector, regional government agencies, local councils and the voluntary sector. It is a board that I am proud to be a member of as well.
We have some small ambitions for our town. We want to double the size of Corby and introduce a far wider range of housing. We want to transform Corby town centre and provide a much better shopping centre and a fuller range of leisure opportunities. Crucially, we want to secure the re-opening of a good-quality train service to put Corby on the map and open up its potential as a place from which to commute to London and elsewhere. We want to widen the employment base by ensuring an adequate supply of land and by using some of the tax credits that have been mentioned by Conservative Members—another effective Government measure to promote regeneration.
We need a new image for Corby, and we need to promote it throughout the country as a place of growth and regeneration for the future. The board is up and running and we have a group of talented individuals. Our baseline study has been completed and staff are working to deliver the process.
One issue that is related to public confidence in Corby is public transport. Corby's bus services are clearly inadequate and have reached a level where they are no longer viable. I have had lengthy discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, my noble friend Lord Falconer, the Minister of State responsible for regeneration, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is on the Front Bench today. I know that there is a willingness to assist.
I know also that there are many demands on Ministers, particularly in relation to transport, but it is absolutely vital that we get this right. I am looking to Ministers to help to make sure that the Government play their part, along with the county council, to ensure that we have a viable integrated transport network of buses and trains in the town. Without that, we cannot succeed in our endeavours.
The regeneration of a town such as Corby is a microcosm of what we want to achieve for the country. We are putting together public and private sectors; involving the community in decision making; identifying key areas for strategic investment; and backing that all the way with political will and Government resources to achieve outcomes. We are working on that in Corby and we are moving forward. I hope that we can hear good news from Ministers in the weeks to come as Corby goes into the future.
§ Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham)
Although my constituency is not deprived and the region in which it is located is not poor, I have a particular interest in today's topic because of my background. I was born and brought up in the north-east of England. I lived there for the first 18 years of my life before coming to London to attend university, and I have a strong commitment to what I consider my home region.
The north-east is the most deprived region in this country, as measured by household disposable income. In 1998, disposable income per head was £8,080, or 86 per cent. of the UK average. The local newspaper, The Northern Echo, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), described the scale of the problem when it recorded that, according to almost every key economic and social indicator, the region is lagging behind other UK regions.
One important way to tackle the problems in deprived areas in the north-east and elsewhere is through education, which provides a ladder, enabling people to rise from a background of low skill and poor education and improve themselves. I know that the Government share the view that education is important to regeneration. In a White Paper published in July 1998, the Deputy Prime Minister highlighted the importance of education as a means of regeneration.
Reference has been made to the many schemes that the Government have introduced, such as education action zones, to which the hon. Member for Corby (Phil Hope) referred. However, my concern is that those schemes have not been successful in narrowing the gap in exam results between poor and wealthy areas of the country—a point that was highlighted in this week's report on the north-east by Ofsted. I shall quote some figures from it that perhaps illustrate the point, but I should first declare an interest, in that in 1997 I stood as a parliamentary candidate in South Shields, which formed part of south Tyneside.
In terms of 15-year-olds who achieved five or more A* to C GCSE grades, the gap between south Tyneside and the rest of England in 1997 was 9.4 per cent. By 2001, that gap had widened to 10.9 per cent. In 2001, some 39.1 per cent. of children in south Tyneside achieved five or more A* to C grades, but in England as a whole, 50 per cent. achieved the same result.
§ Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the best ways to address the regional disparities that he is outlining is through an elected regional assembly for the north-east?
§ Mr. Hoban
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham made particular reference to the role of regional government, but I chose not to intervene as I did not wish to steal his thunder. I visit the north-east, where virtually all my family live, some four or five times a year and, as I said, I stood as a parliamentary candidate in South Shields in 1997. However, in my many visits I have heard nobody demand an extra layer of regional government. Nobody has told me that they want a regional assembly in the north-east. People are not rioting on the streets of the north-east, demanding a regional assembly to address the disparity in regional performance. The argument that a regional assembly can improve regional performance is bogus.
1215 I took care to check that south Tyneside was not an isolated example of those regional disparities in exam results, and was not the only area affected. In Newcastle, for example, the gap has widened from 13.5 per cent. in 1997 to 14.3 per cent. in 2001. Indeed, in the north-east as whole the gap has widened from 7.3 per cent. in 1997 to 8.5 per cent. in 2001. The gap in results between the most deprived region and the country as a whole is therefore widening.
The Government have introduced a number of schemes such as excellence in cities and the education action zones, and we hope that they will produce results. The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright) identified the achievements in his constituency arising from the EAZs. I shall quote from the Ofsted report that was published earlier this week to give its perception of the success of the zones. Mike Tomlinson states:Effective initiatives have contributed to an improvement in primary schools in the zones, although attainment remains generally below the national average … the gap between schools in zones and schools nationally"—at key stages other than key stage 1—has not reduced significantly.That is a sad indictment of the policy introduced by the Labour Government to improve education in those areas. It certainly is not working for the country as a whole.
The hon. Member for Corby mentioned the success of education action zones, but we know that they have not achieved the financial results that had been hoped. They have not raised the amount of private money that they had been targeted to attract, which is why some have been closed and rolled into the excellence in cities programme. An announcement to that effect was made by the Government last year.
The excellence in cities programme has not achieved that many improvements itself. The Ofsted report states of schools in the programme:At this early stage, the initiatives had not yet resulted in rates of improvement in attainment, attendance or teaching quality significantly higher than in schools nationally, although improvement in Key Stage 3 results in mathematics were encouraging.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
Does my hon. Friend agree that education is part of an overall picture in the inner cities, and that one of the reasons that it is so important is that it can encourage potential investors into this country? For example, Toyota created a huge number of jobs in Tyne and Wear, and the knock-on effect for the regeneration of the north-east was very large.
§ Mr. Hoban
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, although it was Nissan, not Toyota, that invested in Sunderland. The contribution that that has made to the region has been enormously beneficial, and a number of other businesses have moved to the area to service that industry. It is important, when attracting inward investment, to have a pool of talented, skilled employees. We need to focus on that, because—as my hon. Friend says—education is one of many facets of regeneration. It is a particularly important facet for individuals, but for the entire north-east it is vital for achieving economic success.
One of the problems that the Government are trying to resolve by tackling the educational problems in the north-east is the historical legacy not of 18 years of 1216 Conservative Government but of the fact that the local education authorities—all of which operated under a high degree of autonomy while we were in power, although that autonomy has subsequently been eroded by this Government—were Labour-controlled. The results in education authorities such as South Tyneside, Newcastle and Sunderland are a consequence of years of Labour control. There is much to be done to improve the results in those areas, and I am not sure that central Government initiatives are the only way of achieving that.
We need to ensure that there is more choice in schools. We must move away from a monochrome mix of schools towards more variety and innovation, to attract teachers into schools in deprived areas. The Ofsted report comments that it is difficult to attract teachers to schools in those areas. Perhaps we need to be more innovative in terms of the type of education that those schools offer, to excite and challenge teachers to come and work in them.
We also need to consider parental choice in deprived areas, where there is, unfortunately, not a wide diversity of choice in terms of the range of schools on offer. People in the north-east who can afford to do so will send their children to the private schools. I attended a comprehensive school in Durham, and I benefited from that. Escaping poor schools should not be an opportunity open only to those who can afford to go to private schools. We must therefore ensure that the state schools system is attractive and that we can offer more choice to parents on low incomes. One of the retrograde steps taken by the Government in their first term was to abolish the assisted places scheme, which had provided an opportunity for parents to escape the state sector and for those in less well-off areas to benefit from a different type of education.
In the United States, George Bush has focused on the need to allow parents in areas where schools are poor to have an effective choice in education through a form of education voucher. It will be interesting to see the product of that reform and how it will change the lives of the people in those areas.
I am conscious that time is short and many Labour Members wish to speak. I do not wish to deprive them of that opportunity, but I have one more point to make. The other aspects of policy to which we need to pay close attention are planning and development, which have been touched on frequently in the debate. Living in the south-east and representing a seat in Hampshire, which will see a great increase in its population in the next 10 to 15 years, I am acutely conscious that by building more homes in the south-east, we are in danger of encouraging economic migration from the north to the south. My hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) referred to the migration population being primarily among skilled and senior technical staff in businesses.
My concern is that by increasing significantly the number of houses to be built in the south—an increase significantly greater than that in the north-east—we are in danger of impoverishing the north-east by dragging its skilled, technically able people to the south. Although I wish my constituency to develop well economically, I do not want that to happen at the expense of the one nation to which my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) referred in his remarks. Our planning and development policies need to reflect and consider the impact of greater house building in the south-east on the impoverishment of areas in the north.
1217 The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) referred to community-led initiatives. The Portsmouth housing association is trying to develop a bond to finance a project called Fusion. It will combine public and private investment in a wide range of skills to tackle the poverty and deprivation that exist along the south coast, in Portsmouth and the neighbouring boroughs, including Fareham. I welcome that scheme, because it demonstrates the need to look at the fabric of our environment and to provide the education and skills that people need to lift themselves out of deprivation. It also demonstrates how the public and private sectors can work together. To use a housing association as a facilitator is an excellent idea.
In conclusion, we must ensure that all the Government's policies are directed towards improving the lot of those living in deprived areas. I am concerned that their policies on education and planning will work against the interests of those people, not in their favour.
§ Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart)
The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) started his speech with an appeal for a bipartisan approach. I am not sure how his ancestor, whom I am informed was a former Speaker of the House, would have viewed the hon. Gentleman's definition of bipartisan. However, in the spirit of his redefinition of the word, I should like to respond to the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), who said that the message the Conservative party is receiving from the electorate is, "Come back, all is forgiven." I am not a theologian, but my understanding is that for forgiveness to be offered it must be asked for, and not one Conservative Member has apologised for a single policy adopted by the previous Tory Government. Therefore, I cannot see forgiveness being offered or forthcoming from the electorate.
I am one of nine Members—at the moment, anyway—representing the city of Glasgow.[Laughter.] There is no hidden agenda in my speech.
Glasgow is Scotland's first city, though not its capital. I need not go over in detail the often tragic history of Glasgow's 20th century decline from being a city of more than 1 million citizens and the home of the world's finest shipbuilding industry to a city of barely 600,000 people with high unemployment and some of the worst ill health and deprivation in the country. If poverty was Glasgow's only problem, however, the plight of some of my constituents would be less serious than it is. As Labour Members know, poverty leads to many other social ills, a fact repeatedly denied by the Conservative party when it was in Government.
Poverty leads directly to crime, drug abuse and poor health. As unemployment and poverty in Glasgow have reached new heights, so have crime, drug abuse, drug dealing, money laundering and violence. I served for three months—it felt much longer—on the Standing Committee that scrutinised the Proceeds of Crime Bill. Many of its provisions will tackle those who seek to capitalise on others' misery, but grinding poverty can be tackled only by giving people real jobs.
The House should be in no doubt about the seriousness of Glasgow's predicament. I referred earlier to Glasgow being Scotland's first city, but not its capital. I should 1218 prefer Glasgow to be the capital of Scotland, and I feel an early-day motion coming on. It may not be helpful if I go down that road now; others might follow me, and I can imagine my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) making a strong case if we give him half a chance. That said, Glasgow is the first city of Scotland, capital or not, and Scotland cannot thrive while its largest city struggles. Just one example of the problems is the fact that 19 per cent. of the working age population claimed sickness or disability benefits in August 2000.
I do not want to dwell entirely on the negative side of my city. A great deal is happening that is positive, and I pay tribute to the members of Glasgow city council and their energetic leader, Councillor Charlie Gordon. A sense of optimism can be felt in a large part of the city. The council inherited a difficult situation when it was created from the ashes of Strathclyde regional council and Glasgow city council in 1996. The administration has shown imagination and creativity in addressing Glasgow's problems. The prospective wholesale transfer of the council's housing stock is a good example of that.
Notwithstanding the mess that resulted from the then Tory Government's utterly cynical reorganisation of local government in 1996, Governments of different political persuasion have contributed to a gradual, if fitful, regeneration of the city over the past 30 years. I welcome, as did the city council, the abolition by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in November of stamp duty on all residential and business property transactions worth between £60,000 and £150,000 in designated disadvantaged areas. Castlemilk in my constituency has benefited from that, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his imaginative initiative.
That said, I must agree with the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) that the benefits of the initiative may not be widely felt, at least in the short term. Glasgow city council concluded thatwhile Stamp Duty exemption may be seen as an additional incentive, considerations such as access to markets and suppliers and high quality transport links, are likely to prove of more fundamental significance".Glasgow benefits from better transport links than anywhere else in Scotland. West-central Scotland has the largest commuter rail network in the UK outside London. Glasgow underground, operated by my former employer, Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive, carries 15 million passengers a year.
Even so, bus services, which are crucial to the mobility of any work force, remain the most popular form of public transport in Scotland. The Government have an opportunity to make a real difference and a major improvement in that respect. The Conservative Government's deregulation of the bus industry in 1986 was an unmitigated disaster for the travelling public, though I accept that it was not so for those who own shares in private bus companies. There is no evidence yet that quality partnerships—voluntary agreements between local authorities and private bus companies—can deliver the improvements in local bus services that are essential to the economic well-being of our country. That is a particular problem in Glasgow, where car ownership is well below the national average.
I hope that this Government—I cannot speak for the Scottish Executive—have not missed the opportunity to introduce quality contracts: exclusive franchises to give 1219 ordinary members of the public a proper, regular and dependable bus service. Glasgow is rare among post-industrial British cities in that it has inherited a decent road network, despite having depended on its rail network for many years. I welcome the building of the M74 motorway extension because of the number of jobs that it will create and because there is a missing link in the motorway network around Glasgow, which must be filled if we are to regenerate the city.
Computer models have shown that the chance of creating local jobs for local people beyond a three-mile radius decreases exponentially, so one of the keys to unlocking the potential for job creation in cities such as Glasgow—it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Poole—is derelict land reclamation. Writing in the "Oxford Review of Economic Policy", one of my constituents, the economist David Webster, points out that cities' brownfield land isthe great asset that most areas of high unemployment have in abundance.He refers to the success of Leeds, which, although it is known for its service industry, has done remarkably well in attracting manufacturing jobs. That is no accident. It is because of its proactive policy on land reclamation.
The key is bringing derelict land back into use, particularly contaminated land. Nine per cent. of Glasgow's total land area is currently vacant or derelict, yet unfortunately the importance of that issue has been downgraded by Scottish Enterprise in particular and by the Scottish Executive. It is crucial that we not only identify those parts of the city but invest enough money to rehabilitate them. That is the only way in which to get new companies to come into cities to set up factories and distribution centres that will employ local people.
As I have said, Scottish Enterprise is the main agency in that respect. It needs to push land reclamation to the top of the local economic agenda. I accept that it will involve serious amounts of money. I hope that the Government will see it as a serious enough problem to contribute that money.
I understand that there is a lack of time in this debate and I want to give colleagues a chance to speak. Not only am I extremely proud of the history of my city but I believe that it has a great future. Politicians leading it at city council and national levels are committed to it. We can look forward to a brighter economic future.
§ Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham)
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) talked about the optimism for the future of his constituency. I want to say a few words about the experience of regeneration in my constituency and some of the principles on which that is based, and to underline the optimism there.
Gravesham has a proud history. As I take every opportunity to remind the House, Dickens lived there and Pocahontas died there. It has the oldest cast iron pier in the world and the oldest chartered market in the south of England. People used to come in their droves to Gravesham to promenade along the river or in Rosherville gardens, but for much of the previous century it went through a sadder time. The older heavy industries, such as paper manufacturing and cement quarrying, declined, unemployment rose, prosperity fell and the local environment suffered. During the 1980s and 1990s the 1220 area was hard hit by both rising unemployment and negative equity. Now things are changing. There is growing prosperity in that part of north Kent, in particular in Kent Thameside. Crime has fallen by 10 per cent. in the past year alone. It has become one of the most dynamic areas of the country.
Gravesham borough council has won beacon status for its work in town centre regeneration, which was based on several principles. The first is partnership, which has been mentioned by several speakers. As my hon. Friend the Minister underlined in her opening remarks—I apologise for missing the first few moments of her speech—regeneration used to be something that was done to local people and local communities; it was not done by them and with them. Before embarking on the regeneration of Gravesham town centre, Gravesham borough council and its partners in the private sector, the voluntary organisations and the public services undertook a major public consultation exercise to find out exactly what people wanted from their town centre and their borough.
The main message that came through was that local people are proud of their history and heritage, but ambitious for their future. Regeneration of Gravesham as a whole, and of the town centre in particular, was based on plans to revitalise that heritage but also to ensure that we have a living and vibrant community, with repopulation of the town centre to bring the whole borough back to life.
We are proud of our history, but we are not nostalgic. We shall ensure that we can build that vibrant and prosperous future. Many of the challenges that we have faced recently have stimulated our determination to do that—not least the fact that two of the largest shopping centres in Europe are close to our borders. Thurrock is just across the river, while the new Bluewater shopping centre—the largest in Europe—is five miles away along the A2.
In Gravesham, we could have rolled over and said, "Well that's the end of our town centre in Gravesend." The competition with our retailers could have been seen as a threat: we saw it as an opportunity. Every year, 30 million people visit Bluewater, but the 1,750 people who work in the complex provide the mechanism for bringing regeneration and spending power into the borough.
We have worked in partnership, not only locally with the private, voluntary and public sectors in Gravesham, but with those key strategic elements that are so important in the Government's approach to regeneration. We are making sure that we build a future that meets the needs of local communities and local people.
We are not talking only about economic regeneration. The second important principle is social regeneration. In the past, regeneration too often left local communities and local people behind. Sustainable development requires the benefits to be shared throughout the community.
One of the reasons that my constituency—like those of many Members on both sides of the House—has experienced growing prosperity is due to the range of national policies that helped to ensure that the poorer sections of the community were able to share in that general rising prosperity. The national minimum wage, the working families tax credit, the new deal and the new tax credits that we debated yesterday all ensure not only that the proceeds of regeneration are more fairly shared, 1221 but that, due to the extra spending power of those sections of the community, regeneration itself becomes a driving force for sustainable economic renewal.
Economic, social and environmental regeneration are all important. Lord Rogers pointed out thaturban policies are not just about bricks and mortar, but about improving the prosperity and quality of life for the people who live there".I warmly welcome the Government's emphasis on ensuring that, wherever possible, new housing developments are on brownfield sites and we avoid developments on greenfield sites. In my constituency—as in Glasgow—we have more than enough brownfield sites for those developments. By using town centre sites for social housing and for housing for our much-needed key workers we can revitalise the town centre while ensuring that we do not eat further into greenfield sites and thus into the quality of life of people in the community as a whole.
My constituency is a mixed rural and urban community. It is mainly urban, but there are some important rural parts and many attractive villages. We need to preserve the quality of the rural areas, for both parts of the community. As many hon. Members have said, we must ensure that, in debate on this subject, we talk about rural as well as urban regeneration. There is not a trade-off between those two. To bring about sustainable regeneration, they must go hand in hand.
We also need to improve the quality of the environment and the quality of life for those living in urban areas, which is why schemes such as home zone are so important. I am pleased that a £400,000 home zone project was recently announced for one of the most deprived parts of my constituency, in Denton and the Northcourt estate. It will mean environmental improvement, better play areas, traffic calming and a general improvement in the quality of life for people living in that area.
Finally, as other hon. Members have suggested, regeneration is also about the quality of public services. Transport, as we all know, is important. One of the driving forces of regeneration in my part of the country will of course be the channel tunnel rail link. Its Ebbsfleet station, which will be in my constituency, will be a major source of economic dynamism in the years ahead. Local transport projects such as fast track will ensure that we have accessible and affordable transport links to draw together the different parts of Kent Thameside and to ensure that everyone can share in prosperity.
Regeneration is also about other forms of public services, such as the health service. Many hon. Members have spoken about education. Regeneration is about the healthy living centre that we are about to establish, the new community hospital that we are in the process of building, and the new medical centre. All these things are a way of ensuring that regeneration has a real impact on the quality of people's lives.
With the optimism that I spoke about at the start of my speech, we can look forward in our part of Kent—previously a deprived area—to real dynamism, growth and prosperity in the years ahead, and a real improvement in the quality of people's lives, assisted by £14 million of European Union urban funding. We will ensure that that 1222 funding is spent in such a way that it meets the needs of local people and communities, and ensures regeneration not only of the economy but of the environment and the community.
§ Jon Cruddas (Dagenham)
Today's discussion covers important territory in terms of the needs of the people whom I represent in Dagenham. I want to examine the issues with reference both to my constituency and developments across east London.
Let us consider some of the basic characteristics of the community that I represent. It is the lowest-wage economy in Greater London and one of the most deprived boroughs in the capital. Adult numeracy is the second lowest in the country, literacy the fourth lowest. The number of residents with higher educational qualifications is the lowest in the country. Heart and lung disease, infant mortality and life expectancy are among the worst in the capital. Fear of crime dominates all community surveys. Police numbers are chronically low.
Questions surrounding public services cannot be separated from issues of regeneration. The national public services strategy is starting to have an effect locally. The borough has some of the most improved schools in the country. The early-years agenda has resulted in major investments. A new private finance initiative hospital in Romford is expected to open in 2005. Seventy-nine new police officers are to enter the borough in the next 18 months. Overall we are starting to witness change, yet the needs of the community are immense.
However, the real challenges in east London are more profound. The analysis contained in the London development agency's London plan shows that for 30 years after the second world war, business and populations emigrated from London through new town development. By 1983, London's population had dropped by some 1.2 million. What followed was a fall in housebuilding and an abandonment of strategic planning in London. Therefore, as London developed rapidly over the past 20 years, it was ill prepared to handle growth in terms of strategic guidance, infrastructure, housing, transport and public services.
The population is set to grow by another 1 million over the next 10 to 15 years, and the London plan sets out two options: either we witness a new period of externalisation out of London or we accept that economic growth and create an adequate infrastructure to enable the city to achieve sustainable development. The plan proposes the latter.
Huge issues are thrown up by that conclusion. How do we handle some 500,000 extra households over the next 15 years? Where is the brownfield development? Where do we physically build the houses? Where are these new communities employed? What are the consequences for education, health and transport?
When we consider how London will strategically manage those changes, we see that all roads lead east. Dagenham sits at the centre of the sub-region that will have to accommodate much of that growth—the Thames gateway. East London is an exciting place to be at the moment. In terms of London's economic development, the centre of gravity is moving eastwards. The Mayor talks of shifting priorities from west to east and of building a new city to the east.
1223 In Dagenham, the sheer scale of brownfield land will lead to massive development in the next 10 years. For example, one site in the borough, Barking Reach, will handle some 6,000 new homes—a population of 12,000 to 15,000 people. To the south of the borough, including in parts of Beckton, we have a regeneration site the size of Islington. That has huge implications for public services in the borough. The new communities will require schools and health care, and they will have to be policed. Many of the people who will live in these new communities will be public sector workers. They must be transported into and throughout the city. They cannot just start their cars and turn left on to the A13.
The proposed crossrail, for example, should not just shuttle commuters in and out of London; it must link new communities in London with key job generation sites. For example, it is estimated that some 40,000 people will be employed in the Royal Docks and 100,000 in Canary Wharf in 10 years. That is only part of the regeneration agenda. So far I have mentioned housing, public services and managing growth in this city. We also have to rebuild the manufacturing and economic centre of east London.
As I have said, Dagenham sits at the centre of the Thames gateway—an increasingly integrated area covering 13 boroughs and 2 million people in some of the most deprived areas in the country. Historically, because of the location of the Ford Motor Company, Dagenham has been the centre of manufacturing for east London. We must, and we are, rebuilding that, in partnership with the Government, the devolved agencies and local authorities.
On 20 February, the last Fiesta will roll off the line in Dagenham—the end of car assembly in the area. That will be a sad day. However, as one door shuts another opens—soon, a new high technology engine manufacturing plant will be built. It will be one of the most modern manufacturing facilities in Europe. Annual engine production will rise to about 900,000 units by 2004. Car assembly will end, but more than 5,000 people will still be employed on the Dagenham estate. It will continue to be London's largest industrial centre and will become Europe's premium manufacturing facility for diesel technology.
In addition, a new supplier park will be created in Dagenham, on London development agency land, to support that new diesel facility. That will attract small and medium-sized, high-tech businesses, on top of which a new centre for manufacturing excellence on the Ford estate will provide education and training, from basic skills right through to advanced postgraduate degrees for local people.
To rebuild east London's manufacturing base, we need more infrastructure. The scarcity of river crossings over the east Thames remains a major impediment to successful economic regeneration. The proposed package of three new river crossings will have a major impact, by creating employment and development opportunities.
The channel tunnel rail link, which will go underground in Dagenham, is vital if international and domestic connections to London and the south-east are to be created and major hubs for new investment established. I hope that the docklands light railway will be extended into the borough, linking it to the major job generation sites to the north of the Thames.
Overall, we are engaged in a genuinely radical attempt to confront deprivation and boost public services in this city and this country. The task that faces us in London is 1224 massive—to build a new city with a new economic centre to the east, with the infrastructure and services needed to build strong communities. That will involve the Government working hand in hand with the devolved agencies to forge an agenda for change that will materially alter the lives of the people whom I represent.
The process cannot descend into a financial dogfight, based on simplistic assumptions of the north-south divide, while ignoring the economic outflows from London to the rest of the United Kingdom. The people whom I represent deserve mature political governance by our national figures and the devolved agencies. That should be based on a clear understanding of the economic and social problems that confront London, not on a partial analysis of its economic prosperity forged in the Westminster beltway.
There are some promising signs. For example, the strategic partnership in the DTLR for the Thames gateway is creatively confronting some of those issues. This is a key turning point for the Government and London. All the participants should rise to the challenges that will be produced, and I welcome the opportunity to contribute today.
§ 2.4 pm
§ Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas), who cut short his remarks, and other hon. Members for the opportunity to take part in this debate.
Regeneration in Preston requires both public and private finance along with a vision of economic development underpinned by major employment prospects, educational and skills opportunities, community development and partnership with the local authority. I pay tribute to Preston borough council—under the stewardship of its leader, Councillor Ian Hall, and the portfolio holder for regeneration, Councillor Veronica Afrin—and to the businesses, voluntary groups and local communities that have an important role to play in the regeneration process.
Preston sees its future economic growth coming from three main sources. The first is its establishment as the major regional shopping centre for the north-west outside the Manchester and Liverpool conurbations. The Tithbarn project will bring in £300 million of private investment to Preston for the development of shopping facilities and the town centre generally. The second is as the tertiary education centre for the sub-region, and the third is the establishment of the town as a centre for art, culture and design.
Preston's assets include a relatively young and expanding population, its role as an access gateway into much of the sub-region and region, and the fact that it is a private and public decision-making and administrative centre and a seat of learning that is seeking to develop its expertise in the technologies of the future and to take advantage of its locational attributes. Taken together, those assets contribute to the development of a competitive business environment and of an area that is potentially attractive to investors in the high value-added, knowledge-based sectors of the economy that are at the centre of the regional economic strategy as well as national economic policy.
Economic development and regeneration are key aspirations of the local Preston partnership. To achieve long-term and effective regeneration, it is necessary to 1225 recognise and minimise the constraints affecting economic development. The constraints include the increasing polarisation of growth in the large cities and towns. Such growth is due in part to the huge improvement in the facilities in, and the environment of, major town centres; the economic growth that acts as a magnate for the young professional and entrepreneur; the concentration of the "ideas" culture in the cities and towns; and the cosmopolitan lifestyle now available because of the rapid growth of city centre and residential areas. If those trends continue unabated, there will be a growing population and employment shift to the regional cities and that will result in the economic, social and cultural decline of their urban hinterlands.
If regional towns such as Preston are to prosper in the new century, they need to develop into micro-cities that incorporate many of the benefits of the mega-city and blend them with the unique feature of a large town. The economic regeneration of Preston in the years up to the next Preston guild in 2012 will take place in an unprecedented period of organisational change and new initiatives. The Northwest development agency's regional prospectus of October 2001 said:The Northwest Development Agency, with an office based in Preston, places the town as one of the key hubs of North West development. Regeneration is a key element of NWDA's activities.The Government, through their single regeneration budget funding and neighbourhood renewal strategy, support and will continue to support organisations throughout the community. Areas of Preston receiving significant amounts of support are Fishwick, Ribbleton, Deepdale, St. Mathew's, Brookfield, Avenham and Central wards.
An example of an agency in Preston working towards regeneration is the Avenquest community regeneration trust, the annual general meeting of which I shall attend next week on Thursday 14 February. It is a community-led organisation that is working towards the economic and social regeneration of one of the most deprived areas in the north-west, with many poor and deprived white and ethnic minority residents. The trust is developing a range of programmes, partnerships and initiatives to tackle deprivation and to build the capacity of individuals, households and communities to participate effectively in, and to benefit from, the process of regeneration.
The trust is working with Avenham ward residents to create opportunities and pathways away from poverty and disadvantage and into jobs, education and training. The trust has been in existence for almost two years and it has made significant progress. The focus of current activity is to target those communities that have not been able to access mainstream opportunities. The goals are: creating employment, promoting community education and developing training opportunities. The chief purpose of the trust is to attack the root causes of poverty by meeting the problems of unemployment and providing assistance and support to those who seek employment, together with the advancement of education, training or re-training and the provision of work experience.
The trust works in the community by providing drop-in facilities in information and communications technology, arts activities, volunteer activities, informal education, support activities and enabling opportunities. Key projects 1226 include local labour in construction, the health for all partnership, the new Avenham centre, community access to ICT and a community resource room. Success is coming from partnerships that are committed to new ways of working with different communities. The trust's future priorities are job creation and job growth; developing training opportunities; working with communities and agencies; developing volunteers and activities; becoming financially self-sufficient; and continuing to be community-based and accountable.
In addition, Preston borough council has developed a policy in pursuit of establishing Preston town centre as an economic development zone. The projects and information compiled for the bid will act as guiding messages for a 10-year action plan, whether the EDZ application is successful or not. The improved wealth shown by improvements in gross domestic product will be brought about only by the growing ambitions of existing and new start-ups and inward investing companies. The competitiveness of the Greater Preston economy depends on the concerted and co-ordinated actions of the local partners, as well as a city region that both companies and residents are proud to belong to and represent as ambassadors.
Preston is in the process of developing and consulting on targets for regeneration. Suggested starting points for discussion with partners are improvement of GDP from £9,000 to £18,000 a year over the period of the strategy; unemployment in the priority 2 area to be reduced from 1,700 to under 1,000; workspace provision to be improved by 400 workspace units; the number of creative businesses in the Preston area to increase by an agreed amount; museum visitors to increase over a fixed period by a certain amount; transport improvements to increase non-car movements by a target amount; graduate retention measures; and an inward investment measure. Those are the targets of an ambitious town hopefully, one day soon, to become a city and the third major conurbation in the north-west after Manchester and Liverpool.
Preston is a thriving town and the pockets of severe deprivation will be dealt with by the measures that I have outlined. I look forward to a bright future for that proud town.
§ Ms Keeble
With the leave of the House, I will respond to the debate.
We have heard a wide range of speeches in what has been an important and excellent debate that highlighted the policies and initiatives that the Government are using to give hope to millions. Hon. Members also set out the difficult issues with which we have to grapple as we regenerate different regions and communities. For many, protection against poverty is created by a strong and stable economy, which the Government have produced through careful economic management. Our regeneration policies will ensure that all regions and local communities benefit from that sound economy. What a contrast that is to previous policies that sometimes dealt with the symptoms but not the causes of poverty and economic disadvantage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Daisley) made a welcome and outstanding maiden speech. I pay tribute to his work as a council leader in which he had to deal with some of the difficult issues that have been raised today. That role will have given him an insight into the needs of disadvantaged communities and the way in which we can regenerate them.
1227 My hon. Friend spoke in particular of health and its role in regeneration. I agree that that is often overlooked, but the Government have identified it as a key policy. Our substantial efforts have included providing £100,000 to Hyndburn as part of the neighbourhood renewal fund to tackle the high level of coronary heart disease in that community. It is fundamental that sound health is the basis for a stable community and a sound economy. The Labour party has always supported that approach. That is why we set up the national health service.
My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) was one of a number of Members who set out the case for London. London Members have been outstanding in their advocacy on behalf of their city. My hon. Friend showed the breadth of the measures that have been taken by the Government to tackle disadvantage—for example, sure start and the new deal. There are many other such programmes. She raised two specific points about the needs index, one being about crime. Currently, we have a lack of standardised data, but the neighbourhood renewal unit is working on that with the Home Office.
My hon. Friend also mentioned mobility. Sometimes mobility can be difficult to interpret. A lack of mobility can be a symptom of people being trapped in a cycle of poverty. She is right to say that the needs of London are different from those elsewhere. All Members who have contributed to the debate have spoken about the needs of their communities. The Government recognise that different communities have different needs. That is why we have proposed a strategy that ensures that particular needs are recognised and met.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Ms Shipley) spoke eloquently about the economic changes in the area that she represents, and the good results that are being achieved by partnership working. I assure her that the Government have a ministerial design group. We also have good practice guides to reinforce the important role that good-quality design has to play in regeneration. There are some outstanding examples, such as the library in Peckham, the art gallery in Walsall, public art in Birmingham, the new school on the Greenwich peninsula and some demonstration housing projects in Liverpool. These examples underpin the role of good design.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman) spoke of the excellent work that is being undertaken by the new deal for communities. He underlined the scale of disadvantage in London.
I pay tribute to the work that a number of London boroughs have done through imaginative and innovative regeneration policies and programmes. In many respects, they have pioneered some of the work in turning around disadvantaged areas. They have taken on some of the macro problems of which my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) spoke, as well as some small-scale schemes that will turn their areas around.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright) spoke of the impact of the education action zones, sure start and European money. He demonstrated that there are a plethora of schemes, and that can itself be a problem. I shall come to that later. These schemes are designed to turn difficult areas around.
1228 The Government recognise the problems of some seaside towns. I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend and other Members who represent seaside towns are undertaking to find solutions to some of the problems that affect their constituencies.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) made a typically eloquent speech. She rightly identified the need for community involvement. Her chairing of her local partnership for the new deal for communities is well recognised as a major factor in its success.
My hon. Friend talked about housing and its role in regeneration. She will know that today a conference is sitting that is considering the housing strategy for London. I am sure that there will be a lively and informative debate. I hope it will deal with some of the strategic needs for housing in the capital.
My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope), who is my close parliamentary neighbour, spoke of the success of Government strategies. He was one of several Members who identified the importance of transport for regeneration. His constituency did well in the rural bus challenge. Work is continuing to find solutions to the transport needs of the town.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) outlined developments north of the border where a social justice strategy prioritises the elimination of child poverty and the establishment of full employment. Regeneration work in Scotland is being undertaken by the new housing and regeneration agency, which emphasises, among other issues, the partnership working that we have supported so strongly in London.
I assure my hon. Friend that local authorities can introduce quality contracts. The Government recognise the importance of local transport, particularly bus transport, to regeneration, combating social exclusion and giving people access to jobs. That is one reason why we have put money into the rural and urban bus challenges, which have produced imaginative schemes.
We have also provided financial incentives for land decontamination, an important issue that was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham, and one that is crucial for successful brownfield site development.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond) gave a good example from his own constituency of the way in which town centre development can act as a driver for regeneration. He gave a careful analysis of the role played by work undertaken in his locality in improving the whole borough. It is well recognised that retail-led regeneration can be very effective. That is one reason behind the proposals for business improvement districts, which we hope will be on stream by 2004 as they require primary legislation. In some areas people are already building partnerships and introducing measures that will pave the way for successful business improvement districts.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham referred to the grim statistics of failure and underlined the need for mainstream services to address those disadvantages, setting out the enormous scale of the task of regenerating east London. Essentially, he made the case for the regional dimension in economic development and pointed out that east London represents a major development project. That has been well recognised by the Government—less so by the Conservative party—through 1229 the establishment of the regional development agencies and the careful work that is being undertaken in relation to the development of the Thames gateway. We recognise the importance of providing a sound transport infrastructure.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
The Minister referred to a plethora of schemes relating to regeneration. Is she therefore admitting that there are too many schemes; and if so, will she undertake to study the whole regeneration process and simplify it?
§ Ms Keeble
I shall address that in my response to the points raised by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms). There is an issue about the number of schemes. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that in my opening speech I did not refer to them all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) referred to the important development of the regional economy and gave an effective rationale for and defence of the regional development agencies and the important role that they can play in partnership with local authorities and the private sector.
The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said that poverty did not begin in 1979 and end in 1997 and of course he is right. We recognise that there is still too much poverty in Britain today and it is one of our primary aims to eliminate child poverty in particular. Our argument with the Conservatives is that when they were in government their policies contributed to the distress of the impoverished communities and failed to put in place policies that tackled the structural inequalities in our society. They failed to do that because it was not a priority for them, but it is a priority for us.
In 1979, 10 per cent. of children lived in households with below half the average income, and in 1994–95 that had risen to almost a third.
§ Ms Keeble
There are no quick fixes to regenerating communities, eliminating poverty or dealing with the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham raised. We have set a 10 or 20-year target, because we recognise that it will take more than a generation to end the cycle of disadvantage that has blighted the lives of so many people and communities.
§ Ms Keeble
All the agencies that deal with child poverty and similar issues recognise that by the end of 18 years of Conservative government the proportion of children growing up in poverty was an absolute scandal. That has been well recognised by this Government, and we are determined to end it.
1230 Virtually all the policies proposed by the hon. Member for Cotswold are already in place: fiscal incentives for regeneration; use of the planning system to prioritise redevelopment of brownfield sites; involving the business community; and creating partnerships. We are very much committed to those policies. Our argument with the docklands and UDC model is not that it locked businesses in—which of course it did—but that it locked the communities out.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) talked about rural crime and disadvantage, which indeed we recognise. Throughout my opening speech, I stressed the fact that we do not say that disadvantage is the exclusive preserve of the towns and cities. It can have a terrible impact on the lives of people in rural communities, too. Our policies are designed, through the role of local partnerships and the assessment of local needs, to ensure that the needs of all disadvantaged communities are properly met.
The hon. Gentleman also outlined the impact of low demand. He was right to bring up the appalling scale of low demand and the tragedy of all those empty properties. All sectors of housing are affected in similar ways by low demand, be they housing association, council or private sector. We are currently considering proposals for a market renewal fund to deal with those issues. We are also considering targeting. We have national minimum floor standards but we are also trying to ensure that communities assess and meet their own needs.
The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) talked about the need to get the built environment right. He is absolutely right about that, although we may disagree on the details. We are actively pursuing the urban renaissance. The Rogers report recommendations have been accepted and are being implemented.
The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) also spoke about rural poverty. I remind him that we have provided extra funding for rural housing and transport and dealt carefully with issues of rural planning.
The hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) highlighted the problems of homelessness. We have set up a homelessness directorate.
I am sorry that I missed the speech of the hon. Member for Poole, who spoke about the plethora of schemes. We are working to simplify the current range of schemes and to ensure that they are better known and that the communities can get involved.
To the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) I would say that we have also recognised the importance of education in regeneration and made it one of our key targets.
It is by results on the ground that our strategy to transform our poorest neighbourhoods must be judged. We know that there is still a lot to do. We believe that our strategy and our goals are right and that, working in partnership with our poorest communities, we can defeat poverty and regenerate the most disadvantaged areas of this country.
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.