§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes rose to call attention to the problems of the regeneration of inner, middle and outer areas of old cities; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, there can be no one present today who has not heard of the problems of the inner city. Currently and readily available there are 146 publications listed on a single computer print-out on this very subject. These range from small pamphlets to large volumes. The number of views put forward is almost as diverse as the number of authors.
§ I know that in your Lordships' House there is a great awareness of the deterioration of the inner city and a desire to see a reversal of the rundown which has become so apparent in recent years. in this debate today I wish to draw attention not only to the problems of regeneration of the inner city itself but to the spill-over effect of these problems as they extend to the middle and outer areas, and further to highlight the need to ensure that measures introduced to help the inner city—measures we welcome—do not adversely affect the adjoining areas and cause a deterioration there.
§ I read with interest the debate in another place on inner cities, which was mainly about Liverpool. It was interesting to note the similarities and considerable differences between Liverpool and London. It is clear that no one solution to the problems of older cities can be applied nationally. Each city requires specialised knowledge and understanding and each may benefit from the experience of others. My experience of local and regional government has all been in London, in the inner city right here in Westminster and in Southgate in outer London. From the 1981 Census, we see that greater London has lost 10 per cent. of its population in the decade, 20 per cent. from inner London and 5 per cent. from outer London. Westminster has lost over 23 per cent. of its population; more than 20 per cent. of the population are over retiring age and 42 per cent. of those elderly people live alone. That is the highest proportion of any London borough.
§ That proportion of aging residents in inner London, plus the vast daily influx of commuters, creates strains on the provision of services such as the health services in central London. It is difficult to get doctors to live in rundown areas, and it is far from ideal that they should have to travel considerable distances from their homes to treat their patients. A solution is to provide adequate premises for a group practice where one of the doctors can be readily available at any time, and the rent of doctors' premises is funded through the National Health Service.
§ The dental problem is different, and I must declare an interest as a general dental practitioner. The NHS pays a uniform rate to each dentist, wherever the dentist happens to practice. That is a piecework rate; the dentist provides his own premises and equipment and the scale of fees is based on a notional rent. The figure built in for rent and rates at present is £670 per year, yet many dentists are paying—I put this as a moderate rent—£3,670 per year; so they must earn 1390 an extra £60 a week before they begin to pay their staff, rates and other expenses. Hospital and community dentists receive London weighting, but not the general practitioner. As London costs have risen ever more rapidly, many dentists have been forced either to close down or give up NHS practice, and I emphasise that unless there is some recognition of actual costs, as opposed to the present notional paying system, the primary health services in the cities will deteriorate and people will find that they cannot obtain NHS treatment.
§ Polarisation has taken place in London with a loss of the middle income group, the middle age group, the privately rented sector and vast numbers of small businesses. Rising property values have forced young would-be buyers out of the middle areas and then out of the outer parts, and now my constituents find that their children must move out of London altogether if they are to buy a home of their own. Shortage of accommodation in inner London has been aggravated by the squeezing out of the private landlord and thus the privately rented sector.
§ The percentage who were neither local authority tenants nor home owners fell from about 50 per cent. to 30 per cent. in the last 10 years. The shortage of privately rented accommodation in London, aggravated by successive Rent Acts, discriminates today against young people. There is plenty of accommodation for overseas visitors, but the British born are not welcome. I regret that the recent changes made for shorthold tenure did not include London, as they would have helped many young people wishing to buy a short-term home at the outset of their marriage. It is interesting to note that Tower Hamlets—where four out of five households are owned by the local authority and the private sector is virtually non-existent—has the highest level of overcrowding in London. That surely indicates that massive public ownership of housing is no answer to the housing problems.
§ In housing, the Greater London Council has pioneered homesteading in this country. Since commencement of the scheme in 1977, 1,437 properties have been sold to homesteaders. They were neglected, often derelict properties which were sold to would-be owner-occupiers who undertook to carry out the necessary work to bring the properties up to standard. About 95 per cent. of those who have now completed the job are delighted and say they would start all over again if they found themselves in the same position. Numbers have varied widely in different boroughs, from 203 in Haringey and 184 in Newham to only four in Camden and three in Westminster. An important factor is that the small, usually two-storey house, ideal for homesteading, barely exists in Westminster and Camden. But there are many larger properties suitable for groups of homesteaders, and I should be pleased to hear from the Minister that the grants for home improvements outlined in the Budget would be available for those cases.
§ I understand that the GLC and Westminster Council have had informal discussions with some building societies, who have shown a keen interest in providing finance. Tomorrow the first ROWS house—Homes of Westminster Scheme; ROWS has no connection with the Chancellor—will be opened in the City of Westminster. Under that scheme, a building has been converted into four flats. Each floor of the property 1391 will be bought by a young couple, and I understand that the building societies have undertaken to finance the purchase. I urge the Minister to give every encouragement to the building societies to put the sources of private finance into the housing of people in London, because that could do much to make more home units available.
§ The voluntary sector has a major role to play in housing, and indeed is playing such a role. Notable examples include a block of 60 riverside flats on the Isle of Dogs—the London Enterprise Zone to be—and 125 dwellings which the Toynbee Housing Association have just built in Spitalfields in the heart of London. They are low rise buildings providing the type of homes which people would choose to live in; they have young, active resident caretakers who are taking a pride in the maintenance of high standards of care and cleanliness.
§ Last week I was talking to someone involved in letting flats on the older Peabody Estates in Central London and I heard to my surprise that they have virtually no trouble letting those older properties. Applicants are often seeking to move from what might superficially appear to be much more attractive and modern estates. Inquiries have revealed two main causes: first, that in the Peabody Buildings there remains a living community spirit and, secondly, that there is a feeling of safety and security, with the attention of a resident caretaker.
§ Law and order has been widely debated in your Lordships' House and I shall do no more than comment that where residents are afraid to walk the streets by day or night, the community spirit cannot survive. People withdraw into their own private safe areas, which leads to further loss of contact and further damage to the community. Security and personal safety are of great importance in people's lives. The published statement of the GLC leader attacking the new Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police is doing great damage. Instead of these deliberate attacks on the police constantly issuing from the GLC, we should be seeing efforts to support the police and to develop harmonious working relationships between the police and the people of London.
§ The community spirit developed over generations has often been destroyed by unfeeling redevelopment following mass demolition. Plans must provide for, among other essentials, good recreation and sporting facilities to channel the natural, spontaneous exuberance of the young into healthy and socially desirable activities. Vandalism is too often the product of boredom, and, at this time of high unemployment, boredom with underlying anxiety and insecurity. The paid official "good neighbour" of today's social services department cannot compare with the homespun good neighbour of the past. Sadly, those older communities were often destroyed as part of an official policy.
§ As the LCC policy moved out the "non-conforming" industries in the 1970s, those jobs were lost to Londoners. The inner city of London lost 44 per cent. of manufacturing jobs between 1961 and 1978. A new force is now driving business out of the capital—the rate burden. Major companies, such as W. H. Smith, have moved their whole operations out of 1392 London, Tube Investments has gone to Birmingham, British Steel has vacated 127,000 square feet of offices near here, and the five big banks have each moved over 1,000 jobs out of London. As the enterprises go, again the jobs are lost to Londonders; and we notice this now, whereas the over-employment of the 'seventies then masked what was really a growing problem.
§ We must stop the outflow, and we must encourage those who are willing to start up small businesses again in London, especially where they will provide the much needed employment opportunities. Greater flexibility in zoning is necessary where jobs will result. The London unemployment situation is made worse by a mismatch between jobs available and the individuals seeking jobs, and there is special need for less skilled jobs and semi-skilled jobs, particularly in manufacturing.
§ Let us for a moment consider the rate burden. Westminster City Council has just cut its own rate, but the rate bill has gone up. The Westminster cut of 4½ per cent. means that the city council part of the rate has gone down to about 17½-pence in the pound, but the rate is 141.6 pence in the pound. The GLC rate has gone up from 18.7 pence to 34.85 pence. Inner London education now demands 71 pence in the pound. The rate equalisation levy takes 7.33 pence. The Cities of London and Westminster together pay £63 million to the equalisation pool, from which the 11 other inner London boroughs receive money. Camden receives £12 million, Lambeth £6 million, and the lowest is Greenwich, receiving £3.6 million.
§ Westminster City Council contributes over £200 million to the inner London education budget—more than a quarter of the education budget for the whole of inner London. It has often been made very clear that the Westminster residents and ratepayers could send every child in Westminster to the best public school for less than it is costing them at the moment to meet the ILEA costs. The Westminster Council's budget is £64 million, but it must collect £108 million for the Greater London Council and £220 million for ILEA, as well as contribute £22 million to the inner London equalisation pool.
§ An Oxford Street department store will this year pay an extra quarter of a million pounds in rates. The rates now payable for the same store are over £2 million. An international corporation will see an increase from £1½ million to more than £1¾ million. A Park Lane hotel will find its rates going up to £448,000 from £381,000, and for professional offices in the Strand the rates alone will increase from £9,700 to £11,400.
§ Over zealous and inflexible planning ideas have killed off too many small industries and businesses in the past, and now the rate demands are out to finish off the bigger concerns. I see that the London Chamber of Commerce is hoping that the Secretary of State will introduce abolition of rates on empty property. I recall that this was the situation when I first became a councillor in Westminster, and I must point out to the Minister the harm that this proposal would do. At present if a firm is leaving London and vacating its premises, it remains liable for half rates, and therefore it is very much in its interests to find a successor to occupy the premises. If no rates were payable, there would be great advantages (especially with the current 1393 exorbitant rent and rate levels) simply to close up a building and leave it empty. The rate base would then be reduced, and those who had to go on paying rates would have to find even more to meet the continuing expenditure. While I am convinced that there is a direct link between high costs, especially high rates, and unemployment, I believe that a full reform of the rating system is due and piecemeal changes will provide no real solution.
§ I hope that the Minister will tell us more about the progress of the enterprise zones. I appreciate that he covered this point when dealing with a Question earlier this afternoon, and perhaps he has nothing further to say about the Isle of Dogs. I know also of the extensive measures which have been introduced by the Government to help small businesses, and I am convinced that they will gradually bring back jobs to London. It is important that new businesses should provide real jobs, with long-term employment prospects—not just artificially created jobs with little future. Earlier today a noble Lord discussed other areas of the country which he claimed now have the highest unemployment, even though they have been special development areas. Obviously there was something wrong in regard to the long-term employment prospects if the situation has changed so dramatically.
§ There is constant discussion of docklands redevelopment and the opportunities that that will bring, but it seems to be the subject of many squabbles. As I came into your Lordships' House I picked up a cutting from the Standard, which stated that the GLC is proposing to give grants of £720,000 not for redevelopment, but in order to argue and fight over the type of redevelopment and possibly to delay redevelopment in docklands yet again. Jobs are needed all over London, and jobs are needed near to where people live.
§ I would ask the Minister to ensure that the plans that he has for London, such as the enterprise zones, are well implemented and do not cause an adjoining area to become deprived. Each action in one part of this great city causes a reaction in another part, and we must view the problem of regeneration as a whole. There is need to co-ordinate the measures designed to help regeneration of the city, to provide homes and jobs, recreation and sports facilities, a secure environment, and a mixed community, reversing the polarisation of the past and creating a community proud to belong to this great capital. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I think we are all grateful to the noble Baroness for having raised this very important subject today. She has certainly demonstrated that the major cities of our country face a formidable range and complexity of problems. These problems have to be confronted at a time when the major cities are losing population, are skimped of resources and are replete with unemployment and, also, worrying social and racial disturbances. Just today, the Guardian reports that the Census reveals that the metropolitan counties and Greater London lost 1.3 million people between 1971 and 1981.
Yet 37 per cent. of the population of England continue to live in these metropolitan areas, and many more live in other large cities like Bristol, Nottingham, 1394 Leicester and Middlesbrough. They live with major problems which can be effectively tackled only if major financial and physical resources are made available. The people, who really are the most precious resource in any area, whether it is inner, middle or outer, will fade spiritually as well as physically; and the fabric of the cities, which also represents an important part of our resources, will, if we are not careful, continue to be underused and even wasted.
What are needed are roads, railways, sewers, houses, factories, parks and playgrounds; and here I agree with the noble Baroness, that these form an essential part of the social as well as the economic regeneration of any area, and particularly any community. These are investments that we cannot afford not to make. The trouble is that, Governments always being rather short of money, even when their priorities vary there is never enough to put into those things which many of us consider are of the highest priority and which, if neglected, result in more money having to be spent in order to deal with all the physical, social, health and other casualties which result from the decay and decline.
When we were in office we placed great emphasis on helping the inner urban areas of this country. The Inner Urban Areas Act 1978, which I introduced in this House and in the debate on which the noble Lord, Lord Evans, who is to speak later, made a very effective maiden speech, gave additional powers to authorities and provided the basis on which more help was made available to areas of greatest need. In doing this, it is true, we concentrated not on the suburbs but on the inner areas, for the inner area of each city is the heart of that city, and that heart has to be kept beating by people populating it or the city as a whole will suffer and wither away. The noble Baroness was wide-ranging in her speech and embraced a great many aspects of this three-headed subject, and in this short debate I shall not follow her in them. I shall concentrate largely on the inner city because of the vital role it plays, and also because of its effect. There is a dual and reciprocal effect from the inner to the middle and outer areas, and also vice versa.The current state of inner areas has its roots in social and economic events reaching back to the last century and beyond. Much has been done to ease their problems since the second world war, principally through the relief of overcrowding. But much remains to be done".Those words are taken from the Labour Government's White Paper of 1977, and they are as true today as they were five years ago.
When she was referring to housing, the noble Baroness talked about the squeezing out of the private landlord. The depletion in private rented property and the squeezing out, as she put it, of the private landlord has been going on since the beginning of this century; and, while the noble Baroness was asking for more shortholds and thought that that would help the London situation, I am afraid she will find out (and I think any figures that the Minister gives in reply will have to illustrate this, though he will not use these words) that it has really been a disastrous experiment. What has happened to housing in recent years is that in both the private and the public sector the housing starts have reached an all-time low. We are now seeing a slight upturn, but, with almost the complete 1395 collapse of the construction industry at one time, it is very difficult to build new and resuscitated inner, middle or outer areas of cities when we have this basic fall-down right in the middle.
One must be fair and say that the present Government have promoted some initiatives in the inner city, by grafting on, for example, urban development corporations and enterprise zones. They have been of arguable value, and although to discuss them would take another debate all on its own, there are a great many problems about them which have been recognised by local authorities, both in relationships with the training boards, with the hold-over of the 10 per cent. of the rate rebate, and in other ways, which make it rather a questionable answer; and where it works in some places it certainly would not in others. While the enterprise zones have undoubtedly stimulated some activity, there is also growing evidence of blight in adjacent areas. This has been reported from, for example, Trafford and Clydebank. There again, this is something which the noble Baroness referred to—the effect of blight on other areas caused through using particular remedies. This is a very great problem, and it is a great problem whichever Government are in power.
But all this, I feel, pales into insignificance beside the draconian financial cuts which have been imposed on inner cities through the reduced rate support grant in recent years. This is a process which has been reversed only in a very limited fashion for this forthcoming financial year. I will try not to weary the House with a mass of detailed statistics, but the partnership authorities' share of the rate support grant, for instance, fell from 16.9 per cent. in 1980–81 to only 14 per cent. in 1981–82. The total loss of grant in partnership areas, comparing those two years, was £390 million.
I have written to the Minister giving a detailed breakdown at 1981–82 out-turn prices to show clearly that, when one allows for all the variables, it is clear that all the partnership authorities have lost, many of them substantially. Birmingham has lost over 16 per cent. in this period, Lambeth over 27 per cent., Tower Hamlets over 35 per cent. and Newcastle 15 per cent. These are only a few instances. Such losses far outweigh the marginal contribution of enterprise zones and the questionable contribution made by urban development corporations. They also add to the higher rate demands to industry about which the noble Baroness was quite understandably complaining. That and inflation makes it extremely difficult, and it is hard to isolate these particular ingredients from the whole of a Government's national policy and strategy.
The Government now propose to restrict the power of local authorities to assist industry by reducing the product from a 2p rate to that of a ½p rate, and authorities such as Knowsley, Tameside, Walsall and Kirklees, which are not designated under the Inner Urban Areas Act, will have their ability to assist in the regeneration of their areas substantially curtailed. Cities which have experienced riots, like Bristol, will also have their financial recuperative powers reduced. If authorities with 20 per cent. unemployment, which unfortunately is not now unknown in this country, will no longer be able to spend to the extent of last year—and many of 1396 them will not if the rate product for industry is cut—then the Government are master-minding not a progressive but a retrogressive step, which I hope they will be changing during the progress of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which is going through the House at the present time.
The status of being designated under the Inner Urban Areas Act is of great importance. Under this Act, we designated 48 districts which could enjoy the power embodied in it and receive financial support. It is interesting that the initial list set out in Circular 68/78 has not subsequently been revised by this Administration, since there are many authorities which are making out a powerful case for designation. I know that the AMA have made representations for a review of designations and I should like an assurance from the Minister that designations are being reviewed on the basis of cases being presented and are not being fobbed off by reference to selective census data. We are also concerned about the divergence between the inner cities programme and the regional programme. This differentiation must be difficult for many people to understand, until one acknowledges that Whitehall does not work corporately and that the Inner Urban Areas Act is the "baby" of the Department of the Environment, while regional policy lies with the Department of Industry. This explains, presumably, why Knowsley, for instance, is a Grade 1 Assisted Area (a special development area) but, absurdly, is not a designated district.
I know that this was the situation when the previous Government were in power but then it was early days and we would have hoped for a change. I still hope for a change under this Government because these differences matter very much. Under regional policy, only assisted areas can receive EEC quota funds; inner city areas are not eligible for them unless they are in assisted areas. So authorities in the inner parts of the West Midlands or London do not receive any form of EEC quota aid, which is surely ridiculous. Authorities like Birmingham, Manchester and Hackney are Grade 1 Inner Urban Areas, that is, partnership authorities, but they are not assisted areas. Again there are these anomalies. If the problems of our cities are to be tackled effectively they must receive the resources necessary, whether through the rate support grant or through EEC aid or through a mixture of both. The Government must give higher priority to these areas and make resources available. Such a package could form the basis of a positive economic policy which could begin to lead us out of the appalling recession into which the Government's economic singlemindedness has largely dragged us.
If we are to have—and I agree with the noble Baroness—a much greater input of community spirit into the areas, it is impossible for it to be done without resources being available and used as cost-effectively as possible. It is essential that primary emphasis should be placed upon making the best use of the existing buildings in the city. But that fabric is decaying. The AMA publication Ruin or Renewal, shows what is happening to our housing stock. It is true—and here I have sympathy with what the noble Baroness has said about the houses that are rotting and out of use—that we should do what we can with our old housing stock as long as it does not take away 1397 from the needs of those who are in greatest housing need on the waiting lists. Too little is being done; too little money is made available.
If the Government want to do one thing to help renewal, they would change the VAT regulations so that repairs are zero-rated rather than paying the penal rate of 15 per cent. New building is already zero-rated. To me it was wrong when we were in office that this was not done; and it is wrong now. The dead hand of the Treasury has yet to be lifted from this particular control. All Governments, it seems to me, fight the Treasury and, alas! all Governments have lost so far. If this Government want to make a name and to stamp an imprint for themselves, they will wear down the Treasury and win this battle. This is essential.
What gives our cities their vital character is the history embodied in many of their buildings. The Committee on Alternative Uses of Historic Buildings, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, which I set up when we were in office, made many recommendations including, I would emphasise, asking for the end of VAT on the repair of historic buildings. In particular, the report highlights the many possible uses which can be made of historic urban buildings; for example, turning warehouses into factories and small craft shops, churches into community centres and even houses and making the best use of places which are beautiful to look at but which must function as well, otherwise, not only are they wasted as physical assets but wasted as a human and social asset for the community.
So far the Government response to the report has been disappointing. I appreciate that there have been some instances when the Secretary of State has taken positive steps to protect an element of our heritage; but this is a rather more specialised point. This House has not yet debated the Montagu Report. I hope we shall do so fairly soon, since it will be an opportunity for the Government to announce some plan for reversing the tragic decay of much of our heritage. As the 1977 White Paper said:The regeneration of the inner areas is not, however, a job for central or local government alone. A new and closer form of collaboration is required between Government and the private sector, between Government and the community including the various representative organisations of the cities and bigger towns, with the voluntary bodies, and, above all, with the people living in the inner areas. It is their welfare, immediate and longer-term, which must be the ultimate touchstone for success.".These are the sentiments of five years ago, but they are as fresh and as necessary today as they were then. The problem is not just one of bricks and mortar, of cubic feet of adequate living or working space, of sewers, of street lighting and of transport facilities; it is also a human problem that requires the human touch: a touch which expresses the visual and emotional needs of people as well as their physical needs; in other words, the framework for the life of a humane and civilised community.