§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ The Minister for Planning and Land (Mr. Kenneth Robinson)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to increase the amount of Exchequer money avail able to enable the new towns programme to go ahead.
New town development corporations have to undertake substantial capital works which are financed by loans from the Exchequer. These advances are authorised by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government for new towns in England and, for new towns in Scotland and Wales, by the appropriate Secretaries of State.
The total amount of money which may be advanced is limited by statute under section 43 of the New Towns Act 1965, as amended by the New Towns Act, 1966. It has become established practice for Parliament to authorise sufficient money for new town development to cover a period of two or three years at a time, and thus the Ministers concerned have periodically to come to Parliament for further amounts. These occasions pro vide an opportunity for a general review of progress.
This I propose to deal with in fairly general terms, but I shall be happy to take up at the close of the debate, if I have the leave of the House, particular matters raised by hon. Members in the course of the debate.
The first New Towns Act of 1946 authorised£50 million. Subsequently, seven further Acts have raised the limit to the£800 million at which it now stands. By the end of November this year, about£615 million had been advanced. The limit applies, however, not only to the money actually advanced, but to the level of commitments entered into by Ministers. At the end of November, a total of£738 million had been committed. Commitments will reach the£800 million limit early in the next financial year.
The House will, therefore, appreciate the need for authority for more money to sustain the programme, and the Bill provides for a further£300 million. This is a substantial amount, but such is the 1619 scale on which we are now building new towns that it is no more than enough to cover a period of some three years ahead.
The Bill thus follows the precedent adopted by successive Governments since 1946 in seeking to cover a relatively short period of new town development. The last time the authority of Parliament was sought for more money, in 1966, most of the "second generation" towns, starting with Cumbernald and including those designated in the first half of the 1960s, were just getting into their stride, and a substantial rise in commitments over the following few years was therefore expected. This is now taking place. Already, nearly a quarter of the money committed is in respect of these towns, most of which are now moving into the peak years of their development.
Meanwhile, as yet few of the "first generation" towns, those designated before 1955, have been completed. Several of them have had expansions approved which will take them well beyond their original population targets.
The substantial build-up of the programme can perhaps best be shown by a simple comparison. During the years immediately preceding the debates on the last New Towns Money Bill, 1963 to 1965, the English new towns were starting and completing about 4,000 to 4,500 houses a year. During the first 10 months of this year, they have already let con tracts for over 10,000 houses. To trans late this into money terms, annual expenditure, which was about£65 million in 1966–67, will be about£90 million this year, and is expected to rise to about£130 million over the next year or two.
The House should appreciate that the additional£300 million for which the Bill provides will be used largely to implement new town decisions taken over the years between 1946 and 1964 by successive Governments.
The latest new towns, the so-called "third generation", Irvine, Newtown, Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Northampton and Warrington, on which decisions have been taken since the last New Towns Act, will not be requiring any large Exchequer advances just yet. They are still getting under way.
I would remind the House that these advances for new town development are 1620 not grants, but loans, repayable with interest. While the new towns were not created primarily with profit in mind, we expect them in their commercial and industrial development to follow good business practice and to give the taxpayer the best value for money they can. It is satisfactory that some of the "first generation" new towns are already paying their way.
Perhaps I can review very briefly the position we have now reached. Last year new towns "came of age" with the twenty-first anniversary of the passing of the 1946 Act. Since there has been no earlier opportunity, I should like to mark the occasion by paying special tribute to Lord Silkin, the author of the original Act, and to Lord Reith, who chaired the committee on whose three reports Lord Silkin based his Act. We should pay recognition, too, to all those in the new town development corporations and in the local authorities who have together made the machinery work so well that about half-million people have already made their homes in the new towns.
I believe that we can all take justifiable pride in what has been achieved. The unanimous reports of the Reith Committee came from a body whose political opinions, I am told, stretched from far left to far right. The 1946 Act received support from all sides of the House, and the New Towns whose further development we now seek to ensure are the results of decisions taken by both Labour and Conservative administrations.
It is also worthy of note, and a tribute to our predecessors, that the machinery created by the New Towns Act, 1946, remains the basic machinery in use to day. It has proved flexible enough to be capable of being used for more than one objective. Most of the new towns are intended to provide homes and jobs for people from the congested conurbations, that is the overspill purpose. But this has not been the only purpose. There are others, like Washington, in County Durham, Irvine, in Ayrshire, and New town, in Wales, whose primary purpose is to encourage economic growth in their respective areas. Indeed, new town development is becoming an increasingly important element in the development of economic and planning strategies on a regional scale.
1621 We should remember, too, that the scale and nature of the latest new towns are markedly different from those envisaged in the original Act of 1946. Then a population of 50,000–60,000 was thought to be about right. The "second generation" towns were aimed at some thing approaching the 100,000 mark. Now, in many of the latest ones, some of which involve the expansion on large existing towns, the targets are higher still. Milton Keynes, for example, is to accommodate no fewer than 250,000 people. I shall have something to say in a moment which has some relevance to this part of my speech. Projects conceived on this scale are one more proof that, although our role in the world may have changed, we retain both our vigour and our vision.
When the Bill for the 1966 Act was introduced Irvine, Milton Keynes and Newtown and the expansions of Peter borough, Northampton and Warrington under the new town machinery were still only proposals. Since then the final decision to go ahead has been taken in each case. A decision has also just been taken to create the new town of Telford, absorbing the existing Dawley, to take another 50,000 people from Birmingham and the Black Country on top of the.50,000 for whom the new town was originally planned, and an Order giving effect to this decision was recently laid.
Draft designation proposals for the expansion of Ipswich have been published, but I must say nothing about that today because there has been a public inquiry into objections, and the inspector's report is still under consideration in my Department.
I turn now to the important decisions which my right hon. Friend announced in a Written Answer today concerning the proposed new town in central Lancashire and related action in North-East Lancashire.
The problems of the North-West Region are well known to the House—the decline of the traditional industries, the long history of migration to more prosperous parts of the country, the pressing tasks of urban renewal. The growth which has taken place in the region has been mainly concentrated around the two conurbations of Merseyside and Manchester, and within these conurbations the con- 1622 tinuing processes of slum clearance, urban renewal and population growth give rise to a continuing need for land for building.
New towns have been designated and town expansion schemes are in progress, but very substantial needs still remain. Unless suitable provision is made, we should probably have to face unplanned peripheral expansion of the conurbations and growing congestion of the whole Manchester-Liverpool belt. Meanwhile, to the north there are areas with the same problems of renewal and migration of population, and a less vigorous pace of industrial growth and change.
There is, accordingly, opportunity to promote a large new development to the north of the conurbations to help with overspill needs and population increase, to form a centre of growth well away from the two conurbations and to con tribute to Lancashire's industrial revival. This calls for a large concentrated effort on the best site available. This is the background to the proposal to build in Preston-Leyland-Chorley area a large new city ultimately to accommodate 500,000 people, and the decisions announced to day represent a development of the highest importance in the Government's strategy for the whole region.
We thought it right to make the statement about the central Lancashire new town at the earliest possible moment so that the House and the people of Lancashire should be aware of it before the Recess. The House will understand that the publication of the draft designation Order, involving as it does the production and distribution of a substantial quantity of maps and explanatory material, must take a little longer. We expect to publish by the end of the month. When the draft Order is published, everyone will be able to see the precise area which is being proposed for designation. The time for objections will run from the date of publication.
I know, however, that many people are anxious to learn as soon as possible, at least in broad terms, the proposed designation area. We have adhered to the consultants' concept of a linear city composed of linked townships and including Chorley, Leyland, Walton-le-Dale, Preston, Fulwood and Longridge. We do not, however, think it necessary that the Order should cover all the land which the 1623 consultants proposed, and we have, there fore, made reductions totalling about 20 per cent. of their proposed area, so that the draft designation Order will cover about 41,000 acres. The areas omitted include land around Coppull and land south of the River Ribble eastwards of the M6. Because we have thought it right to go for a somewhat smaller area, we have not accepted suggestions for extensions to include, for example, Adlington.
As the House knows, my right hon. Friend has insisted that, before decisions were taken, the potential effects of this large new development—the new town proposal—should be fully evaluated, and particularly the effects on North-East Lancashire. Following the studies by consultants, we have had extensive consultations with all the local authorities concerned as well as with the Economic Planning Council. The Government have been helped by the advice of the Regional Council, with its broad regional view, and of the Lancashire County Council, which can see the needs of the administrative county as a whole.
I have also been greatly helped by the meeting I held on 4th December, in Manchester, with representatives of all the local authorities principally concerned. In particular at that meeting, the North-East Lancashire authorities presented their case in a cogent and statesmanlike way. They made it clear that they were not opposed to the new town proposal as such, nor asking for it to be delayed; their proper anxiety was over safeguards for North-East Lancashire. They emphasised that it was for them essential that any decision to proceed with the new town proposal should carry with it provision for North-East Lancashire in the fields of communications, urban renewal and planned growth. These are considerations which have been in the forefront of the minds of my right hon. Friend and the Government as a whole in reaching the decision announced today.
In announcing the decision to proceed to a draft designation Order on the central Lancashire new town, my right hon. Friend, at the same time, said that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Trans port had accepted the case for an improved road link between Calder Valley and the M6. In consultation with local authorities, we shall employ consultants 1624 to prepare pilot schemes of urban renewal in North-East Lancashire; and we shall invite the county council and the Blackburn and Burnley County Borough Councils, as the three local planning authorities, to prepare a plan for the area, consulting, of course, the Regional Council and board. This would assess the future potential of the area, form the basis of future development, make the best use of a new Calder Valley road and reserve suitable sites for industrial development.
As the House knows, the Committee on Intermediate Areas, under Sir Joseph Hunt, will be reporting on "grey" areas such as North-East Lancashire. When the Committtee's report is published, the Government intend to hold discussions with the local authorities in North-East Lancashire on the best way of meeting their needs in the light of the programme for the development of the new town.
These are large proposals of wide effect, and many representations have been made on them. Some have said that the wisdom of Solomon would be needed to reach the right conclusions. Without claiming that, I hope that all the authorities concerned will feel that we have fully and fairly considered the views they have put to us. Already, many people in Lancashire see this proposal to build a great new city, ultimately to take its place alongside Manchester and Liverpool, as an exciting and imaginative venture and—as one very distinguished alderman of Lancashire County Council put it—as the start of a new prosperity for Lancashire.
What we have done so far in the development of new towns has won interest and acclaim throughout the world. This should not make us complacent; in any enterprise there are inevitably things which can be improved. But we can take pride in the progress so far of what has been called an essay in civilisation. Our achievement will be judged by the quality of life which our new towns offer. It is right that this should be the test, and we accept it.
I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)
The Minister has said that the Bill gives us an opportunity to have a general review of progress on new towns. Perhaps I am the only Member to have not one but two new towns in his division.
1625 As the first Member from the North-West, even though not a Lancashire Member, to be able to comment on what the Minster has just said about Leyland and Chorley, I can say that the decision to have a new town in that area will be generally supported. But there was one significant submission from the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He did not say whether the new town is to have development status, which I believe to be a basic question.
There is concern in North-East Lancashire that if the new town has development status, and compensatory economic support is not given to the area, there is a grave danger of its depopulation, and the difficulty of attracting new industry to it will grow. I beg the Minister to think about this carefully. If he gives the new town development status, but does not give similar status to North-East Lancashire, there will be a still greater drain on that area. But if he does not give development status to the new town he may have difficulty in encouraging industry to go there.
Although I feel entitled to make that comment as a Member from the North-West, it is not on those matters that I wish to speak. As I said, I have two new towns in my division. One, the new town of Runcorn, is very much under way and I propose to say little about it. The Minister referred to progress that is being made. I was told recently that Runcorn was being developed faster than any other new town has ever been developed in this country, or, I believe, in the world. Housing is going well there, as is the development of industrial sites.
There seems to be no lack of desire by industry to come to the area. I was particularly glad to see in the 1968 Report of the Runcorn Development Corporation that an area of land has been set aside for private development and that it hopes to interest private developers in building houses for sale. It is vital to try to retain a balance between the private and public sector in such a town and not to build a town which is purely to be tenanted.
My only other comment about Runcorn in relation to the Bill is probably also a general remark that other hon. Members may wish to make. It concerns rents, which are a problem. We have a very 1626 good rent rebate system in Runcorn, but the problem is that the New Town Development Corporation, building new houses, has a duty to balance its housing account and has no stock of older houses which can help in that. The result is that rents are high, and people are living in houses with high rents very near to people living in houses owned by the urban district council and let at lower rents.
This point will perhaps become relevant to the Leyland-Chorley New Town. The Government may have failed to realise that in the new towns in the North west wages and salaries generally are not as high as those in the areas where the first new towns were built. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that rents are a big problem for those who live there.
I turn to what I call the second new town in my division—the decision announced during the past 12 months to designate Warrington as a new town. This is relevant to the Bill, since it is presumably to provide money mainly to build the future new towns. I want to refer particularly to the Minister's decision to include in that designated area a substantial proportion of my division in Cheshire, on the other side of the Ship Canal from Warrington. The decision has been met with bitter disappointment by the people in the area, and it is necessary to say something about the back ground to it.
It started with the Minister appointing consultants to recommend an appropriate area for designation as a new town. They recommended an area of about 22,000 acres. The recommendation led to strong objection from those on the Cheshire side of the canal that that land should not be included in the Warrington new town, and a public inquiry was held.
The Minister, having appointed his consultants, then set up the inquiry and appointed the inspector, and the inspector reported to the Minister, who then had to decide on the basis of his report. Therefore, before the inquiry started the Minister had wholly committed himself in three ways: first, by inviting consultants to make the report; second, by answering as he did the objections to that report; third, and worst of all in this case, by encouraging the consultants to go ahead with Stage 2 of their job, 1627 the production of a master plan, in advance of the public inquiry. I have no doubt that the Minister was to a large extent committed to that plan before the inquiry. To a large extent, he was advocate and judge in his own cause.
The inspector said in his report:The administrative decision taken by the Minister to proceed with Stage 2 and not to offer the consultants as witnesses, viewed in the light of the restrictive nature of the inquiry imposed by the New Towns Act, lent support to the contention of a number of objectors that the Minister was acting as judge in his own cause, and, moreover, had given judgment in the cause before hearing the evidence.That somewhat damning indictment from the inspector turned out to be true.
After the careful inquiry, which took about nine days, the inspector recommended, against the original 22,000 acres, the designation of about 17,250 acres. He recommended the exclusion of over 3,000 acres on the Cheshire side and about 1,123 acres in Lancashire. The inspector was clearly being arbitrator between the Minister and the objectors, and his report should, therefore, have carried all the greater weight with the Minister. With what one can only feel is an example of the contempt in which the Government hold the views of those who do not agree with them, the Minister, I regret to say, rejected the views of his inspector. It was a disastrous decision to put back the same 1,200 acres of agricultural land in Cheshire, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will think again about it.
It was a strange inquiry. The consultants were not represented. Manchester was not represented. We were told there was need for houses for 40,000 people from Manchester. Alternative sites were suggested. The inspector suggested that they should be looked at. It is doubtful whether the Ministry ever looked at them. The Minister said that no recent representation had been made by Manchester about its need for this land in Cheshire, and Sir Richard Harper, then, I believe, the Chairman of the Housing Committee in Manchester, expressed the view, when the announcement was made, that Manchester was not interested in the new town at Warrington at all—although we were told at the inquiry that it was for Manchester that the new town was being designated.
1628 The arguments against widening the designated area of Warrington to take in agricultural land on the Cheshire side of the canal are overwhelming. The proposal was bitterly opposed by the parish councils, the rural district councils and associations of residents, and it is clear from the inspector's report that it had the overwhelming opposition of people living in the area.
The proposal will mean the loss of yet more first-class agricultural land. I cannot give the exact acreage, but it will be substantial. Yet, in the past, the Minister has refused planning permission for this land when the Minister of Agriculture has objected that it is of high agricultural value. Cheshire is losing agricultural land already at the rate of 2,000 acres a year, so it is already doing its share. In the present economic situation, in particular, when agriculture is so vital to us, it would be a tragedy to take a further substantial amount of high-quality land out of use. The inspector himself believed that this land could safely be excluded from the new town, adding that the new town could be built to accom-date the number of people envisaged without it.
The Minister assumed the need for accommodation for 40,000 people from Manchester in this area. The inspector's point was that they could be adequately absorbed without taking 3,000 acres on the Cheshire side of the canal. The Minister has rejected not only the powerful evidence advanced about densities, but the whole argument of his inspector by saying that he still proposes to put 18,000 people on the Cheshire side. Yet the inspector himself thought that the need of the new town could be met without that having to happen.
The second major objection to the scheme is that the new town would be in immediate proximity to the existing new town at Runcorn. They were to have joined, but now they would have a belt of about three quarters of a mile between them. But the scheme would mean that that side of Cheshire would be completely built up all the way from Manchester to Birkenhead. For a party which prides itself as being the party of planning, this is thoroughly bad planning.
The final objection is that there is at the moment a natural boundary along 1629 the canal, which will have to be bridged at vast expense if this new town is built. It is not too late for the Minister to think again. Nothing has been done since he announced designation last April. I take some heart from the fact that nothing has been done, hoping that this means that he is having second thoughts. There is no urgency about the matter. The Minister has not even set up a development corporation or announced the name of its chairman. There is time to reconsider the inclusion of this area.
I am not saying that Warrington new town as such is not required, nor that the inspector was not right to draw the line he did, taking in part of the Cheshire side. But I ask the Minister to look again at the exclusion of the agricultural land, an exclusion accepted by the inspector and which should have been accepted by the right hon. Gentleman. In that area of the North-West, open countryside is one of our precious assets which we will abandon to our loss.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), except to say than I agree with much of what he said early in his speech about North-East Lancashire, that I differ from him in his later remarks. Instead of criticising my right hon. Friend, I shall give him a bouquet—which is something that Ministers are not over-used to. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will receive it graciously.
§ Mr. Davidson
I was delighted when the Minister announced the Government's proposal to build a new town in the Leyland-Chorley-Preston area, he also said that the needs of North-East Lancashire would be considered—not, I take it, an ancillary to, but as an integral part of this proposal.
I compliment both my right hon. Friend the Minister of Planning and Land and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government on the close consultations they had had through out with the Lancashire County Council and with local authorities representing North-East Lancashire. As my right hon. Friend knows, I am very concerned that North-East Lancashire should benefit 1630 from the new vitality, movement, vigour and modernity which I hope and trust a new town with a population growth and economic growth will bring to Lancashire as a whole.
I was glad, therefore, when my right hon. Friend detailed, very fairly, the three main problems which have beset North-East Lancashire throughout this century and, indeed, since the Industrial Revolution. I am delighted that he is to take them into consideration as part and parcel of the new town project.
My right hon. Friend mentioned communications, and it is probably right to say that the need to improve them is the main and most pressing problem of the region. I was delighted to hear him say that the Minister of Transport has authorised the building of a road link between the Calder Valley and the M6. Has he anything to say about an outlet eastwards? It has been suggested by the Conference of North-East Lancashire Authorities that a road linking with the Aire Valley in the vicinity of Silsden should be built. This could provide important links with the M6 and the A1. Such links are, in the opinion of many people, vital to the proper economic growth of North-East Lancashire. My right hon. Friend was also right in suggesting that environmental improvement is vital to North-East Lancashire.
I said at Question Time today that it seemed to many of us to be a little incongruous that development areas, which are designated as such mainly on the basis of a high unemployment rate, should be given 85 per cent. grant aid to help with urban renewal and dereliction while other regions, such as North-East Lanoashire, should receive only 50 per cent. I fail to see much connection between the inbred problem of dereliction in one region and unemployment in another. Dereliction is one thing and unemployment is another and if a region suffers, as North-East Lancashire has suffered over the years, from a high proportion of derelict land which needs clearing, it is time for the Government firmly to say—and I hope that this will come from the Hunt Report—that such a region will get 85 per cent. or more grant aid. However, I do not expect a firm commitment from my right hon. Friend on that subject today.
1631 Another problem of the region is migration. North-East Lancashire has suffered year in and year indeed throughout the century from the drift of young people to brighter, more prosperous and alluring regions. I want this drift to stop. Many of us in North-East Lancashire were alarmed at the thought that the new town, far from stopping, might increase the drift. In other words, we feared that people would go from the older towns of the region to the brighter town of Preston, Leyland, Chorley, or whatever the new town is to be called. The need to bring new, modern industry into North-East Lancashire to deal with this migration must therefore be considered as an integral part of the new town project as a whole.
I agree with the consultants who make the point in their report that what are called professional and administrative grades—I do not like the phrase—might be lured to the new town. I hope, there fore, that it will be a positive act of Government policy to decentralise Departments throughout the region so that North-East Lancashire gets its fair share.
It would not be right for me to detain the House by going further into the details of the problems of North-East Lancashire. I could go on at great length about them, and I have done so in the past, but this is a debate about new towns and not about North-East Lancashire. We welcome today's announcement about the needs of North-East Lancashire. We have never been hostile to the idea of a new town provided we had proper safeguards. I hope that Lancashire, particularly North-East Lancashire, as a result, will get something back from the Government and the country. After all, Lancashire has contributed a great deal to its prosperity.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)
The more one has to deal with the problems of new towns the more one is driven to the realisation that some of these problems are special to the North of England, and the Midlands. Many of the problems which affect my own new town of Tel ford have already been mentioned and I shall try not to repeat what has been said.
1632 In Shropshire, we have given a genuine welcome to the decision to double the new town which was called Dawley, and we think that it was a great inspiration and a very happy choice to give it the name of Telford. I remind the Minister that the project was originally put to the Salop County Council as having the object primarily of helping to deal with the terrible problems of rehousing in Birmingham, and we accepted it on that basis. It would also be right to say that we accepted it in the hope that it would be a major contribution to the reclamation and raising of the standards of a large area of Shropshire which suffered badly from 200 years of the Industrial Revolution.
It is also right to remind the right hon. Gentleman that the project was launched in what one can now call without over statement the palmy days of 1963; palmy in the sense that in the West Midlands we were then living with over employment and we had every reason to hope that, as population transferred from the industrial conurbations to our part of the world, industry would be only too anxious to move with it. Unfortunately, the position in the West Midlands is now different and we are acutely conscious of the fact that, while we have accepted the challenge of the new town, the challenge is somewhat larger than we expected and possibly even than the Ministry expected.
Is the Minister satisfied that with what we have to face at Telford he has sufficient powers to enable him to carry through the scheme at the speed and on the scale needed? If the new town is to succeed, it is fundamental that we have a movement of industry to the area quickly and on a fairly large scale. The original terms of reference confined the area from which industry was to come to the West Midlands conurbation.
Industry can reasonably ask, if it is to come to Telford, that there should be proper communications between the West Midlands conurbation and Telford itself. This issue has been raised from the out set by the county council. With the then hon. Member for The Wrekin within which constituency part of the new town also lies, I visited the Ministry of Trans port with the chairman of our roads and bridges committee about three years ago when we explained the urgent need to 1633 get these communications right. It is a very sad fact that, with few exceptions, nothing has been done.
The irony of this becomes more acute when it is appreciated that the map of the West Midlands as a whole shows on the east of Birmingham the brand new railway, on which we have spent£150 million, the Ml, the M6 and the M5, which give excellent communications, while on our side of Birmingham almost nothing has been done, except that the rail communication has been allowed appreciably to decline.
The question which one is entitled to put, perhaps not to the Minister, but to the Government, is whether the Minister in charge of the new town policy ought not in a situation of this kind be given some special powers vis-á-vis his colleagues the Minister of Transport and the President of the Board of Trade so that he can say, "The scheme has been accepted by the Government and, if I am to carry it out, I must have certain powers to say what is to be done."
Another consideration which is relevant to the whole problem is that of development area status. When one is trying to start a new town, one needs industry and when one is not in a development area and when the source from which one has to take industry has been defined as the rather small area of the West Midlands conurbation it is frustrating to find that the development areas are permitted and may even be encouraged to go, so to speak, shop ping in the West Midlands conurbation themselves.
I was in Wolverhampton about four months ago when I saw a beautifully staged exhibition from the Wales development area urging the industrialists of Wolverhampton to take their factories to Wales with all the large financial incentives which development areas can offer. Inevitably, one's reaction is to ask, "What about poor old Telford if this sort of thing is allowed?". This should be a Cabinet matter and in a case of this kind, ought not greater powers to be given to the Minister?
Not long ago the Minister was good enough to see the chairman and members of my county council and we discussed certain aspects. We were all very grateful to him, but I was slightly concerned by one thing in his attitude which I may 1634 have misinterpreted when he thought that merely by doubling the scheme we would solve the problem. My view is that while we have accepted the challenge, by doubling the size of the scheme we have doubled the challenge. It is true that by extending the area we bring in some well-established industries, but at the same time, unless the fundamentals I have mentioned are dealt with, all that we will have done is to set ourselves a bigger task.
I want to refer to the two side-effects which are most topical, as a result of the present failure to get industry installed on a large scale. I do not want to over state this, because industry has been brought in on a small scale, and the efforts made by the corporation are highly creditable. I know how hard working it has been. One side effect, and this was the subject upon which we went to see the Minister, was that on the county council and the ratepayers in general. The chairman and members of my county council represented to the Minister the serious position that could result for the ratepayers if the flow of population into the new town did not match up with the expenditure on the services which the county council is statutorily obliged to provide.
On Tuesday, there was a ceremonial handing over of the 1,000th house in Telford. It is a matter of some concern that there are several hundred houses not occupied. What also concerns the county council is that a number of houses which are occupied are occupied by those who were already Shropshire ratepayers, be cause the county does not benefit except by the influx of outside population. It was put to the Minister that it would be only fair that some formula should be worked out by which the county could have a financial guarantee against loss.
The whole problem would be solved if industry would move in in a big way and bring population with it. That might happen any day, but this project has been going for five years and it has not yet happened. This is the situation now facing us. Without knowing the exact stage that may have been reached in negotiations between the Ministry and the county council, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to look favourably at what was asked of him during our interview.
1635 The other matter is the position of those who are already occupiers and tenants. On the whole, everyone is pleased with the houses. Some people say that they look rather odd from the outside, but anything that is new looks old. I have visited a great many inside, and I agree that they are good. The hard fact is that the rents are high and most people are paying something in the region of£5 or£6 a week. Here we have the same difficulty to which other hon. Members have referred, that these rents are entirely out of line not only with the regular level of wages in the area, but also with comparable rents being paid on housing estates and other houses quite near. This is bound to create difficulties and complaints all round.
Is it absolutely necessary, in an area of this kind, where the wage levels are not as high as, say, in the South-east of England, for houses always to be built to a particular standard? What is always quoted against one is the Parker Morris standard. Has that question really been considered? Can houses be built to a somewhat smaller standard without affecting their quality? The new town of Telford operates now only on the basis of a very generous rent rebate scheme, conscientiously operated by the development corporation in the interests of those living there. I give it full credit for its efforts, but it is not a very satisfactory answer and no one is more aware of this than the tenants.
We have a highly responsible tenants' association which has got down to brass tacks and made a very serious study of all the problems affecting them. They are very conscious that the Minister requires more powers; and that it is unfair, in a sense, that they should expect schools to be provided without any guarantee to the ratepayers that they will be occupied. They are also conscious of the fact that, and this does them credit, however nice it may be to have a rent rebate scheme, it could have a somewhat demoralising influence if the result is to prevent people trying to better themselves by seeking better jobs with higher wages. They are acutely aware of the differences in rental values between new town houses and those adjoining. They think that, in some respects, the new town has un- 1636 favourable financial effects on old-age pensioners.
They are also very much concerned to try to see whether it is possible for them to help themselves by getting a very much larger proportion of female employment. The difficulty is that wives cannot go out to work because there is no one to look after the children. We know that a day nursery would greatly ease the problem, but that would be a responsibility of the county council and it would thus make more acute the problem of the county council. I would ask the Minister to give some attention to these problems. The majority of people in Shropshire feel that the desirability of the project is in no way lessened, and we for our part would like to do everything possible to help the Minister to carry this scheme to a successful conclusion.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)
I welcome the Bill. New towns have proved them selves very well indeed over the last 21 years. They are certainly a most en lightened and sensible method of accommodating overspill population. They pro vide a way of living totally different from that which might be achieved in older towns. I therefore support the decision to establish more new towns, particularly away from London. I also welcome the decision announced today about Lancashire.
It is very important that we should seek to provide more pleasant and attractive new centres for people who cannot be rehoused in the older industrial towns in their part of the country. This obviously cannot be achieved without vast investment of capital by the Government. As a result, the Bill is very necessary. The fact that hon. Members on both sides are supporting this is a clear illustration of the almost universal recognition of the inability of private enterprise to undertake large-scale projects of this type. Here, at least, we must rely upon public enterprise.
As the Minister said, new towns, in the long run, are not necessarily economic liabilities. Many new towns, established over a number of years, are shining examples of the success of public enterprise. My own new town of Harlow is an outstanding case. I would like to pay tribute to the tremendous amount of 1637 work which has been done by the development corporation, the urban district council, the employers, trade unions and many others, to make it such a great success. I have no doubt from my visits to other new towns that this is certainly not a situation confined to Harlow.
If the greatest possible benefits are to be derived, there is a tremendous need for very careful planning. We are now encountering a major difficulty in the provision of employment in new towns, referred to by many hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More).
I wish to refer to a different aspect of this problem from that which the hon. Member for Ludlow posed in the new towns away from the South-East. I refer to the problem presented by the. threat of rationalisation of industry by takeovers and mergers. In Harlow, we had an establishment owned by A.E.I. When G.E.C. took over A.E.I, there was an immediate threat of closure which could have meant very serious consequences in Harlow. Public funds are used to pro vide houses, shops, amenities, schools and all the rest, but we still rely on private enterprise fundamentally to provide the employment. However, everyone recognises that a new town cannot succeed unless there is adequate employment for those who live there.
Decisions on public investment in a new town are taken on a quite different basis from decisions on the provision of employment. If those in charge of an industrial concern feel that they can make more profit by closing a factory in a new town and going elsewhere, that is very good business from the narrow point of view of that industrial concern. On the other hand, it might easily render a considerable amount of public investment in a new town uneconomic and it would be cheaper to subsidise employers to stay in a new town if what they would get by going elsewhere is less than the State would lose. While I am most certainly not advocating this, it well illustrates the great need to consider carefully the problem of the provision of employment.
The Government must take much greater care in future to provide and to safeguard employment in new towns, particularly when there is the risk of take overs. I favour the public ownership of 1638 monopolies, but, if we agree to differ on that proposition, I hope that there will be widespread support for more power and initiative by the Government to pro vide industry and safeguard jobs for those who go to live in new towns.
There is a considerable lack of proper co-ordination of planning decisions at the top. This applies particularly to the provision of employment opportunities near the new homes. I recognise the problem of new towns alongside development areas referred to by the hon. Member for Ludlow, but the older established new towns in what are generally recognised to be more prosperous areas some times suffer when new industries are prevented from going to them or when existing industry which wishes to expand is prevented from doing so.
I have never concealed my belief in public enterprise, but I pay tribute to many industrial employers who have gone to the new towns, and particularly those whom I know so well in Harlow. Employers in the new towns around the London area have an organisation which only a few weeks ago met Members of Parliament in the House and all of us who were able to go along to the meeting were impressed by the fund of experience which they brought to the discussions. Not only these employers, but trade unionists and everybody else concerned have a right to be informed of future planning policy which will enable them to plan industrial development in the new towns on which people's jobs depend.
I wish to refer to the way in which decisions are sometimes indefinitely postponed, and particularly to the expansion of Harlow. This was mooted before the 1964 General Election, but we are still awaiting a decision. We are faced with a policy of drift. I am well aware that the question of Stansted and the possibility that it will, after all, much as I should regret it, be decided to site the third London Airport at Stansted, is linked with this. But it is totally unacceptable that people in new towns should be denied the information that they need to plan the development of that town and the industries in it.
I deplore strongly the idea that Harlow should become a dormitory for the labour employed at Stansted. But, whatever occurs, the employers, trade unions, the development corporation and the urban 1639 district council, not to speak of the Member of Parliament, should be informed about plans, even if they are only contingency plans. At present there is a regrettable dearth of information.
If employment opportunities are in adequate, a new town cannot live. The hon. Members for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) and Ludlow referred to the problem of high rents. This is not restricted to the North-West. It applies also in what are regarded as the more prosperous areas—for example, in Harlow. I do not know how a family where the wife is not able to go out to work because she has young children, and whose husband is in the lower-paid category, can live adequately when faced with the sort of rents which people are being asked to pay in the new towns.
More owner-occupation is advocated in the recently published Cullingworth Report. I have nothing against owner-occupation. I am buying my own property. But in Harlow—and I know that this is true in other new towns—many houses which were built for sale are empty and have been empty for a very long time. Many workers cannot afford to pay the rents, let alone the mortgage repayments. It is necessary that we should provide for the housing needs of people. That must be the first priority: to provide rented accommodation rather than accommodation for sale. Many of the second generation local people in the new towns will become very bitter if they find that houses are offered for sale which they cannot afford to purchase, or for which they cannot obtain mortgages while people from outside are able to do so.
The problem of rents and of selling houses must be looked at very carefully in the light of the basic needs of the people. I am very unhappy about those who take the academic view that we can merely expand owner-occupation without considering the needs of the people who have to be housed.
To turn briefly to another subject, there is a need in all this for much greater co-ordination between Government Departments. If we look at the present situation, new towns as such are dealt with by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Communications, in the shape of the telephone, are the 1640 responsibility of the Postmaster-General, while roads are dealt with by the Minis try of Transport. For industrial development certificates and industrial development, the Board of Trade comes in. When we are worried about schools, it is the Department of Education and Science, while hospitals and health centres, with which many of us are concerned are the responsibility of the Ministry of Health, now the Ministry of Health and Social Security. When one deals with the problems of various industries, nationalised industries and private enterprise are involved.
In my view, it is not surprising that many difficulties arise from uneven development. It is a tribute to people at all levels that the difficulties in this rather chaotic state of affairs are not consider ably greater.
There is need for much more co-ordination about the creation of the infra structure in the new towns. I cite the example of my own new town of Harlow the problem of road communications and the development of the M11. The men who first discussed the link with Harlow for the M11 have been wondering whether their grandchildren would live to see it completed. Despite the infinite number of letters which have been writ ten and all the rest, although we had a recent announcement on this subject, many of us have become very concerned about the inordinate delay which has taken place.
I hope that although we seem now to have passed another post on the way to getting the M11 to the Harlow area, my right hon. Friend the Minister will take note of the fact that it is important not only from the general transport stand point but also for the life of the new town that this road should be built as speedily as possible.
One other issue which I wish to mention is the question of the future owner ship of assets and the control of new towns. I remain an unashamed and constant advocate of handing over to the local authorities. I believe that in this day and age, when so many people at the grass roots are concerned about the need to control their own lives, when participation has been become very much an "in" word, it is even more necessary that 1641 we should recognise the need to transfer control to the local authorities.
Hon. Members opposite may have been concerned at one stage that all new town local authorities were likely to be con trolled by friends of those of us who sit on these benches. I very much regret to say that that is not exactly the case at the present time. I am glad to say that it still is so at Harlow, and I believe that it will remain so.
At the same time, all hon. Members should put aside partisan political ideas and recognise that there is tremendous need to decentralise decisions which can be decentralised. In this respect, it is extremely desirable that the control and ownership of these assets should be placed in the hands of local authorities, whatever their political colour.
I am not saying that every decision should be made at that level—one knows that local authorities in any area have to go to the Minister for all sorts of decisions—but we should look back to the original intentions of the people who founded this great development, like Lord Reith and Lord Silkin, and see that the assets are transferred to the local authorities. I would mention to my right hon. Friend the Minister that this is very much Labour Party policy as accepted by the Labour Party Conference.
Until that glorious day dawns when the assets are transferred, there is need for more local appointments on development corporations. We want to get the greatest possible local contact here. This is tremendously important. When travelling round and speaking to people in the new towns, I find that many of them are concerned about the need for greater sensitivity to this point at Ministerial level.
With those remarks—and I apologise that I have spoken rather longer than I intended—I welcome the Bill. It is very desirable that we should go ahead with the new town movement and I believe that in the years to come, many people who live in the new towns will recognise the wisdom of the present Government in going ahead with their very great plan of social development.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
I am glad to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) and I would like to deal 1642 briefly with two of the points he has raised. The first is the necessity for economic planning to be kept in step with land use planning. It is in circumstances in which these get out of phase that one gets a shortfall of jobs in new towns particularly.
I had that experience in the overspill scheme in Daventry, in my constituency, where residents came from the Birmingham area but there were insufficient jobs to provide employment. As a result, we have several hundred houses standing empty awaiting employment. It has been necessary for the authorities concerned to see the President of the Board of Trade and I think that there is now recognition of the difficulties which need to be over come in the availability of the necessary industrial development certificates.
The second point is to remind the hon. Member of the meeting which we had in his constituency on a Sunday about two years ago when the Minister of Public Building and Works was present. A significant factor which came to light that Sunday was that if the local authority—the Harlow Urban District Council—were to take over the new town's assets, its treasurer told us that it would not need to levy a rate; the income would be enough to excuse the residents from a rate precept of any sort. I am sure, therefore, that when the hon. Member speaks so vehemently in support of his case, he would be prepared to add a qualification to the suggestion that new town assets should be completely taken over by the local authority.
§ Mr. Newens
I am grateful to the hon. Member for the opportunity to say that I believe that the new towns should be made to recognise their responsibility to the country as a whole. I do not think that it would be fair if they were merely to use whatever profits they were able to make for their exclusive benefit locally. I quite agree that in this respect there should be a suitable means of sharing out over the country as a whole. That does not, however, detract from my point about handing over their assets.
§ Mr. Jones
I am sure that there would be a qualification with regard to the financial arrangement which would be required.
I turn now to the theme of the Minister in setting out for us the historical sequence 1643 of the new towns so far and the future prospects in the shape of the substantial announcements which we have had in recent weeks concerning various new towns.
I recognise the simplicity of providing homes in a suitable environment with the necessary jobs to go with them in the concept of new town development. The contrast is the simplified procedures that are available there and the difficulties that one has in providing residential development elsewhere in terms of avail ability of land, the limited areas that could be made available by town extensions, village extensions and the demands on the green belts.
Of course, as a direct result of planning policies by the planning authorities, with the release of land in only limited amounts, we get the unfavourable circumstances of high land values being maintained, and I hope that this is a matter which he and his right hon. Friends may find an opportunity to turn to, to try to reduce the cost of land. It is true to say that the major cost in houses lies in the cost of land. I am assured by a substantial contractor in the private sector of housing that only 28 per cent. of the cost of a house is for materials, that the other 72 per cent. is made up of high land costs, the inevitable professional charges involved in acquisition and planning procedures, and so on, which are costly and time-consuming in them selves, and the labour costs. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that that is a very significant figure.
The alternative is the expansion of the new town procedures and major over spill development schemes, such as I have at Daventry in my constituency. Hither to, almost entirely, these schemes have been based on the public sector of housing. I know that areas of land are made available for private development, as the hon. Member for Epping mentioned, but in the main they are developed by the public sector.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to turn his mind to the concept of a private enterprise new town. The hon. Member for Epping will contest this. He says new towns can only be successful with public enterprise. I ask him to consider Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City, which were the two prime concep- 1644 tions of the whole scheme of new town development. They have been, and were from the outset, I understand, essentially successful both in financial and social terms. Could we not, perhaps, consider, when the next great decision has to be taken on the question of a new town and its designation, a planning competition among architects generally, the Government to choose and decide the best designated area and the most suitable in terms of the country, and look afresh at the physical, economic and social planning considerations in the context of private development?
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Perhaps my hon. Friend is aware that at Newmarket, in my constituency, a recent decision was taken not to have a large overspill programme? This does not mean new town expansion. On the contrary, a private firm has been brought in, and this will achieve a number of houses exactly in the way my hon. Friend suggests.
§ Mr. Jones
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have been to that development and have looked at the roads and the public services which have already been installed. I think that it is in the general form of estate development, added, as it is, to the northern part of Newmarket. I am thinking of something broader altogether, and hope to come to some of the financial considerations. I recognise, in the context of the Bill, that there is a great demand for capital funds on the public purse in respect of the present new town procedures. This and any Government would, perhaps, welcome an opportunity to get private capital into a new town.
I hope that we shall see a new town conception different again from those we have seen in the post-war period. I have looked at many of them. I recognise the advantages which some have against others—Cumbernauld, a completely new conception, the conception of a new town added to an old; and a new town altogether such as we have at Stevenage.
I am confident that private capital can be made available, and I think that we should ensure a greater variety of tenure among residents. This is a point which was expressed, also, by the hon. Member for Epping. I am sure that if there were a necessity for them there should be 1645 reasonably rented properties; the private developer could face giving for a time a subsidy on them, raised from commercial and industrial schemes, which would pro vide employment. This would be a simple financial exercise. I am sure that the private developer would not want to get into the situation we find in the new towns now, of housing and industrial development getting out of phase.
This would require the necessary cooperation from the various Government Departments concerned. However, I am confident that a properly planned and phased development could ensure a financial return acceptable to the private sector and would in this way ensure the proper use of resources.
I am not at all satisfied that a proper use of resources is reflected in the figures we have about new towns. I take the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that they are profitable in the long run. As he said, good business practice is followed in the new towns. I cannot think that a good business practitioner, if I may so put it, would be satisfied with the figures which we have before us. I quote from the Progress Report, No. 24, of January. 1967, of the Department of Economic Affairs. It refers to the new towns in a paragraph headed, "A profit able investment" and it says:Deficits on revenue account are inevitable until remunerative development begins to bear fruit, and, taking all the development corporations together, there is still an overall deficit. However, many of the earlier established development corporations now show an annual revenue surplus. Taken together, the 17 new towns in England and Wales showed a net revenue surplus of over£900,000 in 1965–66; excluding the five new towns designated since 1961 where development is still in its early stages, the 12 well-established new towns showed a surplus of nearly£1¼ million.The return referred to of£900,000 in 1965–66 is on a capital investment of no less than£346 million, which shows a return on capital employed of 0.3 per cent., and I cannot think that that is a wise use of resources. We would need to do a very close cost-benefit analysis and show a lot more advantages else where before we could say that proper financial disciplines had been exercised.
Professor Anthony West, of the College of Estate Management, is, I understand, engaged in costing new town development schemes. He maintains that the profit 1646 and loss basis of new towns is unrealistic. Were they to be subjected to the same scrutiny as private companies, the scale of losses would become apparent. The new town development corporations enjoy indirect assistance and concealed subsidies which are not included in the department's figures which I have read out. They enjoyed compulsory purchase powers up to 1959 under the 1947 code, which enabled them to acquire land at existing use value, which is but a fraction of today's value paid by private developers. I wonder what the figure of the total assets, which were well over£340 million, would be today if all the properties were revalued, particularly the commercial and industrial properties. What sort of return then would the new towns show on the capital invested?
Special exemptions are enjoyed by new towns in relation to the Rent Acts and the advance payments for roads and public works which are often made to local authorities. They are exempted from the betterment levy and from the Leasehold Reform Acts. They have powers to extinguish rights of way and easements, and to borrow at approximately half the market rate of interest. They enjoy grants from the Government and from local authorities. We can therefore say that new towns are cocooned in a suffocating featherbed of statutory protection. Yet they show only this extremely meagre return on the tremendous capital investment made by the country.
We are asked tonight to agree to a further substantial sum, and in that con text I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he and his colleagues will give thought to the possibility of a new town being put out to a private developer or a consortium of private developers. My view is that a private enterprise new town could succeed, and I hope that it will not be ruled out. There would be no demand upon the public purse for subsidies or for capital. There would be better social variety in the co-owner ship of properties and the housing associations, with houses for owner-occupation and for renting. Such a scheme would employ the initiatives and skills in the private sector and, above all, it would bring a lively and new approach to what is recognised, as the Minister said, as a very successful development stemming from Letchworth and Welwyn.
1647 Can we not break new ground yet again in this vital matter?
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Moonman (Billericay)
I begin by paying a tribute to my right hon. Friend's predecessor, who was for a considerable time responsible in the Ministry for new towns. Those of us who have had associations with him will have been impressed by his great interest in and deep knowledge of new towns. Some of us may have disagreements, but this is inevitable when so many of us feel equally deeply about the problems of the various aspects of new town life reflected by many of the comments in the debate tonight.
The knowledge and intelligence of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) on the subject has never been doubted, or his willingness to visit new towns. We shall miss him, and we wish him well in his new work. By the same token, we hope to see my right hon. Friend shortly visiting the new towns, doing the circuit, and we hope that he will also be able to meet the various bodies which have been referred to in the debate.
New towns are not only the concern of the development corporations and the local authorities; they are the concern also of the multiplicity of voluntary organisations which play such an important part in the life and quality of the new towns.
New towns are a success, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will take every possible occasion for saying this in a more forthright manner than has been done in the past. The new town concept has made an impact throughout the world. With populations centring on the already pressed cities, national guidance on homes and jobs becomes more urgent.
The hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) has suggested one approach to this, but it seems to me that private organisations have not always been enthusiastic to go into what is very big business. I am well aware of the skill and devotion of those who established Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City, but the scale of the projected new town in Lancashire involves such a demand on resources that I doubt whether private industry would wish to join forces to this end. We have moved enormously in the last 40 or 50 years, 1648 and the general complexity of planning means that the backing and not, per haps, the hostility of a Government machine is necessary.
If any hon. Members have been able to study in detail the Report on the Ownership and Management of Housing in the New Towns, which was published a few days ago, they have done extremely well. There are two points on which I wish to comment. Great emphasis is placed in the report on the normality of new towns. Normality seems to be related to having more owner-occupiers. I resent this in the same way as my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) resents it. Normality is not just about ownership. It concerns the social environment, the facilities and the removal of tensions by the provision of jobs for people who wish to stay in the new towns.
In Basildon, over 100 houses were scheduled for sale but not taken up for a considerable period. As the result of strong initiative by the general manager of the new town, and by one or two of us, generous mortgages were eventually made available and the houses were taken up, but this is a great problem. There was a wastage of assets and there was hostility from people in the new town who wished to see their children accommodated, and who had to wait for a long time on the local authority list. The Report is looking at normality in a way which is out of line with the experience of many hon. Members who either live or work in a new town.
Of course, all is not perfect. One way in which a greater degree of efficiency could be established is the way in which decisions are made on the ultimate transfer of ownership. The scale of new town operations is shown by the provision in the Bill of£300 million. We are concerned with the finance when the transfer to the local authority takes place. I bitterly regret that the Queen's Speech contained no reference to the transfer of assets, although this matter was strongly supported in the Labour Party conference and in various committees and consultative bodies. My right hon. Friend ought to give attention to the transfer to the local authority, with provision for the phased transfer, where desirable, on the basis of the local authority assuming responsibility for the outstanding loan 1649 debt on the same terms as apply to the development corporation—receiving the same measure of annual subsidies, grants and contributions and the balance of the repairs fund.
There is one difficulty which is stressed in the Report—and this is one of the few parts of the Report which I have so far read, and I feel that it is well worth our attention. The Report points out that the transfer of assets and the transfer of responsibility for housing to the local authority raises a difficulty about restricting the inflow of population if the local authority assumes control of all houses. It states:The first point to make is that if development corporation houses were transferred to local authorities, 'council houses' would then constitute from about two-fifths to nearly all of the local housing stock. In some towns the local authorities would be responsible for virtually all the houses in their areas. In these towns there would be little scope for other tenures to meet the needs of migrant workers. Thus, if in coming workers were not housed by the local authority, there would be a serious deterrent to new labour coming into the area.This is one of the problems with which we have to be able to deal. Once we have established a single authority for housing, there must be some continuing facility whereby new towns which attract skilled workers will provide them with accommodation. They certainly do not want to buy their own houses. This is a practical problem. It may not be possible for my right hon. Friend to deal with it in his reply this evening, but I suggest that much more attention should be given to the point.
There is also a social problem in the new town which is worthy of note. I am not now referring to the "new town blues" which have been mentioned in previous debate. The mature new towns such as Basildon have built civic centres, community centres, swimming pools and other good decreational facilities. No one who has lived in or within the authority of a new town, as I do, will minimise the importance of such basic facilities. The social environment is being improved to catch up with the original uncertain "bricks-and-mortar" philosophy which brought people to the new towns for jobs and houses.
There is, however, a uniqueness and a vitality in a new town which carries within it certain problems of personal 1650 relations. I am not in favour of research projects for their own sake for we have heard of several matters of new town life being studied. There is a need for fairly systematic studies of a sociological kind to look at the whole question of family environment. Already, there has been the Wilmot and Young study of the problem of people moving from a traditional area of Bethnal Green. It would be interesting if the study were taken now, several years later, in the new town itself. The lack of supporting families of the older generation and the drift from family support has brought tensions and in some cases—I emphasise, some cases—conflicts in husband-wife relationships.
I can speak only for my own advice centre, held regularly in my constituency, but the largest number of cases which I hear there on domestic issues are about such tensions which have grown up. I have taken this further and I hope that a post-graduate student will do some work in the summer on these specific problems arising from lack of supporting families and the fact that "Mum" is not in the nearby area.
The point is that there is no senior member of the family to provide the immediate piece of information and advice and this can cause some aggravation and worry. I do not suggest that this is a major social problem, and I am sure that it is not confined to Basildon, as I have discovered in discussions which I have had with hon. Members from other new towns. Support should be given to a research project to examine in a quantitative way the personal and social problems of new town life.
We have different stages of new towns. Many comments which have been made by hon. Members deal with matters which we have had to work through in the mature new towns Harlow and Basil don. Let us look at the social environment in terms of what it means for youngsters. When they go into new towns, such youngsters drift from the family—even though the mature new towns now have buildings of social purpose. If we undertake this study we may be able to answer some of the problems which will arise when the new, new towns have become more matured.
If we are to deal with specific problems, there is the difficulty of co-ordinating decision making. For example, in 1651 Basildon we have still to get a central railway station. There is a most curious situation in which we have a railway station on either side of the town. Apparently the cunning philosophy be hind this decision is the assumption that if there were a central railway station it would defeat the purposes of the new town because people would commute to London.
I have never been able to understand the logic. What it means is that the distance between the two railway stations is about five miles, so that those who want to get into London will certainly go, despite considerable inconvenience, while, at the same time, there is a great problem of communications not only for people who live in the town, but for local industry, too. It is an absurd situation.
In trying to track down what happened, one finds that there is a lack of co-ordination. It is a situation in which British Railways, the Ministry of Trans port, the development corporation and the local authority neatly pass the responsibility one to the other. One could argue that this ties in with the whole town centre complex, but it has gone on far too long, and in these periods of life of a new town we have to recognise that there will be larger isues than those about local drainage, sewerage and so on. There will be crucial decisions affecting the communication of the new town. Co ordination of decision-making is a subject on which I should like to see set up a much more broadly based committee than the liaison committee introduced by my right hon. Friend's predecessor.
A critical isue which has now arisen and will continue to arise in the last quarter of the century is how to involve the development corporation with the people of the town. We have thought about this in Basildon. Clearly, there is no one answer. Possibly one might have a watch committee, not in any critical sense, but rather to provide a meeting which the town folk would be able to attend, and which would meet once a quarter. It would look at the work, the policy and the plans of the development corporation. It would be expected that an officer of the development corporation, preferably the general manager, would talk about his intended projects. This is one way to improve communications.
1652 Any other suggestions along these lines which hon. Members make would arouse a good deal of interest in Basildon.
Another possibility is to have much greater involvement locally on the development corporation board, and I fully support the views that have been expressed on this subject. This is a controversial matter. I would like to see the fee given to members of£500 dropped. We must also get better quality local personalities on the development corporation. One of the great values of the development corporation board is that it must be truly local. That would help to prepare the way for the time when the local authority will assume greater control in the town.
I know that my right hon. Friend and his predecessor worked very hard to try to put people on the development corporation board who were identified with the local authority. I know that they will also argue that there are people from the vicinity on the boards. But I believe that the balance in the composition is wrong. Only a few months ago, in the case of Basildon, there was brought in a representative of the G.L.C. I am sure that he is a perfectly honourable man, but he has had to come all the way from Hammersmith and, as he admits, he will be making virtually his first visit to a new town to serve on a development corporation board. I am not sure whose interest he is serving. I very much doubt where whether he can serve the interests and problems of the new town in the short term.
In trying to meet some of the problems of the new towns before they arise as serious obligations, my right hon. Friend would do well to look at the structure of the corporation board. We want a balanced board. We want men of experience of industrial, trade union and commercial life. We also want people who are well known in the locality. But we find it difficult to justify putting on the board people who must travel 55 miles or so and who cannot be justified on appointment on industrial grounds either.
This is a highly controversial matter and I am using diplomatic language about it. In my constituency they would say that it is dynamite. They feel that there will be an explosion—and it is not 1653 necessarily the Member of Parliament who will go up in smoke.
I turn to the question of rents. I urge my right hon. Friend to think again about the way in which the whole question of rents has been dealt with during the last few months. The criteria for rent increases applying to new towns are associated with the Prices and Incomes Board's Report on rents. I believe that there are important differences and that the criteria which should be established for new towns should be different from that applying to other cities and towns in Britain. I have had correspondence with my right hon. Friend on this subject and I am grateful to him for allowing me to refer to it.
Many of the difficulties which we have faced in the new towns in connection with exorbitant rents—there have been severe increases in the last few months—have arisen from the fact that people coming to live in new towns believe that they have come there for purposes other than merely moving from one part of London to another. They believe that they are coming to get jobs. In many respects they make sacrifices in moving, but one must admit that there are benefits as well. There is a uniqueness about living in a new town, although this shows up the difficulties that arise, particularly from high rents.
An hon. Member spoke earlier of the rent figure applying to the North-West. I assure the House that the figure in. for example, Basildon is far in excess of that. This problem must be examined carefully and I plead with the Minister to consider this question of associating new town rents with the rents applying in other parts of the country. He would meet with a great deal of support from my hon. Friends and I if he were pre pared to consider referring new town rent increases directly to the Prices and Incomes Board. Such a step would establish once and for all that there is some thing different and unique about new towns.
I do not accept the philosophy that new towns are "normal". They may become normal eventually, but they must be given further support before that can happen. The continued success of new towns will depend increasingly on how well friendship and co-ordination exist among the Ministry, the authority or 1654 corporation, the local council and the inhabitants.
There is no doubt that the people of Basildon and some of the other more mature new towns have a great vitality. They bring with them the spirit and enthusiasm of, for example, East London, and that is in many respects half way towards meeting the problems which one faces in a new town. We have a right to expect a close identification with this problem on the part of my right hon. Friend. We would like to see a recognition of the fact that the unique problems of new towns should be dealt with with the same kind of unique remedies from him.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)
The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Moon-man) will, I hope, forgive me if I do not comment on many of the topics he raised in his speech. The debate has continued for some time and I wish to be brief.
We all agree that the problems of new towns are varied and are of a non-party character. I thank the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) for the help they have given in enabling us to air these problems, particularly since the difficulties which face new towns are not always the same as those which face towns and cities generally. I also thank the Parliamentary Secretary for the civil way in which he has listened to our debates on this subject.
The problems which face new towns cannot be appreciated by those who are not affected by them and are not aware of exactly what is involved in living in these areas. They are entirely different from the problems affecting any other type of development that has gone on in this country. Indeed, many people connected with new towns cannot always appreciate each others problems because of the difficulties confronting different new towns.
I wish to refer in particular to the infrastructure of new towns. When one has a completely new town which has probably developed from a village or very small town, the question of communication within the town does not present a large problem. However, with a town like Redditch, which already has a population of between 25,000 and 30,000 and many old buildings and narrow roads, 1655 the whole question of communication within the town—I am not referring to the question of communication to and from it—presents many problems.
I have in the past said—I am sure that I am right about this—that if we are to have a happy community, with the old and the new blending together, there must be good communications within a town. That is why I hope that the Minister will accept that much of the money which is required for new towns must be spent on communications.
The new town of Redditch has been granted money to build three new schools, and that is excellent. I am told, however, that that whole allocation for school building—that is, for Worcester County Council—has now been absorbed. It should be remembered that in the old part of Redditch there are bad schools with outside sanitation, classrooms too small for the number of children attending them and no common rooms for the teachers.
Unless this problem is tackled, ill feeling will be generated between the old and new parts of the town. If in future Redditch is to be a happy town, there must be the closest possible integration between the old and the new. This will not happen if people who live in the older part of the town say, "Everything is going to the new town and we are getting nothing".
The Minister and hon Members generally must be fed up hearing me talking about the need for adequate hospital facilities in Redditch. The complication of the old part of the town being com pared with the new arises in this connection, too. The old part of the town has a hospital, although it contains only 30 beds. One is told, "You have a hospital. What are you worrying about?" For many years the existing hospital has been inadequate for the demands of Red ditch as it was previously. It is now completly inadequate to meet the demands of Redditch as a whole, with the new town, particularly as more houses are built and as the population increases.
I pay tribute to the Minister for the civil way in which he has listened to my pleas about this matter. However, there are many difficulties still to be ironed out. I also thank the Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Litchfield 1656 and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) for having agreed to receive a deputation of a petition containing 30,000 signatures. He has listened to our problems. I hope that he will now be able to take some action.
The question of high rents has been raised by several hon. Members. They are desperately high in my new town. The reason is obvious; because new towns generally have no bank of cheaper houses with which to offset the cost of new houses. I recently obtained some figures which show that the average rent in the new town of Redditch is£4 15s. a week, to which must be added 13s. for a garage—most of the houses have garages—plus£1 13s. for rates and£1 for central heating. This means rents of more than£6 10s. This does not take into account the£3 subsidy which the new town is getting. It means that the average rent is£9 10s., in real terms. In addition, many people living in new towns which are unable to attract new industry—if I.D.C.s are not granted—must pay perhaps£3 10s. to commute weekly to and from, say, Birmingham.
It just is not a runner. One of the great fears in the minds of my new town development corporation is that it will have these houses—and very nice houses they are—but will not be able to let them, because it is not the higher paid skilled worker who is being moved from Birmingham, but more likely the lower-paid worker, who just cannot afford these rents. I therefore hope that when allocating some of the extra money provided by the Bill the right hon. Gentleman will consider giving new towns a further subsidy, at least until these new towns are, perhaps, absorbed by the old u.d.c.s, and they can charge a balanced rent. People just cannot afford the present rents.
I know that it is Government policy, and most people would think it wise policy, to give I.D.C.'s in areas of high unemployment, but special consideration should be given to the new towns, which also have their own problems. I hope that I.D.C.s will be granted to the new towns, because in Redditch alone, as I checked the other day, 1,006 new houses are being completed each year, so we need about 2,000 new jobs. Unless people are to commute to and from Birmingham those jobs must be created on the spot by industry. Birmingham industrialists are prepared to go to Redditch 1657 provided they can get a certificate to build their factories. Factories are going up, but rot nearly fast enough, nor are they large enough to cope with the problem which will be increasingly with us as the populations of the new towns—and I refer particularly to Redditch—in crease.
I welcome the Bill. In the long run, its provisions will be at no cost to the taxpayer, as the money is to be in the form of a loan. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see that the money is allocated in the wisest way, so that the new towns will be as happy and successful as I hope they will be.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
Most hon. Members who have new towns in their constituencies will echo most of the sentiments so far expressed in the debate. The hon. Member for Broms-grove (Mr. Dance) has spoken eloquently of the many problems associated with the new towns, particularly when a new town is grafted on to an old town.
When, on 28th October, 1966, we debated the subject of new towns, I mentioned many of the problems associated with Skelmersdale, in my constituency, such as the housing programme, rents and recreational and leisure facilities. I believe I also spoke of representation on the local development board, a matter that has been referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) and for Epping (Mr. Newens).
When I spoke of housing I was mildly castigated by the Minister of Public Building and Works. I said that I was not—nor am I now—a great admirer or advocate of industrialised building, and I gave my reasons. It is good when a man can prove himself to be a prophet in his own time. I said that from my knowledge of Skelmersdale I was apprehensive of its programme of industrialised building. I am at once glad to say and sad to say that my worst fears have been justified.
The programme of industrialised building at Skelmersdale has been curtailed by about 40 per cent. In its annual report to the Minister, the development corporation says, very diplomatically, as corporations have to be when dealing with Governments, that it has been very disappointed that promise of the industrialised building contractors did not match 1658 the performance, and that in a period of 24 months very few houses have been handed over. That must have meant a great loss to the corporation, which I hope will not be placed against its revenues, because it needs all the help it can get.
Rents are a problem in all new towns, because there is no cushion of older corporation house rents to mitigate some of the harsher effects of the economic cost of the new houses. That is well known. When the Government order a new town to be built, they will the means so they should will the end. It is no good talking about rents having to balance. I know that considerable assistance is given, but the trouble is that it is always given on the basis of, "We are doing you a great favour, and some time we will have to cut off this assistance." They dare not cut it off, nor should it be cut off, because when a new town is set up people have to be housed at considerable expense for a great number of years.
I believe that the Government should treat this matter, as I suggested in 1966, on the basis of comparability with houses controlled by nearby local authorities. That is a reasonable, if rough and ready test. If, in Skelmersdale, for instance, the corporation examine the rents being charged in the county boroughs which surround the new town, and then says that that is about the average, it is a reasonable basis. I believe that the development corporation is working on that basis.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Does the hon. Gentleman say that the rent for each individual family in Skelmersdale should be comparable with rents paid by individual families in near by local authorities, or does he say that what might be called the global or average level should be equated?
§ Mr. McGuire
I realise that some of the older houses have not modern facilities and that we cannot say because one house has the same accommodation as another therefore it is comparable. On average, taking like with like, the amenities should be the same. Skelmersdale Development Corporation introduced a rent rebate scheme. It met with a little opposition, probably because it was not properly explained or there may have been a problem in communications, 1659 but it has since been modified and new forms with model rules have been laid down by the Government for such schemes.
Another problem is in recreation and leisure facilities. Here the Government—I suppose the same would apply when the Conservatives were in office—are in danger of spoiling the ship for a ha'porth of tar. It is always difficult to synchronise at the right time the provision of houses, shops, hospitals, schools and so on. We realise that this will always be a problem, but not enough emphasis is laid on the quality of life apart from the social services and educational facilities.
In the debate on 28th October, 1966, the then Minister of Public Building and Works said that the Government had looked at the question of allowances and considered£4 per head was inadequate. They hoped to increase the amount. He said that he thought that a matter for joint enterprise by the old-established urban district council and the new development corporation. That will never be a happy marriage because there is not enough money available in the old town. The Minister must increase the amount and must emphasise that development corporations should go ahead in concentrating on better leisure and recreational facilities for people in new towns. That is certainly the case in Skelmersdale.
Another problem hinges on the failure of the industrialised building system in Skelmersdale. There is a new shopping centre, but there will not be enough people to benefit. Lack of competitive shopping facilities add to the economic difficulties in any new town, certainly in mine. The Government in willing the end should will the means. When people in a new town complain that competitive facilities do not exist, the Government, through the development corporation, should subsidise shopowners who are willing to go there but who say that there is not a sufficient volume of trade. In the transitional period shopping facilities should be provided, and if the shop owners say that they are not competitive some subsidy should be offered, perhaps by not enforcing payment of rates.
In the Skelmersdale Development Corporation Annual Report, reference is 1660 made to the profits of the new town. Referring to the profitability of building factories to be leased to industrialists, the Report says much the same as hon. Members who have spoken in this debate have said about the awkwardness of I.D.C. approvals and development status. We have development status in Skelmersdale, but this militates against employers establishing premises there because they prefer to build their own premises. The development corporation, viewing this as a growing and profitable side of its business, would like to participate more in building factories and leasing them. I have no doubt that when my right hon. Friend visits Skelmersdale on 2nd January after the Christmas festivities, when he is light of step and clear of mind, the development corporation will emphasise the need for it to be allowed to participate more fully in this profitable business as the profits which would accrue would help to alleviate some of the problems in balancing housing revenues.
On the question of representation, my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) instanced the case of a member of a development corporation whose first visit to a new town was when he took his seat on the board. Representation is very much out of balance, be cause decisions taken by a development corporation are a legacy which it will hand on to whatever authority succeeds it. It is suggested that there should be two local people on the board and seven others who know very little, if anything, about feeling in the new town area. I can understand the Government wanting industrialists on such a board, but they could be local industrialists. There seems to be a fixation of an idea that there should be only two genuine local members. Either the numbers should be increased, or it could be pointed out that there is not an absolute law about having only two local people and seven outsiders on the board.
There is a big problem in communications. It is no good saying that when the local authority and the development corporation get together they can thrash out matters and arrive at a conclusion. More active intelligent local participation will prevent a development corporation coming to a decision which would militate against the best expectation of a new 1661 town in whatever area it is. My right hon. Friend should look at this problem. When the time comes for replacement of members of a board more attention should be paid to local participation. Then those who are appointed would be more in tune with the needs of the people in the area. This would make it a better new town and would give its people that richer, better life which they should expect under a Labour Government.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham)
I hope that the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his line of argument, be cause his speech showed so clearly his intimate knowledge of his constituency which I, unfortunately, do not share.
We are being asked in the Bill to authorise a further£300 million to the New Towns Commission and to the development corporations. In opening the debate the Minister said that he estimated that this sum should last for three years. My hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones), in his very notable speech, said that the return on the total assets employed by the development corporations and the New Towns Commission was 0.3 per cent. I hope that the Minister when he winds up will say what rate of interest he expects will be charged to the corporations and the Commission on this amount of money. How much of this will be avail able to the Commission, as opposed to the corporations?
I welcome this obvious mark of confidence in the Commission, new-found though it may be, for under the Bill there can be no question now of handing over all the assets of the Commission to local authorities. I welcome the Government's conversion to common sense.
But what are the Government's intentions towards the Commission's housing assets? The former Minister of Housing and Local Government, as Ministers in this Government are prone to do, handed the matter over to a separate body to make a separate inquiry. He commissioned a study on the Ownership and Management of Housing in the New Towns, to be made by the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies, the University of Birmingham.
1662 This Study was produced yesterday. It is one of the most interesting documents to have come my way for some time, for it says that there should be less public ownership of houses in new towns. It says thatthe tenure pattern in the new towns should accord closely with the wishes and aspirations of the families who live in them … one clear conclusion which emerges from this study is that policy ought to be directed towards greatly increasing the opportunities for owner-occupation.It is no good the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) complaining about the Report. What he complains about is the views of those who are asked for their opinions, which the Report merely records. Nowhere is this more marked than in Crawley. Out of a sample of 751 in Crawley, 77 per cent. thought that Commission houses should be offered for sale to tenants and only 9 per cent. thought that they should not be so offered. Of those who would be prepared to consider buying in Crawley, about 70 per cent. would like to buy the homes in which they at present live. The difficulty is that the price which they would like to pay differs markedly from the market value of these houses.
Why can new town families afford to rent the very houses which they cannot afford to buy? The answer lies in the fact that the rented houses benefit from rent policies, subsidies, and the long period of amortisation. All, or a good part of, these benefits should be passed on to house purchasers by one form or another. One method of doing it would be to arrange a system of cheap mortgages specifically for those who are tenants of Commission houses.
The Report says that we must ask whether it is right that a man who bought his house 10 years ago from a building society should be so much better off than his neighbour who has to face the cost of continued rent increases in a Commission house. What we should question is the whole principle of housing subsidies—whether it is right to pay subsidies on dwellings rather than on the needs of households. In my opinion, it is the needs of the households that count.
As the Report says,… there can be no doubt that if action is to be based on what people want the policy 1663 should be to increase owner-occupation and thereby reduce the size of the public sector.I agree entirely with that sentiment.
In Crawley the facts are plain. The proportion of owner-occupiers is 23 per cent., against a national average of 42 per cent. What is more, if one takes the proportion in relation to income groups, 61 per cent. of Crawley people would normally expect to own their own homes if they lived in other parts of the country. The Report tells us that in countries in both Western and Eastern Europe as well as the United States it has been shown that housing associations are capable of making a substantial contribution to housing provision and management and that a range of housing associations could be developed in new towns which could meet either general or special needs.
What are the Government's proposals to meet this Report? Do they accept the arguments in it, and, if they do, what special measures will they take to en courage tenants to buy their own houses? I accept the arguments adduced in the Report, and I hope that my party does as well. Incidentally, it is interesting that the majority of those questioned in Crawley thought that the Commission should continue to own houses rather than hand them over to the council.
I have, naturally, concentrated on Crawley as I am its representative in the House, but it seems to me that Crawley represents a real challenge to the Government on both their housing and industrial policies in a much wider sense. Development corporation rents on a three-bedroomed house are about£1 a week higher in Skelmersdale than they are in Crawley, yet it could scarcely be said that incentives are required to attract people to Crawley and my constituency. I do not complain of this situation so far as Crawley is concerned, but it seems a strange policy for the Government to apply.
I emphasise how expensive the development of new towns in development areas has become. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) had a Question down today which makes clear that the cost per job to public funds of providing employment in development areas has risen from£1,130 in 1964–65 to£7,770 in 1967–68.
1664 In addition to the extra cost of providing jobs in development areas, one has to take into account the cost of thwarted exports from my constituency and from Crawley in particular. What has to be measured in the context of persuading firms to go to development areas when they wish to expand and the Gvernment's refusal to grant industrial development certificates is the cost of these lost exports. For the immediate reaction to being told that it cannot expand in Crawley is for the firm not to expand at all. Although some firms have expanded into other parts of the country, there are many more which would have expanded had they been allowed to do so where they wanted.
What companies and the local authorities in my constituency object to most of all is the continued uncertainty about the future size of Crawley. The town is fed up with being treated like a concertina, contracted at one moment and expanded the next. At the same time as being refused permission to expand, Crawley industry is expected to train and employ thousands of men from London.
It was originally proposed that 4,600 houses should be built by December, 1970. It is now clear that this programme will not be carried out on time and that it will have to be extended by at least another two years. Meanwhile, sales of the Commission's new houses have not been going well; in fact, they have been rather sluggish. What, then, is to be the future size of the population of Crawley? It is now 63,000, and I read in the Crawley Observer this week that it will be 81,000 in 1971 and 93,000 in 1981. It could be well over 100,000.
Is it true that the expected demand for labour which has been in creasing by 11 per cent. per annum for some years will fall to 5 per cent.? Is it true that the supply of labour will exceed the demand by 1971? If so, what will happen about the employment of Londoners coming down to my constituency?
All these questions must be answered soon. I understand that the research team from Sussex University has completed its report, which is now in the hands of the West Sussex County Council. It is essential that the report be made available to the public as soon as it reaches the Minister's hands. There has 1665 been far too much uncertainty already. Worse still, essential planning decisions by the Horsham Councils have been held up until: he Minister makes his decision about the future size and shape of Crawley. This is intolerable. Why should the proper development of Horsham be held up because nobody knows what to do about Crawley? There are times when planning becomes a crazy fetish, and this is one of them. The people of Horsham are interested in the future of their town, as they have been for centuries, and are not concerned in the speculation on the future size of Crawley.
Planning procedures, which are properly the responsibility of the county council, are being increasingly assumed by the Government, and it is time this process stopped. Moreover, it is clear that the services so admirably provided by the county council are in danger of being overstrained because of the cut back in Government expenditure. This applies particularly to the schools. Proper provision must be made for more class rooms in Crawley so that the children do not have to be ferried backwards and forwards across the town.
I am sure that both the people of Crawley and Horsham want the evidence before the Minister makes up his mind about the future of Crawley. This is really what democracy is supposed to be about. There is far too much consultation between so-called interested parties and not enough evidence on which the public can express its views.
As for the Bill, I am in favour of extending the amount available, provided the advances are self-liquidating. The Birmingham University survey has shown that the majority of people in new towns wish to own their own homes. It should be the Government's objective to en courage them to do so. I hope that the next Conservative Government will do just this.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
It is a particular pleasure to follow the able and lucid speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern). I had the pleasure of living very near Crawley for a number of years and saw the beginnings of its development. I think that on the whole it has been, among our new towns, a considerable success, but I know from 1666 personal experience that the problems my hon. Friend has described so accurately need to be tackled and have not been tackled.
I should like to begin by pointing to the enormous sum we are discussing. I usually speak in the House on matters concerning foreign policy, when almost invariably we are concerned with saving£18 million in the Gulf or perhaps£30 million in Aden, and there are great debates on such matters. But tonight, with only about 10 hon. Members present, apart from those on the Treasury Bench, we are about to authorise the lending of an additional£300 million, raising the total loan investment here to£1.1 billion, if I may use the American term. My estimation is that pro rata the 10 hon. Members taking part in the debate are lending£30 million per head. Nothing could so clearly demonstrate the enormous scale of the new towns operation now under way.
Many hon. Members have said that the new towns as a whole are a success. I doubt that. I do not consider them to be a failure, for thousands of young families have achieved a greater degree of happiness because of the new towns than they would have without them. To that extent, the new towns are a human success. But we, as a Legislature, must concern ourselves with the expenditure of our fellow citizens' money. And when I consider the£1,100 million that have been spent and ask myself whether the increased happiness achieved by it is as great as could have been achieved if the money had been spent differently, I am not persuaded of the success of the operation.
Not now, but in future, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can tell us what has been the cost per family moved and rehoused under the New Towns Act. I suspect that it is extremely high and certainly higher in terms of the best use of our national resources than the cost of people rehousing themselves by privately moving from our congested cities to other parts of the country. In terms of cost effectiveness, we ought to have some idea of the cost per family moved and whether it is an acceptable cost in our present financial situation.
I want to refer to the experience in my constituency of the expanding town 1667 of Haverhill. It tells a story of what happens when a small town tries to expand against a national economic tide. Haverhill has grown very rapidly over the last few years to a population of about 12,000. In that process, many young families from London have achieved a better life. They have brought a vitality to our countryside. Many have achieved something really worth while.
I stress that because the right hon. Gentleman may well have seen only a week ago a television programme, produced by the B.B.C.s "Man Alive" team, which portrayed Haverhill as a town in crisis. The film was well researched. I make no complaint about the care with which the team sent to Haverhill tried to do its job. I am bound to say, however—and I hope that the Minister, if he saw the film, will agree with me—that the end product was a hopelessly biassed and unfair misrepresentation of the realities of Haverhill on the ground.
§ Mr. K. Robinson
I did not see the programme, but I have read the script very carefully and I am sure that I would have reached the same conclusion as the hon. Gentleman if I had seen the programme.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Then I need not labour that point further.
We do, of course, have problems in Haverhill and I want to mention some of them. Our social and recreational facilities have not kept pace with the expansion of the population. There is an imbalance between public and private housing. We simply do not have enough private housing and it will be very difficult to get enough. We have problems, too, of overcrowded schools and inadequate hospital provision.
We also have the whole problem of "them and us"—the gap between the older country folk who live in south Suffolk and the new families from London who sometimes find it difficult to integrate with a country environment.
But our biggest problem is the one which the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) so eloquently described—lack of industry, lack of satisfactory employment for the people who have come to Haverhill from London. This lack of 1668 industry and jobs has again and again held back the development of the town.
The result is houses standing empty. Some have had to be let to the United States Air Force. The urban district council gets a very good rent for them, but I cannot believe that it was the policy of the Government, when these houses first were built with British tax-payers' subsidy, that they should end up providing housing for the United States Air Force in Britain.
Then, too, we have many men who have come to Haverhill and, for one reason or another, the jobs they came to fill have either disappeared or have disappointed them. Consequently, many men are working at trades below the skills they were trained for.
We also have problems of relatively low wages and relatively high rents. We have the difficulties of men who, unable to find satisfactory employment in the town, have to travel long distances to find jobs elsewhere. I cannot think of anything that so clearly contradicts the whole point of an overspill programme than men having to travel, in some cases back to London whence they came, to find employment.
There is, too, the separation of man and wife that sometimes arises when a young man has to go elsewhere for his work, and there is the problem, which has been exacerbated over recent years by rising prices, of many young families being unable to make ends meet.
The point I wish to convey to the Minister is that young families arriving in Haverhill, hoping for something brighter and better in their lives, find all too often that employment and social facilities are not adequate. They ask why it has happened this way. One reason, of course, is the national economic difficulties, and I will make no party points about those. A second reason is the development area policy. It is difficult to know how to balance the advantages which should be given to areas of high unemployment in the North-West and Scotland against the needs of the expanding towns, particularly in the South-East.
I hope that the Minister, who will have studied the Hunt Report, will recognise that it is very difficult to persuade an 1669 industrialist to come to a town such as Haverhill. these days. The industrialist sees that by going to the North-West or Scotland he can get the regional employment premium, full return of S.E.T., if he is in a service industry, better investment allowances and no difficulties about an I.D.C. When he reckons up the advantages of going to such a development district—and hon. Members who represent these districts will be grateful for them—against what are frankly the financial drawbacks of going to a town in the South-East, his decision all too often is not to go to the expanding towns. So we have the paradox of more people arriving in Haverhill and not enough industry to employ them.
There is also a lack of co-ordination between Government Departments. I need not elaborate this—the Housing Ministry persuading people out of London, the Board of Trade not able to provide sufficient industry, the G.L.C. asking people to move, British Railways closing the stations in the town as soon as they arrive.
Lastly, there is the threat, and it is a threat to a small town like Haverhill, of larger expansion starting to move for ward more rapidly. I recognise the advantages to the country of the expansion of Ipswich and Peterborough, which one day will be great cities; but I hope the Minister will recognise that a small struggling town, such as Haverhill, seeing these big expansions on either side of it, is bound to worry lest the available industry will be drawn into those larger expansions.
I conclude with these simple thoughts. I hope that Haverhill can be made a success. It must be made a success, for too much is invested of public money and human happiness for Haverhill to be allowed to fail. But to make it a success it will be necessary to persuade more industry to go to Haverhill by providing the same sort of attractions—not all, but some of the attractions—that are avail able to development districts. Secondly, Haverhill may have to slow down the pace of its expansion, to be a little less ambitious, to learn to walk before it runs.
The Minister himself has moved from co-ordinating the many diverse activities of doctors and hospitals and now has the enviable task of co-ordinating the many activities which go into creating 1670 new towns. I hope that he will accept an invitation to come to Haverhill and see these problems for himself and help us to put them right.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Woking ham)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) ended with a very agreeable invitation to the Minister. However excellent Haverhill is, and it is extraordinarily fortunate in its representation in the House, the Minister would be wise to start his visits by coming to the best of the new towns, Bracknell, which I have the honour to represent and about one or two of whose problems I wish to speak.
I want to start by respectfully welcoming the Minister to these debates. Those of us who have, over the years, been concerned with new towns are a happy band of pilgrims on the whole. We are not looking upward to any particular objective, yet awhile at any rate, and he will find us, I hope, an agreeable and social crowd. I say that by way of introduction because I have one rather hard thing to say, I have a very real com plaint, and I wanted to start on a friendly note to the Minister.
Up to now I have generally been bothering him perpetually on the problems of Broadmoor. Now I look forward to rather more sane conversations. I was particularly grateful to him for a charming reference at the start of his speech to two very distinguished noble Lords. At a time like this, 21 years after this very remarkable experiment has proved itself, it is right that the Minister should cast our minds back to men now no longer young.
There can be few people more massive in stature than Lord Reith. The important thing to remember, and this is brought out by the Bill, is that it is really he and his colleagues who beat out for us the concepts of the corporation in this context. It was they who did it and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who was the first Minister to actually put it into operation in subsequent Governments. Life moves on, and it is pleasant to cast our minds back to people who have worked in this sphere before.
The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) in an interesting speech made the point that it was very important to 1671 have local representation on boards of development corporations, and so it is. I have just had a most disagreeable experience about which I complain firmly to the Minister. I understand perfectly clearly that he is not responsible personally, and I am sorry that I had not appreciated that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) would not be here. I had fully expected that he would be here in the normal course of duties, and am sorry to raise this matter in his absence. Nevertheless, I do so very firmly.
My new town stands somewhat exceptionally within the rural district council area of Easthampstead, that is to say, that it is part of a large rural district council. It is not the only new town in that position, but it is somewhat exceptional among the London overspill new towns in that connection. Very wisely, successive Ministers have brought on to the board of the development corporation representatives of that council. Its present chairman, who is an extremely able and very charming lady is a member, as is a gentleman who lost his seat at the last elections, but who still plays a valuable part on the corporation's board.
I make no complaint about the fact that both are members of the Labour Party. I make no complaint in the sense that at the time they were appointed they were probably perfectly fair appointments. This spring a vacancy occurred and I took an opportunity at an early stage of corresponding with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I made the very reasonable point that there has so far been only two appointments for my local council, both from the Labour Party.
I made no complaint about that, but ventured to suggest that it would be reasonable, in ordinary circumstances, for the third appointment, which I hoped he would make from the council, to be from a member of my own party. I thought that it was even more reasonable when I drew to his attention, as delicately as I could, the fact that, as in so many other parts of the country, the Conservative Party made sweeping gains at the local elections, so that the local council concerned is now overwhelmingly Tory-controlled.
I first raised this matter in the summer—in fact, on 19th July. It was done 1672 on a confidential basis. I have the correspondence here. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary corresponded with me in confidence, and I maintained his confidence. Much later, on 7th November, I received a letter in which the hon. Gentleman announced that the Minister had decided to make a third appointment, and a third member of the Labour Party was appointed.
This is grossly unfair. The Minister cannot possibly sustain that decision on any basis whatever. If he tells me that he did not have any appropriate names, that is not so, because I ventured to draw his attention privately, on the same confidenital basis, to possible names. He certainly had the opportunity to make inquiries. If he thought, as he might well have thought, that the person concerned should live within the designated area, he had a range of names from which to choose.
I complain about this matter in the strongest possible terms. It has done the greatest harm to confidence in the Minister's impartiality. It is plainly unreason able that all three members of the corporation should come from one party, whichever party that is. This is a particularly unhappy affair because, in my view, the working relationship between the local authority and the corporation is one of the most important factors in this business. As the Report published yesterday shows, these relationships have been at risk throughout the country. I am confident that if the present Minister had been in charge of the operation this would not have happened. I am burningly angry about what has occurred.
Hon. Members, and particularly the hon. Member for Epping, have referred to the future ownership of the new towns. I say in a friendly way to the hon. Gentleman that he must read, mark and care fully learn the lessons in this fascinating Report, The Ownership and Management of Housing in the New Towns, by Mr. Cullingworth and his distinguished colleague. It has quite a lot to teach all of us, but it has more to teach hon. Members opposite than hon. Members on this side of the House.
Mr. Cullingworth and his colleague were not asked to make a specific recommendation; that I understand. But they certainly point the way. They have extracted most vividly the fact that there is an 1673 overwhelming demand in the new towns which were inquired into for a great extension of owner-occupation. They draw the attention of the House to the appalling problems of finance in handing over housing to new town corporations. Finally, they draw attention to the fact that the structure of local government is undergoing reform.
Therefore, I wish to give this word of advice to the Minister. He is in the fortunate position that his party has moved away from the old doctrinaire attitude to the industrial assets of the new towns. It is no good the hon Member for Epping nodding to me happily and perhaps wishing to remind me that this remains Labour Party policy as adopted at its party conference. That makes me certain that the Government will not follow the recommendations of their party conference. It is on record—and we need not argue about this now, we can do it elsewhere in more convivial circumstances—that the Labour Party has moved away from the ownership of the industrial assets of new towns by local authorities.
The question now centres on what should happen to the housing assets. That is the point at issue. What the fascinating Report by Mr. Cullingworth shows us is that we should be considering a variegated system of ownership and that we most certainly should not be bound to hand over monolithically to one local authority all the housing assets of a new town. I have been very firm about this. I have actively contested an election in my new town on this issue on one occasion. I have no doubt of the feelings of my constituents on this matter. Only recently I accepted an invitation to address my local council on this whole matter.
My view has remained unchanged. In "shorthand", it is, first, that effective estate management of assets of this size and complexity requires that detached quality which comes from an indirectly appointed body; secondly, that, at least as they are at present constituted, I do not believe that many of the local authorities can command staff of the standing required in this administration; and, thirdly, I am deeply distrustful of the overall monopoly position which would result from the total ownership of the housing assets of a new town by a local elected council.
1674 I do not know whether the hon. Member for Epping is leaning forward out of sheer interest in what I am saying, or whether he wants to interrupt me. If he does, I will gladly give way to him. Apparently, he is merely fascinated by what I am saying.
For those reasons, I am quite certain that we shall see policy move away from the eventual handing over the housing assets of the nation in its new towns to local elected councils. I am sure that this latest Report is one more nail in that coffin. I hope that the Minister will find it possible to say something about this Report. I make no complaint that he did not in introducing the Bill; he had much to say. I understand clearly that the Report was published only yesterday, but we can intelligently guess that the right hon. Gentleman has had it on his desk for a considerable time and I am sure that he will have been well able to make up his mind about it. It is a matter of great importance. We do not often have the chance of talking about new towns and it would help immensely to know the Minister's view.
May I, however, draw his attention particularly to a small section of the Report at page 147, which deals with the activities of building societies in new towns. I declare a very indirect financial interest, but the tables there shown of the activities of the building societies in new towns present a very depressing picture for those of us who believe in the extension of house ownership.
For example, in the case of my new town of Bracknell, Table 47 shows that in 1966 there was only one building society branch office and one agency in the whole town. The Minister will know that it shows that whereas a much higher percentage of people have access to building society facilities throughout the country as a whole—one for every 27,000 persons is the ratio for a building society office generally—in new towns the ratio is 1 to 76,000. While we all understand that the ratio would be different, it seems to me to be a very great difference in deed.
The Minister is urged in the Report to hold discussions with the building society movement to see whether the facilities of that great movement could not properly be made available much more widely in new towns. This is a 1675 detail but I hope very much that the right hon. Gentleman may feel able to follow up that recommendation.
§ Mr. Newens
I would like to correct the hon. Member and say that I was not leaning forward because I was fascinated by his speech, but waiting for him to deal with the point, which he left aside, of the relationship between the number of houses built for owner-occupiers and the number of houses built for tenants.
I wanted to ask the hon. Member, in view of his remarks, whether any of the people who write to him or approach him at his advice bureau complain that there are not sufficient houses available for them to buy in the town and whether the number of those people exceeds the number who approach him because they cannot get a house to let.
I assure the hon. Member that in all my new town experience—and I pride myself on being an active constituency Member—I have not had one approach by anybody to say that he could not buy a house in the new town, but I have had columns of people waiting to see me and I have received numerous letters regularly from people who cannot get a house to let. Surely, this indicates where the real need is.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I do not for one moment question the assiduity of the hon. Member. I will answer his question. Yes, I have an appreciable number of constituents themselves at present tenants of a new town corporation who are most anxious to buy the properties in which they live, or other similar property. Recently, I have not had opportunity of doing so, but, of course, I have had a very considerable number of people coming to see me who would themselves like to be tenants of the new town and who generally—I am generalising about a large number—are people who, under the present rules, which rules are, in my opinion, right, are not eligible to be tenants of a new town corporation or to buy property in the new town because, in my case, they do not come from the greater Metropolitan area. It is these people who have often been to see me. They see this great housing bank in the immediate area and they would very much like to be part of it if they could.
1676 I can only testify as I find. I believe the evidence of this Report, which is, after all, totally impartial. None of us can possibly say that this is a Tory plot and all the rest of it.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
Nobody has said so, but I think it is as well to say that before somebody does say so. No body can possibly say it is anything of that sort. The evidence given in it is overwhelming and I can only say, of my new town, that it accurately reflects what people think.
What it teaches us on this side of the House, if I may say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) who is leading us at present, is that we have got to look at variegated occupancy and ownership in new towns. What it teaches hon. Members opposite is that the concept of handing the totality of the housing over to the council is blown sky high, if we accept the evidence of this Report. [Interruption.] It would be curious if the hon. Member and I were to agree. We must leave it in the Christmas spirit.
I was drawing to a conclusion when I was interrupted, the House will be relieved to hear. I genuinely believe that this concept of the new town corporation is a very remarkable one indeed. I think that it has been valuable that we have been able, in the context of adding substantially to the loan powers of these corporations, to look back over the history of these years. I am sorry to have had to inject a personal note of sharp complaint. I do not retract for one moment. I must take the opportunity of making it. But I wish the Minister personally and individually well in the splendid task he has of guiding these towns into the future. At least, I wish him well for the comparatively short time he will have politically to do the job.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)
The House is grateful to have had the opportunity for a wide debate on new towns, which, after all, represent a very considerable investment by the State. I should like to join in the right hon. Gentleman's tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Silkin and Lord Reith, 1677 and to everyone who has put so much effort into the new towns over the past 21 years.
The right hon. Gentleman has, I believe, taken over full responsibility for the co-ordination of the problems of the new towns, although a certain amount of doubt was thrown on that by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). It would be helpful, therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman could confirm that he is entirely responsible now. We welcome him to a very agreeable club, as we welcome the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) from today. As has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Epping (Mr, Newens), we have a Parliamentary group of hon. Members who are interested in new and expanded towns, which today goes up from 30 members to 31. We look forward to a consider able number of discussions with the right hon. Gentleman.
The Bill authorises the advance of a further£300 million for the continuing development of new towns. Whilst we do not always approve of Government spending, this is expenditure which we on this side of the House fully support. We hops that this further slice will be used to best advantage, and I will return later to this point.
As the right hon. Gentleman has said, in 1966 an increase was authorised from£550 million to£800 million, and it is now necessary to increase this to£1,100 million. This is not surprising in view of the need for new towns, remembering the probability of the population expansion of 20 million by the year 2000.
It is a great privilege for me to have in my constituency what everyone in this Chamber will agree is quite the best new town, Hemel Hempstead, of the first generation, which has now grown up and has solved many of the problems which beset new towns. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) was suspicious about the cost of buildings in new towns. I can tell him that after 15 years, and therefore one-quarter of the way through amortisation, Hemel Hempstead owes£40 million to the Treasury, but it has housed 11,000 families, and therefore the investment represents less than£4,000 per family. As I think everyone would agree, this is a well worthwhile investment, not just for a 1678 house but for all the facilities that go with it, a complete town surrounding the house. The ideal of Ebenezer Howard of combining the attractions of the country side and the amenities of the town has been worthily captured in our new town, but towns still growing have many difficulties.
The hon. Member for Epping mentioned Government co-ordination. The first matter to be considered is the location of new towns, and this involves regional planning. Straight away we are involved with the Department of Employment and Productivity, the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Those Departments are all concerned to produce homes where they want industry to go. This is a matter of placing growth points. We must recognise that new towns are growth points. and the hon. Member for Accrington need not be too worried about the idea of a new town coming into his area; it will be an attraction and of great benefit, I can assure him.
Growth points do sometimes get out of hand. The third London airport, for example, is likely to attract an ultimate population of one million, wherever that airport is. Tremendous co-ordination is required in the first place for putting down a growth point, and it must be in a place where the Board of Trade wish to see employment. During the course of the debate there has been consider able complaint about the Board of Trade policy. The Board of Trade are obsessed with unemployment in developing areas, but it is not much good creating a new town and then preventing industry from going there.
Many hon. Members spoke on that subject, among them my hon. Friends the Members for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), Ludlow (Mr. More) and Bury St. Edmunds and the hon. Member for Epping. Examples have been given, and I could give others—for example, a firm which intended to go to a new town but which was approached by the Board of Trade and persuaded instead to go to a development area; and a United States firm which wished to go to Bracknell, which was refused an industrial development certificate in Bracknell by the Board of Trade, presumably with the intention of forcing it into a development area, and which went instead to Brussels. We 1679 have heard about the proposals for Tel ford and Redditch. Is the Minister satisfied that firms are leaving Birmingham in sufficient number to move to Telford and Redditch? All the evidence which we have heard this evening has been to the contrary.
Hon. Members have also discussed the selection of those moving to new towns. The tendency has been to attract key workers, who are not necessarily those in the greatest housing need. During our last debate on the Second Reading of a New Towns Bill on 28th October, 1966, the present Minister for Public Building and Works, who was then the Parliamentary Secretary, described the formation of the London Overspill Liaison Group. That is reported in column 1588 of the OFFICIAL REPORT. The intention was that virtually unskilled people would be taken to new towns and would receive training so that they were upgraded to semi-skilled workers and thus became entirely acceptable to new town employers. May we have a report on how that scheme is progressing?
A number of examples have been given of the need for transport facilities to be planned at the same time as the new towns are planned. We have heard the example that both Harlow and Telford lack main road communications with the rest of the country—and such communications are essential. Basildon, it appears, has no railway station. That demonstrates the need for co-ordination within the Government at the very beginning of planning.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) told the House of the great need for hospital facilities in Redditch, although Redditch is not the only place where hospital facilities are unsatisfactory.
Hon. Members have also spoken of the need for continuity of planning, with out sudden stops, and of the utter lack of decision. It is difficult for Brackneli, which is planned to take 28 years to complete. It started in 1952, and the present intention is that it will go on developing until 1980. Harlow, it seems, has been waiting for over four years for its population target, and Crawley still awaits its population target. It is frustrating and infuriating to try to work out employment policies when there is no decision from 1680 the Government. The decision on Telford was announced this year, but it had been under consideration for several years before the announcement. Most hon. Members have complained about high rents. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove spoke of rents of£6 10s. a week, which included rates, garage and central heating, but excluded the subsidy. We must prevent high rents from acting as a disincentive to people going to new towns, particularly if employment prospects are uncertain, as they are in some new towns.
Rents in these areas tend to be high for historic cost reasons; for example, there is no basis of older housing which was built at lower cost to cushion the production costs of new houses. We have heard of this difficulty from those who represent not only the second generation but the first generation of new towns. One hon. Member who represents a first generation new town urged the Minister to place all rent rises before the Prices and Incomes Board. Although there is£1 difference in the average rents charged for first generation new town houses compared with second generation ones, they are both too high and there are indications that further increases are to come.
Perhaps the logical answer would be to pool all new town rents, with both first and second generation new towns benefiting from such a pooling arrangement. This would obviously suit the second generation new towns well, but since I represent a first generation new town I trust that such a course will not occur. Our rents are already high enough.
The Cullingworth Report was published yesterday with that unerring sense of mistiming usually shown by the Minis try of Housing. It was submitted, we learn from the preface, on 30th January, 1968, but the Ministry chose to hold up publication until precisely one day before this debate. This was calculated to pre sent the maximum possible difficulty to hon. Members wishing to take part in this discussion and who would have consulted interested bodies which might have wished to make comments.
I warmly welcome this brilliant Report which marks a milestone in the history of new towns. It moves further away from Ebenezer Howard's original idea which depended entirely on the lease hold system. He believed that the assets 1681 of the community should remain with the community—that nobody should take anything out of it and that there should be only leaseholds—so that increases in land values would benefit the community as a whole. We have moved a long way from that concept, and this Report marks another step forward.
The New Towns Act, 1946, recognised that a self-contained community could not provide subsidised housing and that Government enterprise was necessary. In the latter 1950s we found a growing desire for owner-occupation, and that trend has continued. Owner occupation within the leasehold system is no longer possible, because the Government, and this is another milestone, have granted leasehold enfranchisement. The whole basis of the garden city concept has thus disappeared.
The Cullingworth Report shows that we must recognise the need for private investment in new towns, and that includes the ownership of freeholds. My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) has mentioned the striking figures given in the Report revealing the desire for more owner occupation. It shows that more than three-quarters of the people in the new towns believe that Rouses should be offered for sale. The percentage is 77 per cent. in Crawley and 78 per cent. in Stevenage, 16 per cent. and 17 per cent. in Crawley and Stevenage give a qualified "Yes", and only 9 per cent. in Crawley and 6 per cent. in Stevenage believe that houses should not be offered for sale to tenants. That seems to be quite overwhelming evidence.
On the other hand, when we turn to page 125 of the Report we see the really pathetic performance of the new towns in meeting this demand. Table 34 shows that in most new towns roughly 4 per cent.—sometimes 5 per cent.—of the owner-occupied houses have been provided by the New Towns Commission or the development corporations, with the honourable exception of Welwyn and Hatfield, where 10 per cent. have been provided. I regret to say that in Hemel Hempstead the figure is 2 per cent.
The experience of building for sale by development corporations has been unhappy, and the answer is that what has been offered has not been what the customer wants. I believe that very 1682 many customers for owner occupation come to a new town, start their families there and have considerable expenses and, as a result, they want to pay rent to begin with. After some years they may move into a higher income bracket. They have their luxuries around them already, and they think of buying. But they may not wish to leave when they buy. There fore, a little pool of houses specially built for sale will not be a particularly attractive proposition. The customer may well want to purchase the house in which he already lives.
The New Towns Commission and the development corporations have their reasons for not selling, and these are mentioned in the Cullingworth Report. The first is the problem of management. They say that there are great difficulties in the control of estates, but I am glad to see in page 31 the remarks of the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead in 1963 in this House are quoted, and very nicely destroy this objection.
Another objection is the loss of a renting pool of houses. This was the great objection advanced by the hon. Member for Epping, but what must be remembered is that sale to an existing tenant does not remove a house from the pool. The tenant goes with the house, and although the pool is smaller, we still have a satisfied customer. We must also remember that Government-announced policy is that 50 per cent. of those living in new towns should be owner-occupiers. When a development corporation says that it cannot afford to reduce the renting pool it is speaking against existing Government policy.
§ Mr. Newens
Would the hon. Member be in favour of placing some restriction on the resale of a property which was acquired by an existing tenant so that the property should not be sold to all comers? If he does not agree to this, people coming from outside to buy property could jump ahead of those who may have been waiting for a long time for a rented property.
§ Mr. Allason
This is mentioned in the Cullingworth-Karn Report, which says that it is very unlikely that outsiders would move in, but there can be restrictions of the sort suggested. The reason for objection to loss of a renting pool is that there is loss of subsidy. It 1683 infuriates a development corporation that if it parts with a house it has to part with subsidy. This is one up for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is a poor reason, which is not publicly given, that subsidy is saved for the Exchequer through loss from the renting pool.
The most effective argument against sale is that put forward in the Cullingworth Report and in the latest Report of the Commission for New Towns that tenants cannot afford it, no matter what they want. An example is given in the Cullingworth Report. On page 141 it suggests that an income of£1,600 a year for the head of the family is required for the purchase of a house costing£4,000. That is no reason to say that the house should not be offered. This is on the theory that one should not pay more than a quarter of one's income on housing costs, but it is perhaps a little grandmotherly to insist precisely on that quarter. There may be other members of the family bringing in a substantial income. If the family decides that it can afford the deal, it should be allowed to do it.
A£4,000 house would be fairly ex pensive. A grade 1 terraced house in a new town which has been in existence for some years would stand in for a considerably less sum. Proportionately the income needed would be lower. There is the third factor to consider which makes a family really want to buy its house and be prepared to put a lot into doing so. That is the inflation factor. House values are rising at present at a rate of 10 per cent a year. Anyone who starts to purchase his own house would be wise to get his loan as soon as possible rather than wait for a year when the cost will be 10 per cent. higher. This is recognised as a real incentive, amply shown in the Cullingworth Report, to owner-occupation.
I quote from page 154 of the Report:… there is a vast amount of public capital tied up in new town housing. In the current (and, on present indications, in the foresee able future) context of a severe shortage of public capital, any policy which results in a release of this is to be welcomed…. Private capital needs to be attracted on an increasing scale.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Does not my hon. Friend agree that, if that had been done, 1684 we should not be debating this gigantic figure this evening?
§ Mr. Allason
I was coming on to say that I want to see this£300 million stretch a long way. So far we have spoken of the possibilities of people in new towns being allowed to buy their homes. This will contribute considerably to stretching the assets of new towns. There is a need for a political decision, which thereafter must be vigorously en forced, to allow private capital to flow in to redress the balance of excessive Government investment in new towns.
The Cullingworth Report indicates the possibility of whole neighbourhoods being developed by private enterprise. The present tendency in new towns is for rather small packets to be left available for private enterprise building. I would like to see us move on to whole neighbourhoods being developed by private enterprise. This would probably upset the corporations, with their preconceived ideas. They would be worried that the results might not fit in with the nice, tidy design of new towns which corporation planners like. However, planning control exists to ensure good development.
Private enterprise can play a very large part in developing new towns, as it is doing in America. The Americans have great expertise in planning a new neighbourhood or new town so that it is attractive for people to live in. Artificial lakes are created. The increase in the value of the building land alongside the lake more than pays for the cost of creating the lake. People then have a most attractive place to live in. Equally, the cost of a golf course is paid for by the increase in amenity value of the houses alongside it. The golf course is designed so that the maximum number of houses look on to the course.
My hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) wants to go the whole hog and have a complete new town built by private enterprise. This is an attractive proposition, but the difficulty is the need in any new town for subsidised housing. My hon. Friend suggested that it could be provided, at any rate for a time, by the private enterprise developer undertaking to charge cheap rents. However, there is no reason why the present method of subsidised housing should last for ever. When we change over to subsidies for 1685 families and not to the public enterprises owners of housing, this will be a very much easier proposition.
New town profitability depends on the increasing land value as the town develops. By rigid refusal ever to sell a commercial or industrial site, corporations are hoarding scarce capital. We should consider also the possibility of the sale of freeholds of industrial and commercial sites. This would be heresy to development corporations, which are deliberately taking Government capital, tucking it away, and seeing the results back years later.
Obviously, there would be considerable objection if the sale were too profitable to private enterprise, but it is not beyond the wit of man to reach a fair level of price, possibly in two stages, the first half of the price being paid initially and the second half being paid when the site has become profitable, subject to an in crease clause. It is possible to fix a price on which the public will develop the new town and make a satisfactory profit, and at least the public would have the cash value back quickly because the sites would go to private enterprise which has the cash assets.
There is a huge investment by the Kodak company in my town of Hemel Hempstead, but Kodak could afford to purchase the freehold of its site. There could thus be money available which at present has to be raised by the public in the manner which we are discussing tonight.
The hon. Member for Epping spoke about the future of the New Towns Com mission, and I understood him to wish to transfer all assets to the local authority. I think that the Prime Minister has said the latest word on this subject when, speaking at Stevenage on 1st July, 1967, he said:Without anticipating the Parliamentary programme. I want today again to assert the Government's view that local authorities, the statutory housing authorities, should eventually be responsible for managing all publicly owned housing when a new town is fully developed. The non-housing assets, that is, the industrial and commercial assets, raise special problems which are very complex and difficult and which need to be examined very carefully. The Government will have to decide, therefore, in consultation with all the interests concerned what is the best way to deal with the complex of problems relating to the disposal of new town assets when the 1686 time comes to dissolve the development corporation.That is an albatross round the Minister's neck, and I do not envy him. He has to face the worries of the staff of the New Towns Commission which are quite unallayed. The Prime Minister talked about consultations with the interests concerned. One would have thought that the New Towns Commission was one of the interests involved, and the Commission says at page 19 of its Report:No indication has yet been given of the likely date of any new legislation. The Commission have provided your Ministry wth a certain amount of relevant information and are ready to join in discussions when required to do so.Perhaps, since that Report was written, the discussions have taken place but, if they have, they must have been rather quiet discussions.
The Cullingworth Report balances nicely the advantages and disadvantages of housing transfers. One of the disadvantages was mentioned by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) and other disadvantages were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham. But Cullingworth ends with a rather sly dig by reminding us that the local authorities which are so anxious now to put their hands on new town housing are likely to change considerably as a result of the RedcliffeMaud Commission's report. Any idea that legislation should be brought forward within the lifetime of the present Parliament to hand over assets to a local authority which is about to die seems peculiar.
The Minister announced the Government's intention to develop a new city at Chorley-Leyland, and it is particularly exciting that it will be a linear city. I hope that he will remember the need for private enterprise to help the Government in this development, because it: is private enterprise that has the capital. The time has come to look closely at the financing of new towns, and to recognise that Government resources are too limited to have enough of a good thing, while the untapped resources of private enterprise are available for the task.
New towns are a success socially, in providing excellent housing conditions, and financially. Even in these days of high interest rates, therefore, they should 1687 not be hampered by shortage of Government capital.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ Mr. K. Robinson
With the leave of the House, I should like to answer some, and I hope most, of the major points which have been raised. I am grateful for the spirit in which the Bill has been debated and the constructive nature of almost all the contributions.
First, may I respond to the request of the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) and explain that I have taken over responsibility for new towns within the Ministry of Housing and Local Government under the general responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister.
A number of hon. Members have kindly invited me to visit new towns in their constituencies. It is my intention to visit all the new towns in England as soon as I can reasonably get around to them. I have already started; I have tucked two under my belt, and there is another to come in in a week or two.
A number of themes cropped up time and again throughout the debate. I should like to deal with them first and then with one or two particular issues raised by individual hon. Members. One question that came up frequently was communications, particularly roads. This matter is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. I am sure that he will take full account of what has been said in the debate about main communications to and from new towns. I undertake to call his attention to this.
§ Mr. Allason
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not take our point, which was that co-ordination is needed. It is no good saying that it is the responsibility of the Minister of Transport. We want a senior Minister to co-ordinate all these Government activities.
§ Mr. Robinson
If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I shall come to that. It is a bit much to be told that I have not dealt with a point before I have been speaking for more than about 45 seconds.
Co-ordination on new towns is already undertaken within the Government, and there is the closest co-operation between my right hon. Friend the Minister of 1688 Transport, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and my Department in all these matters. The questions about main communications must obviously be drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport.
The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) expressed anxiety about principal roads within the new towns. He may not appreciate what the arrangement is, be cause it has changed fairly recently. We now have a separate programme for principal roads in new and expanded towns. The programme is still part of the national roads programme, but a separate part. Within it, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government determines the priori ties. We do not think that new town building will be held up through any delays in constructing principal roads within the new towns. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be reassured by that.
Another matter which has arisen, quite naturally, is the question of industrial development certificates. This, of course, is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I think that there is a general understanding of the difficulties he must have in balancing the claims of the development areas—which, under general Government policy, have priority, and rightly so—with the claims of the new and expanding towns because, as hon. Members have rightly said, these cannot succeed unless industry can be persuaded to go to them. Broadly speaking, my right hon. Friend performs this balancing act with considerable agility and great fairness, although I accept that there are new towns to which we would like to see rather more rapid movement of industry.
For example, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead asked, "Are firms leaving the Birmingham conurbation to go to Telford and Redditch? "I was about to say, "Yes" when he added, almost under his breath, "in sufficient numbers?" The answer is that I am never satisfied that the numbers are sufficient, but, nevertheless, firms are going there and the trend is not unfavourable.
Perhaps the issue most frequently referred to is that of new town rents and the allied subject of the Cullingworth Report. This is not altogether a simple and straightforward matter, but a certain 1689 amount of hyperbole was used in some speeches. New town rents are no higher than those charged by many local authorities for similar homes. New town corporations already receive the same generous subsidies as do local authorities under the Housing Subsidies Act, 1967.
In addition, they receive grant under the New Towns Act according to a formula which ensures that most help, as much as;£30 a house, goes to those corporations without a big pool of homes over which to spread the cost of new building. As hon. Members have said, the nub of the problem is perhaps the size of the pool, over which rents can be spread. It is true that development corporations with substantial housing stocks operate rent rebate schemes. That is the answer to a good deal of what has been said about hardship.
I come now to the question of the timing of the Cullingworth Report. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead knows how long it takes the Stationery Office to publish a substantial document of this kind and that the date of this debate had to be postponed because of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer one Friday afternoon recently, just when we were due to come forward with the Bill. It is, therefore, purely fortuitous that publication of the Report and the Second Pleading of the Bill are occurring within a day or two of each other.
§ Mr. Robinson
Yes, and a good deal of consultation has gone on since then. I was being chided for allowing the Report to come out only one day before the debate. Most hon. Members agree that the new towns have been a success and most of them have accepted that it is a success of public enterprise primarily, and yet hon. Members opposite, almost with the same breath, have been crying out—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.