HC Deb 26 June 1969 vol 785 cc1777-9

6.30 p.m.

Mr. E. Rowlands

I beg to move Amendment No. 49, in page 19, line 9, leave out subsection (1).

This is a follow-up Amendment to a point which I sought to make on Second Reading as to the distinction between general improvement areas and slum clearance order areas. I suggested then and I have since had no reason to change my mind, that the division which the Bill makes between these two sorts of areas is an arbitrary one.

The situation envisaged in the Clause is contrary to the actual position in most twilight areas or other areas in which there is likely to be improvement. Potential improvement areas are a mixture of properties which have to be demolished and properties which could be improved. They are not exclusively one or other; often both kinds of properties are intertwined and closely related. Houses in slum clearance areas could be set in the middle of a general improvement area.

I fail to see why there has to be one set of procedure relating to slum clearance orders and another relating to general improvement areas. I am also worried that it will lead to the spread of the feeling in many local authorities about some twilight areas. This feeling is that if they are entitled to knock down slums in slum clearance areas which are part of general improvement areas in a separate procedure they will not look on the land so cleared as an intrinsic part of the improvement area.

What often happens is that, in residential areas—twilight areas—around the centres of our cities, slum clearance orders clear away large numbers of houses, but that the land is not returned to residential areas. It becomes available and is snaffled for commercial warehousing, motor-car saleroom development, and so forth.

Where slum clearance occurs in a residential improvement area, it should be treated as an essential, integral part of the residential improvement area—otherwise, I fear that there will be a gradual impinging of commercial warehousing instead of residential development in twilight areas. This would defeat the purpose of clearing these areas, which is to improve them. This is an arbitrary and silly distinction between general improvement areas and slum clearance areas.

Mr. Murton

I raised this matter in Committee on 11th March. I said then, and say again, that, just as the Association of Municipal Corporations is puzzled by this mutual exclusion, so am I. I was even more puzzled by the rather strange answer which I got from the Parliamentary-Secretary, who said that it was a matter of administrative tidiness. I cannot see why administrative tidiness should be the only precept.

As the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) has said, a clearance area and a general improvement area are inter-linked in many cases not only in the towns which grew up during the industrial revolution but in even older towns. I live in an area of Poole which will become a general improvement area, but there has also been slum clearance in that area and there is more to come. I agree that this is a somewhat strange if not a foolish distinction, and to that extent I support the Amendment.

Mr. Ifor Davies

The effect of the Amendment would be to delete the subsection which provides that no land included in a slum clearance area or purchased as being land surrounded by or adjoining such an area under Part III of the Housing Act, 1957, may be included in a general improvement area, unless it has been cleared of buildings.

Area improvement is never an alternative to general slum clearance. A general improvement area will be an area with potential for improvement. The houses should be structurally sound and not yet at the end of their useful life. It should be an area with a good life in front of it after improvement.

A clearance area is declared where the local authority, upon consideration of an official representation or other information in their possession, are satisfied that the houses in the area are unfit for human habitation or are dangerous or injurious to health and that the most satisfactory method of dealing with the conditions is demolition of all the buildings in it.

Entirely different actions are involved. One is concerned with securing the improvement of an area—and the other with securing clearance, and it is right that they should be kept apart. This has been referred to as administrative tidiness, but there is an essential difference between the two. However, once the buildings in a clearance area have been demolished, the land can be added to an adjoining general improvement area or, indeed, to a general improvement area which surrounds the clearance area to the extent that it may be required for the improvement of the amenities of the area itself. That appears in Clause 34(2).

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) may be concerned to bring about the simultaneous redevelopment and improvement of different parts of a large area. This is entirely compatible with the purpose of general improvement areas which we look on as quite small compact areas. With a general renewal strategy, the Minister expects different solutions for different areas but considers it to be quite wrong to link the two operations together. Residents and owners in the different areas should know clearly what is proposed, otherwise there will be no confidence in general improvement areas themselves.

For that reason, my right hon. Friend regrets that he cannot accept the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

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