HC Deb 08 November 1977 vol 938 cc487-501
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Shore)

With permission Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the development of Government policy for the inner cities.

In my previous statement of 6th April I announced the Government's decision to increase the Urban Programme, to assist the inner cities in grant-aided expenditure, from the existing level of £30 million to £125 million in 1979. Five partnership areas were then announced—in Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester/ Salford and, in London, Lambeth and Docklands—and on 24th October I made provisional allocations to them of £50 million a year for a three-year period from the starting date.

I also told the House on 6th April that we would be giving further consideration to the case put by other authorities for assistance with their urban problems.

I have studied carefully all the evidence which has been put forward by some 25 authorities, and my colleagues and I have had meetings with most of the authorities concerned. We have reached these conclusions: outside London, the area of Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead stands out as having in sufficient degree the concentration, intensity and scale of problems to which partnership arrangements are directed ; accordingly I propose to offer a partnership to the authorities in this area. Inside London, the adjacent boroughs of Hackney and Islington stand out in a similar way, and I propose to offer a partnership to the authorities here as well.

I intend to make £5 million available immediately to each of the two new partnership areas out of the £100 million announced in the Chancellor's March Budget Statement. This is for inner-city construction works to be undertaken in this and the next financial year. I shall also be discussing with the new partnership authorities the basis on which they should plan for 1979 onwards.

In addition, I intend to make at least £1 million available to each of the seven partnership areas for 1978–79 for new projects of the traditional urban programme type and for other schemes, such as minor environmental works, that can be set in hand while inner area programmes are being prepared.

Outside the partnership areas we have identified a number of other authorities with inner urban problems which, while they do not justify partnership treatment, nevertheless merit special attention. These are i.e., North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland, Middlesbrough in the Northern Region.

Bolton, Oldham, Wirral, in the North-West Region.

Bradford, Hull. Leeds, Sheffield, in the Yorkshire and Humberside Region.

Wolverhampton, in the West Midlands Region.

Leicester, Nottingham, in the East Midlands Region.

Hammersmith, in London.

I intend that these 15 authorities should receive the powers to make loans and to declare industrial improvement areas set out in the White Paper, Cmnd. 6845.

In addition, I have concluded that up to £25 million should be provided from 1979–80 onwards from the Urban Programme to assist these areas. This would represent in total a six-fold increase in their urban aid and be a continuing commitment over several years.

Many of these authorities, and the Government, too, feel that their inner area problems can best be tackled through a comprehensive programme of action, and I shall therefore be inviting them to prepare their own inner area programmes in time for implementation from April 1979. Unlike in the partnership arrangements, Ministers and Government Departments will not be involved directly in their preparation.

I am well aware that many other authorities have urban problems in varying degrees. Individual projects will continue to be eligible for assistance under the Urban Programme as they are now. I can now announce that in 1978–9 I shall be inviting additional bids from authorities outside the partnership areas for new urban programme projects to a total value of £10 million. A circular inviting applications will be issued shortly.

As the House will know, the Urban Programme, rising, as it will, to £125 million in 1979, is in addition to the Government's major contribution through the main programmes of Departments, including the rate support grant.

The White Paper announced the Government's decision on IDC policy in London and Birmingham. The existing partnership areas in both these cities, together with the new partnership in Islington and Hackney, will in future take precedence, after the assisted areas and in front of the new and expanding towns, in consideration of applications for industrial development certificates for mobile projects coming forward from the relevant region. Furthermore, IDC policy will continue to be operated flexibly over the whole of inner London.

Finally, the additional local powers promised in the White Paper to which I referred earlier will be presented to this House, in the form of an Inner Urban Areas Bill, before the Christmas Recess.

Mr. Heseltine

Will the Secretary of State recognise that the wins that he is offering are so small, and are so spread over the years in relation to the scale of the problem itself, that he is giving a false impression in suggesting that they are any real solution to the problem? Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise also that the policies that he is pursuing of highly selective, centralised subsidy are diverting attention away from the need for policies which offer incentive and reward for investment in city centres, which tackle the problems of public sector land hoarding and which bring a new sense of urgency to our planning procedures?

Finally, will the Secretary of State recognise that there is a grave danger of adding to the patronage of Government. to the process to which he now seems committed, whereby individual towns or districts are being selected by him for preferential treatment without any known or objective criteria? How is he able to judge that the 15 cases he has announced today have problems of a different scale from those of the authorities that are still in the queue? Can he, therefore, publish the factual basis for his choice, so that all hon. Members whose authorities have not been selected shall know the method by which they can make successful applications?

Mr. Shore

I do not think that the tone of the hon. Gentleman's comments entirely reflects what I thought was a rather helpful debate on 17th July, in which the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre), gave a very broad welcome to what we were doing and simply urged us to make our efforts stronger and more extensive.

On the question of resources, £125 million a year is, in my view, what we can at present see our way to afford, but it is not, as I see it, the ceiling on what is needed by the areas concerned. However, I ask the hon. Gentleman to remember that that is a big difference from the £30 million a year which we inherited from the Urban Programme of his Government. I also ask him to consider all that he has said now against the background of his general complaints about the level of Government spending.

On the two other points that the hon. Gentleman raised, I assure him that a substantial part of this increased urban grant will be spent by the local authorities on broad support for industry and for environmental purposes. That is contained in our White Paper, and we have been consulting local authorities on this matter in preparation for the Bill which I hope soon to present to the House.

Finally, I take up the hon. Gentleman's question about the difficulties of making a judgment between the many different authorities with broadly similar claims. I do not believe that anyone has yet contested that the partnerships are, in a sense, almost self-selecting. Indeed, at least three of them arose out of studies set in hand by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) when he was Secretary of State for the Environment. I do not believe that anyone will quarrel with that, or with the other partnership arrangements.

Of course, we shall give as much information as possible, but the Government are faced with a problem. We are only too willing to take the House into our confidence, to debate the matter, and to explain whenever the House wishes us to do so. But throughout all policies where an element of selection is required, whether regional policy or inner city policy, the question of drawing frontiers and making definitions is one that the Government must face and about which they must be responsible to the House.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend does not speak for Wales or Scotland, but can he say whether we may expect a similar statement from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales in respect of urban areas in the Principality?

Mr. Shore

I shall ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend is aware of my right hon. Friend's question. I expect that he will have something further to say about the urban programme in the Principality.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I assure the Secretary of State that we understand the urgency of dealing with the Urban Programme and therefore welcome the measures he has announced today. Can he tell us what monitoring will be undertaken to see that the money is properly and fairly spent, because there has been a feeling that London has had too great a share of it? Can he also hold out some hope for the rural areas which are in some parts becoming depressed? Is there some hope, through the rate support grant or some other measure, that the Department can offer to us in the coming months?

Mr. Shore

The rural areas have their problems and I do not seek to minimise them, but the character of those problems is clearly different from the problems of the inner cities. There are many different ways in which those problems can be eased, but, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I would rather not be drawn too far along that path at present.

As regards monitoring, I believe that. particularly for the partnership areas, the monitoring of the carrying-out of the programmes is an important part of the whole exercise. We are, therefore, discussing with those areas effective arrangements to that end.

Mr. George Cunningham

Is the Secretary of State aware that, with only limited resources so far, Islington has been doing a great deal to improve the housing conditions of its people, some of which work he saw recently on site? Does he also realise that what we need now to back that up is a programme to pre- serve jobs in the inner city and that Islington Borough Council will express its gratitude to him for the obvious and helpful response that he has made to that request and will make good use of the arrangement he now suggests?

Mr. Shore

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe that, on any serious judgment, Islington and Hackney deserve their place as a partnership authority.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Will the Minister resist the temptation of regarding the dead centre of a conurbation as necessarily the worst hit? In talking about inner cities, does he realise that the outlying boroughs of Greater Manchester, such as Bolton, on any yardstick are just as badly hit as Salford and Manchester? In those circumstances, although we are grateful for the help to Bolton, would the Minister consider making that help a partnership agreement, because figures show that it is in just as bad a condition as Salford or the old centre of Manchester?

Mr. Shore

I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman's point, but one of the major factors to influence us has been the scale and intensity of the problem, and I do not believe that the problems of Bolton equal the problems which exist in the heart of our major conurbations. In a sense I accept his accusations, because it is true that I am concentrating more on the heart areas of the conurbations than on the outlying areas, but I believe that to be justified.

Mr. Urwin

Whilst I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, and especially his second thoughts about the inclusion of Sunderland in this programme, will he accept that there will be some reluctance in Sunderland at the knowledge that it has been placed in the Second Division—like a football team—even though it has vitally important questions of high unemployment to resolve, together with the related question of stimulation of industrial development? Second, can my right hon. Friend give some consolation to authorities such as Durham County Council—if only an assurance that they will be taken care of in relation to rate support grant?

Mr. Shore

As my hon. Friend knows, I must not anticipate what I shall say about the rate support grant. As my hon. Friend also knows well, in terms of unemployment policy Sunderland is indeed in the First Division, and very near the top. It is a special development area. But the inner city problem is not simply an unemployment problem, although that is an important aspect of it. It is the combination of this and many other factors that has brought us to a specific inner city policy and has led us to make the distinction that we have made. I am glad to have been able to give some assistance to Sunderland, but I do not think that the scale of its problem matches that of the partnership areas.

Mr. Steen

Will the Minister agree that one of the things learned from the last 10 years of poverty programmes is that people should be consulted when they arc to be affected by decisions, before a decision is taken rather than afterwards? Why was it, therefore, that when the right hon. Gentleman came to Liverpool on Friday he talked about the big bureaucracies and ministerial committees rather than insisting that people, and the inner city communities, should be part of the process? Was he thrown off balance when he missed his train from London to Liverpool?

Mr. Shore

I met. the elected representatives of the city of Liverpool. The hon. Gentleman, whose contributions I have studied, had better make up his mind whether he is backing representative government at local and national level, or whether he sees urban area policies being conducted as a straight dialogue between Government and voluntary bodies and agencies of all kinds. I believe that voluntary bodies and other interests have a most important part to play at the local level, but it is not at the level of the partnership committees themselves.

Mr. Heifer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most people on Merseyside will accept without question that voluntary bodies cannot solve the problem of Merseyside? Is he also aware that it is understood on Merseyside that its problems are quite different from those of Henley-on-Thames, although the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) perhaps does not understand that we have, for example, 12.1 per cent. unemployed, vast areas lying derelict, tremendous housing problems, and a lack of small businesses? All these things are understood perfectly on Merseyside. Therefore, the general attitude would be one of pleasure if the problems of Liverpool were only those of Henley-on-Thames. Will my right hon. Friend also consider the fact that many of us feel that £15 million over three years, with the type of problems that Liverpool has, is not sufficient? We shall need a much greater allocation. We shall certainly need a far more intensive programme of development of small businesses in the centre. We shall also need much more money to help solve our serious housing problems.

Mr. Shore

We allocated £30 million to Liverpool for the three-year period 1979–1982, following on the construction package. But I should like to emphasise that I do not see the boosted Urban Programme as being in any sense the main contribution made by Government.

May I make this point directly to my hon. Friend, because he represents part of the city of Liverpool. In the last year for which we have figures-1976–77 —the Government made contributions totalling £118 million to the city of Liverpool. Much of that went on the whole range of services, and included between £30 and £35 million on housing aid.

Several Hon. Membersrose

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I appeal to the House? Questions from now on should be directed to seeking any further information that hon. Members want on the statement. If they are brief and to the point, I shall be able to call some hon. Members who otherwise are unlikely to be called.

Mr. Mike Thomas

My colleagues and I in Newcastle upon Tyne—indeed, in the whole Northern Region—will be grateful for my right hon. Friend's statement. We are in dire need of the help that he offers, and the partnership between Newcastle and Gateshead is welcome. We appreciate his readiness to meet not only ourselves but others involved. We are grateful for his announcement today, and we are anxious that the expenditure of money involved —and, more importantly, the development between his civil servants and those who are to put constructive ideas into our programme, which has already begun —should start at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Shore

I thank my hon. Friend and assure him that we shall try to get going with the Newcastle-Gateshead partnership at the earliest moment.

Mr. Alan Clark

The right hon. Gentleman has not even tried to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who asked what criteria are being applied in the dispensation of this patronage, and, in particular, how are the special projects to be evaluated and what guidance is he to give to local authorities prior to their submission?

Mr. Shore

We have debated the criteria in the House. We have referred specifically to loss of population, to loss of jobs, to the actual social composition of population in the inner city areas, and to a number of quantifiable and, to some extent, admittedly. difficult to quantify, social factors. We have discussed all these factors and we are prepared to give such information as we can. But I do not think that it would be fair to accuse us, as the hon. Gentleman has done, of considering these matters in any light and ill-considered way. We have done our best.

Mr. Faulds

On what possible basis can my right hon. Friend have come to the conclusion that Sandwell does not merit exactly the same tr,:iitment as he has announced for some of those areas needing.special attention? Is he not aware that we have exactly the same concentration in that area of inner city problems as many of the other areas that he has mentioned?

Mr. Shore

I understand my hon. Friend's point and his feeling, because Sandwell clearly has problems. The difficulty always at the margin is to decide those whom we can help as distinct from those whom we are not able to help. Sandwell was certainly considered carefully by us but it did not quite match the degree of need which we found in the areas that I have announced.

Mr. Anthony Grant

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's relaxation of the IDC policy, but why will he not further relax the ODP policy, or, better still, abolish it altogether, because commer- cial development has as important a part to play in dealing with inner area decay as has industrial development?

Mr. Shore

We have relaxed the ODP policy. We raised the threshold to 30,000 square feet only two months ago, and, in addition, we have given, as it were, entirely new terms of reference to the Location of Offices Bureau.

Mr. Jay

While I welcome the spirit of my right hon. Friend's statement, is he aware that there will be surprise as well as disappointment at his exclusion from the London list of the borough of Wandsworth, which has the same problems as Lambeth, Hammersmith, Islington and Hackney? Can he tell us of any problems that those boroughs have that arc not also to be found in Wandsworth?

Mr. Shore

My knowledge and affection for the borough of Wandsworth is well known, and so it should be, because I live there. But I did not feel, on examining the criteria as fairly as I could, that it had the same intensity of need as I had already discovered in Hammer-smith, on the one hand, and in Islington and Hackney, on the other.

Mr. Charles Morrison

To what extent will the new inner city programme affect the prospects for development, both industrial and in terms of population expansion, of those newer towns which until now have been assumed to be expanding, such as the borough of Thamesdown?

Mr. Shore

I should like notice of a question relating to a particular area. In general, however as the hon. Gentleman will understand, we developed our inner city policy at the same time as we developed our revised policy towards the new towns. I have made statements and announcements to the House during the past few months covering the future of the new towns.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement will be welcomed in Hull? Can he now give the House some indication of how this new urban scheme should be programmed, because he said it is to be left in the hands of the local authorities? What sort of time scale will there be. and what sort of aid will come from his Department to hard-pressed areas such as Hull to enable them to take full advantage of the offer which has now been made to it?

Mr. Shore

The partnership arrangements arc well in hand already. As far as the second group of authorities which I mentioned is concerned, we shall, I hope, be exchanging views with them in the near future. Beyond that, our main request of them is that they should draw up for themselves inner area programmes, and that will be the basis on which we shall start further studies.

Mr. Michael Latham

If I may be the spectre at the feast, is it not clear that throwing money al the problem has not worked in the past and is not likely to work in the future? Would it not be a lot better if the right hon. Gentleman did something to implement the report of the Select Committee on Planning Procedures, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones), rather than just throwing more public money around?

Mr. Shore

It may well have something to do, say, with planning procedures as well. However, I hardly consider it to be throwing good money after bad. The plain truth of the matter is that this country, and this House, has not so far had a fully developed urban programme— an inner city programme. Insofar as we have one at all, this is due to the initiatives taken by the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister.

Mr. Loyden

Will my right hon. Friend accept, in spite of the churlish remarks with which his statement has been received by the Opposition Froat Bench, that these are the first positive steps that have been taken to deal with districts which have been selected as inner city areas? Will my right hon. Friend first bear in mind that the geographical criteria of inner cities ought to be left sufficiently flexible for areas of stress in other parts of those districts to be able to come within the scope of inner area action? Will the innovations and ideas for community industry flowing from the local people in such areas be taken on board and considered seriously as a way of dealing with industry and unemployment?

Mr. Shore

I assure my hon. Friend that we need the ideas and co-operation of the people living in the inner areas, and we must find ways of tapping the contribution which I know they can make. Flexibility in the definition of inner areas will be permitted, but it will be a restricted flexibility. I appreciate my hon. Friend's special interest and, following my visit to Liverpool on Friday, I was glad to find that the local authorities were including in their definition of the inner area there at least the dock area of Garston.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

I think that in the last paragraph or two of his statement the Secretary of State made reference to IDCs and to inner London. Before he brings in the Bill that he promised, will he have another look at that definition, which is different from the definition of inner London that most of us recognise, for example in respect of the Inner London Education Authority? His definition, as put forward when we discussed the Office Development Act, excluded, for instance, the London borough of Camden, in parts of which unemployment has trebled over the last two and a half years. Will the Secretary of State at least see whether he can make his definition of inner London conterminous with inner London as stated in statutory terms?

Mr. Shore

I shall have a further look at that matter. However, I must tell the hon. Gentleman—who, of course, knows London as well as I do—that I believe that at present we are right to give this, as it were, intra-regional preference to the partnership areas in London.

Mr. Pavitt

Does my right hon. Friend recall that, following his previous statement, I pressed him on the inner city deprivation experienced by Willesden—most of it built by Queen Victoria, though not personally. Sixty-six factories have closed in the last six years and 50 per cent. of the population of Harlesden was born outside the United Kingdom. Would my right hon. Friend now see what more can be clone to help with the tremendous problems of that area?

Mr. Shore

I shall indeed look at the problems of Willesden, as my hon. Friend has urged me to do. I regret that, in the consideration that we gave to the various claimants, we were unable to include that district in the list that I announced.

Mr. Budgen

It occurs to me that one of the causes of Wolverhampton's problems is the regional policies which have been pursued by successive Governments and which have succeeded in driving economic activity away from the West Midlands. Does the Minister agree that it would be better fundamentally to reconsider these regional policies rather than engage in further interference by the State, and, indeed, counter distortion by subsidies?

Mr. Shore

Over a period of time all policies should be, and indeed are, reviewed. The problem, as we have found it in most of our major cities, is not the impact of regional policy in taking industry out. It is much more a problem of firms dying, as it were, in situ, and the failure to generate new growth in the area. In other words, I do not believe that industrial rundown in the major cities is the result of regional policy.

Mr. Cant

I agree with inner city policies, but may I ask my right hon. Friend whether the time has not come to back some of the winners among the older cities? I am referring to Stoke-on-Trent. Could not Stoke be given an industrial development site grant to supplement land reclamation? Should it continue to be penalised because of its low unemployment? Does my right hon. Friend propose to continue the policy of further penalising Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire by reducing the rate support grant to shire counties in order to help to finance his inner urban area plans?

Mr. Shore

My hon. Friend must not tempt me on the rate support grant question on this occasion, but he is right to refer to the important programme of land reclamation which has taken place in Stoke and in the area around, which has undoubtedly been beneficial. All I can say to my hon. Friend is that I very much hope that he and the city that he represents will continue to enjoy the success that they have already achieved.

Mr. Michael Morris

What assurance can the Secretary of State give to those county councils with new towns within their counties which are fast gaining the opinion that they are being milked to provide extra help for the inner city areas?

Mr. Shore

We have as tender a regard for new towns as we have for other areas of the country, but the one thing about new towns is that they are not part of the inner city problem.

Mr. Palmer

May I, as one who represents much of the inner part of the city of Bristol, ask my right hon. Friend how he now sees the needs of the city of Bristol?

Mr. Shore

I assure my hon. Friend that we looked very carefully at the problems of Bristol—and obviously there are problems. What I had to do, in terms of this statement and within the allocations of available money, was to establish priorities, and that is what I have tried to do.

Several Hon. Membersrose

Mr. Speaker

There are five hon. Members who wish to speak. I shall try to call them all, but it depends on whether they are brief.

Mr. Hal Miller

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the amounts mentioned for the partnership areas are grants, or merely permission to borrow? Can he also tell the House whether, in discussions with the partnership areas, attention has been paid to the fact that they are getting increased resources, and that they should not, therefore, export people to other areas?

Mr. Shore

I can hardly limit the export of people in this country—it happens to be a free country. I very much welcome the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, because I want to make it clear that the sums of money that we are discusing are eligible for grant aid. That is the point. The normal rate of grant is, of course, the 75 per cent. rate of the urban grant.

Mr. Arthur Jones

The right hon. Gentleman has referred on a number of previous occasions, when talking about the inner city areas, to the private sector. How does he see that sector in the context of his announcement today? What are his thoughts on the artificial level of inner city land values?

Mr. Shore

On both those questions I shall have more to say when we debate the Bill which, as I said, I hope to present to the House before Christmas. The Bill will seek to enhance the powers of local authorities to assist industry in their areas.

Mr. Sainsbury

Will the Secretary of State accept that it is now more than ever apparent that however clear he may think the criteria are for identifying the areas to be selected for aid, there will be a great deal of disagreement about whether they have been fairly selected? Will the Secretary of State, therefore, consider helping to put everybody's minds at rest by ensuring that the monitoring programme to which he referred can monitor precisely the quantified objectives which he is hoping to achieve by each of the programmes to which he has referred?

Mr. Shore

We are thinking hard about what would be an effective monitoring system but one which, I hope, would not involve masses of paper work. I shall think further about that, and if I can report to the House on the matter I shall be only too pleased to do so.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Is the Minister aware that if this is new, fresh money, this proposal must be good? Can he assure us that when the rural areas come to negotiate their grant he will not say to the rural area county and district councils that they cannot have any extra because of the money that he has spent on this scheme?

Mr. Shore

That is an imprecise question, and I am afraid that, for fear of misinterpreting it, I had better say that it is not a question that I can reasonably answer.

  1. NEW MEMBER 15 words
Forward to