HC Deb 04 April 1979 vol 965 cc1306-11
8. Mr. Anthony Grant

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his policy towards the policy report of the Town and Country Planning Association on inner cities in connection with the revitalisation of rundown areas in cities such as parts of London; and if he will now make a statement.

12. Mr. Eyre

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his policy towards the policy report of the Town and Country Planning Association on inner cities in connection with the revitalisation of rundown areas in cities such as Birmingham; and if he will now make a statement.

Mr. Shore

The Government's policy towards inner city areas remains as set out in Cmnd. 6845 "Policy for the Inner Cities". The partnership and programme authorities have made a good start in drawing up their programmes. The urban programme itself has been increased to over £125 million in 1979–80, and resources from main programmes are also being diverted in inner areas. Real progress is being made. The Town and Country Planning Association report makes a number of criticisms, many of which I do not accept. I am, however, always happy to examine constructive ideas for improving our policy and for making our cities places where people want to live.

Mr. Grant

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the report of the association expressed growing disquiet at the outcome of the Government's inner city policies? Does he accept that, in particular, it found increasing bureaucracy, waste of public money and failure to involve the private sector? What does he propose to do to rectify that manifest failure on the part of the Government?

Mr. Shore

I suspect that there is a sense of guilt in those who occupy the Opposition Benches when they direct their minds to the inner cities.

Mr. Grant

Answer the question.

Mr. Shore

Indeed I will. When the Government took office the so-called urban programme was running at about £22 million a year. It is running at £154 million this year. There has been a sevenfold increase in the amount of effort and money being directed to the programme in a period that is not easy for public expenditure. That is the difference in the measure of concern.

The TCPA report was well below the association's normal standards of thoroughness and competence. It sought to make a judgment about the partnership arrangements and the new inner city policy, the latter having been in effect for exactly 18 months.

Mr. Eyre

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he cannot brush aside the serious and relevant criticisms that have been made of Government policy? Is he not ashamed that the Government have broken the promises set out in the 1977 White Paper? Will he apologise to the great mass of people living in inner city areas throughout the country for the way in which the Government have let them down?

Mr. Shore

This is one of the most remarkable pieces of impertinence that I have ever heard. It comes from an hon. Member who represents a Tory neglected inner city area in Birmingham. His comment is extraordinary. I am almost speechless in the face of such impertinence. I am far from being ashamed. The effort that we have put into the inner city areas and the general acceptance in those areas of what we are doing gives me every hope that our action is right and will be increasingly successful.

Mr. Arthur Latham

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while it is right to pay attention to rundown areas it is important to ensure that no more areas become rundown? Does he agree that an important contribution to stabilisation and conservation would be the funding of housing co-operatives to take over from failing private landlords? Is he likely to be able to make any helpful announcement in that respect? Will he bear in mind that many multiple landlords, such as the Church Commissioners, are not likely to part with their property voluntarily? Does he have some proposals to meet that possible difficulty?

Mr. Shore

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to housing, which is one of the major factors in inner city areas, and the role of housing co-operatives in achieving improvements. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has been in close touch with the housing corporations with a view to increasing the part that housing co-operatives may play.

Mr. Arthur Jones

As a member of the TCPA, I was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman express criticism of its report. I look forward to hearing the substance of his criticism. I recognise that he has been seeking a different mechanism to help the inner city problem. This is by way of—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is leaving us today, but he must still ask a question.

Mr. Jones

I have a series of questions, Mr. Speaker. I start with my first one. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is not only resources that the inner cities need? I recognise what he has done in terms of partnership agreements Is that policy being effective? Is he satisfied with the progress being made in the London docklands? Is he looking for additional ways and means of offering help there, both financially and administratively?

Mr. Shore

The hon. Gentleman has asked several questions. He asked in what way I was not satisfied with the TCPA report. I shall tell him. The association's remarks about the need for getting on with local plans and not waiting for structure plans are ones with which I entirely agree. That is exactly what we did, and it is exactly that power that the House enacted in the Inner Urban Areas Act only nine months ago.

The association does not seem to have read that measure. The report includes proposals for the institutions to redevelop inner areas. It is in favour of bringing in new town corporations. Talk about bureaucracy! New town corporations have their merits, but the association's proposal is not consistent with its objection to bureaucracy. Nor is it consistent with the idea of fostering democracy in the regeneration of inner areas.

In terms of resources, it does not seem as if the association has read the blue papers and the White Papers that set out what we are doing. In my view, the TCPA, for which I normally have some affection, has produced a singularly ill-founded and ill-judged report.

I am willing to give the hon. Gentleman a full answer to his question about the docklands. I was glad to announce a few weeks ago that we were to make available £70 million, £50 million as a guarantee of private capital for ventures in the docklands area and £20 million for expenditures under loans and grants.

Mr. Litterick

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the rundown areas of cities are not necessarily enclosed within the boundaries of partnership agreement areas? Will he have a chat with the Minister of State, Department of the Environment, who has seen for himself the rundown and dilapidated condition of the part of Selly Oak which borders on the Bristol Road? Is he aware that the only improvements made in recent years in that area by the Conservative county council and the Conservative city council have been projects financed wholly by moneys provided by the Government? Will he give the House an assurance that he will recognise the fact that there has been gross negligence, and undertake after the election to provide more positive support in areas, such as Selly Oak, which are outside partnership areas?

Mr. Shore

I assure my hon. Friend that inner city policy will continue to receive high priority and much ministerial effort as long as a Labour Government are in power. I have always understood the difficulty about drawing boundaries for partnership and programme areas. It is an extremely difficult problem. I have never taken the view that the boundaries that we have so far determined will necessarily be the end of the matter. We have to carry out reviews as we go along.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, while there are great problems in the inner city areas, there are inner areas of boroughs and towns outside those areas that are not so designated but where substantial improvement needs to take place? Will he explain how that improvement can be carried out within towns in shire counties, bearing in mind that the present Socialist Administration have, unfortunately, severely reduced the allocation to shire counties by way of the rate support grant? Does he agree that in the areas about which I am concerned there are many houses worth improving? How can local authorities make awards to young married couples when their budgets have been reduced because of the reallocation of the rate support grant?

Mr. Shore

There are many ways in which major cities and towns in shire counties can be assisted. One method is to do precisely what I did this year, namely, to allocate directly the needs element of the rate support grant. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman viewed that policy wih some satisfaction. It undoubtedly helped the otherwise rather highly rated urban centres in the shire counties. A number of the major cities in the shire counties—three examples are Nottingham, Hull and Leicester—are programme authorities and are receiving special Government assistance to deal with their inner city problems. A number of other areas have become desigated districts within the Inner Urban Areas Act. They can exercise some of the powers in the Act for the benefit of residents and employment.