HC Deb 27 June 1979 vol 969 cc424-6
11. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his policy with regard to the urban partnership schemes.

12. Mr. Steen

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about Government policy with regard to the future of the partnership committees and the urban programmes.

Mr. Heseltine

We are holding discussions with local authority leaders about the achievements of partnership, and will make decisions about future plans in the light of these.

Mr. Arnold

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that he can still adequately finance the scheme? At a time of growing restraint in public expenditure, is there not a case for a more selective approach which would produce more equitable results?

Mr. Heseltine

I certainly want to discuss with local authority leaders throughout the partnership areas what alternatives are available. We have introduced very small reductions in the present urban programme, but I am considering a whole range of measures in order to release resources, particularly land resources, from the public sector.

Mr. Steen

When my right hon. Friend comes to Liverpool on Friday to chair the partnership committee, will he bear in mind that over £100 million has already been spent on research studies and discussions into the problems of the urban areas, and that precious little has been done to revive those areas? Will he consider implementing the charter to revive Liverpool—prepared by senior Conservatives in the area—which will do a lot to bring prosperity back to Liverpool and which includes such proposals as a free port, an old town corporation, and the selling-off of some of the 70 per cent. of derelict and dormant land which is owned by the nationalised industries and local authorities?

Mr. Heseltine

I believe that it is necessary to look at all of these alternatives. My preliminary view, and the one that is pressed upon me by local authorities on all sides, is that recent urban policy has been very long on research and discussion and very short on decision and action.

Mr. Heffer

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that as a result of some of this past research the Government set up the partnership schemes which were hailed, even by political opponents in Liverpool, as being one of the best things ever to happen to inner Liverpool? Can he give those of us who represent Merseyside and Liverpool a clear assurance that those parts of the scheme that will go ahead will be adequately financed and will be developed further?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Member, whose concern for Merseyside I very much share, will realise that the partnership schemes were born of the inner urban area studies by the Department of the Environment. Since I was the Minister who initiated and sat on the working parties which were originally set up in 1972, it is clear that we share the common objective of geting a new sense of purpose into the inner urban areas. I shall be spending Friday in discussion with the local authority representatives in Liverpool in order to decide what more can be done.

Mr. Eastham

In view of the attacks that are being made today on the inner cities and on the rate support grant, and in view of the many grave problems of the inner cities, will the Minister give a clear indication that he intends to see through the 10 year programme as it was originally designed?

Mr. Heseltine

I believe that a new range of policies is needed in order to get a new and different momentum in urban areas such as the one the hon. Member represents. I do not believe that the present reliance on public expenditure and public sector-led activity will provide either the right balance or the right momentum to bring about a genuine revival. The inner cities were built because people wanted to live there and because it was profitable to work there, neither of which condition now applies.