HC Deb 14 March 1979 vol 964 cc624-34

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Tinn.]

11.55 p.m.

Mr. George Rodgers (Chorley)

It is with particular pleasure that I grasp this opportunity to describe the successes that surround the enterprise known as the central Lancashire new town, though I do not intend to ignore or evade the problems and anxieties that perhaps inevitably accompany that success. The project going ahead in central Lancashire and straddling my constituency of Chorley is unique in many ways. It is not really a new town development at all. There are already three substantial towns contained within the designated area—Chorley, Leyland and Preston—and these well-established communities will, of course, remain in existence in their own right. The purpose of the enterprise is to utilise the powers and know-how of a development corporation to attract industry, employment, improved housing and leisure amenities to an area in the Northwest region that has enormous potential for growth but requires the stimulus of investment and encouragement.

Originally, the concept, which was given the go-ahead by the then Secretary of State for the Environment in 1971, was planned to raise the population by about 180,000 by the year 2001, but this has recently been scaled down to 23,000, with an understanding that the local authorities will be consulted on any future beyond that. The role of the development corporation has changed, too. Instead of concentrating its activities exclusively on industry, commerce, new homes and amenities, it has become deeply involved in urban renewal. I believe this to be a completely new venture for any development corporation and one which could indicate a valuable new direction in which the knowledge and abilities in the possession of such bodies can be diverted to serve the older towns by stimulating urban renewal and generating industrial prosperity.

Far from allowing development corporations to slide into disuse, we should examine what is currently taking place in the Leyland, Chorley and Preston areas, where a partnership has been established with local authorities and joint teams set up to combat the problems of urban decay. The enterprise is proving enormously successful and should be extended to other districts in the North-West, especially in Lancashire, where there has been a long decline in traditional industries, such as coal and cotton, not to mention the necessity of revitalising thousands of terraced homes, most of which date from the turn of the century.

Already in central Lancashire the expertise of the development corporation has attracted a multitude of factories and thousands of job opportunities. Additionally, a thorough mix of rented and private housing has reversed the population drift that has afflicted so many communities in the North-West.

It would be folly if the experience and expertise gained by the partnership principle now established between local authorities and development corporations in central Lancashire was not taken advantage of and applied in meeting the wider problems of urban decay.

While I am enthusiastic for the partnership between elected local government and the skills of the development corporations, I must sound a note of warning. There must always and without question be a democratic approach to new development. Misgivings are bound to arise if land usage is allowed that would impinge on the quality of the environment. The public must have access to accurate information about planning proposals and opportunity must be given for existing residents to make their views known to the local authorities and the development corporation. Should any changes take place in zoning arrangements, they will have to be publicly advertised to enable a community response. The Secretary of State must receive a report and, if he feels it is required must arrange for a public inquiry to be held. My hon. Friends the Members for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) and Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) have asked to be associated with these observations.

Democracy is often an inconvenient, even frustrating process. None the less, it is a philosophy that must be built into all our endeavours, and we should embrace its principles at every opportunity. There are immense difficulties in superimposing a new town on to an existing community. For my part, seeing the picture whole, I relish the advantages that it will bring to present and to future generations in my part of Lancashire. The concern of current generations for the well-being of coming generations is surely the hallmark of a civilised society. I welcome the thrust of prosperity that will be brought about by the central Lancashire investment, which will be repaid a thousandfold in years to come.

Not many weeks ago a Front Bench spokesman for the main Opposition spoke dolefully about a cut-back in the new town programme should his party ever achieve office. The proposition is totally absurd. It would mean leaving developments half-finished, an increased population without the necessary supporting services and amenities, and a vote of no confidence in the future of a sizeable area of Lancashire and its people.

I am reluctant to believe that any enlightened and responsible Minister would persist in that view once he had acquainted himself with the realities of the situation. Members of Parliament come and go. Sometimes we feel our efforts are insignificant and soon forgotten. Occasionally we are given opportunity to be associated with an undertaking that can have favourable influence on the lives of many people—an enterprise that will have a valuable impact on the lives of those yet unborn. I believe that the central Lancashire new town project falls into that category.

In his reply I very much hope that my hon. Friend will be able to assure me that he is prepared to examine the future of the development corporation and its most able staff. I firmly believe that a major contribution to the future prosperity of Lancashire can emerge from that study. I would like him to assure me that the democratic content of the new town project will remain intact. I should like him to confirm that the revised plan for central Lancashire has the full support of his Department and of the Government.

In drawing my remarks to a conclusion, I should like to refer briefly to three aspects of the central Lancashire new town that are of concern to both old residents and new. I mention them briefly because they are not the direct responsibility of my hon. Friend. However, they are of importance and he might be able to press these issues with his fellow Ministers as they have a bearing on the new town development.

The first is the requirement for a 24-hour service at the accident and emergency department of the Chorley hospital. It is ludicrous that an area with a massive increase in population and a cross-motorway system should operate only a part-time hospital emergency service. The people of the district rightly demand a 24-hour coverage by the casualty unit, and we will continue to campaign for a full and complete service until the need is recognised and provided.

Secondly, the new town authority should respond more readily to Government circulars relating to provision for disabled people. I want to see purpose-built accommodation for handicapped people as an integral part of its housing programme, and the construction of a centre to meet the requirements of the disabled people in our community.

Finally, the size of the new development and its multitude of interests war- rants a local radio service. At present, Chorley does not fall into the editorial area covered by Radio Blackburn. I have no complaints about Radio Blackburn, but the Chorley area is remote from both Merseyside and Manchester. A local radio service would do much to bind together the new population and the old. Both populations meet difficulties in adjusting to the changes that are taking place in central Lancashire. A local radio station would create common ground and a common forum to highlight and help overcome such difficulties.

I am grateful for the hearing that I have been given and trust my hon. Friend will make a helpful response.

12.3 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Guy Barnett)

No one who does my job can long remain unaware of the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) in the doings of central Lancashire new town. Tonight he has given us a useful opportunity to take stock of what the new town has already achieved and what remains to be done.

Central Lancashire—or CLNT as its friends and no doubt its opponents know it—has always had a double task, like all the third-generation new towns which were grafted on to existing towns. First, it has had to deal with the task of generating the growth needed to carry through its task of enlarging the existing urban settlements to produce a community in which the whole population, both new and existing, could find the full range of housing, employments, shopping, and amenities. Secondly, and equally importantly, there has been the task of updating the existing urban structure so that it could provide a quality of life comparable with that which we have come to expect from our new towns.

The new town has had to do this against a background of considerable uncertainty. No sooner had the area been designated than questions began to arise about the scale of the proposed development. I hope that our review of new town policy has laid that problem. CLNT now has a clear population target—to induce growth in population of 23,000, which, with natural growth expected to be about 15,000, will carry the population of the designated area to 285,000 by about 1986. In spite of the uncertainties, the new town has already gone a long way to meet its targets. Nearly one-third of the target population growth has already been achieved. This has involved not only a major programme of house building but activities to provide the necessary employment. So far, the development corporation has built 2,189 houses. In addition, it has laid out and serviced further land on which private enterprise has built another 1,080 houses. New villages have been appearing in various parts of the new town's area at Clayton Brook, Moss Side, Astley Park and Cop Lane. These are already showing how they will develop into communities that are pleasant to live in. The development corporation's housing programme is now running at about 1,000 dwellings a year, and a few more years should see the main part of this programme successfully accomplished.

The corporation has also been successful in the provision of employment. About 1,250 jobs have been created on land developed by the corporation. It has built 558,000 sq.ft. of factory space—about 70 per cent. of the total. The employment site at Walton Summit is more or less fully developed, and start has been made on new advance factory units on the Roman Way site, in the north of the new town and at Moss Side, in the west.

The way forward on this main-line new town activity of providing housing and jobs has been well mapped out. Following the completion of the new towns review, the development corporation has produced a revised implementation strategy. This has been done in close consultation with the county council as well as the three borough councils involved, and my Department has, of course, been kept informed at all stages. The development corporation finally settled and published this strategy last autumn.

This has identified the land that the development corporation thinks will be necessary to develop for the various purposes and shows roughly the sequence of housing development. For housing, the development corporation must make allowance for several types of demand. First, there is the straightforward demand from the expansion in the population. As more people move into central Lancashire, so more housing will be needed.

Secondly, there is the demand from the existing population. Sizes of households are dropping, and people are naturally expecting to improve their standard of housing. There is thus a steady demand for more housing for the same population. Finally, there is the demand resulting from urban renewal.

In some parts of the designated area the densities of the existing houses are so high that any renewal is bound to result in some drop in the number of people accommodated, and some further housing must thus be found. For all these types of demand, the new town estimates that about 1,900 acres of land will be required. It will not develop all this land itself. Much will be developed by private enterprise or by other forms of public sector housing such as housing associations.

To balance this creation of housing, a substantial amount of new employment will be required. The development corporation thinks that about 700 acres of land will need to be developed for this purpose. Some of this will be at the large site at Midgery Lane, in the north of the area, but a number of other smaller sites are also planned.

To support all these proposals, the development corporation will have to invest substantially in the infrastructure—particularly in the road network. The decision of the Secretary of State on the outline plan indicated approval of some sections of road investment—most notably part of the western primary route to link housing areas in Leyland to the centres of employment further north. But the development corporation has further plans, which will have to be examined carefully.

There has been a considerable amount of public interest in the various proposals for roads around the western side of Preston. Some of these emanate from the county council, as the highway authority; others are more closely linked to new town development and will be primarily the responsibility of the development corporation. My Department has just received the final proposals for the Ingol distributor road, which are intended to improve the links between the new housing area at Ingol and the centre of Preston. We have received many objections to the compulsory purchase order associated with these proposals, and there will be a public inquiry later in the year at which all the relevant questions will be examined. In particular, I expect it to look at the basic question whether the road is needed.

Elsewhere in the designated area, other road proposals have caused considerable and understandable concern. One that I know is of interest to my hon. Friend is the Eaves Green district distributor road, in the Yarrow valley, in his constituency. My Department has received a submission from the development corporation seeking approval for this road as part of the corporation's housing plans. So far we have not had any representations against the present proposals. I understand that the idea has been floated that a northward extension might be desirable. Such a further development would, of course, have to be examined on its own merits. Any representations against it—or, for that matter, against the present proposal—would, of course, be carefully considered.

So far I have been talking exclusively about the first half of the work of the CLNT—the main-line new town development. The CLNT has, however, been in the van in the other task of new towns grafted on to existing centres—urban renewal. The problems of urban renewal in central Lancashire cover a wide spectrum. In Preston and Chorley the problems are those of renewing mid- to late-Victorian urban settlements, with all that that implies in terms of crowded housing, lack of amenities, road patterns unsuited to modern traffic, and lack of open space and amenities. Leyland, on the other hand, is much more a product of this century—and at a time when planning controls were mostly a thing of the future. Hence, there can be no question of the development corporation's going ahead with a single blueprint. Each area must be examined and the best solution for each particular problem devised.

The three borough councils have always made clear that they looked for the positive involvement by the development corporation in this task. What has become clear to the development corporation is that this involvement is not some optional extra to its main task but is an integral part of the new development. It is no use tempting people out to new villages and ignoring the areas from which they have moved. It is not enough to enable firms to acquire modern purpose-built factories. Something also needs to be done about the worn-out structure left behind. If we are to end up with a new town, comprehensively planned and with out pockets of deprivation, and not merely a collection of new villages around the existing urban core, the development corporation and the local authorities have got to work in partnership to deal with the ensuing problems.

The CLNT has become well involved in the task. In all three boroughs schemes have been started or have been approved to tackle these problems. In Chorley, renovation and improvement has been successfully carried out at Cowling Brow, and work is soon to start on new housing with a large public open space. In South Ribble, a scheme has recently been approved to deal with a particular pocket of land where nearly all the problems of urban renewal come together. In Preston where the problems are greatest, the corporation and the borough council are co-operating on a scheme for Plungington. This will probably involve some redevelopment on areas already cleared or marked for clearance, and much renovation of the remaining areas. Already a general improvement area has been declared for nearly 450 houses, and further similar schemes will follow.

We cannot look for anything spectacular from this work of urban renewal. The steady battle to overcome the forces of time and decay does not yield victories which make headlines. What we can hope to see is a gradual improvement, area by area, of the three towns. This involvement of a development corporation is a relatively novel approach to the task. New towns have built up an enduring reputation for the way in which they have managed to create new communities. Now these skills are being turned to the pressing task of revitalising existing communities. We shall have to watch the way in which central Lancashire develops in order to see whether there is here a solution which could have other applications. I listened with interest to my hon. Friend's remarks because much of what he said may have relevance elsewhere in the future.

My hon. Friend kindly gave me notice of a couple of points in his speech that he recognised were not the responsibility of my Department. His concern about the lack of a 24-hour emergency service at Chorley hospital is, of course, known to me. I understand that the issue is shortly to be discussed with the regional health authority and I undertake to continue to keep an eye on the situation.

The provision of a complete local radio service is an idea to which the Government are very much committed. At present, efforts are being made to provide stations to serve all parts of the country. Once this has been achieved more specific needs can be properly considered.

My hon. Friend mentioned the problems of providing purpose-built accommodation for disabled people. New towns have a responsibility for housing the disadvantaged and I shall ask my officials to discuss that question with the corporation.

I hope that what I have said will reassure my hon. Friend of the Government's commitment to what is going on at the CLNT. Like him, I was disturbed by what the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) said about the possible future of the new town if a Conservative Government were returned to power. I assure my hon. Friend that now that the reappraisal of the new town programme has been carried out, we are firmly committed to the programme that I have described. I am sure that he agrees with me that there is every reason for continuing with the task to which we have set our hand.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seventeen minutes past Twelve o'clock.