HC Deb 01 April 1981 vol 2 cc279-80
11. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the future of the North-East new towns.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

I have nothing to add to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) on 20 June last. The target dates for the winding-up of Aycliffe, Peterlee and Washington development corporations have all been set at 31 December 1985.

Mr. Dormand

Does the Minister agree that those three new towns are the major job-attracting centres of an area which needs every job that it can lay hands on? Does he recall, with his right hon. Friend, telling me that the Government would sympathetically consider an extension of the date of winding-up, certainly of the Peterlee development corporation? Is he aware that because of the threat of winding-up, if I may so describe it, expert staff are already leaving the corporation, which has led to a deterioration of the job-seeking powers? Will the Minister, as a matter of urgency, take on board the seriousness of the situation and reconsider an extension of the life of the Peterlee development corporation?

Mr. Finsberg

I should have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would recognise that we considered the position very carefully. It was because of the success in job creation of the North-East new towns that we decided that Aycliffe and Peterlee should continue until the end of 1985, and the target date announced by the Labour Government for Washington was extended by three years. The hon. Gentleman therefore cannot accuse us of not recognising the immense value of the work done. We have now put the three North-East new towns on the same basis.

Mr. Foster

Is the Minister aware that the new town development corporations were by far the most successful job-hunting agencies in the North-East? Is he aware that there was a net gain of 4,000 jobs in the new town of Newton Aycliffe in the period 1974–79? Is he further aware that with male unemployment rates of 19 per cent. in the town and 24 per cent. elsewhere in South-West Durham, and with the loss of special development area status, the demise of the new town is regarded as the last straw?

Mr. Finsberg

I do not think that what the hon. Gentleman is relaying is necessarily correct. If it was felt that Washington, for example, should have ended in 1982 and we took the decision that, together with Aycliffe and Peterlee, the date should be extended by three years, that demonstrates more clearly than anything else that we believe in the importance of job creation and the other functions of the North-East new towns. We have clearly shown that.