HC Deb 16 January 1984 vol 52 cc117-36 10.27 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)

The Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 provides for the setting up of urban development corporations, with the object of securing the regeneration of their designated areas. In 1981 two UDCs were established under these powers. The Merseyside Development Corporation came into being in March 1981, and the London Docklands Development Corporation in July of that year.

In the relatively short time that the two corporations have been in operation they have made a major impact on their areas, both of which contained large tracts of derelict and unused land.

The bulk of the UDCs' activities are financed by grants made by my Department out of moneys voted by Parliament, and some are carried out by loans from the national loans fund.

The 1980 Act sets a limit of £200 million on such grants and borrowing but provides for this to be raised to a maximum of £400 million, subject to the approval of the House. By the end of March 1984 it is forecast that the two corporations will have received some £195 million in grants and loans—£62 million for Merseyside and £133 million for London docklands.

My right hon. Friend has therefore made the Urban Development Corporations (Financial Limits) Order, which will increase the limit to £400 million. It is common practice to set out limits for nationalised industries and other public bodies. The purpose is primarily to provide Parliament with an opportunity to review the progress made by the bodies concerned and to enable Ministers to account for the expenditure incurred. I welcome the chance this gives me to report to the House on the achievements to date of the two urban development corporations.

I will take the Merseyside Development Corporation first, as the senior corporation, if by only a few months. In doing so, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the corporation's first deputy chairman, Sir Kenneth Thompson, who died suddenly earlier this month. Although earlier sceptical about the formation of a development corporation, Sir Kenneth quickly developed an enormous enthusiasm for the MDC's work and he played a valuable part in ensuring the success of the corporation's activities, and will be sadly missed.

The MDC has so far acquired some 600 acres of land and is pressing ahead with the implementation of its development strategy. MDC's achievements in the regeneration of the three designated areas of disused docklands — in Liverpool, Sefton and Wirral — are playing a major role in revitalising the Merseyside economy as a whole.

MDC's fundamental policy is to attract private sector investment in its area. Pump-priming expenditure by MDC is directed to the reclamation of land and the provision of infrastructure and basic services in preparation for subsequent development.

In the Liverpool south docks area, work is well advanced on a £22 million project to dredge a large part of the docks system which had been allowed to silt up completely. The dredging of the Canning, Albert and Canning Half Tide docks at the northern end of the system has been completed and work is now under way on the more southerly docks. Bringing back the water will greatly enhance the prospects for high-quality redevelopment.

MDC is succeeding in attracting the private sector. One of MDC's most important projects is the restoration and development of the Albert dock warehouses in a joint venture with property developers in the private sector—the Arrowcroft group. Phase one of the works, which is now well under way, involves structural repairs and external treatment to this magnificent listed building and the provision of basic services by the corporation, together with the internal refurbishment by the Arrowcroft group of the quayside-mezzanine levels for retail and leisure use.

The first phase of development, costing about £25 million, will be largely financed by MDC. The private sector will be putting in a similar sum in the second phase. Arrowcroft hopes to create 2,000 jobs by the time the project is complete.

Another example of private sector involvement in the south docks area is that BAT Industries Ltd. has sponsored a project to convert an old dock shed into 40 workshops. Of the total capital costs of £760,000, £400,000 is funded by the private sector. A second phase of workshops costing about £350,000 is to be funded wholly by the private sector. It is hoped that 200 new jobs will be created here in due course.

A private developer has shown an interest in a scheme to convert Wapping warehouse, a grade II listed building in the south docks, for mixed residential and commercial development. Pavilion Recreation Ltd. has made proposals for a major leisure and shopping complex inthe Kings dock area next to Albert dock. In addition, the [...]ate gallery has expressed a wish to establish a northern gallery in part of the Albert dock warehouses.

Although the activities and resources of the corporation have tended to be concentrated on the south docks and riverside areas, there have been developments elsewhere. In the Sefton area, Langton goods yard at Bootle has been reclaimed and is being marketed for port-related industry; small industrial units have been built by a private developer at nearby Millers bridge; and in Wirral the former Western Ship Repairers site is being reclaimed for residential, light industrial and shipbuilding use.

Another substantial and complex project which MDC took on in the first few months of its existence was this country's first garden festival. The festival now has international status, 30 foreign countries are participating, and there will be visitors from all over the world. Over three million visitors are expected altogether, and the festival and related events in Liverpool will provide a major boost for the Merseyside economy.

Expenditure in MDC's first year of operation, 1981–82, was £5.3 million, largely on land acquisitions, and expenditure in 1982–83 was £21.3 million, largely on reclamation and infrastructure works; 1983–84 is the peak year for expenditure on the international garden festival, for which some £10 million is earmarked. A similar sum is to be spent on land reclamation, £6 million has been allocated for the restoration of Albert dock warehouses, and £3.5 million on infrastructure. Some 125 contracts, representing expenditure of nearly £32 million, have been let by MDC to date, and nearly 85 per cent. of these have gone to Merseyside firms. In value terms, nearly 95 per cent. of the work has gone to Merseyside. In 1984–85 it is expected that some £11 million will be spent on land reclamation and site preparation, that £4 million will be spent on the international garden festival and that £7.5 million will be spent on Albert dock.

Although much has been achieved by MDC since it was set up nearly three years ago, this is a short time when one considers the major tasks with which the corporation has had to deal. There is still a great deal to be done in the next few years and a substantial amount of funds, both public and private, will be required. In the Liverpool south docks, substantial expenditure is envisaged in the Kings dock on dredging, filling, site reclamation and infrastructure and in the Queens dock on reclamation works in preparation for residential development.

Further development is planned in the Wirral, where various highway schemes will be carried out to open up the area for redevelopment. Also in Wirral the corporation plans to create a river-front walk and to carry out related environmental improvements on the Scotts field site which it proposes will be developed for industrial purposes. The Morpeth and Wallasey docks area is to be reclaimed for future industrial development.

I hope that that necessarily brief account will give the Rouse the flavour of the achievements and aspirations of the Merseyside Development Corporation.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

Will my hon. Friend say something about the maintenance of the land that has been reclaimed by the corporation and the work associated with it? The Government have pumped a considerable amount of money into the docks and there will be a substantial maintenance cost once they pull out. Is it proposed that Liverpool city council should continue to maintain the work that has been started, or is it proposed that the Government come to the House and ask for more public money which will be pumped in to maintain what they have started?

Sir George Young

The corporation has some 10 to 15 years ahead of it in which to complete its task. What happens to its sites and buildings if and when it is wound up is something to which the House would want to address itself. In the meantime, the job of the Merseyside Development Corporation is to acquire derelict land and sites and put them to good use with the money that the House has voted to it. I shall deal with the problem of maintenance later.

The London Docklands Development Corporation's designated area covers some 8 square miles. It extends on the south side of the river eastwards from London bridge along the north Southwark riverside to the boundary with Lewisham, taking in the whole of the Surrey docks peninsula. North of the river, it runs eastwards from Tower bridge through Wapping, Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs to Beckton and the Royal docks.

That area was devastated by the decline and closure of the docks and associated industries. The legacy of the decline has been loss of jobs, loss of population and decay of infrastructure and environmental conditions. Much land that was once productive has been left derelict and polluted. Many parts of the area are isolated by poor roads and transport. However, in two and a half years the LDDC has made significant progress towards reversing this situation.

Much of the corporation's effort so far has been concentrated on the Isle of Dogs enterprise zone, where more than £9.5 million has been spent so far on the provision of roads, drainage and main services. Plans are being prepared for further infrastructure projects which will entail the expenditure of another £11 million during the next few years.

Considerable progress has been made in marketing development sites in LDDC ownership. Private investment worth more than £100 million is under way or committed. This represents more than 1 million sq. ft. of commercial and industrial space and provides a favourable ratio of private to public sector investment. Further investment worth £23 million is expected to be secured in the near future.

The area surrounding the Millwall and West India docks was, until recently, practically deserted. It is now a hive of activity. More than 440 construction-related jobs are being provided, and 800 permament jobs have already been created in the enterprise zone with another 350 at the Asda superstore just outside the zone.

All the signs are that there is a buoyant market for commercial and industrial sites in this crucial development area, which lies only two and a half miles east of the City. The LDDC is to be congratulated on its undoubted success in stimulating private sector investment. Elsewhere in its area the LDDC has been active in preparing sites for housing, commercial and industrial development and recreational use. It has also carried out some of the environmental improvements that are so badly needed in this part of London.

Forty-three separate land reclamation projects have been completed or are in progress, at a cost to date of £14 million. These include the demolition of unwanted buildings, decontamination of polluted land, repair or replacement of decaying and unstable river walls, and the consolidation of previously filled docks to enable development to proceed.

A sum of £1½ million has been spent on 10 projects for the provision of essential services, and £7 million on 23 road and bridge improvement projects, including the provision of a strategic lorry park in Beckton. No fewer than 74 environmental improvement projects have been completed or are in hand, at a cost to date of over £8 million.

Many of these are small, but they include works such as tree planting, the provision or improvement of public open space and playing fields, the cleaning and restoration of major churches in docklands, and the depollution and landscaping of that famous east London landmark, the Beckton Alps. These projects make a substantial contribution to the quality of life of existing docklands residents and help to encourage people to come to live and work in the area.

No less important in this respect is the support that has been provided by the corporation to local voluntary groups and for the provision of health, education and community facilities—158 projects at a cost of over £3 million to date — and the assistance to businesses — 46 projects approved worth £710,000. In addition to its project expenditure, the LDDC has to date paid £38 million for the acquisition of 1,020 acres of land, most of it previously lying derelict or underused in public ownership. This land bank has proved vital to the achievement of the LDDC's aim of making a speedy start on the regeneration of its area.

The LDDC has also contributed £697,000 so far towards planning and design work for the docklands light railway. The Government announced their support in October 1982 for this innovative light rapid transit project. Subject to the approval of Parliament, the system will run from the City eastwards to the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs, and northwards from the Isle of Dogs to Stratford. It will cost £77 million and be complete in 1987. That project is being financed and carried out jointly by the LDDC and the GLC, with London Transport acting as their agent, and will provide a major stimulus to docklands regeneration.

One of the most visible signs of the corporation's success, both in fulfilling the aim of a quick start to redevelopment and in stimulating private investment in the docklands area, has been in housing. In this, one of the corporation's aims has been to redress the balance between owner-occupation and housing for rent in the area.

In 1981 the proportion of owner-occupation housing in the corporation's area was only 5.3 per cent.—less than one tenth of the national average. This was undoubtedly one cause of the loss of population from docklands, at a time when increasing numbers of people everywhere want to buy homes of their own. However, 800 dwellings— houses, flats and maisonettes — have now been completed on sites released by the LDDC to private housebuilders at Beckton and in the former Surrey docks. A further 1,700 are under construction on these sites and on the Isle of Dogs. Six more sites in Beckton and in the former Western dock were awarded to builders in the autumn, and 12 more will be released in the next few months. Another 2,000 dwellings are planned for these sites, and the majority of these houses are being built for sale.

In partnership with the private housebuilding industry the corporation has already made major steps towards altering the established pattern of housing tenure in docklands. Demand has been strong, and reservations are well ahead of construction.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

What proportion of these houses have been acquired by people who are normally or were previously resident in the docklands boroughs whose housing problems are most severe?

Sir George Young

The right hon. Gentleman anticipates my next paragraph.

Much of this demand has come from local purchasers. A significant proportion of the first houses sold in Beckton were bought by people who were previously council tenants. When the first houses were released for sale at Surrey docks last summer, local council tenants queued overnight to make reservations. The corporation's policy of ensuring that a proportion of new housing in docklands is provided at prices which local people and first-time buyers can afford — and of giving priority to council tenants and people on waiting lists—is obviously having the desired result, though the need to provide more expensive housing if a balanced community is to result is also recognised.

In addition, the corporation has successfully arranged for a number of housing associations to buy ready-built houses from the developers for rent or shared ownership, to help meet the special needs of local people.

Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn Hatfield)

My hon. Friend rightly mentioned the appalling imbalance of the housing stock, and I think he mentioned that only 5 per cent. was in private ownership. Could he give any indication of what percentage of private housing is likely to be in the area now covered when the corporation has finished its work?

Sir George Young

If I cannot find the figure immediately, I shall try to give it later on. Speaking from memory, we hope that the percentage will go up to about 15 per cent. over the next few years from the present level of about 5 per cent.

I believe that the achievements of LDDC in doing so much to transform the housing scene in docklands in such a short time are to be applauded.

I have been able to do little more than to outline a small part of the varied and wide-ranging work carried out by the two urban development corporations over the last two and a half years as they tackle the daunting task of bringing about the regeneration of their respective areas.

I should like to say how much is owed to the staff of both MDC and LDDC under the direction of the two chairmen, Leslie Young and Nigel Broackes, for the tremendous amount of effort that they have put into securing these achievements. Even had it been practicable to list everything the UDCs have done and intend to do, this would not have done justice to the almost unquantifiable effect that their activity has had and will continue to have in restoring confidence and encouraging people to think of these neglected areas as attractive places in which to live, to work and to enjoy themselves.

We should have no illusions. The effect of years of decay cannot be reversed overnight, nor can progress be achieved even at the cost of £400 million of public money. On present spending plans for the UDCs, the higher financing limit now proposed is likely to be reached in the latter part of 1986.

Before then we shall take a suitable opportunity to introduce primary legislation to amend the 1980 Act in order to permit higher limits to be prescribed, as it will probably take a further five to 10 years for the process of regeneration to become self-sustaining so that the UDCs can be wound up. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that substantial progress has been made. I urge any hon. Members who are interested but not familiar with these areas to go and see for themselves what has been achieved. They will see more than enough by way of new factories, new roads and new parks, not to mention the international garden festival preparations, to know what these urban development areas can become in the near future.

I have no hesitation in commending this order to the House.

10.48 pm
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

The discussion tonight on the Urban Development Corporations (Financial Limits) Order is particularly opportune.

As the House knows, the urban development corporations were established under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 and in essence took over the role of the local elected authorities. We in the Labour party opposed the concept when it was originally proposed and, from the records of the operation of the two corporations, it is clear that our judgment has been vindicated. We still believe that the approach of the joint docklands board in London established by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) when he was Secretary of State for the Environment was going along the right road and, if it had had the finance available to it in the way in which the development corporations have, we believe that much more success should and could have been achieved with the co-operation of the local community, a point to which I shall return.

I think it would be right to remind the House that the development corporations are in essence boards appointed by the Secretary of State responsible to no one but him, and that is a key point. They are quangos, so hated by the Conservative party prior to the election in 1979. To save their blushes, I suppose that we should call them "qualgos", as the Greater London council does, in view of their local government functions. That is especially poignant in view of the publication of the Government's White Paper on streamlining the cities. As I understand it, the Government propose qualgos of this nature to take over many of the functions currently run by democratically elected local government. The Opposition are unhappy about these ad hoc, undemocratic bodies with responsibility to no one setting out to try to develop communities.

The debate is important in another sense. It is strange that this is the only public opportunity to debate the financial affairs of the urban development corporations. There is no opportunity locally for such debates to take place. That, in essence, is the reason for our opposition. It seems to us that developments of this nature can succeed only with the support of the community, yet by creating this sort of beast the Government deliberately preclude local participation and involvement. The UDCs do not publish budgets and they do not publish accounts for public analysis or inspection. This is the only opportunity to debate such accounts.

The Government are asking Parliament to increase the financial limits of the UDCs from £200 million to £400 million as the 1980 Act prescribes. Although they are asking us to increase the limit, we appreciate that it is not by these limits that they exercise financial control. That is done by cash limits and financial targets.

The most recent statement that I can find was published in Hansard as a written reply on 3 November, which talked about increasing the annual cash limits from £80.6 million to £94.8 million. I understand, further, that a more detailed control is carried out by a financial regime agreed between the Department of the Environment and the Treasury.

This allows me to raise a specific topic. As I read the annual report of the Merseyside Development Corporation, it seems to me that it has been unhappy about the financial regime. In its annual report for 1982–83 it complains that whilst the Department of the Environment accepted its corporate plan, it was allocated only £26.8 million instead of the £37.9 million which it had requested to carry out that corporate plan. It seemed to the corporation, and it seemed to us, that the Government were accepting the plan in principle but not willing the corporation the finance with which to carry it out.

Another complaint appears in page 19 of the annual report. The corporation says: We are concerned that the Financial Regime continues to make an arbitrary and, to an extent, artificial distinction between commercial and non-commercial projects. In failing to recognise that some projects which are commercial in nature are not necessarily commercial in financial terms, it excludes many worthwhile ventures from receiving grant-in-aid. It is essential that grant-in-aid is available to supplement those schemes which would not otherwise prove viable either because, when undertaken by the Development Corporation, they could not service NLF borrowings or because they could not meet the criteria of the private sector. However, we are pleased to note that the Government is reviewing the Financial Regime and we are hopeful that the revised rules will prove more flexible and accommodating to our needs. I had expected the Minister to tell the House a little more about that revision. As this is the only opportunity to have a public debate, I must press the Minister about it. Can he say what reviews have taken place and how the ground rules for the financial regime—the agreement between the Department of the Environment and the Treasury— have changed? Is there any change in the £50,000 limit which the UDCs can spend without specific Department of the Environment approval? Is that still operative?

Tonight, the Minister is asking the House to double the borrowing requirement to the maximum level permitted by the 1980 Act. I cannot quite understand why he is asking us to agree to that doubling tonight. I think that he said that £195 million is, or will have been, committed by the end of this financial year. That leaves us another £205 million. It might have been much more sensible to increase the limit to £300 million, which I should have thought sufficient for the next financial year, and then to give us the opportunity to debate the order again when the Minister returns at a later date for the doubling.

I only hope that the Government are not taking this opportunity to stifle debate, because tonight is the last chance to debate the corporations' finances before the Government introduce primary legislation, as they have mentioned. Many people in the dockland areas suspect that the Government are once again trying to limit opportunities for a debate on the working of the dockland corporations. Perhaps I am not doing the Minister justice. He has outlined some grand schemes for expenditure. However, are there any specific plans for London? Are there any plans for great expenditure on acquiring more land? Are there plans for the George V and Royal Albert docks or for the Albert dock basin? There are rumours to that effect, and it might help if the Minister could enlighten us.

I return to the subject of community involvement. Is the Minister satisfied that the development corporations — particularly the corporation in London—have done all that they could to allay public fears and to take the public along with them? One does not have to read too deeply to find that the London Docklands Development Corporation has alienated the GLC. The metropolitan boroughs are unhappy about it, as are most of the pressure groups, trades councils and so on.

On 1 July 1981, the then Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services said: The success of Docklands and of the development corporation will be determined not by the ability to impose plans produced behind closed doors on an unwilling local population but by the ability to get the enthusiastic support of the people in the area."—[Official Report, 1 July 1981; Vol. 7, c. 962.] We believe that the Minister was right when he made that statement and that the development corporations have failed to try to attain that objective. The Minister mentioned £3 million in three years on all the community projects. That money is welcome, but it is chicken feed given the total expenditure of the development corporation. We strongly hold that the development corporations have operated behind closed doors. I urge the Minister to try to have a word with the chairman of the board to stress the need to persuade the community to go along with them.

The Labour party objects in principle to the scheme. We would wind up the development corporations and return the powers to elected local government. However, even at this stage, I urge the Minister to get the boards to work more closely with the local community.

10.58 pm
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

I am somewhat embarrassed to be speaking in the debate, particularly as no Liverpool Members are in the Chamber tonight. However, as I represented a Liverpool constituency for nine years, was in the city when the urban development corporation was first mooted and have expressed various views about it, I felt it appropriate to speak about that corporation, particularly as I still visit the city fairly regularly and continue to take an interest in that development.

I pay tribute to Sir Kenneth Thompson. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, he was the deputy chairman of the Merseyside Development Corporation for some years. He was also chairman of the Merseyside county council. Before that, he was an Under-Secretary and a Member of Parliament. I pay tribute to the great services that he gave both to the House and the country, especially to Merseyside.

I was one of the critics of the Merseyside Development Corporation, and I think that it is worth reciting briefly one or two of the comments that I made at the time. I was critical of the corporation because a large sum was being pumped into the dockland which could, perhaps, have been better spent in other parts of the city. I was especially concerned with the 1,600 acres of derelict land that existed in Liverpool, which could have been filled up rather than be left vacant while the docklands were given priority. That would have been possible with that sort of money.

It is fair to say that the corporation, having taken the political decision to seek to improve the area, has done a remarkable job. There is no doubt that the area has been transformed and is being increasingly transformed. One must give credit to the corporation for the work that it has done. However, I issue a caveat. With the vast sum of public money that was available, it would have been surprising if the corporation had not done a good job, and the same can be said of the London corporation. The corporations have been given large sums of public money to spend, and with those vast sums they have done the sort of job that one would expect them to undertake.

My principal concern is that the Government have come to the House to ask for an increase in public intervention in two deprived areas. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has spelt out his plan to increase public expenditure by primary legislation in the years to come. We are probably being asked to approve a very large sum that will be in excess of £400 million. That will be the consequence of that which is being requested. The sum involved must be more than £400 million, for that will be merely a stepping-stone.

It seems that we are in a spiral. The Government started with a request for £200 million and have increased their request to £400 million, and so the spiral continues.

Although no Liverpool Members are present, something should be said about the amount of public money that is being pumped into the area. Liverpool Members say regularly in the House that the Government are not concerned about Liverpool, but they are putting a very sizeable sum into the area by their action tonight, and since they have been in office they have put an increasing amount into it.

My criticism of the money that the Government are pumping into Liverpool is based on the damage that it has done and continues to do. Liverpool has learnt that the more it shouts, the more it complains and the more noise it makes, the more the Government will respond. The more the Government respond, the less the people have a desire to try to help themselves. I am not against a sizeable sum being pumped into Liverpool, but I am against the way in which it has been pumped in. I should prefer the community to be given the opportunity to stand on its own feet and to do its own thing by having the money pumped into it rather than into a quango which is run and controlled by those who are not accountable to Liverpool, many of whom are not Liverpudlians. They are merely putting right Liverpool rather than involving the community and the people in solving the problem for themselves.

I recognise the decision of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who was previously the Secretary of State for the Environment, to try at the outset to do something dramatic to change the face of Liverpool, but I believe that it was even more important to involve the people in the process. I ask my hon. Friend to try to convince the Merseyside Development Corporation that, though it is important to change the aspect of the docks, even more important is the way it changes it and the way that it involves the people in the process of change. The Liverpudlian's failure is not caused by him. He has had to face not only changing economic conditions during the past two or three decades but a Government who continue to pump in money from outside rather than involve the people in solving the problems with the Government. The Under-Secretary of State said tonight more of the same thing. He said that the Government will pump in public money from outside. The Government will disregard the fact that the Liverpool city council is driving away private business by its approach and attitude and pump in more money to rescue Liverpool.

After nine years in the city, my assessment is that successive Governments have gone about the problem in the wrong way. By pumping in more money from outside, they merely worsen the problem. Instead of going along the same road and creating more damage by doing more of the same thing, is there a way in which we can involve the community to solve its problems?

I ask the Under-Secretary to say something about the garden festival. It has been built up to be a great international event, and we hope that it will be. It is a six-month project. Has the Under-Secretary considered what will happen after the six months? There will be euphoria during the festival. People will be delighted with the magnificent international festival. What will happen afterwards to the maintenance of the site? How will the urban development corporation manage to maintain that operation after the six months are over?

Many thousands of acres of land in and around Liverpool are derelict, dormant and under-utilised. The urban development corporation has attracted public funds into the revitalisation of the docklands site. Will the Under-Secretary say something about the Government's priorities to revitalise other derelict sites? There are still 100,000 acres of public land on the Government register that are under-utilised.

Some of the £400 million is being used in two specific areas — London and Mersey side. Other parts of the country that have similarly vacant and derelict land are seen as less important.

I wanted to make only that short intervention on those two matters. I am sorry that my colleagues who represent Liverpool seats are not in the House.

11.7 pm

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) pointed out, the urban development corporations found no favour with the previous Labour Government, although the concept was discussed. Had we been returned to office on 9 June, we would be discussing something like vesting orders in which land, especially housing land, would be transferred from the docklands development corporation — certainly in London — back to the boroughs from which the land was transferred against the wish of its inhabitants. We would be discussing also different arrangements for the strategic development of docklands in which the local authorities would play a dominant part rather than having imposed upon them a corporation comprising business men and bureaucrats alien to those areas.

One thing on which we would have, I hope, some measure of agreement is the recognition of the need for substantial new resources to come specifically to the docklands. When I was Secretary of State for the Environment I launched a new inner city policy about seven years ago. I do not believe that anyone has contested the fact that the areas that were selected were those most desperately in need. Self-evidently, as the Undersecretary will understand, not all inner city problems require development corporations to solve them. I believe that I created seven partnership areas in England and at least five of them continue as partnerships with central and local government with additional resources and powers under Inner Urban Areas Act 1978 without the imposition of corporations.

I hope that the partnerships in other inner city areas — in Newcastle, Gateshead, Manchester, Birmingham, Lambeth and Islington—are benefiting the people in those areas. They suffer from the same multiple problems as the people of the docklands of Merseyside and London—a run-down environment, a desperate shortage of jobs and major housing difficulties. It should not, therefore, be assumed that the identification of the inner city problem and the method of solving it can be tackled only through a development corporation. I hope that I have made my point in a reasonable and modest manner. It is not my usual style to be too modest as I have strong objections to the corporations.

If the people and local authorities in an area want to embrace a development corporation, that means that there is a measure of involvement. If, after an inquiry, the people of an area decide to back a development corporation, that will achieve arrangements such as those in Peterborough and the third-generation new towns. People in old towns and cities positively embraced the incoming development corporations.

In Liverpool the position was confused. Some local voices were raised in favour of a corporation, and others against it. But in the London area there was no welcome at all for a corporation. There was a kind of original sin in which the development corporation was born—it was the alienation of the local communities and local authorities from the development corporation, and that has remained the case.

What is being done, and what can be done? The central issue is how the people of the area, despite the great damage done, can be involved in the planning and development of their area and engage in the activities that crucially affect them and their area.

The second important issue is housing, and I ask the Minister to look carefully at the facts. He may be right about Newham and Beckton, but three boroughs are basically concerned — Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets. Newham has a great deal of land and a greater tradition of owner-occupation than other parts of dockland. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) intends to speak about Southwark, so I shall not put words in his mouth. However, simply because a few people were queuing for a certain number of houses in Southwark one cannot say that it not only shows a wish to become an owner-occupier but demonstrates the ability of people throughout docklands to buy houses at the prices they are inevitably asked to pay. That can be misleading.

In Tower Hamlets, the people of Wapping have hoped for two decades that once the dock had gone the area would be opened up and amenities provided, connected with the water, and the space created used to provide the opportunity of living in a house as distinct from the flats in which the greater part of the population of Tower Hamlets live. They feel that they have been cheated of their birthright and expectations. In a sense they are right, because the greater part of the land that has been released has been transferred to the private sector and made available to those with far deeper purses than the people of Wapping and Tower Hamlets. Therefore, it is not surprising that they feel a deep and substantial resentment, especially as their housing is old and unrenovated and there appears to be no prospect of anyone doing anything about that.

As the Minister well knows, the housing investment programmes of all the boroughs in dockland have been axed. Indeed, they have virtually been halved in the past four years. There are new estates of owner-occupied housing in areas of desperate housing shortage. The houses are bought by people who are strangers to the area but who are able to buy, while the residents of the area cannot even have the flats in which they live renovated and modernised. There is a great deal of resentment and disappointment at what is happening.

Jobs are crucial. The Minister mentioned 800 jobs. In the London dockland area, there is an unemployment level of 25 per cent. or more. How many really new jobs has the corporation created in two and half years? The opening of News International, which is expected very soon, was negotiated by the Tower Hamlets council before the docklands corporation was established. I negotiated the transfer of Billingsgate from its site in the City of London to its position in the Mill wall dock, and paid for it. Leaving those instances aside, how many new jobs have been created in the past two and a half years?

Over how many years does the Minister expect that the light transport system will be developed, and what is the timetable for the consideration of, and the report on, the Stolport project, which has been the subject of a major inquiry?

Mr. Den Dover (Chorley)

I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman does not pay tribute to the efforts that have been made. Would he not agree that only very slow progress — if any — was made before the development corporation was established? Perhaps the reason why the corporation has not been welcomed is that there are so many Labour-controlled local authorities.

Mr. Shore

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman knows the history of the area as I do.

Mr. Murphy

He does.

Mr. Shore

The hon. Member may know the area, but I suspect that his knowledge of its history may be weak. From about 1969, successive docks have been closed as those dock areas became empty. It happened that in 1970, when Southwark dock closed, a Conservative Government were elected. The present Secretary of State for Energy set up an elaborate study which was in progress until December 1973, when his successor decided to set up a dockland joint committee to carry out the development which all the marvellous planners that the right hon. Gentleman had invited to survey the area were unable to effect. A strategic plan was produced in 1976. We were then in office, and we moved into action.

We made dockland a derelict land 100 per cent. grant zone. Only the coal areas had previously had that status. That made it possible to fill in the docks. We passed the Inner Urban Areas Act 1978. We reversed the priority previously given to the third-generation new towns, changing their targets and their size, and gave the inner urban areas, including London, top priority within their own regions for the issue of industrial development and office certificates. Further, we gave additional budgets under the partnership and inner area programme. Things were on the move, and the major part of the infrastructure changes which have been referred to were well in hand.

It was only two years' work, but it is a total myth to pretend that nothing happened, just as it would be entirely wrong for me to say that nothing has happened in the two and a half years since the corporation was set up. I am simply explaining why the people of London do not share the Minister's satisfaction but feel considerable resentment over certain developments. I am asking what is to happen to jobs and houses in the future.

11.17 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Neither of the areas that we are considering has any representation on the Government Benches. Since the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) came south, Merseyside has been taken over by Labour and Liberal Members. At both local and parliamentary level, the docks, too, are represented by Labour and Liberal Members—[Interruption.] Those who are interested are here. Some hon. Members trust others to speak for them. That is no doubt a good tradition. The corporations have to deal with the fundamental problems of run-down areas and seek major regeneration. We all accept that.

It is paradoxical that the night before the Government seek to pass on Second Reading the Rates Bill, which will impose controls on local authorities that wish to spend more money, they wish the House to pass an increasing grant for the two non-elected bodies that deal with local government-type development. There is little justification and explanation of what the money is to be spent on. Tonight and tomorrow must provide one of the best examples of the paradoxes of the Government's muddled philosophy.

I found the speech of the hon. member for South Hams confusing. He said that the Government are committed to increased participation by local people, but he wishes the dockland corporations, which have no local representation, to be supported by a Government who should be careful about how they give their money away when they allow unelected people to spend it for them.

The picture is not all black or all white. No one who has spoken this evening suggested that it is. My area of north Southwark and the Liberal party, which is interested in democratic accountability, are worried about how the increase will be spent. The two development corporations have drawn up corporate plans. The money may be necessary. It is to be allocated for commercial developments. It would be helpful to know what the development corporations' proposals are for the next two or three years. What proportion of the money is to be spent, for example, on different forms of transport infrastructure and on loans for industrial development to recreate jobs in different industries?

I have the accounts and the second annual report of the LDDC and colourful graphs, which suggest the proposals in general terms, but we have no specific proposals. We should have them, because the House, as the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) made clear, occasionally has to deal with the budgeting and financing of the corporations on behalf of the local authorities and local people.

I have a few questions for the Minister. First, to supplement the question by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), what has been the net increase in employment through the development corporations' efforts since they were set up? That does no mean relocated jobs, but new jobs, taking into account those that have been lost due to firms moving out of the area.

In Southwark, as the Minister is aware, there is effectively a running battle between the corporation and firms around the Greenland dock which are resisting relocation because they wish to stay. How successful have the London Docklands Development Corporation and the Merseyside Development Corporation been in creating new jobs? Does the Department monitor that matter regularly? The development corporations have autonomy, but what control and what direction does the Department give to ensure that the targets, which I hope that the Department set for them, are fulfilled?

I do not share the view about housing expressed by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney. There is a large demand for cheap private housing among people who, traditionally, have been public sector tenants. In my constituency, which encompasses the whole of the Southwark third of the London Docklands Development Corporation area, there is still an unfulfilled need for private housing, which is not surprising when those in private housing represent only about 2.3 per cent. However, it is difficult to find cheap private housing. Even at £30,000, all one probably gets is either a timber-framed house, with commensurate risks that people are less happy about, or a house with two bedrooms, or at the most three bedrooms, which will do for many families, but not all. Most people cannot afford anything above that.

There is concern that the demand has not been met and will not be met if the present balance of housing cost is maintained, given the corporation's plans. I ask the Minister to tell us either tonight or later how he expects the development corporations will fulfil, at a cost that can be afforded, the needs of the people who live in their areas or of those who live in adjacent areas and who wish to move into those areas.

I hope that the Minister will not leave the House with the thought that everything in development corporation areas is wonderful. There is a danger, exemplified by an answer given by the Secretary of State on 23 November to a question that I asked, about his satisfaction with the performance of the corporations and his belief that there is nothing wrong with the way that they are progressing. There is concern. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the Department keeps a careful eye on the way in which the development corporations are proceeding. Of course, it will want to leave the boards fairly free to come up with ideas, but if they are not meeting all the needs or fulfilling all the targets, it is important to know that someone in the House is keeping a wary eye on the behaviour of the corporations.

I am concerned that we are about to vote an increase in the £200 million loan facility for a corporation the chairman of which, for all I understand, will be different in a few months' time from the present chairman. Nothing has been made public. It is important, when one is voting large sums of money, to know who the chairmen and the boards of corporations are.

I am concerned to know whether the large loan facility will allow the south of the river in London a light railway such as is proposed for the north of the river. I entirely accept that the north of the river, east of the City, needs a better transport infrastructure, but so does the south. Capital could be well invested in that loan facility. If I understand the figures correctly, 80 per cent. of the transport funding is for roads, not rail or water, which in terms of general public service might be regarded as a better investment.

I am concerned that the Government still have done nothing, while seeking to persuade us to vote the increase, to make sure that all the community groups, although they had a reassurance some weeks ago that the docklands corporations would be allowed to give them more money, have the money needed to allow them to continue until the end of the period that they were led to believe they would be grant-funded. There is a need for reassurance to the many groups representing many local people trying to ameliorate their own conditions, so that they know that they will be financially supported by the corporations to which they look for all the funding that they receive.

Yesterday in one of the colour supplements there was an advert for the LDDC. It showed a plate glass wall and illustrated that the cost per square foot of leasing property in the docks was considerably less than in the City of London. All it showed was the prospect of office space.

I hope that the Minister will tell the House before the end of the debate that the facility to borrow money, which we are being asked to give to the London and Merseyside corporations, will be put to specific, concrete, good and diverse use in a way that will ensure not just the possibility but the certainty of the most effective development of the areas. That has not happened so far, although good things have taken place. Much more effective development remains to be done. The House needs to be reassured that the Government are making it their business to ensure that these unaccountable bodies are at least being given the stringent and most sufficient direction from the Government that is possible.

11.31 pm
Sir George Young

I wish to respond to the debate and deal with some of the specific questions that have been put to me. We have heard the usual reservations from those hon. Members who were reluctant to admit the real progress that is happening in the London and Merseyside docklands. I am surprised that we have neither heard nor seen any of the Members of Parliament who represent the Merseyside constituencies, whose future we are debating. This is a little strange, bearing in mind the comments of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) about the lack of an opportunity to debate the docklands. This is an opportunity, and the Merseyside Members of Parliament do not take it.

Some of the matters raised dealt with housing. In response to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy), I said that about 5.3 per cent. of the LDDC area was currently owner-occupied. That figure has increased to 9 per cent. and the target of the docklands corporation is that it should reach 30 per cent. by mid-1986, which is encouraging, and will do much to redress the balance in that part of London. My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who acted as a proxy Member for Liverpool in the debate, asked about the maintenance of reclaimed land in Liverpool. The policy of the corporation is, wherever possible, to pass on full responsibility for the maintenance of sites when they are released for development. The corporation wants to ensure that there is no costly legacy for local authorities when the corporation has completed its task and is wound up.

The Liverpool city council has agreed to take over responsibility for the festival hall on the garden festival site, for use as a sports centre after the festival closes.

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) asked about the proportion of council tenants and the people on housing scheme waiting lists. The figure for the first development in Beckton is 35 per cent. In the current scheme at Southwark, 42 of the first 47 houses have been reserved by local people. An arrangement exists whereby the developer undertakes to offer the houses built, in the first instance, to local authority tenants or those on the waiting list.

The hon. Member for South Shields made a startling allegation, that published accounts are not produced by the development corporations. They have to be, and are, in accordance with schedule 31, paragraph 13, to the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. The reports are prepared annually and are laid before both Houses of Parliament. The hon. Member also asked me about the financial regime, which has been reviewed. We have completed a review of the financing arrangements in consultation with the Treasury and the development corporations. As a result, some additional but relatively minor categories of expenditure are eligible for grant—for instance, certain derelict land schemes that previously were not eligible. The urban development corporations can also submit schemes for urban development grants. They have also been enabled to retain receipts from land disposals and to use them to supplement their expenditure. Both corporations have expressed themselves content with these relatively minor modifications.

The hon. Member will also be interested to learn, bearing in mind the requests from the MDC for additional funds, that we were able to allocate an additional £8.5 million for this year, raising the cash limit from £26.8 million to £35.2 million.

Dr. David Clark

I apologise if I have misled the House about the accounts. I have seen the published accounts, but they are not greatly detailed. Is the Minister saying that the public can inspect the detailed accounts of the corporations and can make representations to the auditors of the corporations? That was my point. I am not discussing the general diagrams at the back of the annual report. Those are relatively meaningless; they are just general guidance. Are the detailed accounts available for the general public to inspect and comment on?

Sir George Young

Indeed they are; they are published and are available to everyone who wishes to inspect them. I imagine that it is also open to anyone to complain to the auditor if it is considered that they are not properly produced.

The more important point is that of community involvement, to which a number of hon. Members have referred. It is not quite true to say that there is no local authority involvement. For example, on the LDDC, two members serve who are leaders of the local authorities concerned, as well as a former leader of Southwark council, so there is that element of local representation on the LDDC. They attach a high priority to involving the local community. In Merseyside that is relatively difficult because there is a small residential community in the area covered by the corporation.

In London, the LDDC tries to consult. I have seen the newsletter that it distributes and I am aware of the large number of meetings that it holds with the local community, in addition to funding a large number of active community groups, some of which are hostile to the objectives of the LDDC. Of course it must try to do more, and I know that it will, and it is important to have the consent of the local community.

I believe that the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney overestimated the alienation of the local people. I made a point of meeting as many as I could when I visited the Isle of Dogs recently. Although they may have had reservations initially, as new developments take place and as jobs are provided for local people their initial scepticism or hostility is being converted to tolerance and in some cases even to enthusiasm.

Mr. Steen

My point about Mersey side is that Liverpool has increasingly suffered from a decline in private enterprise and private fund creation. That has gone hand in hand with the decline of the docks and industry related to the docks. Successive Governments have seen it as their duty to rescue Liverpool as private enterprise has declined by pumping in public money. They have been pumping it in for the past 20 or 30 years and in the past five years it has been pumped in at an increasing level, under partnership, under urban aid, through derelict land grants and by the creation of enterprise zones and so on. The urban development corporation has been one of those devices to pump in public funds to make good the loss of private moneys.

Whereas in days gone by the private moneys were part of the infrastructure of the city and people were involved in the provision of those private moneys, the UDC is entirely a creature of Government, with its finances coming from Government. Central Government would do well to realise that Liverpool's problems have been caused to some extent by the way in which central and local government have perceived the community, which has been that the community does not know best but that the public sector does know best.

Can the Minister see any ways in which the development corporation can involve the community more in the determination of the future of the local people as part of the UDC's operation, rather than merely the public sector doing what it thinks is best?

Sir George Young

That was a substantial intervention that would require a long answer. I listened to my hon. Friend's thesis when he made his initial remarks. He underestimates the extent to which the public investment that we are making, and which we are debating tonight, is a partner of private investment. In other words, we are not pumping in public money because we think that is the right answer. We see it as a necessary pre-investment by the public sector to get private investment in after it. I tried in my initial remarks to detail the success of this policy by outlining the private investment that was taking place as a result of the initial pump-priming finance put up by the Government. We must, of course, consult effectively with the local community, but few people live in the area covered by the development corporation in Merseyside.

The original channels through which to tackle such problems were the city councils and the county councils. We set up the corporations because the former means of solution had not worked. They had not arrested the decay and successfully generated the private investment. The hon. Member for South Shields criticised us for doing that but, in a way, it was the new town solution which, I am sure, was resented by many local authorities, which argued, as did the right hon. Gentleman, "If you give us the money we will do the job." The fact that the Labour party was happy to use such a solution to set up new towns after the second world war to some extent blunted his argument that we have destroyed confidence in local government and undermined local democracy. There is a case for a single-minded entrepreneurial body to tackle areas such as the two that we are discussing in an attempt to reverse the decay and decline of many generations.

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney asked about Stolport. As he knows, the inquiry was long and highly technical. The inspector will have a considerable amount of evidence with which to deal in his report. I am taking steps to ensure that there art: no unnecessary delays in the issue of a decision once the inspector's report is received. If the right hon. Gentleman reads my opening speech, he will find that I gave the best information I have about the timetable for the docklands light railway.

I was asked about support for community groups. Such groups can look to local authorities or the Greater London council for support in addition to that provided by the LDDC, the total community support expenditure of which exceeded £1.8 million last year. That compares favourably with funding for the voluntary sector in previous years under the docklands urban programme.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams asked about other derelict sites in Liverpool. There are other initiatives, with which he is familiar, to reclaim derelict land in Liverpool. The city council, the county council, the English Industrial Estates Corporation and Plessey are co-operating to reclaim a large site in Wavertree to form the Wavertree technology park. The EIEC is also promoting a large-scale development at the former Exchange station. Those are just two examples of the many initiatives that are taking place. Derelict land grant and urban development grant are also available.

As I have already explained, half of the international garden festival site will be handed over to the city council as permanent parkland. That includes the sports centre in the festival hall. The other half of the site will form a high-quality landscape setting for housing and light industry.

Several hon. Members asked about the new jobs that have been provided in the two areas with which we are dealing. The 800 to which I referred relate only to the Isle of Dogs enterprise zone. The LDDC estimates that 1,964 new permanent jobs have been established since its inception and that 1,528 temporary jobs have been created in the construction industry. I accept that a proportion of those jobs represent the fruits of the work of the DJC. On Merseyside, at the end of November 1983, 581 construction workers were employed on MDC activities, and assistance to industry has been designed to create more than 200 additional permanent jobs in some 40 firms.

I was also pressed about future expenditure and asked how the urban development corporations would use the money that is devoted to them. It is for the two corporations, in discussion with the Department, to determine the balance of their activities in the light of the sums which they are allocated annually. I have outlined the priorities that they have been given to regenerate the economy in their areas by investing in the infrastructure.

I suspect that there were some other points on which I have not touched. I shall happily take them up in correspondence. The example of the garden festival has shown that the development corporation is capable of tackling a complex project quickly and with great efficiency. The site was severely degraded and the timetable for preparations was tight. The nature of the work has involved liaison with hundreds of contractors and other outside organisations and 30 foreign countries. Already, four months before the opening, it is clear that it will be counted as a major achievement.

In London, the success of the LDDC's housing programme has exceeded many expectations. It has pushed up the rate of home ownership in docklands from about 5 per cent. to an estimated 9 per cent. That has been achieved only by strenuous efforts to ensure that the housing provided is affordable to the widest possible cross-section of the community. On the commercial and industrial front, and in particular in the enterprise zone, the private sector's willingness to invest in docklands is now evidenced by the many developments that are under way.

The focus of the debate is an order increasing the limit of financial provision. There is nothing sinister in asking the House to approve a review. Indeed, that was set in the primary legislation. I have no hesitation in assuring the House of the value that is being achieved with this investment, and which will continue to be achieved, through the money allocated to the UDCs. I commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Urban Development Corporations (Financial Limits) Order 1983, dated 5th December 1983, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th December, be approved.