HC Deb 24 October 1984 vol 65 cc687-8
17. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will convene a meeting of interested bodies to discuss the future of Peterlee development corporation.

Sir George Young

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend held such a meeting on 1 August in connection with the future of Aycliffe, Peterlee and Washington development corporations and is now considering his decision on the future of these three new towns. In addition, my noble Friend Lord Bellwin visited the area in July of this year.

Mr. Dormand

That is not quite correct. The meeting did not include everyone who was interested in the Peterlee development corporation. If the Minister were to convene such a meeting, he would find that every organisation is completely opposed to the proposal to abolish the development corporation next year. Does the Minister not appreciate that to abolish the only job-finding agency in an area where unemployment is approaching 20 per cent. would be an act of the utmost folly? Why should that body be abolished when it has attracted 6,000 new jobs to the area in recent years?

Sir George Young

I recognise that in the responses to our consultation document there was virtually unanimous support in the region for the continuation of the development corporations. Ministers were impressed by the degree of support that the development corporations have generated while they have been in being. On his last point, I ask the hon. Gentleman to be patient for a little while longer. My right hon. Friend must consider the issues raised during consultation, but we hope to reach a decision very soon.

Mr. Proctor

Will my hon. Friend make it his policy to wind up development corporations in Peterlee and elsewhere as quickly as is practicable?

Sir George Young

The Government's policy is to bring to an end the life of the development corporations when they have completed the tasks set out for them.

Mr. Boyes

Does the Minister not agree that the wind-up of the Peterlee, Aycliffe and Washington development corporations, when unemployment in the north of England is at a record level, would be an absolute disaster? The Minister said that he would give an answer as soon as possible. Does he not remember that interested parties from Aycliffe and Washington met him before the recess, when it was implied that the result of the discussions would be given to them before Parliament reconvened? We have not yet been told of the decision, and that is causing many people great anxiety. When will he tell us?

Sir George Young

I recognise the need to reach a decision soon, and I hope that we can do so in the very near future. I can confirm that the continuing high level of unemployment in the northeast was a reason put forward for the continuation of the corporations. Ministers will certainly take that into account.

Dr. Cunningham

Does the Minister not recognise that to abolish the new town corporations in the northern region would be a hammer blow? Has not that area recently been further damaged by losses of jobs in the shipyards on Tyneside? Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise the role played by the Washington development corporation, together with local authorities, in bringing Nissan to the northern region? That is the sort of point that we w ant him to take on board. It would be devastating for the region if it lost those development corporations.

Sir George Young

If we had pursued the wind-up dates set down by the Opposition, one of those development corporations would already have ceased to exist.