HC Deb 19 February 1986 vol 92 cc301-3
4. Mr. Lawler

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what new proposals he has for regeneration of the inner cities.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

The Housing and Planning Bill was given a Second Reading on 4 February.

Mr. Lawler

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the £100 million underspend on urban development grant during the past three years represents many wasted opportunities for redevelopment of the inner cities? Will he pledge that the allocation will not be cut next year, but that officials will assist and encourage local authorities and other organisations to seek out more eligible schemes, especially in those areas, such as Bradford, which were excluded from the recent policy initiative?

Mr. Baker

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is regrettable that in the first two years of the urban development grant there was a slow take-up, to which the Select Committee has drawn attention. I have no doubt that UDG is an excellent type of grant, and it already supports 146 projects, involving £330 million. Bradford has benefited by about £5 million. I have seen the large derelict site in the middle of Bradford—a dump called Listerhills—and proposals are coming to me about it.

Mr. Robert Sheldon

Has the Secretary of State read the 10th report of this Session of the Public Accounts Committee, which shows that the urban programme has not been spent up to the limit agreed by the Treasury for each of the past three years? Is that not wrong and, indeed, disgraceful? What is he doing about it?

Mr. Baker

I am trying to ensure that we spend up to the limit. I have read the report, which is an interesting and useful contribution to the debate. I attach considerable importance to the urban programme. Where we have underspent on UDG, I have allocated it to, for example, development corporations and derelict land grant.

Mr. Heddle

As a high proportion of the buildings in inner cities are derelict, obsolete or under-utilised, will my right hon. Friend seriously consider redirecting part of the urban regeneration grant, which the Housing and Planning Bill introduces, and which Conservative Members welcome, to revitalise buildings as well as the land on which they stand?

Mr. Baker

The powers of grant that I am taking in the Housing and Planning Bill will allow me and other Ministers a considerable degree of flexibility in devising ways of supporting the inner cities, whether for land or for buildings. I am sure that money spent on the reclamation of derelict land in our cities is money well spent.

Mr. Cartwright

Does the Secretary of State accept that in the United States urban regeneration bonds offering tax free interest payments on long-term investments have been extremely successful in attracting private capital into declining urban areas? Will the Government use a similar incentive to attract much-needed private investment into our inner cities?

Mr. Baker

I am not particularly attracted by the advantages of industrial revenue bonds. The Federal Government in America are now moving to withdraw them. Our grants, the UDG and derelict land grant, and the new powers that I am taking under the Bill give Ministers the instruments to assist in the regeneration of cities.

Mr. Lyell

Will my right hon. Friend study carefully the evidence of large acreages of unused and derelict land in the hands of local authorities and the Property Services Agency, and the unused and empty dwellings in the ownership of local authorities? Will he do everything that he can to ensure that they are sold to the private sector, so that private capital can be introduced to make a profit in the inner cities?

Mr. Baker

My hon. and learned Friend makes a good and fair point. We now have the registers of under-used and derelict land, and my predecessor and I have issued a number of directives about the disposal of that land. When there is a problem in housing and inner city regeneration, it is wrong that land should lie idle, especially land held and owned by public authorities.

Mr. John Fraser

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, in real terms, there will be no increase in financial assistance to the inner cities in the next financial year, and that he is now subordinate to an unelected member of the House of Lords regarding the development of inner city policy?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman is referring to the pilot studies in eight areas, which I fully support. They are directed at unemployed young people, and he should be sufficiently broad and wise to support those initiatives. I am anxious to make as many resources available as possible. I must find ways of attracting more private sector money into the cities.

Mr. Steen

Will my right hon. Friend avoid being drawn by the Opposition into competing in seeing how much money each side can pour into the bottomless pit of the inner cities? Does he agree that pouring more public money into the inner cities will not solve the problem?

Mr. Baker

It depends on how it is spent and how it is used. If the money is spent on the regeneration of workshop units, on regenerating old houses and warehouses, and on bringing life back to the cities, I believe that it will be money well spent.