HC Deb 02 December 1998 vol 321 cc818-39

11 am

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay)

Having begun life as watering holes for the wealthy, many of our seaside towns first developed with the coming of the railways. Their greatest expansion came when workers won rights to annual holidays. Seaside resorts were the perfect destinations for a week of rest and relaxation. They have depended on tourism ever since.

Over the past 30 years, the type and number of holidays taken has changed. In the mid-1960s, the majority of people took one holiday a year in the summer months, when factories and other large employers closed for a week or two. Most people had a week's holiday at the seaside, because foreign holidays were beyond their purse. Many holidaymakers would travel by train, although increasing numbers arrived by car, often exhausted after a long journey on congested roads. The activities available to holidaymakers were more limited than they are today. Sitting on the beach, walking along the prom and taking in a show were the normal holiday activities.

The number of days of paid leave has steadily increased and the disposable income of many families has risen. A massive overseas package tour holiday industry has put foreign holidays within the reach of most of the population. Fortunately, many people take more than one holiday a year. Their main holiday may be abroad, but second and third holidays are usually taken in Britain. The number of second holidays taken as short breaks has grown by 50 per cent. in the past five years.

With the development of the motorway network, the car is often the easiest way to travel to a destination in Britain. People can now travel further for day breaks or short stay breaks. They can also return home more quickly, which has reduced the number of overnight stays, particularly when the weather turns nasty.

The seaside towns of Britain can be found all around the coast. Despite being miles apart, in most cases, they share similar characteristics and face similar problems. They fall into three broad groups: heritage coast areas, traditional seaside towns and smaller seaside towns. Heritage coast areas are highly valued for their amenities and have developed seasonal leisure industries and various alternative life style enterprises, together with holiday homes. Traditional seaside towns dominate their area and date from the 19th century or earlier. They are characterised by a large elderly population and higher than average deprivation. Smaller seaside towns are similar to traditional seaside towns, but the main resorts are less dominant in the area and there is a larger rural hinterland.

There are many measures of deprivation, including unemployment, children in poverty, housing, amenities, overcrowding, educational participation and attainment, benefit dependency and crime rate. The traditional seaside towns have some of the worst figures in the country, but the smaller seaside towns have some of the lowest levels of deprivation.

The difficulty in trying to assess the problems of seaside towns is that the areas are often characterised by a mix of deprived and affluent areas. The districts of Brighton, Bournemouth, Great Yarmouth, Hove, Thanet and Torbay are all among the 20 per cent. most unequal in England. In such cases, it is clear that pockets of deprivation are being concealed by their proximity to areas of affluence. My constituency contains five of the 12 local authority wards in the south-west that have been classified as deprived. I shall concentrate on the large, traditional seaside towns, such as my constituency, because they are the areas with the problems that the Government have overlooked.

The typical seaside town is a high retirement area, with the majority of its inhabitants being economically inactive. There will be above average levels of unemployment and below average levels of income. Poor housing and crumbling assets typify most, but not all, seaside towns. However, all have to cope with the consequences of global warming and are on the front line in the battle to prevent coastal erosion.

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

Many of the seaside resorts with cliffs and beaches suffer from coastal erosion, but the Government give nothing through the standard spending assessment to cover that. My constituency has 12 miles of sand and sandhills, most of which is a site of special scientific interest. The lack of Government funding to help cope with that is another nail in the coffin of seaside resorts.

Mr. Sanders

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The standard spending assessment does not take into account the year-on-year work of local authorities in protecting their coastline. Only when there is a major natural disaster does the Bellwin scheme come into effect. All local authorities in seaside areas have to dig ever deeper into their budget to cope with such problems. The Government do not give the necessary support for that.

Seaside towns are end-of-the-line towns—places that people go to for what they offer rather than to get somewhere else. The exceptions are some, but not all, ferry ports and some south coast towns on major east-west road routes. However, even those towns share the characteristics of the others and suffer from the same problems, although less severely.

Seaside towns could be described as 180 degree local economies, whereas inland communities are 360 degree local economies. They have hinterland on only one side, while the sea faces them on the other. Those with the most severe economic difficulties are, inevitably, a long way from the main centres of economic activity and are geographically on the periphery.

Many seaside towns are a mixture of urban and rural, deprived and affluent, residents and visitors. Their main industry is tourism, which is one of the fastest-growing economic activities in the world—but not, sadly, in our coastal tourist resorts.

Some 38 per cent. of British residents opting to take their main holiday in Britain choose a traditional seaside destination. The market is worth an impressive £4.2 billion. In 1996, more than 110 million day visits were made to the UK coast. The number of visitors has declined, but figures for their expenditure show a real-terms rise over the past 10 years.

However, that is only part of the story. The figures do not separate tourism spending in seaside resorts from the growing number of inland attractions and markets across England. They do not recognise the fact that local tourist spending does not stay in the local economy because of the growth of nationally owned entertainment centres, pubs, hotels, retailers and superstores, where once locally owned businesses rang up the tills.

Meanwhile, overseas tourism has grown and grown. Although there is little that we can do about the British weather, we should look again at the other problems that go against the seaside holiday as opposed to a foreign holiday. Many of our larger resorts are doing that—bringing in investment to new or renewed attractions, investing in improved bathing water standards, raising standards of service and accommodation, finding and winning niche markets. Most of all, they are diversifying their local economies—or perhaps I should say that they are trying to diversify them.

Diversification has become crucial. Little more than one third of holiday expenditure by the British stays in Britain. Since 1980, the figure has fallen by 50 per cent. At least one foreign holiday a year is the norm. Official figures show that, of 46 million people from Britain travelling abroad in 1997, 29.1 million said that their reason for travel was for a holiday. Most people live closer to their regional airport than to a seaside coastal resort.

The market that remains brings problems, particularly in the 1990s, when tourism is seasonal and changing. The seasonal nature of tourism affects many of the employment problems in seaside towns. Casual labour and part-time jobs are available during the short, and shortening, summer season. During the rest of the year, unemployment is widespread. Those seaside towns that have managed to get into the world of business travel have enjoyed one of the biggest growth areas in the British tourism market. However, even those towns holding conferences, exhibitions and trade fairs have bridged only a small gap between the summer and winter months and remain over-reliant on tourism.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

On the extensive market in business tourism, is my hon. Friend aware of the considerable discrepancy in Government grant aid to Wales, Scotland and England? Government grant aid per head of population is 25p for England—the figure shows no sign of increasing—whereas it is £4.81 for Scotland and £6.36 for Wales. That discrepancy, which is likely to increase after devolution, will make it extremely difficult for seaside resorts such as Newquay in my constituency to market new facilities.

Mr. Sanders

My hon. Friend's figures speak for themselves. The West Country tourist board is today holding a reception in the House to re-emphasise the fact that there is a disparity between England and the other parts of the United Kingdom in the amount of money that can be spent on promoting tourism.

Tourist accommodation has also changed. The market has moved from guest houses and small hotels, which used to be locally owned—and so were re-investors in the local economy—to caravans, camping and holiday homes; the bulk of visitors' spending money now ends up in the tills of superstores, whose profits do not necessarily find their way back to the local economy.

The traditional bucket-and-spade seaside holiday is not in decline, but people can now travel by air to resorts in Europe, in Florida and further afield, which, given our climate, has led to a decline in the number of people who holiday in our coastal resorts. Although the number of visitors continues to be impressive, their lengths of stay and real spend—the amount of money that stays in the local economy—is in decline, which has been as devastating to the economies of seaside towns as the closures of large factories or plants are to inland local economies. The difference is that, for seaside towns, the decline has been occurring over 25 years rather than in one hard blow. The implications are the same; the difference is that there is no specific Government help or support.

Most of the larger seaside towns have to deal with a market that is in decline. There is an over-capacity in tourist accommodation, but owners of hotels and guest houses cannot obtain planning permission to change the use of their properties. To satisfy their lenders, they are forced into a tariff war with their competitors, charging rates that minimise profit margins. Some turn to longer-term occupants on housing benefit, which changes the nature not only of their business but increasingly of the streets in which they are based.

The number of housing benefit claimants increased nationally by 27 per cent. between 1988 and 1995, yet that figure is dwarfed by the increase of between 80 and 100 per cent. in seaside towns such as Torbay, Blackpool and Scarborough—I notice that the hon. Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn) are in the Chamber. That increase is the result of an inadequate housing system and a decline in the number of bed-and-breakfast customers.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a wholly new dimension to that problem in my constituency, particularly in Teignmouth? People are applying for change of planning use on their properties so that they can attract the refugees from Europe. Are not the implications for the social and financial structures of the area so great that the problem cannot be left in a vacuum? The Government must make a public policy decision to determine how to cope with those pressures in constituencies such as mine and his.

Mr. Sanders

I agree. The problem confronts a number of constituencies such as Thanet and others on the south coast, although it is beginning to affect the south-west.

Housing can be a huge problem in seaside towns. My local newspaper recently published a report headed "Low pay, high home prices", which described the terraced cottages with damp streaming down the walls, the impossible-to-heat bedsit under the eaves of draughty Victorian villas, the three-bed semis with rotten window frames hanging by a thread". A survey into the state of Torbay's housing stock found that almost 3,600 dwellings were unfit for human habitation and 8,300 households were in need of essential repairs. Too many grotty bedsits and flats are hiding behind the affluent image of the Victorian seaside hotels and villas. Exactly the same picture can be found in Brighton, Margate, Hastings and any number of similar resorts. That is a consequence of changes in the tourism market and the Government's failure to recognise our special problems.

The housing that has been built is out of the reach of the two thirds of would-be movers who earn less than £12,500 a year, which is not enough to get a first-time buyer's mortgage on a terraced house in my constituency. We must consider giving local authorities more powers to require developers to build properties that match local needs. Money for the most deprived areas of seaside towns could be raised through charging second home owners the full council tax.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

The hon. Gentleman has referred twice to Thanet and once to Margate, which I represent. He will understand that those towns have a particular problem with asylum seekers, which my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) mentioned, and with dole-on-sea claimants. One of the reasons for the problem is that, as the hon. Gentleman said, not enough money has been spent on refurbishing property. Does he agree that there is a case for a strong policy to enable small guest house owners and hoteliers properly to refurbish their properties and to turn them back either into single homes or into flats? That would mean that they did not have to let them to economic migrants but could let them as good, affordable housing.

Mr. Sanders

I agree. Part of the problem lies in the fact that VAT is levied on renovations but not on new build. Planning law needs major reform; local authorities must have greater powers in determining what can occur. As the hon. Gentleman may know, grants for renovation are available in Scotland and Wales but not in England.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

I share Torbay with the hon. Gentleman and represent half of it—

Mr. Sanders

Twenty-five per cent.

Mr. Steen

The best 25 per cent., if I may say so. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned second homes, but less than 3 per cent. of homes in the area are second or holiday homes. Is not the problem the 90,000 new houses that will be built in Devon, which the Liberal Democrat county council and the Liberal Democrat unitary authority are supporting? That development will bring 30,000 further households into Devon, but the hon. Gentleman has not mentioned it.

Mr. Sanders

I am not sure that that has anything to do with the problems of seaside resorts. The figure approved by Devon county council is substantially less than the figure that is being imposed by the Secretary of State, so the hon. Gentleman's complaint should be addressed to central Government, not to the local authorities. Perhaps he will join the Liberal Democrat campaign for numbers to be locally derived rather than imposed from the centre, as happened under the previous Government, too.

Unemployment in seaside resorts remains higher than the national average. The United Kingdom average was 4.7 per cent. in October, yet the rate is well above that in many seaside towns—8.7 per cent. in Grimsby and Brighton, Pavilion, 7.9 per cent. in Great Yarmouth, 7.2 per cent. in St. Ives, 5.7 per cent. in Cleethorpes, Scarborough and Whitby and 6.6 per cent. in my constituency of Torbay. Those figures are only slightly lower than those for the inner cities; in some cases, they are higher.

Seaside resorts have a large elderly population, which is in many ways an asset—elderly people contribute to voluntary organisations, clubs and societies that would collapse without them. However, the numbers have effects for which local authorities, businesses and health and social services cannot compensate. A large proportion of the elderly population are on fixed incomes—which, in real terms, are declining incomes—so the amount of money circulating in the local economy is suppressed. The extra pressures on local health and social services are not fully compensated for in Government grants and the jobs associated with caring for the elderly are poorly paid. As the number of retired people is expected to increase over the next decade, the Government need to deal with those issues.

Fundamentally, the seaside towns' problem has been that although they have had to promote tourist attractions in the most positive manner to win their annual influx of visitors, it has been a veneer. In economic terms, the truth is that all large seaside towns hide severe problems behind a facade of palm trees, flower beds and smiling, happy holidaymakers. The Government must realise that resorts have specific problems that must be addressed.

In the past, Governments in Europe have recognised declining and restructuring traditional industries, and have funded inner cities and rural areas to assist their economic regeneration. However, new tourism markets have developed which, in most cases, have won some of the business that traditionally came to resorts. We have had a double whammy. Our economies have been in decline because of overseas competition while Europe and the UK Government have funded other areas and made them into our competitors.

My local authority is organising a conference next week, backed by the British Resorts Association, titled "Resorts—Sunset or Sunrise?" It will be tourism-related, but local authority representatives from across the country will be discussing the common problems faced by resorts, what they can do collectively to improve matters and what the Government and Europe could do to assist. This is a timely conference because, in a recently published UK nomenclature of units of territorial statistics—NUTS III—gross domestic product rankings list, with which the Minister will be familiar, four of the worst 11 districts were traditional large seaside resorts. I have no doubt that the conference will call for our special problems to be recognised by the Government, and for tangible support to help the economic regeneration of coastal resorts.

We do like to be beside the seaside, we do like to be beside the sea. Our resorts are still wonderful places to visit and holiday in. In fact, they have more to offer the visitor today than ever before. However, for people who live in resorts all year round, there is a sense that economic prosperity has passed them by, that other areas with similar problems receive assistance and that we must be thankful that we live on the coast—as if that were compensation for the poorer and declining quality of life faced by my constituents, and those of many other hon. Members. It should not be this way, and I urge the Government to give us the recognition and the support that we deserve.

11.22 am
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders), not only on securing the debate—which is, as he said, timely—but on the incisive and comprehensive way in which he presented an analysis of the problems of seaside towns.

The crucial point on which to start is that such problems are, to a large extent, problems in common. Since becoming a Member of Parliament, I have met local government representatives from other seaside towns—as well as from my own—and I have found that many of the problems, such as those caused by high mobility and a transient population, are shared. In future, local authorities in seaside and coastal areas may find it more fruitful to network with authorities that are geographically more disparate than their closer counterparts inland but which have broadly similar problems.

We are discussing a long-standing problem. I have referred on another occasion to Dean Acheson's comment about Britain having lost an empire but not yet found a role. That comment dates from the era of Suez, when many of the problems of seaside towns that the hon. Member for Torbay articulated began. We are not looking at a problem that suddenly appeared, but one which is rather like the veneers on the seaside fronts which have cracked and peeled after years of exposure to adverse elements.

The problems include towns with an aging infrastructure. At the turn of the 20th century, Blackpool invested ambitiously in large building projects. Now, we are paying the price of maintaining them. Other areas with regency or 19th century frontages have similar problems. We have a problem also with the imbalance of accommodation, and the enormous demands in recent years on small guest house and bed-and-breakfast owners to install en-suite and other facilities—mostly without Government support.

We have heard about changing holiday patterns. It is worth saying that seaside and coastal economies are complex, and that many of the employers and activities along the coast which supported and endorsed seaside economies, such as fishing, have also had their problems. They have added to the difficulties faced by seaside towns. As the hon. Member for Torbay and others have said, that has resulted in problems such as the maintenance of holiday accommodation and the growth of unlicensed houses in multiple occupation. In turn, that poses a threat to the attractiveness of the resorts and to the ability of hoteliers to maintain their properties.

The impact on public health has not been appreciated fully. In a town such as Blackpool—this can be replicated in many other places—the combination of an elderly population with young, transient, larger-than-average people coming to look for part-time work, often with young children, adds to the pressures and strains on local health authorities. Another problem may be particular to Blackpool—due to the large number of visitors we get—but may be shared by other resorts. It is, simply, the number of holidaymakers who have accidents—mostly minor, but some major—and who then become a strain on the local hospital and health services. No account is taken of that when budgets are allocated.

I have referred to the need to recognise the problems created by high mobility and a transient population in seaside towns. Those should be reflected more positively when standard spending assessments are considered—particularly the pressures placed on social services and education. One must consider how we define such problems, and the hon. Member for Torbay put his finger on it when he said that those of many seaside towns are a complex mixture. The way in which current statistics are compiled is not always helpful to seaside towns when pressing their case.

One specific example is the impact of the travel-to-work area. My constituency has a number of people employed by British Aerospace at Warton. That expands my local travel-to-work area to take in parts of Lancashire and parts of the Fylde area which have low unemployment. As a consequence, the statistics for the Blackpool travel-to-work area are not indicative of the levels of deprivation and the problems in the town centre. I hope that the Office for National Statistics will take that into account in future.

During the off-season, the central wards of Blackpool can have male unemployment levels of between 12 per cent. and 15 per cent. Female unemployment is lower, but the figures are much less reliable because many women who take on part-time work during the season do not register when the season ends. Many people who live in seaside towns, are particularly badly off in terms of car ownership, and therefore depend on public transport. Blackpool, for example, has the lowest level of car ownership in the north-west.

I am describing a combination of problems of decay and neglect, but there is one common theme; to use the cliché of the moment, we require joined-up thinking from the Government. The problems of seaside towns must not be seen as merely problems for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but as problems that must be addressed by all Departments. That is one of the reasons why I was particularly pleased to get the social exclusion unit from No. 10 to visit Blackpool recently to look at a range of problems.

No matter how much money, effort and enthusiasm are put into the promotion of tourism in our seaside towns, it will be as nothing unless we get the basic infrastructure into a shape that is satisfactory to residents as well as attractive to visitors.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

As a Blackpool Member, would the hon. Gentleman agree that his plea for the Government to consider fully the town's problems has been more than adequately dealt with by his party, which has kicked Blackpool in the teeth by no longer holding its conference there?

Mr. Marsden

It is a shame that the generally high tone of our debate has now been lowered to a partisan level. We have every confidence that our conference will return to Blackpool in the near future. The reason why we could not go to Blackpool goes to the heart of some of the difficulties that we are talking about: there is a problem with the infrastructure of the Winter Gardens; many seaside towns suffer from decaying infrastructure. It ill behoves the hon. Gentleman to make such partisan points, when his party slashed the English tourist board's budget by about £8 million, introduced crippling interest rates in the early 1990s and produced the recession that put many small hotels and bed-and-breakfast accommodation out of business.

The Government are making progress; they must produce a stable economic framework and infrastructure for seaside towns. Most important, over the past 18 months, they have taken tourism seriously and have recognised that there is a problem. The tourism strategy will be produced towards the end of the year.

There are difficulties with seasonal employment, and the Department for Education and Employment has addressed them, but I believe that seaside towns will benefit economically from many of the Government's measures, and especially the new deal, which the British hospitality industry estimated could create between 7,000 and 10,000 jobs in the leisure and tourism market. If that can be achieved, along with the increase in quality that I believe the national minimum wage will help to ensure, we will begin to make some progress.

Much remains to be done. Hon. Members will be well aware that coastal pollution must be tackled. The problem is complex, involving not only the discharge of untreated sewage. Consumers must not be hit by water companies with the full increased costs that will be incurred. We must also improve public transport links to seaside towns—as the hon. Member for Torbay said, we are out on the periphery—and it is important to revitalise the hotel and business stock.

The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) referred to some of the problems with asylum seekers and refugees, and I hope that the matter will be taken up with the Home Office as part of an overall strategy. It would certainly help if the Government considered sympathetically the possibility of abolishing the single room rent for under-25s, which has a serious effect on small businesses and hotels employing young people during the season on relatively low pay, because when the season ends their income drops considerably and the hoteliers and guest house owners are faced with a terrible choice: to take an enormous drop in income from rent or to put the young people out on the streets.

The Government should consider revising business rates in the light of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions consultation paper. Many small businesses in seaside towns feel that they suffer disproportionately under the present regime, and a system whereby a tranche of turnover was exempted, or with a low band, would undoubtedly be beneficial.

The new opportunities fund offers possibilities. If it can help to renew green-field areas, perhaps it can do the same for sandy ones. One of the problems with seaside towns is that they have a great mass of infrastructure which is essentially aesthetic, designed to attract visitors. Piers, arcades and other such structures do not get the funding that they deserve.

It is good that from 1999 the European Union structural funding will take on board the possibility of helping seaside towns. We in Blackpool have been fortunate enough to benefit from single regeneration budget funding, and I recently opened a high-quality foyer house in multiple occupation in the centre of the town. That is precisely the sort of project for which SRB funding should be used but, as the secretary of the British Resorts Association said in his excellent paper on coastal resort regeneration, Regrettably, access to SRB funding is severely limited. Few resorts currently qualify for assistance and where they do, tourism related issues often fail to be recognised as meeting the socio-economic criteria necessary to access funding.

Mr. Alan Campbell (Tynemouth)

Is my hon. Friend aware that, according to House of Commons Library figures, less than 5 per cent. of the money allocated by the previous Government in SRB rounds 1 to 3 went into coastal towns, and less than 3 per cent. in round 4? Does he agree that that says a great deal about the previous Government's lack of support for coastal towns, and that it would be helpful if the Government were to consider including coastal towns specifically in future SRB guidelines?

Mr. Marsden

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that information into the public arena. It is extremely important for those criteria to be taken on board in SRB bids. The new regional development agencies could take on board not only the particular problems of seaside towns but the contributions that they make to rejuvenating wider areas and acting as a magnet for employment. For example, Blackpool undoubtedly acts as a catchment area, bringing people in from the wider area of Fylde; Brighton and Hove perform the same function for east Sussex; and there is a similar effect in north Wales.

The RDAs must take on board the strategic need and consider the whole question of structural funding. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Torbay gave a plug for the conference that will address some of the issues next week.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

Clearly, some of the hypothecated funding can be useful, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that seaside towns such as Worthing and many others depend mainly on the funding available to their local authorities and county councils? Is he as apprehensive as I am that the rate support grant to be announced later today will draw money away from seaside towns and put it into inner cities? Will not that be more damaging than the possibilities offered by the single regeneration budget?

Mr. Marsden

I do not have a crystal ball, so I cannot say what the announcement on the standard spending assessments will contain. Whatever the outcome, it is important that we all recognise that many of the problems that seaside towns face, the hon. Gentleman's constituency among them, are replicated in inner cities.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

The hon. Gentleman should examine the record. He suggests help for the south-west in places such as Weymouth and Portland, but he should ask the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) about that. The hon. Gentleman was the only Labour Member in the south-west when the previous Government gave help to those areas, and he was embarrassed when the Labour party voted against it.

Mr. Marsden

I can only speak for myself, but I would never be embarrassed by any help given to Blackpool, provided it came from a legitimate quarter. It is clear from the debate that seaside towns face complex problems, and we need a holistic response. The Government have made a useful start, and I praise the work of Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, especially the new Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting, who has taken an energetic approach to the issue. I urge the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning and his colleagues to carry through that joined-up thinking into the various initiatives that we need to consider. Most seaside towns made their mark at the end of the 19th century by a combination of enlightened municipal government working with dynamic local entrepreneurs. That buzz and excitement can be recaptured, but that requires the support, backing and understanding of central Government.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I remind the House that this is a relatively short debate and a number of hon. Members wish to catch my eye. Unless contributions are brief, several hon. Members will be disappointed.

11.43 am
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) on raising an important issue and doing so in a non-political way. I had hoped that that was how we would approach the matter, but we heard a silly comment from the hon. Gentleman who is wearing a red tie and sitting beside the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden)—[Interruption.] I am told that I mean the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), but I have never seen him before. He said that, under the Conservatives, the amount of money given to seaside towns was low, but that was because of the rules on travel-to-work areas, not the nasty Conservative Government.

My constituency of Southend-on-Sea is a lovely place to live. The Government put the borough forward for assisted area status, which was unfortunately turned down by Commissioner van Miert, who cut 10 per cent. off the Government's applications, because our unemployment rate was based on travel-to-work areas. The Government then advanced parts of Southend for what are called objective 2 grants, but that application was turned down by Commissioner Millan on the basis that Southend was not an industrial town. If the hon. Member for Tynemouth considered the issues instead of trying to make silly, critical points, we might be better able to help the seaside towns.

We must consider carefully five points that are common to seaside towns. The first is that of jobs. In Southend, where I have lived with my family for 18 years, we have high unemployment. In one ward, Milton, in the centre of town, the unemployment rate is 25 per cent., compared with the national average of 4.7 per cent. In my constituency as a whole, unemployment for men is more than 10 per cent. Other seaside towns also have high levels of unemployment, whether under Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat Governments. However, the crucial point is that almost all seaside towns are part of larger inland areas in which unemployment levels are much lower. The seaside towns are denied benefits and grants because they are in travel-to-work areas and thus eliminated from consideration. I hope that this Government, and future Governments, will consider the possibility of making grants available to areas smaller than travel-to-work areas. It is scandalous, and contrary to common sense, that areas with high unemployment cannot be considered for help because of the rule on travel-to-work areas.

I am sure that most people in Southend-on-Sea, which is represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) and myself—we always agree on everything—would be glad if all subsidies could be stopped tomorrow, but we object when massive amounts of cash go to areas with far lower rates of unemployment and fewer problems. In Southend, we often debate the Hertfordshire problem, and the boss of the local further education institution has terrible rows with me on that issue. He says that we must live in the real world and employ consultants to try to get money from every source possible. He points out that Hertfordshire people are very clever and get massive grants for deprivation and unemployment although there is hardly any in the area. He says that we should learn from that and start making our case properly. However, my point is that—if we are to have grants, subsidies and such things—we should reorganise the system so that seaside towns with areas of high unemployment can be considered.

The second common point is social problems. The Minister of State will be aware that Southend-on-Sea has a happy council. The Labour party and the Liberal Democrats have a majority of one over the Conservative party, so the situation is tight. A few weeks ago, the majority parties had to close three of our old folks' homes—not because they wanted to or because they are nasty socialists or nasty liberals but because we do not have enough cash to keep them going. In the local hospital, the use of many beds is blocked, because the council cannot afford to provide accommodation in retirement homes. Seaside towns face a concentration of social problems that are not taken into account in the financing of local government. As the Minister of State will be aware, other areas dump their social problems in seaside towns such as Southend, because we have a lot of bed-and-breakfast accommodation and houses in multiple occupation. That means that we have more than our share of social problems. Our local director of social services has told me that we are still short of £2.5 million for our budget this year. That is not because the council is stupid or corrupt, but because we have a larger concentration of social problems. I hope that the Minister will bear that point in mind.

The third problem is transport. Because seaside towns tend to be at the end of the line, they also tend to be left out of road programmes. If the Minister of State visited Southend, he would see that we have horrendous traffic congestion. One large area at one end of the town, Shoeburyness, has many employment problems. Two major sites are being made available by the Ministry of Defence for development, but it is difficult to arouse interest in the properties because it is very difficult to get out of Southend from Shoeburyness. In the rush hour, it takes 40 minutes to do so and at other times it takes 25 minutes. I hope that the Government will realise that a bypass, for example, would make a dramatic difference to towns at the end of the line, such as Southend. Governments of all parties tend to concentrate on the centre of England, and of Scotland, and they do not bear it in mind that seaside towns have particular problems.

Fourthly, I want to refer to regional government. Southend has had the pleasure of escaping from Essex county council because we felt that Chelmsford was too far away. Although Chelmsford has a superb Member of Parliament, we felt that the council did not take our interests fully into account. We were happy to establish an independent republic of Southend-on-Sea, although, sadly, it is not outside the Common Market.

Having escaped, however, we resent the fact that, without people noticing it—which is the saddest fact of all—a new regional government system is being established. Our regional centre will be based in Cambridge, with a massive, costly structure. I constantly receive lots of paper—invitations to dinners, lunches, meetings, conferences—listing lots of things that regional government will be interested in doing. I believe, however, that regional government is being imposed simply because the European Union wants it throughout its whole area. That is sad and costly nonsense. I hope that the Government will carefully consider what good regional government can possibly do, not only for seaside towns but for other areas.

Finally—I have taken just over six minutes, Mr. Deputy Speaker—the Government are having a wee think about the lottery. We are distressed about the lottery. Southend has the longest pier in the world, of which we are very proud. It has a superb train, and it is very exciting to look at it. Yet the ridiculous lottery keeps giving lots of money to clapped-out piers on the basis that they are of historical interest. I am sure that there are some exceptions to that, but Southend objects strongly that although our pier is a sound, going concern, nothing seems to be done for it.

Southend is a great place to live, and if the Minister doubts that, he can read the figures published by the Department for Education and Employment yesterday, which show that our education results were 2.5 per cent. above the English average, despite our serious unemployment and deprivation. We are proud of that, and of many things in Southend. If the Government must keep establishing new organisations and giving out subsidies, they should let us have our share, although we should be happier if there were no such subsidies at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I can assure Labour Members that that would be good for us.

Southend has achieved a great deal of which the town is proud. I hope that the Government will bear in mind that it, like other seaside towns, has high unemployment, a concentration of social problems and serious transport problems that are not being taken fully into account. I hope that the Government will approach those problems not by blaming the previous Government, or by saying how wonderful they are themselves, but by taking serious, urgent and sensible action, as proposed by the hon. Member for Torbay in his excellent speech.

11.53 am
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)

I shall start with an advert for Cleethorpes. Everyone else has been advertising their resorts, so I should advertise mine. Cleethorpes is a wonderful place with many amenities. We have a great theme park and one of the largest caravan parks in Europe. The Greenwich meridian runs through the town, although we are not putting up any dome. There is a pier, a steam light railway, a prom, amusements, a wonderful discovery centre, sands, waters that have been given a clean bill of health, and Grimsby Town football club. We also have the best fish and chips in Britain. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] They are absolutely the best.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting visited the town over the summer to see our facilities, and to learn of the problems facing Cleethorpes. She met owners of guest houses and people who provide the amusements in order to find out what the Government can do to assist them. I can echo what other hon. Members have said by saying that as people come to Cleethorpes—mainly from South Yorkshire—they often do not see what lies behind the fun, the amusements and the prom. There are severe pockets of deprivation in the area.

Cleethorpes is part of the same urban area as Grimsby, which has one of the highest structural unemployment levels in the United Kingdom. In the North East Lincolnshire council area, deprivation is severe, and is worse than in some of the former mining communities of south Yorkshire, which provide most of our visitors. However, the size of the area, and the fact that there are affluent areas on the fringes of Cleethorpes, mean that the deprivation is largely masked. It is concentrated in only a few wards, but, as other hon. Members have said, that hidden deprivation must be addressed.

We must reconsider both standard spending assessments and all the employment problems that impact on seaside resorts. Cleethorpes is part of the same urban area as Grimsby, and the decline in the fishing industry there has had a severe impact on the area. However, the problems are more complex than that. North of Grimsby, and within the constituency of Cleethorpes, though not the town, there is a booming industrial area on the banks of the Humber where there are chemical firms, power stations and oil refineries. That, too, has an impact on our travel-to-work area, and on our unemployment statistics, so that our severe problems are not recognised.

I recently came across another quirk in my area's funding. As far as the Home Office is concerned, Cleethorpes is not a resort. There is a pier, there is water and there is sand, but we are not a resort, and we cannot, therefore, have funding to cope with the big influx of visitors who come weekend in and weekend out, and throughout the summer. That must be reconsidered. I have been given no adequate explanation of why Cleethorpes is not regarded as a seaside resort, although it is, by some quirk, considered to be on the Humber, and to be an estuary resort because there is a bit of fresh water coming into it. That is a pretty tenuous explanation. We still host the same number of visitors, and that problem ought to be addressed.

Most of the resorts that have been mentioned so far are much bigger than Cleethorpes, and they have the benefits of larger hotels and conference facilities. Cleethorpes has none of that. We cannot rely on conference trade to boost the town, and we have had to be somewhat more imaginative in promoting the resort. Things are not all that bad because we are using money from the Government, from Europe, from the council and from business. We have turned round the decline previously experienced in Cleethorpes. For about five years, there has been a lot of investment in the town.

I pay tribute to North East Lincolnshire council for its innovative work with industry on the Humber bank to create and to fund new attractions, such as the discovery centre, which has an observatory overlooking the Humber from where one can study wintering birds on the estuary. That new attraction has taken off, echoing developments in the Victorian era when councils and entrepreneurs joined forces, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) said earlier. I would like to see much more, however. Lottery funding has been mentioned, and, although Cleethorpes and Grimsby—with four recent winners—seem able to be home to people who win the lottery, the picture the other way round is different. Can we get any money out of the lottery for the town? No, we cannot. We have put in bids to regenerate the marketplace in Cleethorpes, but they have been slapped down time and again. We do not have regency terraces, and the resort is both small and more working class than others, but the marketplace still has architectural merit. We seem to be overlooked repeatedly. Awards to our part of Lincolnshire are among the lowest in the country. I shall be approaching the Minister to find out whether a lottery development worker could come to the area to see our problems, instead of simply refusing our bids out of hand.

I should like to see a change in the way in which we promote our resorts. When I go abroad I can purchase an integrated ticket which provides me with accommodation and travel, and sometimes includes entry to museums or vouchers for meals. It is very difficult for somebody coming to Britain from abroad to purchase such a ticket. That is a disincentive to people from this country as well as to overseas visitors. As I have said, Cleethorpes attracts many people from south Yorkshire so we should be trying to promote Lincolnshire resorts in the cities of that county in an integrated way.

The ferry from the Netherlands docks in Hull, just on the other side of the river from Cleethorpes, but it is rare for any people from the Netherlands to come into the resort. When I visited Thorpe park recently, which is one of the attractions in Cleethorpes, it boasted that this year it has had its first Dutch visitor. As I have said, hundreds of people from the Netherlands come off those ferries daily, but they simply bypass our seaside resorts.

12.1 pm

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

As time is short, I shall restrict myself to one substantive point. I commend the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) for choosing the subject and for the way in which he introduced it. I also commend him for his professionalism in avoiding the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). It was an excellent speech.

Throughout the debate we have heard a great deal about the changing holiday patterns at seaside resorts and the fact that, behind the facade, there can be areas of real commercial and private deprivation. As a result, in Teignbridge, to my certain knowledge, there has been at least one application in recent days—I suspect that there will be others shortly—from those who have owned hotels, care homes or the like and who are now seeking planning permission to make them centres for refugees from Kosovo. Anybody who sees what is happening on the television or reads about it in the newspapers cannot help but feel great sympathy for refugees from any country. However, I am here to speak on behalf of the people of Teignmouth, not the people of Kosovo.

The people of Teignmouth are gravely worried that a substantial change in the social patterns of the town are taking place in a way that has not been planned and which, to be fair, was not intended by anyone. I can understand why somebody might see a perfectly legitimate commercial advantage and seek to exploit it, but when refugees are brought in like that, we do not know about their status. We do not know whether they are economic refugees or genuine refugees. Whatever they are, there will be a substantial demand on local resources. It will make a difference to education, social services and housing. That is a whole new subject area that must be considered by the Government.

The problem is that, as in so many things, the Government ape our rhetoric on immigration but, in reality, the Labour party does not find it easy to bear down on immigration. Therefore, it does not find it easy to face up to some of the social consequences. Because of that, I have already written to the Deputy Prime Minister. I did not criticise the Government for not having anticipated the problem as that would be unfair and unhelpful. However, it is fair to say—I said it to the Deputy Prime Minister and I say it to the Minister today—that, even though it is not the Government's fault that this situation has arisen, it is up to them to find a solution. Even if the Minister cannot respond to me today, I hope that, if he will not adopt my words, he will at least acknowledge that there is a problem and accept that it requires some substantive thought from the Government.

I shall end on that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I said that I would restrict myself in accordance with your strictures. Also, even though you are not the same Deputy Speaker who said that short speeches would be appreciated, I hope that you will feel able to note what I have said and to note in your book that, when I am called, I really do comply with the request for short speeches. I hope that that will be borne in mind for the future.

12.6 pm

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

I made an earlier intervention about beaches and I want to follow that up by relating what happened when I visited Sellafield. I am talking on behalf of resorts in the north-west, stretching from Cumbria to Wilfra power station on the isle of Anglesey. A few years ago I visited Sellafield unannounced and, while standing on top of the old Magnox reactor, I asked how much radioactive material was pumped into the Irish sea. A member of the management told me that it was a very small amount compared with about 40 years ago. That radioactive material is still in the Irish sea. All the beaches along the coast from Cumbria down to Wales are washed by the Irish sea.

Our council in Sefton, which covers Southport, asked the Government at that time for some money to monitor the beaches to find out whether there was any radioactivity. The answer from the Government was no. However, councils should monitor their beaches throughout the year. Some councils did that and I believe that our council managed to do it with about £8,000. That figure has now been slashed under the standard spending assessment. Perhaps today we will hear more about the SSA and be able to get that money back.

I hope that the Government will consider the fact that, in the north-west, and probably on the Welsh beaches, there is a problem from 40 or 50 years ago that needs to be dealt with. Some councils are aware of it and many have information on it. It is very serious. Since that earlier visit to Sellafield I have been back on other occasions and, although I have asked similar questions, I have not received the same answers.

I want just one more plug. My town of Southport has diversified. We have many conferences and a great shopping area. In Lord street there are many individual shops. The shopping areas that have grown up around Southport are beginning to pull away some of the strands from the private shopping area. I ask the Government, as did the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden), to look at the business rates, especially those in seaside resorts and in areas with individual shops.

12.8 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) on initiating the debate. As the Liberal Democrats support the Labour Government, I hope that they will listen to his words.

I was a little apprehensive about speaking in the debate because I do not want Southend to become known as an economic blackspot. Many Londoners regard Southend as the finest seaside resort in the country. I have only represented part of the town since 1 May 1997. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) has represented the other half for a great length of time. Coming to the town new, I was somewhat surprised at the seriousness of some of the social problems. That is why the local authority, which is a combination of Labour and Liberal Democrats, has produced a nine-point plan, all of which I support. We feel that we should make Southend's voice heard.

If tourism is seen to be a serious matter, it is disappointing that, during the first 18 months of the new Government, there has been no debate on it. It is appalling that the Labour party is no longer holding its conference in Blackpool. If Blackpool is good enough for the Conservative party, it is surprising that it is not posh enough for the Labour party. That is very damaging for seaside resorts.

As I have said, we feel that Southend's voice should be heard. We want the social problems to be addressed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East has said, we have much higher unemployment than other parts of the country. We feel that the town should be supported as a family destination. It is very close to London and we are blessed with beautiful coastal views, which have inspired so many artists in our town.

We need more support to deal with the skills shortage in Southend. We want to promote the town as a sub-regional shopping centre, and we ask for the Government's support in that. We want to promote inward investment and the development of sites that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East mentioned earlier. We want to improve transport links for the borough. There is not enough imaginative use of the River Thames.

We want to promote partnership working and attract national and European funds. Earlier this year I met the commissioner who has responsibility for those matters. Whatever questions I asked, I was told to work with the Government in promoting grant aid to the country, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East has said, for many reasons we do not qualify.

Southend is a wonderful seaside resort. I am delighted to say that Southend parks department is now in the international finals of a gardening competition, and I hope that the UK, represented by Southend, will win. On Friday in my constituency, thousands of people attended the switching on of the lights in Leigh-on-Sea, and that is a very attractive part of the town. I do not want to disagree with the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), but Southend and Leigh-on-Sea have the finest fish and chips in the world. We undoubtedly have the finest ice cream in the world. That comes from a company that is run by a Rossi.

Southend-on-Sea has a great deal going for it, but in the past 18 months the Government have not taken seriously enough the many social problems articulated by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East. I do not want to be churlish, but I hope that when the Minister replies, he will consider favourably the calls from my hon. Friend and myself to support Southend.

12.12 pm
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) on initiating the debate and giving us the opportunity to discuss the important issue of serious, significant problems for the seaside holiday sector of the tourist industry.

We have heard speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House who all have the distinction of representing seaside holiday towns. I suspect that only the Minister and I do not share the honour of having a seaside town in our constituencies, although I am told that maps and reports reveal that if global warming continues at its current rate, it is only a matter of time before we have Chelmsford sur la mer, rather than in the middle of Essex.

It is fortunate that my county has, as demonstrated by the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), a number of popular holiday resorts, including not only Southend and Westcliff but Frinton and Clacton. I see that the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Henderson) is in his place.

There are problems in such towns throughout the country. It is interesting to place in context the events of the past quarter of a century which have accentuated the problems that are now so acute in many of those towns, as highlighted in hon. Members' speeches.

There has been a significant increase in the business of package holidays abroad. Packaging the cost of flights and accommodation abroad allows many more people to leave this country for warmer climes to go on holiday. I suspect that one of the major incentives that caused those numbers to rise to today's levels was the abolition of exchange controls in 1979. That not only meant that more people could afford to go away because the increase in volume brought down prices through economies of scale, but enabled people more easily to spend more money abroad.

As the hon. Member for Torbay said in his opening remarks, just under four out of 10 holidays in this country are taken at seaside holiday resorts, although that is worth a significant £4.2 billion. The figures also reveal that 18.5 million holiday trips are taken to the seaside in England in a year, generating the not inconsiderable sum of £3.2 billion. However, seaside towns and the domestic tourist business are becoming more and more dependent on the home market. Less than 5 per cent. of people who come to the UK for a holiday go to a seaside town. Those towns are sustained and supported by a narrow base of visitors compared with the potential maximum.

The rosy, picture postcard idea of holiday resorts is in many cases, sadly, no longer the reality. Hon. Members have spoken of many problems, including those of housing stock and infrastructure vis-a-vis transport. Those towns are unable to compete, through no one's fault, because the UK's climate is not always conducive to people spending their holidays and their money here. If one wants two weeks of almost guaranteed sunshine and warmth, one does not choose Britain every year. If this summer was anything to go by, I am fearful of what will happen next year because many people do not want to sit on a windy promenade in drizzle or pouring rain when they could be using their bucket and spade on the Costa del Sol or in other parts of the world.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Would it not be a good idea for the Prime Minister to spend a week of his holiday in a British resort? Perhaps he could draw by lot if he does not want to come to Worthing. For him to take his holidays in other countries is a slap in the face to our seaside towns.

Mr. Burns

My hon. Friend makes an extremely cool intervention. I hope that the Prime Minister pays attention to that point. Although my hon. Friend has plugged his own constituency, Conservative Members believe that the Prime Minister is free to choose to spend his time with his family in one of the many holiday resorts in this country.

The issue of asylum seekers was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and for North Thanet (Mr. Gale). Asylum seekers and social security claimants are increasingly moving to seaside holiday towns, using their accommodation and causing ensuing problems. As my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge said in his excellent speech, nobody blames the Government for that, but it is important that the Government treat it as an urgent matter and come up with constructive ways to alleviate the problems experienced by my hon. Friends' constituents.

I want to raise two economic matters that adversely affect many seaside towns and which were not mentioned by Labour Members. The first is the impact of the high pound on the tourist industry in this country, including holiday seaside towns. People who might otherwise choose to spend their holidays in this country are discouraged by the disproportionate cost compared with earlier times when exchange rates were not so high. The second point is the minimum wage, which will adversely affect many hoteliers and businesses.

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Burns

No, because I want to leave the Minister enough time to reply.

The minimum wage will adversely affect the tourism industry in particular. I wonder whether the Government fully appreciate what the impact will be, not only on the industry, but on employment levels.

Mr. Quinn

And disposable incomes.

Mr. Burns

The hon. Gentleman mentions disposable incomes. When the minimum wage is introduced and we witness its impact on the tourism industry in the form of job losses, it will not be warmly welcomed. The hon. Gentleman's remarks may not be as popular then as they are now.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East mentioned the problem of higher unemployment rates, especially in the winter months—because, of course, the tourism industry is largely seasonal—for people living in those towns, and the strains and problems that it imposes on communities.

I could say much more, but I should allow the Minister to answer—as I hope he will—the points that all hon. Members have made in this important debate.

12.21 pm
The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning (Mr. Richard Caborn)

It has been an interesting debate, to say the least. I remind the slightly more right-wing Conservative Members who represent Southend that, before the past 18 months, their party was in government for 18 years. In the debate, they probably asked for more handouts for Southend than were asked for by all my hon. Friends put together—and the Conservatives are the ones who do not want subsidies. When the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) reads Hansard tomorrow and reflects on his speech, he will see that he has gone against everything that he has preached in the House for the past 20-odd years.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) on securing the debate. I know that the issue of economic problems facing seaside holiday towns is close to his heart. I was extremely grateful to have the opportunity on 8 October 1998 to visit his constituency, where I saw at first hand the problems confronting Torbay, and discussed with a wide range of stakeholders in the area possible pathways out of those problems. The hon. Gentleman might have mentioned the fact that I visited Torbay that day, as I believe that I did so at certain people's invitation.

I know from my visit that Torbay council is very concerned about European structural funds, and has a keen interest in assisted area status. When I visited Torbay, I heard the unfortunate announcement of the partial closure of Nortel's plant, which, obviously, will have a considerable impact on unemployment in the area. We should remember that changes in the structures surrounding seaside resorts may have devastating consequences.

The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) showed that the Government are trying to deal not only with the symptoms, but with the deep-rooted causes of problems. We believe that it is important that town centres are vibrant and active. That is why, in our planning regime, on PPG6, we have taken a tough line on the application of the previous Government's planning guidance. We want to ensure that town centres return to life, and we believe that retailing is one of the driving forces of that process.

I assure the House that, on PPG6, I shall take a very tough line on applications outside towns and cities. That imperative was brought clearly to my mind in relation to Torquay, and Torbay generally. Unless that issue is addressed correctly, it will be difficult to achieve the other structural changes that the hon. Member for Torbay mentioned.

We want competition in town centres, and we shall take into consideration some of the arguments that have been made about rating regimes and grant regimes, to ensure that we achieve what we call the "urban renaissance". That applies as much to seaside resorts and town centres where tourism is important as it does to other town centres.

We have embarked on root-and-branch reform of the land use planning and transport planning of this country. On 14 January 1998, I issued a document on the modernisation of planning. We are systematically considering every part of the land use planning structure in England. Part of that document, on which we have widely consulted, is on regional planning guidance. It is important that we achieve the overview that is necessary to link spatial, land use and transport planning, and we are doing so by strengthening regional planning guidance. It will not be a top-down process; it will be very much bottom-up.

At this moment, in the south-west, those issues are being discussed with local authorities; they will then be discussed by the south-west regional planning conference. A strategy will be developed, which, I hope, will be submitted to public examination later in the year—probably, in the autumn. That will give the opportunity for people to factor in their concerns on transport, spatial or land use planning issues. I hope that the results will be positive.

Questions have been asked on household growth. To hear them, one would suppose that the Government were bringing about increases in population or making social changes; they are not. As has been said many times from this Dispatch Box, solutions must be found to the problem of household growth. We want to plan and manage, not "predict and provide". The regional planning conferences will address those major issues when they hold public hearings in their regions.

In September, I launched the bidding guidance for round 5 of the single regeneration budget. We believe that to be an important instrument for tackling social exclusion and promoting equality. I changed the guidance and, I hope, steered it towards need and away from the fairly crude competition that had prevailed. I also instituted a division in the SRB. Eighty per cent. of it will go to the major deprived areas—about 65 local authority areas, identified using the four deprivation measures of the 1998 index of local deprivation.

In September, we also said that we would tackle pockets of deprivation in other areas, especially in coastal towns. Twenty per cent. of the SRB—a spend of about £3.8 billion over the next three years—has been made available for that purpose. Local SRB partnerships were invited to submit by last Friday initial bids for funding—known as expressions of interest—to Government offices for the regions. I am pleased to say that 44 of those bids include proposals for regeneration of seaside towns. I understand that one of those bids is for regeneration in Torbay—an area that the Government office for the south west highlighted in the SRB round 5 regional framework.

Mr. Nicholls

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Caborn

I shall not give way; I have only two minutes to go.

Mr. Nicholls

On asylum seekers.

Mr. Caborn

I believe that the question on asylum seekers was answered by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when he made a statement to the House, either last week or earlier this week. Unfortunately, I was not in the House at the time. If hon. Members want to take that matter up, it would be far better for them to take it up with the Home Office.

Round 5 of the SRB has been restructured, and we want to ensure that it is targeted on the areas that have been highlighted in the debate.

Scathing remarks were made about the regional structure that the present Administration will introduce. I remind the House that we are introducing the regional development agencies because not one region in England outside London is performing, in wealth creation terms—in gross domestic product per capita terms—to the level of the average of the European regions. If wealth is not created, it cannot be recycled—in a seaside town or elsewhere.

Business-led boards of 12 people will consider structural weaknesses, in terms of wealth creation, in our English regions, including seaside towns. The boards will consider the underlying problems of the United Kingdom, and England in particular. That regional structure will at least fill the policy vacuum, ensuring that we can create wealth much more effectively than hitherto. That is the legacy of the past 18 years. We have tried to rectify it in 18 months.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)


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