HC Deb 07 July 1998 vol 315 cc843-5
1. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

What plans he has to assist the regeneration of peripheral areas of the country. [47619]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Angela Eagle)

May I extend to the House the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and my hon. Friend the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning for their absence today? As you know, Madam Speaker, both are abroad on official business.

A Bill to introduce regional development agencies is being considered by Parliament. Those agencies will play an important role in stimulating new economic growth while tackling the effect of industrial decline in all areas of their regions.

Mr. Blizzard

Does my hon. Friend accept that peripherality is a major factor which affects economic under-performance and competitive weaknesses in certain parts of the country? I believe that that fact is recognised by the European Union. Does my hon. Friend accept also that peripheral areas are sometimes forgotten by those at the heart of government? Will she consider that point when making appointments to regional development agencies? Bearing in mind the fact that the Department is integrated, does she agree that one of the best ways of assisting peripheral areas is by improving transport links, thereby making them less peripheral?

Angela Eagle

On my hon. Friend's latter point, the Government have clearly already made a start with the rural transport money announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It will have a big effect in rural areas that have been cut off as a result of the deregulation of buses perpetrated by the previous Government. The Government recognise that peripherality can be a significant factor in creating economic difficulties. For that reason, we have negotiated with the European Union to ensure that it gives sufficient recognition to those points in its on-going review of European Union structural funds.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Will the Government be minded to introduce an element of rurality as well as peripherality? By wiping £100 million off this year's budget for shire counties, is the Minister doing anything to improve the circumstances of rural, as opposed to urban, areas?

Angela Eagle

I disagree with the hon. Lady's view of local authority funding. It is clear that rural areas have particular needs. That is why, through the creation of regional development agencies, we intend to ensure that rural and urban development issues are dealt with strategically.

Mr. Stephen Timms (East Ham)

Does my hon. Friend accept that parts of the Thames gateway might be properly regarded as peripheral? Will she reaffirm the Government's commitment to regeneration of the Thames gateway area? Given that the Thames gateway is divided between three regional development agencies, will she consider the proposal that one agency should be designated with a lead responsibility for that whole area?

Angela Eagle

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his creativity in framing that question. I agree that the Thames gateway is an important area for regeneration, but I will have to think carefully about designating a lead agency. Sub-regional and cross-RDA boundary regeneration projects, such as the Thames gateway, can continue within the new structure. I envisage that the Thames gateway will be successful through real partnership, rather than through one RDA taking the lead. I should like to see the Thames gateway initiative taken forward in partnership, with agreement and co-operation.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay)

Will the Minister please distinguish between economic peripherality and geographic peripherality, as some areas in United Kingdom cities can be economically, but not geographically, peripheral? Will she also consider the question of peninsularity, where the problems of peripherality are compounded?

Angela Eagle

I do not think that I should even try to say "peripherality". Clearly, however, rurality and peripherality are important points. I think that the hon. Gentleman should congratulate the Government on their recent success in securing NUTS 2 status—the nomenclature of units of territorial statistics—for Cornwall as an economically peripheral area.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)

Does the Minister agree that the vigorous pursuit of a sustainable energy policy could make an important contribution to the dispersal of economic activity and prosperity to peripheral regions? As for bio-energy and energy crops, is there not an important opportunity now for policies to be put in place to encourage their development? Would that not help the agriculture sector and would it not be good for jobs and economic prosperity? What discussions is the Department having with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to put policies in place to ensure that these developments can take place to assist rural areas?

Angela Eagle

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the potential of biomass and crops as forms of sustainable energy. One of the core functions of the new regional development agencies will be sustainable development. The Government are considering how best to achieve and improve on the renewable energy resources targets set down by the previous Administration. There is a cross-departmental view, because of issues such as the non-fossil fuel obligation, which helps to ensure that energy generation on the edges of economic viability can be developed.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk)

Does the hon. Lady believe that the regeneration of peripheral areas is assisted by the Government's policy of granting planning permission to build on green-belt land in areas such as Sussex and Newcastle?

Angela Eagle

I congratulate the right hon. Lady on her creativity in putting that question. As has often been said from the Government Dispatch Box, the issues of planning, housing and the green belt have been dealt with in reviews of planning guidance in the Government's determination to ensure that they devolve decision making to a level where it is most obviously appropriate for these difficult issues of future planning of housing to be dealt with.

Mrs. Shephard

I thank the hon. Lady for that attempt to reply. It is important for peripheral areas, however they are defined, as well as for the rest of the country, that the Government should come clean on their policy for the green belt. Does the hon. Lady accept that, until they do, their position is as defined by the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning, that the green belt is "up for grabs", or by the comments of Mr. Derek Draper, that the green belt is just a … bunch of mud tracts at the edge of town"?

Angela Eagle

I should like to point out to the right hon. Lady that there is more green-belt land designated under this Government than was ever designated previously. Moreover, we shall achieve our targets for building on brown-field land, unlike the previous Administration, which achieved only 42 per cent. during their all-too-long tenure of office.