HC Deb 26 October 1999 vol 336 cc794-5
3. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

What support he plans to give to the regeneration of coastal towns. [94211]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Beverley Hughes)

We are working with the relevant national, regional and local bodies to identify and address the problems faced by coastal towns. Today, I placed in the Libraries of the House a list of the areas that include coastal towns that received funding under the fifth round of the single regeneration budget, and a list of coastal towns that are included on the proposed European structural funds map. As my hon. Friend knows, it was this Government who included coastal towns for the first time as a specific priority in SRB round 5.

Mr. Blizzard

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and congratulate her on her appointment to the Front Bench.

People in my constituency are delighted that, this summer, the Government awarded the coastal town of Lowestoft assisted area status and European objective 2 designation. We are already in receipt of single regeneration budget money, and this new status will give a huge boost to the regeneration projects. Has my hon. Friend noticed that almost all the 20 travel-to-work areas with the highest unemployment in England are coastal towns? In view of that, would she consider including in the forthcoming urban White Paper a special section on coastal towns, so that the problems faced by those communities can be addressed by an overarching Government policy?

Ms Hughes

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. I pay tribute to him for what he has done to raise awareness of the needs of coastal towns. The urban and rural White Papers will mark an important step in our commitment to dealing with issues that affect competitiveness and quality of life in towns, cities and rural areas. In developing both those White Papers, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wants to ensure that different areas have a place in those wider strategies. We recognise that coastal towns have specific needs, which will be addressed in the White Papers.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

I join the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) in welcoming the Minister to her new position. Does she appreciate that, in many coastal towns, considerable investment in coastal defences is required to enable realistic regeneration? Will she join me in expressing sympathy for the victims of the flooding in the past few days, especially in Sussex? Will she give a clear commitment to providing the funding needed by the Environment Agency and others to upgrade and update coastal defences along our coasts?

Ms Hughes

I am pleased to acknowledge the important work of local authorities in response to the flooding, and I am sure that they will make every effort to meet the needs of their local communities. The hon. Gentleman will know that an element in the standard spending assessment takes care of coastal defences. However, I am well aware of the problems that those communities are facing, and they may want to talk to us about larger measures needed in response.

In their strategies, regional development agencies and regional bodies will consider the overall need to strengthen defences. It is worth noting that the Tories have set their face against that important regional mechanism for identifying priorities.