HC Deb 07 March 2000 vol 345 cc855-6
9. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

What his strategy is for the regeneration of coastal towns. [112181]

The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Ms Hilary Armstrong)

We are already addressing the needs of coastal towns through the single regeneration budget, the assisted areas map and European structural funds, and regenerating seaside resorts is a high priority in our tourism strategy. Our rural and urban White Papers, to be published later this year, will set out our policies on regeneration for towns, cities and rural areas in England, including coastal towns.

Mr. Blizzard

Much has been made of the so-called north-south divide, but do not the league table of unemployment in travel-to-work areas—which shows that most of the top 20 are coastal towns—and new indices of deprivation that highlight poverty in coastal towns point to a coastal-inland divide? Does my right hon. Friend recognise that poor transport links to coastal towns make them even more peripheral? Does she accept that improved road links to Lowestoft in my constituency are needed to integrate it into the transport system and successfully regenerate the economy?

Ms Armstrong

My hon. Friend makes the point well and reinforces the Government's policy of governing for the whole country, north and south, east and west and coast to coast. That means that we take seriously the problems in coastal towns, and we seek to ensure that we co-ordinate policies across the board, so that the community as a whole will benefit. That of course includes a determined, robust integrated transport strategy.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I am glad that the right hon. Lady mentioned the integrated transport strategy, and I certainly agree that the issues faced by coastal areas are very similar to those faced by inland areas. Will she nudge the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), thank him for agreeing to come to Weymouth in my constituency in June or July to see the brown route and mention to him how important good roads are to visitors to a seaside town and to the general population? I hope that the right hon. Lady will tell us that the Government will stop dragging their feet on giving funding for the brown route.

Ms Armstrong

I have every confidence in the ability of my right hon. and hon. Friends to deal with these issues as they have undertaken to the House that they will do.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

I regret to tell the Minister that my constituents and I have no great faith in the Government's strategy for regenerating coastal towns, in the light of the announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister that the Oban coastguard station is to close. That means the loss of 21 jobs and, more important, the loss of local knowledge in that area, which we hope to build up to attract tourism, with increasing maritime activity. I hope that the Minister will persuade the Deputy Prime Minister, who gave us considerable support before the election for the retention of the coastguard stations, to look again at the recommendations of the Transport Sub-Committee and at all the representations that were received, and to reconsider that extremely damaging decision.

Ms Armstrong

I understand the hon. Lady's concern in respect of her constituency, but she knows that the decision arose from a commissioned report from Lord Justice Donaldson. The Government implemented his recommendation.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

I draw the Minister's attention to the fine detail in the recent Cabinet Office report on social exclusion, which points out that many coastal towns in west Wales, such as Borth and Cardigan in my constituency, have a level of deprivation equivalent to that in inner cities. How will she ensure that such areas can get the maximum benefit from objective 1 funding in the comprehensive spending review? Will she fight for additionality for coastal towns along the west Wales coast?

Ms Armstrong

Hon. Members are being very inventive in their questions today.

We have addressed the needs of coastal towns, whereas the previous Administration simply ignored them. We are determined that coastal towns will share in the country's increasing prosperity. We shall do what we can to tackle social exclusion. With regard to objective 1, the hon. Gentleman knows that we are working with the authorities and bodies concerned to ensure that the system is fair to the whole country and that local authorities in Wales can play their part in the objective 1 project.