§ 3.38 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTER OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (LORD HASTINGS)
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to refer to the statement being made at this moment by my right honourable friend, the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs, in another place. This statement deals with the provision of land for housing for Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, and recalls the Minister's earlier references to the urgent need to increase the rate of slum clearance in these three cities, when he 1263 said that the authorities could assume in making their programmes that the land would be available.
The statement goes on:
"Bigger programmes are planned and the Government have been reviewing the land prospects. First, Birmingham and Liverpool: The Government have now decided themselves to make a substantial contribution by proposing the designation of two new towns, one at Redditch, for Birmingham, and the other at Runcorn, for Liverpool. The intention would be that at both places there should be expansion to about 70,000 population, but if there are objections they will be heard at a public inquiry before a final decision is made.
"These proposed new towns would do much to improve the prospects. They would provide for private development as well as public development. But the needs of both cities are so great that they can be met only by a comprehensive programme involving, as well as new towns, the intensive redevelopment of cleared sites within the cities, some building on nearby land, and greater progress in town expansion schemes. Both the City Councils are willing to co-operate in such a comprehensive programme. In particular they will reinforce even more the efforts of smaller towns to expand by drawing population from them.
"My Department will be especially concerned to help forward the town development schemes at Widnes, Elles-mere Port, Daventry and Worcester. It must be some time before large numbers of houses could be built in the proposed new towns, and it may be that still more land will have to be found in the meanwhile to enable the slum clearance programmes to be accelerated to the highest practicable level over the next few years. With this in mind I am considering whether any modifications are needed in Lancashire County Council's proposals for a Merseyside green belt, and I shall shortly discuss this with the County Council.
"In the case of Birmingham I am asking the City Council to examine whether there is need for still more 1264 land to sustain their programme. I am suggesting to them that if there is they should consult with their neighbouring county councils about finding it and should then put proposals to me as necessary.
"Manchester: The City Council have pressed on me the case for a new town to meet their needs. The Government accept that in spite of the efforts which the Council are themselves making at Westhoughton, and elsewhere, Manchester's housing programme will need further development on the scale of a new town. But a suitable site, or sites, will be difficult to find in this area, and I propose after further investigation to consult with the local authorities about it. While, therefore, the Government accept the need, they have as yet no specific proposal to make. In the meantime, the Government look to Manchester to press ahead with town development schemes at Winsford, Macclesfield and Crewe. The City Council will also need to consider, in consultation with the county councils, whether further residential land ought to be allocated in the years immediately ahead.
"The sum of these proposals for the three cities should, together with the new towns at Skelmersdale and Dawley, which have already been authorised, cater for their land requirements until the 1970s. The longer-term needs of the Midlands and the North-West are now being studied by my Department, and I expect that provisional conclusions will emerge later this year. But it is clear that the proposals that I have announced to-day are both necessary in themselves and will fit into the long-term plan."
That my Lords, is the end of the statement.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I especially welcome the belated conversion of the Government to the policy of new towns as a solution to the overspill problem, but I am bound to say I am disappointed at the smallness of the effort. These two new towns will not go very far towards solving the problems of Liverpool and Birmingham, and the Government will have to go much farther afield to provide an effective answer to the problem. Furthermore, they have even now not 1265 found a solution to the Manchester problem. I remember that fifteen years ago there were several areas where it would have been possible to provide new towns, and if the; noble Lord would like to have a statement about that I shall be very glad to give it, to him. I hope that the whole matter will be debated in the near future and also that I shall be able to take an active part in that debate.
This statement says nothing about the high and increasing cost of land. Perhaps it is not appropriate to make it in this statement, but it is a very important factor and I hope the Government have it in mind, because it is going to make the cost of new towns exceedingly expensive.
There is one sentence I should like the noble Lord to explain because it does not seem to me to make sense, but that may be because I am not yet fully recovered. It is the sentence which reads:In particular they will reinforce even more the efforts of smaller towns to expand by drawing population from them.How you cause a town to expand by drawing population from it I do not understand. Perhaps the noble Lord will explain.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to take this opportunity, since it is the first occasion when I have heard him contribute to our discussions since his return, to say how very glad we all are on this side of the House to see him. I would fully agree with the first part of what he had to say: that a very great deal more will have to be done and there will need to be Parliamentary discussion about it. This, however, was a limited statement and I will leave my noble friend to reply to the noble Lord's limited points.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I would, if I may, add my own sense of pleasure on the noble Lord's return. I think that the last time he spoke was when he was asking an Unstarred Question to which I had the honour to reply.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his general welcome of the statement, although it was rather qualified in some respects. Of course, the question of the case for new towns is very much in the 1266 mind of my right honourable friend, but we can hardly expatiate on that now. The noble Lord perhaps did not quite appreciate the fact that this is, as I said, a comprehensive plan not only limited to new towns, and that we think the land requirements have been looked after by the general plan I have just outlined well into the 1970s. But the general reviews for the Midlands and the North-West should be available during the course of this year and we should get a good deal more information as a result of those reviews.
In reply to the noble Lord's single question, I quite realise there is room for misunderstanding in that particular phrase. What it means is that the City Councils of Liverpool and Birmingham are willing to co-operate and to reinforce their efforts to induce and help the smaller towns to expand by drawing population from themselves—perhaps it should be "from Liverpool and Birmingham".
My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord's remarks in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, back, and at the same time support him in the way he took this statement. It refers, of course, only to those three vast cities which were mentioned in another place. I would ask the Minister whether attention is equally being given to smaller places which, nevertheless, proportionately have very much the same sort of problem. The second question, if I may put it, is that I notice there are possible proposals for modifying the Merseyside Green Belt. May we have the Minister's assurance that this will be done with extreme care in this very much built-up area of England where green belts seem to be particularly necessary; and that this will not be encroached upon more than is essential?
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, in the noble Lord's first question I take it he is referring to towns in other areas, not merely in the North-West and Midlands, and that, of course, is very much in mind. But these particular areas seem to have the most urgent problem at the moment. All areas are being reviewed and there will be long-term planning resulting from the reviews. In reply to his second question about the Merseyside Green Belt, I would say that in these areas actually there are no approved green belts yet, but 1267 only proposals for green belts. In respect of the Merseyside one, a public inquiry has already taken place and the inspector's report into Lancashire's proposals for a Merseyside Green Belt are before my right honourable friend. Objections have been put forward by the city of Liverpool, and in the case of modifications being made by my right honourable friend there may well have to be a further public inquiry. The noble Lord can rest assured that great care is being taken in this matter. It is a very large Green Belt in this area, comprising some 100,000 acres, and the area in dispute, one might say, or rather which forms the subject of objections by Liverpool amounts only to 700 acres.