HL Deb 01 February 1972 vol 327 cc779-98

7.50 p.m.

THE EARL OF KINNOULL rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, following the Report New Homes in the Cities, what steps they consider necessary to assist the urban renewal problem facing a number of the major cities in the country. The noble Earl said: My Lords, in raising this Question to-night on what steps Her Majesty's Government now consider are necessary to tackle the problem of urban renewal, which faces a number of our major cities to-day, I am mindful that this issue is both sizeable and complex and not, perhaps, the easiest to cover comprehensively in an Unstarred Question. The size of the issue is such that informed prophets have predicted to me that the problem will be with us at least until the end of this century. It is the framework in which the problem is to be tackled, and the part which central Government, local government, the construction industry, building societies, housing societies, housing associations and other interested partners are to play, which concerns those interested in this problem. It is this framework upon which the success and progress of urban renewal hangs; and it is this framework, and the role my noble friend's Ministry is to play in it, that is the prime purpose of my Question to-night.

My Lords, urban renewal, or in simpler terms modernisation or replacement of older housing areas within our cities, is no new topic, and it has been on or perhaps under the plate of the Minister of Housing for a number of years. It was, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, who in 1968, as the then Minister of Housing, initiated a study on this subject, with specific reference to the role that the private sector could play. This initiative by the noble Lord deserves, I believe, our warm congratulations (and I am sorry that he has not been able to be here to-night) particularly as it recognised the valuable part the private sector could play if allowed to—a view, if I may say so, which was not advocated with any great consistency or enthusiasm under the previous Administration.

As I think all noble Lords who have followed the Report will know, a Committee was set up to examine the problem of urban renewal and to identify the conditions under which private enterprise could participate, and to make recommendations as to any change of policy or legislation that may be necessary. It completed its task and published its Report, which was entitled New Homes in the Cities, last year. It is, I believe, as I am sure other noble Lords will agree with me, a most valuable Report, and spells out the difficulties and realities of the problems that face successful urban renewal schemes. If one was to generalise as to the size of the urban renewal problem facing us in a number of our cities to-day, it would, I believe, be true to say—I am sure my noble friend will correct me if I am wrong—that at least 2 million homes are involved. In the Report, a figure of some 40 per cent. of all our housing stock was quoted as being in need of attention, 12 per cent. of which was virtually slum areas in need of redevelopment. A further 30 per cent, was in need of basic amenities. These figures, one noted, were taken from a sample survey made in 1967.

The latest detailed information on unfit dwellings that I have been able to obtain was the result of a study made in 1965, which showed that cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Salford, Oldham, Blackburn, Bolton, Sheffield. Coventry, Portsmouth and, of course, London all face the problem of major urban renewal schemes. It would be interesting, I think, to learn from my noble friend to-night what up-to-date figures, surveys or information his Ministry have on this particular problem. For instance, has a detailed survey been made since 1965? What are the up-to-date figures on unfit homes and houses? Does his Ministry know what rate of deterioration is taking place in our older housing stock? There is, I believe, somewhat of a dearth of information on these points, and I hope my noble friend has brought with him to-night a bundle of information to illuminate our knowledge on the conditions of our housing stock.

My Lords, the Committee, in their Report, examined a number of formidable problems that face any urban renewal. The three major problems it stressed were: first, the assembly of sites; secondly, the high cost of land, making it virtually impossible for urban renewal schemes to be viable on their own; and, thirdly, the arrangements for redeveloping the sites. As regards the assembly of sites, the Committee came to the conclusion—and I am sure they were correct—that the proper vehicle and responsibility for this was the local authority, who in the last resort had the use of compulsory purchase powers if a scheme was being frustrated; but it reminded us with a caveat that local authorities were occasionally subject to political obstacles leading to the possible freezing of a scheme. Although, of course, political obstacles are not the sole prerogative of local government, the Report's comment, I believe, emphasises the important role the Ministry of Housing must play in future to ensure that real progress is made with urban renewal schemes. It is interesting to note as well that consideration was given by the Committee to the setting up of an independent body, an urban renewal commission, to assemble sites, but that they came to the firm conclusion that such a body would only be duplicating what local authorities could do. This argument, of course, one recalls, was used when the Land Commission itself was set up.

As to the second major problem—the high cost of land the Report stressed that, what with the cost of land—plus the cost of clearing sites and of rehousing people, the total costs made it impossible for an urban renewal scheme to stand viably on its feet; and to overcome this the Committee recommended what they termed a planning loss subsidy, to reduce the initial total costs to a cleared site value, thus making the scheme viable, attractive and interesting to the private sector by way of participation. It is, I think, to the credit of my noble friend's right honourable friend that this recommendation of a planning loss subsidy, which in essence is the central core to a successful urban renewal scheme, has been adopted and incorporated in the new Housing Bill not yet before us. It shows a welcome support to a positive policy of seriously tackling the urban renewal problem. But, having said that, I think it would be widely welcomed by local authorities if, before the new Housing Bill leaves another place, consideration could be given to widening the scope of the planning grants under the Bill and making them, perhaps, more flexible. Whilst one recognises that it is a Housing Bill, one is told that the qualifications of the grant are drawn a little narrowly. In a number of cities where urban renewal schemes may well be considered it is not only the slum areas which are included but the poor housing areas and even the old and out-of-date industrial areas. It would assist urban renewal schemes generally if the planning loss grants under this Bill could cover such situations.

My Lords, the third main problem the Report touched on was the sensitive argument of how in practice an urban redevelopment scheme would be carried out. Would it be carried out by the local authority alone, or would the site be sold as a whole, or in parts, to developers? Or would a partnership be formed between the local authority and the developer? The Report concluded that the most successful method would be to sell to a developer at a full market price, at a cleared site value, subject to the consent of the Minister of Housing and subject to certain time guarantees. Now the framework in which these schemes are to be developed is, I believe, a matter of crucial importance for the successful progress of urban renewal schemes, and I hope my noble friend will be able to comment a little on this aspect.

When public funds are used to reduce the site cost by subsidy payments to a figure that makes development a viable proposition, it will seem hard to certain people—no doubt the local authority councillors—that a developer, with his special skills, should be enabled to make a handsome profit out of the scheme. Whether or not that developer has created a market after taking on a considerable commercial risk may be forgotten in the subsequent argument. If one were to be so bold as to criticise any of the conclusions in this excellent Report, it would be the conclusion that was reached on this single point; because no stress, or insufficient stress, was laid on the possibility of partnership between local authorities and developers. For the aim, surely, for a successful urban renewal scheme is to plan a mixed community, a ratio of residential development including an element of local authority housing, of housing society development for letting and a mixture of private housing development for sale, to give and to retain a balanced environment of the area.

One would hope as well, and without detriment to the scheme, that there would be some element of commercial and industrial development to help subsidise the residential costs. Such a scheme requires considerable skills, experience and vision. I believe that the private sector can offer this. It is both at this stage of the planning of the scheme and its development that I believe the local authorities should get together with developers who could act both as consultants and, subsequently, contractors. By this means, the element of excessive developers' profit could be avoided. I believe it would be to the benefit generally of urban renewal schemes, both in timing, planning and cost, if local authorities could see their way to becoming partners with the private sector.

My Lords, I should like to conclude by asking my noble friend two questions concerned particularly with the welfare of urban renewal. The first is whether his right honourable friend will consider setting u p, in conjunction with local authorities, a number of trial schemes of urban renewal up and down the country in order now to get the ball rolling. I believe that a start now is essential and that whatever influence Her Majesty's Government can bring to bear will be extremely valuable. Secondly, in view of the considerable funds available through building societies, will his right honourable friend consider a change in the law to allow building societies to take a more active part in urban renewal schemes, participating both in funding and the owning of sites? I believe that in a carefully controlled way and with a limited change in their existing rules, building societies could prove of great help to urban renewal requirements. They have shown a very great interest and a wish to do so.

My Lords, I said at the outset that this subject was a rather complex one to be dealt with in an Unstarred Question. I was, of course, reflecting only my own inability and not that of other speakers. I have every confidence that my noble friend, with his usual flavour of conciseness, will strip to the bone the problems facing a successful urban renewal programme, will clarify beyond doubt the Government's intentions, their policy and the part it intends to play. I hope that he will be able to answer the questions that I have put to him; but, above all, I hope that he will be able to express the Government's recognition of the importance and seriousness of the subject which was so clearly emphasised in the excellent Report to which I have referred.

8.5 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Earl for promoting this debate on the Report of the Working Party which considered what role the private sector could play in urban renewal. He put his Question with clarity and pursued it with purpose. With him, I regret that the debate should come at the end of a fairly long day; and I, too, think that probably it is a subject that is not best dealt with by way of an Unstarred Question since there is so much that ought to be said and considered about it. I regret very much that my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale is not here, because I should have been interested to hear what he had to say. The fact that he is out of the country prevents his being here this evening and accounts for my presence at the Dispatch Box.

The Report itself, a fairly considerable document, is very interesting and informative. Our thanks are due to those who prepared it. One of the most challenging and most urgent problems that confronts us is that of urban renewal; and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has given a number of detailed figures in that connection. It involves, inevitably, change in the character of our towns and cities; and although it often means clearance of slum areas, it brings a sense of loss when people who from birth have been integrated with a neighbourhood community are dispersed. We have had many schemes for dispersal, areas of new development, towns designated for overspill populations, places like Haverhill and other towns in East Anglia. I must say that I am mindful of the fact every time I go to such places that there are literally hundreds and hundreds of empty newly-built homes—empty for far too long because of failure to secure the transfer of industry.

I was very interested in the fairly lengthy coverage in yesterday's The Times of what is being aimed at at King's Lynn. The Times' articles yesterday showed how local initiative can face up to development, can plan and can get on with the job. For my own part, I hope that the optimism expressed in those articles indicates that the growth that had been steadily taking place in places like King's Lynn and other expanding towns catering for overspill is about to return. I must say that in this I feel that the Government carry considerable responsibility and cannot avoid that responsibility.

My Lords, many who have moved from areas about to be re-developed have been re-housed in unfamiliar surroundings, and despite the change to a healthier environment it has not always been a change to a happier one. Towns and cities lose sparkle when they lose resident populations which give them life for 24 hours a day; and it is therefore highly desirable when urban renewal occurs that planning for re-housing displaced communities should include some re-settlement or replacement of them within the area of redevelopment. People are the most important element in the composition of a town or city. We have to think of them not only in terms of housing need but in the whole context in which personal relationships are shared and where shared community services are vitally important. So, in planning it must be recognised that housing problems are but a part of urban renewal as a whole and that planning is likely to be all the better to the extent that we are able to involve people and organisations in the exercise of that plan. The aim should be to bring together town planners, architects, social workers, educationalists, community leaders and local councillors to secure their participation in creating a community which will contain people from a variety of walks of life and which will contain the amenities and services necessary for satisfying life.

The terms of reference of the Working Party are set out in the preface of the Report. Because of the lateness of the hour I will not repeat them, but I should like to refer to the fact that in their summary of the main conclusions and recommendations the Working Party say that the provision of land for private housing redevelopment in inner areas should be the responsibility of the local authority, and the Department of the Environment should take responsibility for ensuring that adequate progress is made with private redevelopment. They further recommend (and the noble Earl referred to it) that the planning loss arising from the disposal of cleared sites to private builders should be met in part by ratepayers and in part by the Exchequer.

My Lords, the loss overall is likely to be wide. On that score the whole of Chapter III of the Report deserves close study. I do not know with what favour local authorities would look on the proposal that, having acquired an area for redevelopment and cleared it at a pretty high cost, they should provide from it sites for private development at a substantial loss. But I think I can appreciate the reaction of ratepayers and taxpayers to the proposal that they should bear the loss involved in selling, at far below cost, for private exploitation, land originally purchased for public development.

I would draw attention to paragraph 223 on page 16 of the Report. There the Working Party had in mind that the Land Commission, which possessed compulsory purchasing powers, might be a suitable body to have responsibility for acquiring and holding land until redevelopment was carried out. It occurs to me also that the Land Commission might have financed the operation out of gains made elsewhere. But, my Lords, the Land Commission was one of the first ritual sacrifices, along with the Consumer Council and the Prices and Incomes Board, after this Government took office. It was because the Land Commission was no longer there that the Working Party resorted to the proposals to place the onus of providing sites for private developers on local authorities and the inevitable loss on ratepayers and taxpayers.

May I say, frankly, that I see no good reason why local authorities should do so or why ratepayers and taxpayers should be so penalised. This is an area of activity where local authorities should be free to provide a wide variety of homes within a scheme of urban renewal which would ensure balanced development. I believe that they could provide such a variety as would make for a good social mix. If they were minded in some cases to make sites available to private developers, it ought, I think, not to be on the basis of a sale but rather on long-term lease. I do not favour the sale of land by local authorities for private ownership. I believe that once land has been brought into public ownership it is good policy to retain it, so that any gain that follows from rising land prices accrues to the advantage of the community. If land were leased, instead of being sold, at least it would have the merit of avoiding re-acquisition of the site at some future date when another scheme of redevelopment became due.

My Lords, the introduction of so-called fair rents by the Government does nothing to help the problem of urban renewal. They will have the effect of putting a premium on market values and altogether have a considerable inflationary effect. In saying that I do not forget or overlook that mortgagor owner-occupiers are enjoying a subsidy of about one-third of their interest payments, totalling, in 1971, something like £302 million a year on an average of £60 per mortgagor owner-occupier. I cannot anticipate what reply the Minister will give to the Question. But I feel that the problem which it raises is not one for consideration in isolation. It is bound up in the context of national housing policy and urban renewal generally. However it may be approached, I hope that at least we may avoid what appeared to me the undesirable developments in areas of urban renewal that I saw in Chicago when I visited it last year. I may add that in Indianapolis last year there was an international conference called, "Conference on Cities". I found the report of that conference very interesting reading, and in some degree helpful.

There has been a great deal of talk recently about more freedom for local authorities. Shortly we are to have local government reorganisation, with the creation of larger local authorities. I venture to suggest that it would perhaps be an excellent thing to call those local authorities into a discussion and to have the closest consultation with them that the Government could possibly have. I think that some might wish to undertake urban renewal themselves; and members of local authorities, at their best, and when they give their minds to this kind of operation, can be outstandingly successful. I have in mind the quite remarkable achievement of the old London County Council in creating the finest architects' department in the world, and the Council's outstanding record of house building. Some local authorities might wish to set up a consortium; or it might be that some would feel that there ought to be regional or provincial organisations to consider how this problem may best be dealt with in the area. But, whatever happens, if any question of selling sites at a loss to private developers arises, I hope that a method will be found to recover that loss from the very handsome gains that have been made from land values elsewhere. I repeat, I think that the noble Earl is to be congratulated on having raised this matter, and again I feel it a cause for regret that we are likely to have a somewhat short debate on the Report.

8.18 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in thanking my noble friend Lord Kinnoull for raising the question of urban renewal, because it affects the wellbeing of so many inhabitants of London and other major cities. It is possible to discuss the question in terms of plot ratios, compensation cost, benefit ratios and other esoteric terms in the planning jargon. On the other hand, I should like to look at twilight zones in the housing distressed areas and the educational priority areas in human terms. If we do this, we find that we are dealing with old people living in cold, draughty attic rooms, and with families with children living in cold, damp basements. A proportion of these families are single-parent families, and they are the most vulnerable of all to conditions of housing shortage. Evidence recently given to the London Council of Social Service spoke of the deep misery caused from lack of housing, or poor and inappropriate housing. Surely "deep misery" will be the spur to remove squalor and prevent decay in the inner residential ring of our cities.

We can take action because we care about the quality of family life and the proper growth of children—in short, because we are moved by compassion—or we can act because the cost of doing nothing is excessive. Slum conditions, disrepair, overcrowding, multiple occupation—all these impose immense costs on the health, welfare and social services. No one yet knows the extent of these costs, but they must be very great. The report, New Homes in the Cities, shows that private enterprise cannot by itself solve the problems of urban renewal. Market forces are constrained by Green Belts, by rent control and regulation and maximum permitted densities in residential areas. When market forces do operate, what tends to happen is that executives, young single workers and students push out families and old people because they can pay more for a flat or house. A process known by the ugly term of "gentrification" has been seen to he happening in London. This means that houses that were built, perhaps, for coachmen, or artisans' cottages, are modernised for the affluent middle classes. This is good, it must be said, for the buildings and the environment when seen from the æsthetic point of view, but it can be bad for a balanced community and bad for the original population of an area.

The question that we are faced with is how to bring about the needed renewal. Here I take issue to some extent with the "Neddy" report, and it may be helpful if we turn back to the Report of the Milner Holand Committee, Housing in Greater London. This Committee, in Chapter 5 of their Report, pointed out that unfitness, lack of domestic amenities and bad maintenance were found mainly in the private rented sector, and that these conditions were cencentrated in certain definite parts of London. The Committee went on to say that their evidence showed that: Areas like this called for a drastic and comprehensive attack on bad living conditions, using whatever remedies seemed best suited to the particular circumstances. They might be designated as 'areas of special control'; and some authority might be set up, with responsibility for the whole area and armed with wide powers to control sales and lettings, to acquire property by agreement or compulsorily, to demolish and rebuild as necessary, to require improvements to be carried out or undertake such improvements themselves, and to make grants on a more generous and flexible basis than under the existing law. Many of the necessary powers are already available to local authorities, but they need substantial extension, and there might be advantage in drawing them together in a comprehensive measure which would enable the area to be dealt with in a more flexible manner with due regard to pressure on housing waiting lists, the need to preserve an adequate pool of rented accommodation, and the need of local authorities for space for redevelopment. The Committee went on to say that these suggestions were outside their terms of reference, but they felt that they should be considered at greater length.

Nothing very much happened as a result of these suggestions of this Committee. But the idea did not die entirely. In 1968, Mrs. Rose in a book called The Housing Problem, proposed that authorities with powers akin to those of New Town Development Corporations should be set up to carry out urban renewal within large cities. This idea has recently been taken up again by Mr. George Clark, Director of the Notting Hill Housing Service, and by the chairman of one of the major building societies—I think it was the Abbey National. I urge the Government to look carefully at the question of new institutions to do a new job. I hope they will not say; "Oh, that is the job of the local authority". Local authorities, after all, are political animals; they are not entrepreneurs by nature, and they have a lot to do already. Further more, in London, borough boundaries are somewhat arbitrary and artificial.

The "Neddy" Report shows that more is needed than just general improvement areas. On this point the Municipal Journal for January 21 of this year is quite relevant. The journal discussed the question of general improvement areas, and in an article called "Speculator's Paradise" Messrs. Rayner and Raynsford pointed out: That in areas of acute housing shortage improvement programmes not only tend to change the whole character and class of an area, but they can also create a speculator's paradise, as has happened in two areas of Hammersmith. I hope that the Government will also take note of the remarkable experiment being carried out by the Shelter Neighbourhood Action Project in Liverpool. This project, known for short as SNAP, has taken a tract of Liverpool 8 and is in the process of co-ordinating the work of two housing associations, Liverpool City and the local people resident in the area. It has secured a much greater take-up of improvement grants and real participation by the local inhabitants.

As regards London, I urge the Government, first, to renew their sense of urgency because of the very real and great human misery and need; secondly, to make sure that there are adequate powers to get the job of urban renewal done; and finally, to make it possible for both public and private bodies to take part and for both statutory and voluntary agencies to be involved. Local authorities, public companies, housing associations, housing aid centres and perhaps new purpose-made institutions all have a part to play, and none of them should be excluded if this urgent work of renewal is to be done.

8.28 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to my noble friend Lord Kinnoull for inviting our attention to this Report on the housing aspects of urban renewal. I should like to set it against the background of the Government's broad policies over the whole field. Before I do so, however, perhaps I may answer a couple of the noble Earl's specific questions. He asked me about the involvement of building societies. There cer- tainly has been some thinking by leading figures in the movement about greater involvement in urban development, but we are not aware at the moment that there is any agreed policy by the societies that they want to act in this way. Before the Government form a view on this fairly radical suggestion, we should want to be clear that the building society movement as a whole wanted it. Meanwhile, there could be other ways in which the building societies might be involved, and we are studying that.

My noble friend also asked me about trial schemes. Of course we are keen to see local authorities making full use of the new slum clearance subsidy to which I will refer in a moment, and we recognise the desirability of actual schemes being formulated of the sort mentioned in the Report. But just how much further progress needs to be encouraged will depend on the reactions of local authorities and others to the opportunities afforded by this new subsidy. We shall have to see how we go before I can answer by noble friend more specifically on that point.

The first thing to do now, I think, in the context of this debate, is to ask what is actually meant by "urban renewal". The Working Party began its Report by suggesting that there was general acceptance for a concept of renewal as a continuing process embracing rehabilitation and conservation as well as clearance and redevelopment, all carried out as part of a general plan for the development of each place, including roads, traffic, offices, shops, houses, factories and everything else. It is this overall view of the process of urban renewal that we now stress. I believe that things go wrong if different elements and different emphases get out of balance. The whole matter is, of course, immensely complicated. Our large cities have wide stretches of closely packed housing in various stages of obsolescence—and it is about those that my noble friend Lord Hylton was talking. This fabric is subject to the rising pressures of wider car ownership. The demands of traffic call for positive intervention by local authorities in short-term traffic control, and also for more sophisticated techniques and longer-term planning for road works and the consideration of a renewed total transportation system.

The historic hearts of our cities are subject to huge concentrations of traffic, rapid changes in retailing and a flight of the residents to the suburbs. To cope with all this the local authorities have wide powers. They can shape private development by planning control, manage the traffic, build new roads, clear slums, improve the houses and clear and redevelop whole areas. In all this they are supported by substantial Government grants. But what we must try to avoid are unco-ordinated attacks on separate problems, however acute those problems may be: roads that ignore their effects on residents living nearby; wholesale and abortive attempts at redeveloping town centres; traffic management that disregards the environment, and clearance without regard to conservation. Therefore we talk of the total approach to the renewal of the urban environment, and that is an approach which our integrated Department of the Environment is designed to understand and encourage among local authorities. In the Department we have brought together housing, planning, and transport, both at Whitehall and at our regional offices. So if during the remainder of my speech I concentrate mainly on housing it is not that I see it—nor does my noble friend—as a subject in isolation, but rather because in this total approach we recognise that housing operations are among the main engines of urban renewal; and it is this aspect of the total field to which this Report addresses itself.

Here a great deal has been and is being achieved. The Report points out that, compared with other Western countries, we in this country are well to the fore in the post-war clearance of unsatisfactory housing. Slum clearance, the removal and replacement of houses that cannot be made fit to live in, is a long-established and well understood part of the urban renewal process, and it is certainly the policy of Her Majesty's Government to encourage local authorities to increase their efforts in this direction, particularly in the areas of hous- ing stress, on which my noble friend Lord Hylton rightly concentrated his remarks. It may answer some of my noble friend's questions about the extent of our knowledge of this subject and of the surveys we have, and may also serve to show what progress is being made, particularly in areas of housing stress, if I mentiton just a few examples. Manchester still has 12,000 unfit houses to clear but they are clearing them at the rate of 4,000 a year, and at that rate they will clear them by 1975; the date for Leicester is 1976, and the London Borough of Newham 1977. I think that my noble friend will agree that, rather than give him figures which show the size of the problem to be solved, it is better to look at the date by which the solution will have been reached.


My Lords, may I intervene? Down the years we have always been told that a certain town can be cleared by a certain time. Could my noble friend give any indication of the number of new slums that will appear during that same period of years?


My Lords, I am just coming on to that because, as my noble friend will realise, slum clearance is a policy of last resort and is certainly not adequate on its own. I am talking now about those houses to which nothing further can be done. But it is just as important, as I am sure he will realise, to save those houses that can be made fit and to prevent them deteriorating into slums, thus inflating the already large figures. This is an aspect of renewal which has not been tackled until comparatively recently with the same determination as slum clearance. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Garns-worthy, refer to the values and virtues of this approach but. I am surprised, in that case, that he and his Party did not do more when they were in the position to do so. It has the huge advantage that when houses are improved, the communities living in them are retained and the character of the area is conserved. This, as he rightly and very eloquently said, is a very desirable objective. Local authorities have had powers for many years to make grants towards the cost of improving houses. They received Exchequer assistance in paying these grants and in improving their own houses, but the grants were not large enough to be really attractive and rent control was a strong disincentive to landlords to improve their own houses.

The Housing Act 1969, which was passed by the previous Administration—and I gladly give them full credit for that—introduced the system of grants not only for the improvement of individual houses but also for environmental improvement, through the machinery of the general improvement areas. Ministers in the present Administration have stimulated local authorities to make the greatest possible use of these new powers, and we have run a series of housing improvement campaigns up and down the country, as have a number of other organisations such as the one in Liverpool mentioned by my noble friend, Lord Hylton. Thanks to all that, the results have been really quite dramatic. In 1971, many more grants were approved than in any previous year. The final total was close on 200,000 in England and Wales, compared with 156,000 in 1970. This represents a 30 per cent. increase for 1971, on top of a 45 per cent. increase over the year before; and, anticipating the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, we have in mind a special campaign in Greater London for this spring.

The special higher grants and contributions for a limited period made available in the development and intermediate areas under the recent Housing Act 1971—our own Act—as well as increasing the number of private improvements have also encouraged local authorities in those areas to put in hand the improvement of a further large number of houses. The description in this Report of urban renewal refers to it also as part of a general plan for the redevelopment of whole places. The new development plan system provides a vehicle for local planning authorities to present their proposals in a broader way than in the past—not just in terms of land use but on the basis of physical, economic and social planning. It provides much greater flexibility in the way in which they treat and draw up the contents of their plans. The new system also requires the public to be involved in the formative stage of the preparation of these plans—and again I was glad to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, for this approach. We attach great importance to getting on with these structure plans, and the system is being introduced for considerably more authorities than was contemplated not so very long ago. The opportunity is being created for an increasing number of authorities to tackle their urban renewal problems comprehen- sively by reference to wider issues of strategy, and over a period broadly of twenty years, and over wider geographical areas. This is the general framework that we now work in.

From what I have said, noble Lords will see that the present emphasis of the Government's policy is on rehabilitation by improvement and on a large slum clearance programme. Many people—including this Working Party—feel that the land that becomes available as the result of slum clearance should not necessarily be used for more council housing. I think that perhaps that is not the view which the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, shares. I believe we want to avoid the kind of social stratification and polarisation which follows from clearing large areas and putting nothing but council housing down.


My Lords, if I may say so—and it is simply that I want to keep the Record straight—if the noble Lord will read to-morrow what I have said, I suggested that local authorities could be relied upon to create a good social mix in schemes of resettlement or replacement.


My Lords, I will study the noble Lord's words with care and interest to-morrow. The desire to avoid stratification, whether it is done by mixing the housing or mixing the people in the housing, is a desirable social objective, and it is particularly relevant in our historic towns and centres. The Working Party concentrated their attention on this group of problems. Their main conclusions appeared to us to be that three things seemed to stand in the way of an effective private contribution to the redevelopment process. First, as they point out and is undoubtedly the case, builders do not themselves have the power to acquire and assemble suitable sites. Secondly, the economics of redevelopment are unfavourable and, thirdly, there are special difficulties in marketing new houses in redeveloped areas. They suggested three ways of overcoming these obstacles. First, they suggested that local authorities should use their powers of compulsory purchase to assemble sites; that the Exchequer should share with the ratepayers the burden of what the Working Party called the "planning loss", and that steps should be taken to make the purchase of new housing in redeveloped areas more attractive.

The local authorities have the power to acquire and assemble land in these sites. The planning redevelopment grant provides for the sharing of the cost of any loss on general redevelopment in any area on a fifty-fifty basis between the ratepayer and the Exchequer. But since this Report came out the details of the Government's reform of housing finance have been announced, including details of the new slum clearance subsidy. So far from doing little to help, this subsidy will provide, in relation to slum clearance areas, even more generous financial assistance from the Exchequer than the Working Party suggested. The new subsidy will relieve authorities of 75 per cent. of their burden of any loss that they make in acquiring, clearing and redeveloping slum clearance land, leaving half of the burden that would be left to the local authorities in general development grant cases, and this enables them to put the clear land to the use best suited to local needs, whatever they may be. This opens up a real possibility of securing a mixture of private housing in a new development.

There remains one point not much stressed by the Working Party; that is, the general responsibility on the local authority for the renewing of the infrastructure on any cleared land, such as the renewing of sewers, conserving the character of the area and enhancing the appearance of the whole environment. When all this has been done or undertaken by the local authority—acquisition, assembly, use of planning grant, renewal of the infrastructure, the enhancement of the area, including any necessary traffic management—there is every reason to expect that private enterprise should be ready to take the remaining risks and, after assessing the market, make an increasing contribution in providing private housing. The powers are there; assistance from the Exchequer is there; advice from this report is there. Her Majesty's Government look to the local authorities and private enterprise together to make full and effective use of all of them.