HL Deb 10 July 1978 vol 394 cc1312-9

3.12 p.m.

Read 3a, with the Amendments.

Clause 4 [Declaration of and changes in industrial improvement areas]:

Lord DAVIES of LEEK moved Amendments Nos. 1 to 3: Page 4, line 20, leave out ("industrial"). Page 4, line 21, leave out ("industrial"). Clause 5, page 4, line 26, leave out ("industrial").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3, and, with permission, to discuss also Amendments Nos. 7 to 13. These Amendments have exactly the same intention as those moved at Report stage by my noble friend Lord Plant. I am advised that the Amendments represent a slightly better method of providing for commercial improvement areas. For example, they provide for mixed commercial and industrial areas. Noble Lords will recall that at the earlier stage I spoke in favour of the Amendments moved by my noble friend Lord Plant. As I then saw no move on the part of the Government to take up the issue, I put down these further Amendments to ensure that the matter does not go by default.

Briefly, there are four reasons for having commercial as well as industrial improvement areas. First, not all commercial employment is directly related to the needs of the immediate area and thus bound to decline with the reduction in population. There is less scope to attract office employment to inner areas. This was the aim of my noble friend Lord Plant and I when we initiated the change at Report stage.

Secondly, even if, as is often asserted, office employment is not the most suitable employment for inner area residents who have become unemployed because of the decline in manufacturing, surely some new employment is better than none. Thirdly, commerce should be encouraged in smaller centres surrounding the main centre of each conurbation. Finally, the belief that all commercial property development in inner areas will be adequately covered by the private sector is mistaken. There is a need to improve confidence in some of the smaller, rundown commercial centres, and that will be done only by some measure such as this.

I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will now be able to say that she can accept these Amendments which were discussed on the last occasion. Since we discussed the proposal at some length on that occasion, when there was general agreement that these Amendments would be useful, I hope that this brief speech of mine will be enough to convince the noble Baroness that the Amendments are worthy of recognition by the Government. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, the House will be grateful to my noble friend for raising again the subject of commercial improvement areas. When we last discussed the subject I agreed to take away the issues and discuss them with my ministerial colleagues. Consideration of them is still continuing. Therefore I am unable today to give our final views to the House. The proposal was widely supported here when it was last raised, but noble Lords will recall that I was not completely convinced that the proposed change was necessary.

In the first place, I do not think that there is such a need for the public sector to take action to revitalise commercial areas as there is for such action to be taken in the older industrial areas. The ordinary property market seems to be better able to deal with commercial property. Secondly, the main environmental eyesores in inner city areas are industrial areas rather than office centres, so the main priority ought to be the improvement of those industrial areas. My worry is certainly not one of principle but one of priorities.

Third, as with the other powers in this Bill, we need to keep in mind the effect that granting these powers in the non-assisted areas will have on the effectiveness of the various regional incentive schemes. It could be that the declaration of commercial improvement areas in places outside the assisted areas would provide a counter-attraction to offices and service industries which might otherwise have moved to the assisted areas. It is extremely difficult to draw an exact line between incentives that will significantly undermine regional incentives and those which are acceptable.

Since the Report stage, the Government have had little time to take a view of the likely effect. In view of this, and since the Commons have not yet had an opportunity to discuss the Amendments relating to commercial improvement areas which were put down at Report stage by my noble friends Lord Davies of Leek and Lord Plant, I think that it would be advisable if the Amendments were to be included in the Bill when it is returned to the other place so that the Commons may have an opportunity to discuss them. It would also give an opportunity to my colleagues to make up their collective minds about them. Therefore, despite certain misgivings, I am prepared at this stage to allow the Amendments to be included in the Bill, although without making any necessary commitment to them on behalf of the Government.


My Lords, when discussions take place I hope that the noble Baroness will not forget the very real problem which exists when urban areas are being redeveloped in providing very small workshops and factories for trades which could employ up to perhaps half a dozen craftsmen. Only too often when inner areas are redeveloped, rates and rents go up so high that these people have to be banished into completely different areas where nobody can get hold of them. That applies also to many types of small shops. Music shops, for instance, simply cannot pay the rates and taxes which are prevalent in redeveloped urban areas. Those problems ought to be considered.


My Lords, further to what my noble friend has just said, many years ago now I raised the question of redevelopment. We have fallen down so often on the provision of foodshops. Sometimes a big store is set up, and there is no choice. People like butchers cannot afford the rents asked for, unless those rents are controlled by local authorities in some way.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, may I welcome what the noble Baroness has said. When the noble Lord, Lord Plant, moved his series of Amendments during the Report stage, I felt that this would be a very sensible inclusion. As I understood the position, the reason that the Government had doubts about it was because there was not any increase in the money available and in effect the resources would be spread more thinly.

I support the inclusion of these Amendments because it seems to me that they would provide a measure of alternative development within inner cities and a more flexible approach which would fall very much in line with what my noble friends Lord Hawke and Lord Derwent have suggested. I think this would be helpful for the redevelopment and revitalisation of inner cities. I am not quite sure that I understand the procedure when the Bill reaches another place. I hope very much, despite what the noble Baroness has said, that if the Amendments are included the Government will support them in another place and not seek to support anybody who might—although I do not anticipate this at all—seek to take them out, which I think would leave us in your Lordships' House in a difficult position. They certainly have my support and I believe that of my colleagues.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 4, line 34, at end insert— ("( ) the clearance or levelling of land;").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Government are bringing forward this Amendment to deal with a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Evans. He asked whether assistance could be given to help with the clearance and tidying of old railway land such as the sidings often found in industrial areas. On close examination we found that this subsection would not have covered such works. Therefore, this Amendment is designed to ensure that not only old railway land but also other vacant sites can be cleared. The new items to be inserted will provide for works which fall short of the full landscaping provided for by subsection (5)(b). I hope the noble Lord, Lord Evans, is now happy that we have dealt adequately with all the points he made at earlier stages.


My Lords, may I say very briefly that I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for the consideration that she and her Department have given to this matter, and for the discussions that they have very kindly had with me about it. I am completely satisfied that the Amendment she proposes is a much better Amendment than the one I sought to insert previously to make sure that railway sidings were included. Some of the worst unsightliness in our inner urban areas comes from disused or semi-used or derelict railway sidings. I think my concern that they were not included has been justified. I am very grateful indeed to the Government and would like to thank them for inserting this additional paragraph. I hope it will be supported here and in another place.


My Lords, may I add my thanks to the noble Baroness. Although perhaps it was not the original intention of the Amendment, it also goes a long way to meet the point I was making in moving Amendments to Clause 6 to cover the preparation and improvement of sites for proposed new and converted buildings. It does not do it quite as expressly as that, but the preparation and levelling of sites goes a long way towards it. Clause 5 also makes provision for loans as well as grants. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendments Nos. 5 and 6: Page 4, line 37, after ("cleaning") insert ("painting, repair"). Page 4, line 37, leave out line 41.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 5 and I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I also moved Amendment No. 6. On further consideration we accept the principle behind Lord Sand-ford's Amendment which was forcefully put at Report stage both by him and by other noble Lords. That is that in cleaning up a building to improve the environment it may well be necessary to repair and paint it also. It was again a very difficult line of division between different operations. The Amendments I am moving merely seek to improve the drafting by placing the cleaning, repair and painting together, and ensuring that they all apply to both buildings and structures. This has the same effect as the noble Lord's original Amendment.

I should, however, sound one note of caution. We are still very concerned that authorities should not give help to firms for works that are routine maintenance and part of every firm's normal responsibilities. All the work for which aid can be given must be for the benefit of the area, not just for the benefit of an individual firm. We will certainly emphasise this point in the guidance we give to local authorities. Subject to that caveat, we are happy to accept the spirit of the Amendment which was passed at Report stage and these Amendments seek only to clarify some points of drafting. I beg to move.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for moving these Amendments, which certainly do what we wanted to see achieved, and do it very elegently. This also makes it possible, where appropriate, for the buildings and structures to be repaired and painted on the inside as well as on the outside. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Clause 6 [Grants for converting or improving buildings]:

Lord DAVIES of LEEK moved Amendments Nos. 7 and 8:

Page 5, line 7, leave out ("industrial"). Clause 18, page 10, line 28, leave out ("industrial").

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Schedule [Industrial improvement areas]:

Lord DAVIES of LEEK moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 11, line 5, leave out from ("which") to ("could") in line 7 and insert— ("(a) is predominantly an industrial area, a commercial area or an industrial and commercial area; or (b) if developed in accordance with the development plan, would be predominantly such an area.").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord DAVIES of LEEK moved Amendments Nos. 10–13: Page 11, line 10, leave out ("industrial"). Page 11, line 28, leave out ("industrial"). Page 11, line 31, leave out ("industrial"). Page 12, line 4, leave out ("industrial").

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. We have had several useful debates on this Bill and I think we have made a number of improvements in the provisions since they were brought to us from another place. The Bill is only a small part of our inner city policy and it has been frequently described as a modest measure. Nevertheless, we believe it to be a useful one, and I hope that the selected authorities will make good use of the new powers to revive industry and commerce in their areas. I should like to end by thanking all noble Lords who have contributed to the various stages of the Bill and helped to bring it to a speedy conclusion.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Birk.)

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I, too, should like to say that we have achieved some very useful Amendments. I should like to support my noble friend Lord Sandford and to say how grateful we are to the Government for including these Amendments, which we feel will make a great difference to the appearance of inner industrial areas. We hope very much that the Government will keep in the Bill in another place what we regard as an important Amendment in relation to the voluntary organisations. Although they did not fully support this at Report stage, they did not seek to vote against the Amendments, and we hope, therefore, that they will agree to them. I should like to thank my noble friends who have helped on this Bill and to say that I regard it as a small but useful measure.


My Lords, may I say very briefly from these Benches that we very much support the Bill as it now stands, improved, we believe, during its passage through this House and indeed through another place. There are certain disappointments, but life is full of those. We would have liked to see guarantees included, as well as one or two other matters; but, on the whole, on the basis of accepting half a loaf or perhaps even three-quarters of a loaf as better than no bread, which again we on these Benches have become used to in the last few months, I think this Bill should be warmly welcomed. All I hope is that the amity which has been shown here on all sides will be repeated at local authority level, and that the Bill will really be able to do something, through the co-operation of the various agencies at local government and voluntary level, actually to carry into effect the desires that the Bill expresses.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.