HL Deb 01 July 1981 vol 422 cc194-204

3.2 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin) rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 27th November 1980 be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are concerned today with the Government's proposals for setting up an urban development corporation in a part of the Docklands area of London. We have before us four orders; the London Docklands Development Cor-corporation (Area and Constitution) Order, an order to amend that, and two orders dealing with land which it is proposed to vest in the corporation, one dealing with land owned by the Port of London Authority and the other with land owned by the Greater London Council. I will deal, first, with the background to the Government's proposals for setting up an urban development corporation in Docklands, then with the two area and constitution orders and then, if I may, with the two vesting orders.

Section 134 of the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980 enables the Secretary of State to designate an area as an urban development area if, in his opinion, it is in the national interest so to do. Section 135 empowers him to establish a corporation for the purpose of regenerating that area. As I explained to your Lordships' House during the proceedings on the 1980 Bill, the Government consider that the scale of the problems in London Docklands requires the establishment of such a corporation with sufficient resources and powers to regenerate the area. The House has already considered and approved a similar order under the same powers to establish an urban development corporation for part of Merseyside.

My right honourable friend laid the London Dock-lands Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) Order 1980 in November last year. The area he proposed for designation as an urban development area was based on the area in which the Dockland Joint Committee functioned, but with certain exclusions and additions that I will come to later. Under the procedure for dealing with hybrid instruments, the order was open to petitions by people objecting to its provisions, 10 of which were, in fact, received and referred for a further inquiry by a Select Committee.

A committee comprising the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cross of Chelsea, as chairman, and the noble Lords, Lord Ampthill, Lord Airedale, Lord Nugent of Guildford and Lord Underhill was appointed to consider whether, in the light of the matters complained of, the area specified in the order should be designated as an urban development area. It began work on 10th February, heard evidence on 46 days, visited the proposed area, sat in Committee on a further three days and reported to the House on 5th June.

I am sure the House would want to join me in expressing admiration and gratitude to the committee for the way in which they conducted their inquiries. The task turned out to be far more arduous than I suspect any of us had imagined at the outset. The committee heard evidence from 38 witnesses, examined the arguments in great detail, weighed them carefully and produced a clear report with firm recommendations. That is a considerable feat, for which all the members deserve our thanks. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cross, will allow me to thank him also, and particularly, for his patient and understanding chairmanship.

The case we put to the Select Committee was, in brief, that the scale and severity of the decline of Docklands was such as to create a problem of national rather than local importance. The decline has been particularly marked since the mid-'60s, with the closure of several of the up-river docks, the disappearance of dock-related industry and the associated loss of jobs and decline in population as people have sought jobs elsewhere. It has not been reversed. Far fewer new jobs have been created than had been lost and young people have continued to leave the area to seek jobs and housing. Successive Governments have been concerned about the problem and several attempts have been made to find a solution.

Much has been achieved under the existing arrangements; that is, by the boroughs and the GLC working through the Docklands Joint Committee, and in partnership with the Government and other agencies under the provisions of the Government's inner cities policies. However, the DJC lacks development powers; it cannot acquire or dispose of land or otherwise implement its strategic plan. The boroughs have such powers but, because of their wider responsibilities for their whole area, cannot provide the sort of single-minded concern for the regeneration of Docklands that has been so successfully demonstrated in a somewhat different context by new towns. Furthermore, the policies of the boroughs have, in our view, paid insufficient attention to the need to diversify employment opportunities and to encourage private and mixed tenure housing.

Finally, we argued that while much can be done by the sensible use of public funds, the real hope for reversing the decline in Docklands lies in the attraction of substantial amounts of private investment to Dock-lands, in the shape of new types of industry and private housing. A single-minded development corporation is inherently more likely to attract such funding and to enable Government funds to be used to better effect to prime the pump.

The petitioners, principally the boroughs and local community groups, argued that the proposal to transfer development control to a UDC was undemocratic and would need stronger justification than had been produced. They pointed to the considerable successes of the DJC, argued that private house ownership would be beyond the reach of all but a tiny minority of the existing inhabitants of Docklands, and feared that the UDC would concentrate on the development of best sites, and that when money became available for public sector housing the land would no longer be available.

The Select Committee broadly accepted the Government's case. They noted that while Docklands was not a single homogenous community, the different areas were linked by the fact that they are all suffering from the same calamity—the closure of the docks and the disappearance of dock-related industry. The committee were struck by the extent of that calamity and what a vast task faces any one seeking to regenerate the area. They were impressed by what had been achieved by the DJC and the boroughs, and commented that the opposition to the proposed transfer of development control powers to the UDC, while perfectly genuine, was somewhat parochial. The committee concluded, despite the effort of the DJC and the boroughs, new industries are not coming in to take the place of the old, and young people are still leaving the area. It is essential that something be done to arrest this decline … nothing will be done unless there is a change of approach—a change in priorities. Private investors will not put money into Docklands on any large scale unless they are encouraged by the presence of an environment attractive to them, including the availability of some private housing".

The committee felt that the UDC would be more likely to attract private investment into an area than the boroughs and the DJC. They stressed the need for the UDC to establish and maintain good relations with the local authorities and their officers and to avail itself of their advice and expertise. The UDC would also need to win the confidence of local organisations. The committee therefore concluded that the Government had made the case for the principle of a UDA and UDC for London Docklands and recommended accordingly.

On the question of the boundaries, the Select Committee did not accept the Government's case in its entirety. The proposed area was based on the DJC area with the exclusion of those parts lying in Greenwich and Lewisham and the exclusion of the land in Newham lying to the east of the proposed line of the East London River Crossing. The Government proposed, however, that the DJC area be extended in the west on the south bank to include the riverside area running up to London Bridge, taking in Hays Wharf and the Courage Brewery site. It was also proposed that the area be extended in the west on the north side of the river to include St. Katherine's Dock and the Royal Mint site. Although the Select Committee did not accept the Government's reasons for the extension of the area in their entirety, they endorsed the proposed boundary, except for the Royal Mint site which they regarded as not being part of Docklands. The committee accordingly recommended that the Royal Mint site should be excluded from the UDA.

In historic terms the Royal Mint site was never part of Docklands. But, lying to the north-east of the Tower and immediately to the north of St. Katherine's Dock it forms part of one of the main gateways to the area. Development of the Royal Mint site needs to be closely related to that of St. Katherine's and the area to its south and east. In our view, this could best have been achieved by bringing the Royal Mint into the urban development area, under the same planning authority as St. Katherine's Dock. The site has tremendous potential for development of the highest quality and if that is achieved it would contribute enormously to people's perception of Dock-lands. We recognise, however, that the Select Committee considered the proposed boundary very carefully and weighed all the various factors before coming to a decision. We are therefore willing to accept their recommendation and have, as your Lordships know, laid an amending order to exclude the Royal Mint site from the UDA. The Government believe that the closest co-ordination of planning powers to recognise the relationship between this site and the UDC will be necessary.

Turning now to the orders before your Lordships, I have already explained that the amending order simply gives effect to the Select Committee's recommendation that the Royal Mint site be excluded from the urban development area. The area and constitution order was made under Sections 134 and 135 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 which provides for a wide range of powers to be exercised by the corporation. These are all intended to secure the regeneration of the designated area by bringing land and buildings into effective use, encouraging development, upgrading the environment and stimulating private investment. The order makes no exclusions from the range of general functions which the Act allows urban development corporations to exercise. Section 153 of the Act provides that the Secretary of State may make an order to give an urban development corporation the powers of a housing authority. It is not the present intention of the Government to make such an order, but even in the absence of such an order the corporation can use its general powers under the present order to carry out certain housing functions, particularly to increase the availability of housing in the private sector and through housing associations.

The Government do, however, intend to make an order under Section 149 of the Act to give the corporation the full range of planning authority powers (principally those of development control) which the Act permits. That order, together with a special development order under Section 148(2), will be laid after the corporation has been set up and both will be subject to negative resolutions.

For 1981–82 the Government have allocated some £65 million for expenditure by the LDDC. More resources are available, if required, to cover the costs of acquiring land from the Port of London Authority, the British Gas Corporation and other statutory undertakers. These funds are in addition to other resources which Government have made available for the area, for example through the urban programme or for transport expenditure where a £100 million package for local road and public transport improvements over the next 15 years was agreed with the GLC last year.

Decisions have yet to be made for future years but the Government attach high priority to the work of the development corporation and this will reflect in the resources provided in future years. Much of the expenditure in the first year or so will be for land acquisition and reclamation work. But resources will also be made available for environmental improvement schemes, expenditure on roads and transport, and grants and loans under the inner urban areas Acts.

My right honourable friend has already announced his intention to appoint Mr. Nigel Broackes as chairman of the corporation and of Mr. Bob Mellish as deputy chairman. The purpose of these appointments on a shadow basis, as has been explained, was to enable progress to be made while the normal procedures were in train and thereby to avoid any hiatus in the development of Docklands. If Parliament approves the order, the Secretary of State proposes to confirm the appointments and he will also make additional board appointments. The Act allows for up to 13 members. The Secretary of State will be consulting local authorities about the possible appointment of people "having special knowledge of the locality".

The corporation will have a small staff and will buy in expertise and, wherever possible, will work with and use the services of the local authorities rather than attempt to duplicate them. A chief executive has already been appointed, also on a shadow basis, and a nucleus of staff, recruited on a contingent basis, have been at work for some months. The costs have been borne by the Department of the Environment, as announced by my right honourable friend in February last year.

The shadow LDDC recognises that the DJC has made considerable progress. The LDDC's task will be to build on that. As far as planning is concerned, they will take London Docklands Strategic Plan as their starting point. They do not intend to produce a new strategic plan for Docklands. In particular, they do not propose to set new targets—they become obsolete almost before they are agreed, and circumstances change—but they will be making informal plans for parts of their area and will produce planning briefs for particular development sites.

An important feature of the new corporation's approach will be a greatly increased emphasis on private housing and housing association activity. There will also be a more positive approach to securing the release of unused or underused public sector land for its development. The emphasis on employment would be maintained, but the LDDC would look to a more varied range of activities—service industries and commerce, for example—and less insistence on traditional manufacturing industry. Their strategy would be to build on Docklands' very real strengths: the river and open water; the many and varied industrial firms already in the area; its proximity to the City; and the unrivalled opportunity it offers for imaginative, first-class architecture and developments at the heart of the metropolis. The Secretary of State attaches particular importance to this objective.

The shadow corporation shares with the Government and the Select Committee the view that, to be a success, the corporation will have to work closely with local authorities and local communities. I hope we can take it as significant that not one of the witnesses supporting the petitions against the setting up of the LDDC suggested that if Parliament confirmed the orders they would not co-operate with the LDDC. Indeed, I am happy to be able to pay tribute to the way in which considerable co-operation has already been received from the local authorities through the Docklands Joint Committee, in spite of their deeply held opposition.

A key component in the LDDC's strategy is bringing into use unused or underused land. Development in the area has been inhibited by the lack of suitably sized service sites ready for development. Many of the sites presently unused or underused, for the most part in public ownership, need preparatory work to make them suitable for development: the removal of pollution, stabilisation of the ground, access roads, provision of basic infrastructure or the replacement of outworn services.

The Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 enables UDCs to acquire land compulsorily, and in the case of publicly owned land by means of a vesting order subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses. The principal purpose of the latter provision is to enable UDCs to have enough land at the outset for their own early projects and to prepare a range of sites for private development. Accordingly, in the shadow period the LDDC has been discussing likely demand for land with the present owners, the transport and planning authorities, financial institutions and private sector agencies such as the volume house-builders.

As a result the LDDC have put forward proposals for the early acquisition of some 850 acres of publicly owned land including some 280 acres belonging to the PLA and about 15 acres belonging to the GLC. Further orders have been laid affecting some 142 acres of land belonging to Southwark and 87 acres of land belonging to Newham. Once the details of the sites have been settled orders will also be laid affecting land belonging to Tower Hamlets and further land owned by the GLC. These later orders will come before us on another occasion and need not concern us today. The LDDC are also negotiating the purchase of land from the British Gas Corporation, the Central Electricity Generating Board and British Rail.

Turning to the order before us today, the major part of the PLA land lies in the Isle of Dogs. Following the decision by the PLA last year to close their general cargo handling operations in the West India and Millwall Docks, the land proposed for vesting is surplus to their operational requirements. With the proposed designation of an Enterprise Zone in the Isle of Dogs, the land offers a major opportunity for industrial and commercial development. If vested in the LDDC, the corporation will be able to coordinate the provision of infrastructure and services, and generally manage the area to ensure that sites are speedily and sensibly made available for new activities. The remainder of the PLA land to be vested lies in Newham and is intended for housing and community uses. Considerable interest has already been shown in the latter sites by volume house-builders. The GLC land consists mainly of small sites intended by the LDDC for a variety of uses including particularly private and mixed tenure housing.

In accordance with the usual procedure for hybrid instruments both orders were opened to be petitioned against. No petitions were lodged against the GLC order. Two petitions against the PLA order were withdrawn after the petitioners—the PLA themselves and British Rail—were given assurances on some detailed points. Newham Borough Council petitioned against the inclusion of one site in the vesting order, but after considering the petition and representations made by the Department of the Environment the Hybrid Instruments Committee concluded that, in view of the assurances given, a further inquiry by a Select Committee was not warranted.

Regeneration of London Docklands represents an immense challenge and also an enormous opportunity—some say the greatest development opportunity in Europe today. We are confident that the LDDC with the powers, land, and resources proposed will be able to release the potential and succeed in the formidable task of regenerating Docklands. The Select Committee examined the Government's main proposals with great thoroughness. The Government are happy to accept these recommendations. I therefore commend these four orders to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 27th November 1980 be approved.—(Lord Bellwin.)

3.24 p.m.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I should first like to congratulate the committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Cross of Chelsea, on the completion of their marathon work. It is the longest Select Committee inquiry this century and the amount of information they had to assimilate and the material they had to produce was quite formidable. I am certainly not surprised that on the last page of the report they do not advise other Peers to undergo a similar ordeal. If I may say so, I think the Minister was pitching it rather high, despite the work of the committee, in suggesting that the whole concept of this should be one of the most important propositions in Europe. We shall wait and see about that, but certainly he is aiming right at the top.

Nevertheless, the committee have not persuaded the Opposition, nor the local authorities, nor the other petitioners, of the virtues of an urban development corporation for Docklands, which is what this is all about. Many of the most compelling objections are against the principle of what is an undemocratic and appointed urban development council arbitrarily imposed on the existing local government structure, which once again illustrates central Government poaching on the proper preserve of the local authorities.

During the passage of the Local Government Act we fought very hard in this House, as well as in another place, against the principle of urban development corporations. Unfortunately, that is now murky water under the legislative bridge and so was not a matter before the committee. This has often been compared to the setting up of new towns, but it is quite a different concept. A development corporation can be—and has often been—justified where there are virgin green field sites, or in areas where local authorities have achieved little or nothing. But here we are dealing with Dock-lands with long local government traditions, a long history of local pride and also the complete romance of the docks and the Docklands. Even the early new towns did not have the draconian powers proposed for the Docklands UDC, including the wholesale transfer of planning powers which quite frankly could, even within the concept of a UDC, remain with the borough councils.

The partnership new towns are very much more accountable. As the report points out, significant progress has been made in the Docklands. Indeed, in paragraph 5.2 to paragraph 5.4 the committee lists a few examples of the achievements. If more money had been made available, of course more would have been done, but that was never an option. The Secretary of State made it absolutely clear that there would not be an alternative; the money would not be divided among the boroughs so that it could be joined together or given to the Docklands Joint Committee, which was ready to plan and to carry out the same work if it had been given the money and would then have had a local democratic dimension.

In judging the merits of a UDC as opposed to the Docklands Joint Committee, the Select Committee had no objective measure for assessing what would have been a reasonable rate of progress for the Docklands Joint Committee to have achieved. Consequently, the Select Committee were given an impossible task and I think in places their report shows that they recognised this. There was no evidence to support the sole reason for favouring the setting up of a UDC—that it would be more likely to be successful in attracting private investment. With great respect to the committee, this was a joint subjective judgment which has also been put forward this afternoon by the Minister, but no hard evidence was brought in to prove this.

We still adhere to the view that the UDC was, and still is, misconceived. It is undemocratic, unnecessary and locally friendless. The passage of the legislation and the suppression of the DJC has already caused a hiatus of nearly two years when a great deal more progress could have been made in the Docklands. It has caused uncertainty and delay in the Docklands and there will undoubtedly be more delay and more uncertainty before the new corporation gets under way.

I do not want to nit-pick this afternoon but I must place on the public record four factual corrections to the report. First, in paragraph 2.6 of the Select Committee's report they do not indicate that there were senior officials from the Department of the Environment on the Officers' Steering Group. The importance of that is that under the present arrangements central Government already had an involvement in Docklands. It was not just a local enterprise, and that is the reason why I raise this omission which I consider to be an important one. It affects any value judgment on whether the present system needs to be changed. In other words, not enough weight was given to this although it was on page 38 at day 14 of the transcript.

Secondly, the employment figures could be made a lot clearer. The rather gloomy figures on page 2 of the report make the situation appear worse than it is. For instance, they do not include schemes under construction now and which will be in operation by 1982. I refer to such major schemes as the new Billingsgate Market, which will create approximately 750 jobs, and the News International building with its 4,000 jobs. For these and other reasons no direct comparison is possible with the strategic plans target prepared by the DJC.

Thirdly, when the committee refer in paragraph 6.5 to the housing in the area and the amount of public housing that has already been built, I am afraid that they have got their tenure figures wrong. In Tower Hamlets 82 per cent. of dwellings are council rented, not 97.6 per cent. And the GLC figure should be 30.6 per cent. and not 56 per cent. as stated in the report. This led to certain conclusions being emphasised and drawn which, in my opinion, have thrown things slightly out of gear. Fourthly, in paragraph 9.3, there are 27½ acres of land in St. Katherine's Docks of which four acres are still undeveloped and not 30 acres of land of which 12 acres are undeveloped. Again, I believe that this substantially affects the scale of the problem and also the judgment as to whether a new agency is needed. The Government's main reason—and this came out of the evidence proposing the inclusion of St. Katherine's Docks in the UDA—appears to be the view that Tower Hamlets was a sticky planning authority, despite evidence that there have been 150 planning applications out of which there have been 13 refusals and two appeals, both of which Tower Hamlets won.

What we are being asked to do this afternoon—as the noble Lord, the Minister very carefully, clearly and so ably explained to your Lordships' House—is to transfer from the local authorities only part of the administration of eight square miles of Docklands close to the heart of our capital city to a non-elected "cuckoo" body—as the chief executive of Tower Hamlets described it—however distinguished the chairman and deputy chairman designate may be. In addition, the local authorities will still have elected councillors on the Docklands board, with responsibilities for representing the local population, and they really cannot be expected to work in a state of isolation—and it is quite feasible that they will have to do so if this arrangement does not work out in the way that it should.

The councils, with their vast experience of the area, have unparalleled local knowledge which it would be absurd and irresponsible for the UDC to duplicate. This was apparent from their evidence to the committee, and came out in the committee's report. When the noble Lord the Minister talks about buying-in expertise, as he did when speaking this afternoon, I do hope that it will be impressed upon the corporation that expertise is available literally on its doorstep and that expertise should not be brought in from outside at the expense of the local authority, both economically and socially.

The splitting of the administration of Docklands between democratic and non-elected bodies in this arbitrary way will present all sorts of administrative and social problems, even if those involved do not indulge in a party political dogfight to the detriment of the area; I believe that none of us would wish to see that. Unless exceptional efforts are made to generate goodwill and co-operation, the UDC must be doomed to failure and the Government's grand plan will degenerate into an orgy of recrimination which will leave any future Secretary of State—and this applies to any party—with no option but to wind up the UDC and look for a more accountable mechanism for regeneration. Indeed, I think that after this, and the hybridity, the Government would be very loath to go ahead with these on a "one-off" basis; I hope so, and I hope that the Government will have learned a lesson from this.

The last couple of years have provided very little evidence, unfortunately, that the Secretary of State is prepared to listen. Starting with his meetings with the Docklands leaders in the autumn of 1979, when he said in effect, "I know you will be annoyed but I have made up my mind", the Government have been engaged in continuous sniping and mud-slinging at the local authorities and the record of local authorities. This is consistent with the continuous wide-ranging attacks on local government. We saw this all through the housing legislation and have seen it all through other legislation which is not relevant in respect of today's subject except in the context of the attitudes which have been set, whereby more and more has been taken on by the Secretary of State, and the local authorities have been downgraded and denigrated. The boroughs in the area have been treated very shabbily after they have done so much to get Docklands going.

If this goes through and the Secretary of State wants to make the corporation work, he has many fences to mend and much confidence to restore. He must turn over a new leaf and adopt a co-operative, not an antagonistic stance. He could suggest to the UDC, "Do not do what I do; do what is right". He must listen to arguments and must not dismiss them out of hand, and he must insist that his UDC does the same. The Select Committee heard evidence that in the last 14 years Peterborough Development Corporation has only once proceeded with a scheme in opposition to the local authorities, and I suggest that any new corporation should aim for a similar record in Docklands.

The Select Committee's report rightly stressed this question of good real relations with the local authorities and local organisations in paragraph 8.7. Following the setting up of the corporation, the next step will be laying before Parliament further orders transferring the planning powers to the UDC and the preparation of a code of consultation. Despite its frequently stated desire for co-operation, the Department of the Environment allows the boroughs only seven days to comment on these draft orders. Despite their unhappiness with the Select Committee's conclusions, the boroughs have made lengthy, considered and constructive comments on these draft orders to try to achieve workable machinery. But, based on the Government's previous attitude towards their point of views, the boroughs are very apprehensive that the Government are merely going though the motions of consultation and do not really mean it. To help overcome these problems, there are five areas where we are asking for assurances from the Government. It would be a great help if, when the noble Lord the Minister winds up this afternoon, he is able to give me these assurances.

First, it would go a long way towards improving relations between the Government and the boroughs if the noble Lord the Minister would give me an assurance that he will consider their comments very carefully and will refrain from laying the orders until all the issues raised have been thoroughly discussed. Secondly, the code of consultation must be worked out jointly and mutually agreed between all those concerned—otherwise, it really cannot work. Will the Minister give an assurance that the code will be ap- proved only if it is mutually agreed? Thirdly, will the noble Lord the Minister assure your Lordships' House that the Secretary of State will expect the UDC to make provision in its plans for Docklands for the future needs of all the various local authority services in East London? This must be a major element in any package of proposals he approves or he will not win any confidence at all in the area. Fourth, does the noble Lord the Minister accept that the UDC must take full advantage of the accumulated experience of the GLC and the boroughs in carrying out its functions? When the corporation is eventually wound up the local authorities will once again assume responsibility for whatever has been done in the meantime. Therefore, they must be allowed to add their invaluable experience to the preparation of worthwhile proposals.

Finally, in paragraph 8.6 of its report, the Select Committee advises the chairman of the development corporation to, look ahead and have in mind the probable future needs of a borough for land for public housing". The noble Lord the Minister has commented on this aspect this afternoon, but I should like a further assurance that the Department of the Environment will also feel bound by this advice when considering whether to lay vesting orders. The Government have a great deal to gain by giving these assurances. They are not outrageous suggestions; indeed they are highly constructive, responsible and reasonable. Having stirred up all this antagonism between local and central Government in Docklands, I feel it is now encumbent upon Ministers to repair that damage. The UDC should be used as a mechanism to forge a new partnership between the Department of the Environment, the GLC, the boroughs and local organisations until such time—if indeed these orders do go through—as democratic control of their affairs is rightly returned to the local communities.