HL Deb 10 July 1981 vol 422 cc954-60

1.6 p.m.

The Earl of Avon rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 14th April be approved.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the order standing in my name.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 14th April be approved.—(The Earl of Avon.)

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, I wonder whether I may say a few words on this order. I take it that we are speaking to the five orders together? They all concern the vesting of areas of land in the Merseyside Development Corporation, land being transferred from the British Railways Board, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and from local authorities. Though the subject is of a rather limited nature, it gives the House an opportunity to discuss briefly the context in which they are being processed.

I understand that the matters involved in these orders have been the subject of detailed examination and consultation with the authorities concerned, both local and statutory. It seems that the results of the discussions have been taken into account to some extent and incorporated in this version of the documents.

As the House is aware, the corporation and its activities involve several authorities, including those with elected representatives, and there is naturally an expectation that the corporation should not only consult, as indeed it does, but that there should be stimulated a feeling of continuing involvement with others, which of course is the real basis for successful partnership.

It is encouraging that the development corporation seeks to use the services and resources of local authorities, including engineering services, road design, computer and administrative services, planning and development aspects. So while there may be no particular aspects of concern now, there will I think be seen the need to keep close liaison always in mind to ensure that real partnership leads to even greater progress. There must be a continual effort to avoid duplication, with local councils performing those functions and supplying those services for which they are by long experience and local knowledge well equipped.

Having stressed the importance of the need not only for consultation but the growth of a feeling of involvement by all concerned, I would only make two further points. It appears that the vesting orders do not include all the areas of land within the designated area and I understand that negotiations are going ahead for the remainder. On the Liverpool side, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company has an area known as the Albert Canning and Salthouse Docks. I should like to know from the Minister what is the state of play with regard to that area of dockland. I believe also that listed building consent may be involved, as some of the site was the subject of discussions earlier this year, on which decisions are awaited. I believe that there are also proposals for the use of the facilities of the Victorian Albert warehouses. Can the Minister give information on these aspects?

I am wondering whether the Minister would also comment on some of the relevant aspects of the 25th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments which includes some of the points I have already raised. It is recognised that the objectives of the corporation include the regeneration of under-used and derelict docklands on both sides of the Mersey, encouraging the development of existing and new forms of industry and commerce, with suitable and adequate housing and social facilities in a greatly improved environment. These are so urgently needed in the Merseyside area at this particular time and in the future. Therefore, it is essential that adequate financial resources are readily available if the corporation is to act—as indeed it must—in a pump-priming role for both private and public sector investment.

So while at present there may be little anxiety about this aspect, we all know that limited and initial investment can lead to much greater demand from the public and private sources and having started on this desirable project there must be confidence that sustained progress can be maintained. That is absolutely essential, if we are to get people to come and invest in this project in this particular area. Of course, the corporation will be well aware of the economic difficulties with which it has to contend at the present time.

Finally, in the light of the present situation in the Liverpool area and indeed the effect of some of Her Majesty's Government's policies there, we welcome this further report on the progress of the corporation's programme for regeneration and we wish it well. What it seeks to achieve can be the means of providing new opportunities for private and public development, and that means more jobs and new hope for thousands of people who desperately need what the projects offer. So, while we are vesting land in the Merseyside Development Corporation, we are in fact investing in people, and there can be no greater priority than that. I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on some of the points that I have raised.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, for his warm welcome to these orders. The orders put before the House would vest in the Merseyside Development Corporation 508 acres of land owned at present by public bodies. It is mainly discarded and derelict dock and railway land within the Urban Development Area which the corporation has been established to regenerate. The orders are made under Section 141 of the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980. They cover land in three separate public ownerships—namely, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, the British Railways Board and the City of Liverpool—and situated in three districts—Liverpool, Sefton and Wirral. Noble Lords may have had an opportunity to study the maps which show the areas concerned.

These orders mark an important step forward in the progress of the Merseyside Development Corporation, which was established on 25th March this year by an order approved both in this House and in another place. Freehold ownership of these areas will enable the corporation to get ahead with a comprehensive yet sensitive and flexible approach to the redevelopment of a large part of the Urban Development Area. It will enable the corporation to compete on more equal terms with other areas in attracting investment and it will help the corporation to meet the requirements of the investment institutions. The vesting procedure avoids delaying action on the ground since the assessment of compensation and much of the detailed work involved in compulsory purchase order procedure or a purchase by agreement, do not have to be undertaken until after a vesting order is confirmed, thus giving relatively speedy landlord control over the land.

It may be helpful to the House, and I think it will answer one of the points raised by the noble Lord, if I recall the events since the orders were made and laid before Parliament by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, together with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport in the case of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and British Rail Orders. As expected, the judgment was reached that all five orders were hybrid. Anyone whose private interests were affected had an opportunity to petition against the Orders. Eight petitions, four each from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and British Rail were laid. Those petitions were not against the principle of the orders. The petitioners were concerned about various matters relating to rights over the land, access, severed parcels not covered by the orders, services, statutory and other obligations and other matters which are not dealt with by vesting orders themselves. Discussions with the owners have resulted in agreements being signed and the subsequent withdrawal of all the petititions. It is possible now therefore to proceed with the discussion and, I hope, the approval of the orders by the House.

I shall describe briefly the land covered by the orders. The three orders relating to Mersey Docks and Harbour Company land deal with sites in Liverpool, Sefton and Wirral respectively. In Liverpool there are 378 acres of Mersey Docks and Harbour Company land in the South Docks, the disused oil tank farm at Dingle and other vacant lands at Riverside. These areas covered by the first order, especially the South Docks, need to be dealt with in an integrated way, and a series of tasks will be undertaken to bring the land back into active use: some filling of docks, repairs to lock gates and walls, reinstatement of the working machinery to trap the tide in some docks, refurbishing buildings, road and environmental improvements and the provision of basic services.

The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company No. 2 Order vests six small sites in the portion of the Urban Development Area which lies in the Borough of Sefton, in total 6.6 acres. These sites, together with some larger tracts of railway land to be acquired under the British Railways Board Order, are subject to less severe problems of site preparation and will offer some of the earliest opportunities for attracting private sector investment.

The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company No. 3 Order vests the 19-acre Scott's Field on the Wirral; this is a prominent site fronting the River Mersey directly opposite Liverpool city centre, with potential for industrial development. Ultimate use will depend on the outcome of discussions with the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company on other land in their ownership within the Wirral part of the Urban Development Area and with the North-West Water Authority who have long-term plans for a sewage treatment works in the vicinity, but not necessarily on this site, as part of a programme to clean up the River Mersey. Interim industrial use is a second option.

The British Railways Board Order covers sites in all three district council areas. The largest sites are those in Sefton which I referred to earlier and these total some 34 acres. The sites in Liverpool are adjacent to the South Docks, while, on the Wirral, some six acres of land at Egerton and Woodside offer opportunities for much-needed environmental improvements, and are important also in land assembly and to secure access to larger areas which the corporation hopes to see redeveloped.

Before dealing with the sites in the Local Authorities Order, I must apologise to the House for a discrepancy between Schedule 2 to the order and the accompanying map. Plot 3 (0.76 acres in Sefton) has inadvertently been omitted from the vesting order map. The effect of this will be, if the order is approved, that plots 1 and 2 would vest in the corporation but plot 3 would not do so as a result of the order. Arrangements are in hand for the corporation to purchase the site by agreement from the Borough of Sefton.

The remaining two sites are land owned by the City of Liverpool; the leasehold of a small plot in Sefton and the freehold of a large 54-acre site of tipped foreshore at Riverside which, together with the adjacent Mersey Docks and Harbour Company land, the corporation intends to landscape and develop for recreational use.

The compensation payable for vesting of land cannot be specified at present; it will be assessed in accordance with the provisions of the 1980 Act, which are based upon the open market value of the land assessed in accordance with the Land Compensation Act 1961. The cost of acquisition of the land vested by these orders will be financed by grant-in-aid from the Urban Development Corporation Vote; the fairly extensive reclamation works required on the land will also be grant-financed. The financing of subsequent development on the land will depend on, among other things, the nature of agreements with developers.

The land in these orders, together with a further 50 acres which the corporation has approval to acquire by agreement, constitutes a substantial proportion of the fairly tightly defined Urban Development Area. Further possible acquisitions from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company on the Wirral are currently under discussion. That again answers one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, that there is other land under consideration. In addition, the corporation will be concerned to see that the key Albert/Salthouse/Canning Dock area close to Liverpool centre is redeveloped. That site remains the subject of negotiations between the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and an interested developer, and the result of a listed building inquiry will be announced shortly. For the moment, however, we are concerned with the vesting of some 508 acres.

The noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, asked me specifically about the Albert Dock. As I have said, there is a listed building consent application relating to the Albert Dock before my right honourable friend, and a decision is expected shortly. At the moment I ought not to comment further than to acknowledge the importance of Liverpool for the future of this whole area.

The noble Lord also touched on the subject of consultation, and I agree with him fully in all he said on that. The corporation is keen to consult and co-operate with other bodies locally. Both during the shadow period and since being established, the board and chief officers have held many discussions with MPs, local authorities, chambers of commerce, trades unions, representatives of business and many other bodies. In March this year the corporation produced its initial development strategy. This provided a vehicle to explain the corporation's intentions and to hear the views of others about what should be done.

Under Section 140 of the Local Government (Planning and Land) Act 1980 the Mersey Corporation is required to prepare a code of practice on consultation within 12 months of its formal establishment. The corporation is well aware of this requirement. The corporation intends to work closely with other local planning authorities on Merseyside in handling planning applications, through consultations with the corporation, which it will carry out both under the orders and under the terms of the Merseyside Development Corporation Directive 1981 issued by the Secretary of State on 13th May. Similarly, the corporation should be consulted about relevant applications in adjacent local authorities' areas which may affect the urban development area under the terms of the Merseyside Directive 1981.

The question of financial resources was raised, and the total resources for the two urban development corporations amount to £82.245 million at 1981–82 out-turn prices. Of this, the Merseyside Development Corporation has been allocated £17.18 million at the same price basis. There is scope for an increase of this money. Most of the Merseyside Development Corporation budget, £16.49 million, is expected to be met from grant in aid, with £0.69 million being raised by loan from the National Loans Fund. This reflects the front end investment which is needed to acquire land, halt the decay of the area and undertake reclamation work.

The main advantages in attracting private sector investment to the UDC area will be the corporation's ability to market prime industrial and commercial sites in prestige locations close to the city centre and adjoining the Mersey. The corporation will be able to adopt a single-minded approach to the regeneration of its area and to adopt a vigorous marketing policy. Attraction of investment will be aided further by the speed at which the corporation will be able to make planning decisions and the flexible and sensitive approach which will be the keynote of the corporation's activity. The usual range of incentives available in a special development area will be on offer and the UDC will also be able to make loans and grants similar to those made by neighbouring authorities under the Inner Urban Areas Act.

These areas of exceptional dereliction and decay require a single-minded and comprehensive approach which also builds upon the assets of existing firms and the geographical advantages of a city centre/riverside location. The corporation faces a challenging task; it is equipping itself with key staff, and it has a board which incorporates much local knowledge and expertise. The resources which the Government are making available in this and subsequent years will provide the basis for dealing with the difficult job of securing the regeneration of the deteriorating and derelict areas covered in the orders. It is the Government's belief that a corporation such as the Merseyside Development Corporation is the only means capable of bringing new life back to these neglected areas. In doing so, co-operation with existing agencies will be a keynote. The corporation expects to make an active start on sites in much of its area in this financial year. Some engineering and borehole survey work has been undertaken already and some initial projects in co-operation with the Manpower Services Commission have started. If the House approves, as I hope it will, the vesting of these lands, the corporation stands ready to get ahead with its statutory duty: securing the much needed regeneration and additional job provision on Merseyside. I commend the order to the House.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Derwent)

My Lords, although the noble Earl has spoken to all the orders, I understand that they must be moved individually.

The first Motion is, That the Merseyside Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (Local Authorities) Order be approved.

On Question, Motion agreed to.