HL Deb 16 June 1981 vol 421 cc531-3

2.59 p.m.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress is being made with the introduction of enterprise zones.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)

My Lords, good progress is being made. The Swansea Enterprise Zone came into operation on 11th June and Corby comes into effect on 22nd June. Most of the remaining nine zones should be designated over the next three months and the last ones by the end of the year.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his Answer. First, may I congratulate the Government on their initiative and on the benefits which are being offered to those who decide to participate in this scheme in order to help our depressed areas? May I ask my noble friend whether it may be assumed that local authorities will play their part in the relaxation of planning controls and the non-rating of non-domestic properties in order that this scheme may get under way in the best position possible?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the first part of his supplementary question. It is a basic requisite of local authorities that they do exactly as my noble friend suggests, and indeed the relaxation of planning régimes is a fundamental part of this whole scheme.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how long it will be before a second round of sites is considered? How long is the first experiment to take before it is assessed and the disappointed applicants on the first occasion get a chance to have a second go?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I cannot state a time. It will depend entirely upon what takes place. We have always said that this is an experiment and I hope it will be felt to be an interesting, not to say an exciting one, but it is important to see exactly what transpires in practice before we can decide how soon and how much further, if at all, we go with this scheme.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister aware of the concern expressed in the warehousing industry and among Chambers of Commerce about the inclusion of warehouses in enterprise zones; and is he taking any steps to reassure these organisations?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I think the noble Lord is referring to public warehousing, and I have met delegations from two representative bodies. We understand their concern and we have undertaken to monitor and to watch very carefully exactly what transpires within the zones as regards public warehousing. Should this become a greater problem than we anticipate, we have powers to ameliorate it, but I hope that the concept of the zones will be a stimulus which will help public warehousing for those who are just outside, as well as those who are within.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, if this is to be more than a cosmetic exercise, does the Minister agree that the resources for infrastructure, such as roads, sewerage and reclamation of derelict land, are badly needed for many enterprise zones, particularly those with highly derelict areas? Is he aware that in the Committee stage of the Local Government and Planning Bill the Minister in another place on the 20th May, at col. 1265, of Hansard said that he was anxious to consider providing resources for improvement to infrastructure in enterprise zones to see whether help was needed. As nothing has yet been done, and as even more savage cuts have taken place in public expenditure, can the Minister now tell us what are the Government's intentions?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I do not think that any of the authorities who have been successful in obtaining an enterprise zone would have accepted in any way the description given by the noble Baroness that the exercise is a cosmetic one. Certainly so far as the Government are concerned it is anything but that. It is exactly what we have always said it is: it is an imaginative attempt to do something where nothing was done previously for very many years, and the provision of infrastructure is something that we want to encourage. Basically the whole problem of these areas will be solved if the private sector is encouraged to come in and do things so that it will uplift the zone and the whole of the area.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether any enterprise zones are contemplated in the rural areas?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, at the moment there is no contemplation of any zone beyond those which have been so designated. The basic object of the exercise is to take derelict areas which need to be uplifted, to involve people coming in and making investments, and I should have thought that there would not be many rural areas which would look kindly on the kind of thing which we are hoping to attract. However, it is still an experiment and we shall have to wait and see what transpires.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I am sorry to come back, and perhaps I did not hear what the Minister said, but I do not think I received an answer to the specific question about grants for infrastructure, which is extremely important.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, specific grants are not available for these purposes except in the cases where there are urban development corporations, and that concerns two of the zones. Other than that, the whole of the infrastructure and everything else that goes into these zones will have to be provided by the private sector, unless the local authorities wish to take part in that aspect of it.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, although there is general acceptance of the principle of enterprise zones, will the Minister give an assurance that the development of the zones will be carefully monitored in order to ensure that there is no adverse effect on businesses just outside the area of the zone, and also that there will not be any abuse by businesses who leave premises outside the zone and come in?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, this is one of the aspects of the whole matter that concerns us. There can be no guarantees at all. I say again for the nth time that this is an experiment; it is an attempt to do something where before nothing was done. As the noble Lord suggests, we shall monitor very carefully what is happening and the hope is that what happens within the zone will also have a beneficial effect on those just outside the zone.

Lord Blease

My Lords, may I ask the Minister to explain the arrangements for the monitoring committee? How often will they report, to whom will they report and will the report be available to Parliament?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, the local authority which is concerned and also we in central Government will be watching generally. We have not laid down a régime as such, but obviously we are keenly interested to see that the zones are a success. We shall do everything we can to encourage them and we shall be in very close touch the whole of the time. We feel that that should enable us to be assured of what is happening; and in the case of the warehousing, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Evans, we shall be watching particularly closely.