§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Lord Windlesham rose to call attention to the needs of the inner cities and to the steps which are being taken to meet them; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House has debated inner cities three times this year. In Feburary we had the debate on the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, on Faith in the City, the report of the Archbishop of Canterbury's commission. It is good to see the noble and learned Lord in his place again this afternoon; and I understand why it is not possible for him to take part.
§ Then in July, just before the Summer Recess, there was a debate on inner urban areas on an Unstarred Question by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick. Although it was a Question, in effect we had a full debate. However, I make no apology for returning to this subject again.
§ I believe there is a recognition in all parts of the House, indeed among virtually all of those inside or outside politics who have some part in the formation of public policy, that the deterioration in the inner 123 cities, both in their physical condition and appearance, and equally, if not more important, in the quality of life for those who live in them, represents one of the greatest national challenges for the remaining years of the 20th century.
§ As this recognition has spread, growing in urgency, policy responses have multiplied. Central government, local government, voluntary organisations, the Churches, private business and public corporations have all addressed themselves to the problem. The result has been what often seems a bewildering range of policies, programmes and initiatives.
§ Over the last few years, if we confine our sights to central government alone we find that the following have been launched: the urban programme and development grants; educational priority areas; urban development corporations and the enterprise zones; inner city partnerships and city action teams; derelict land grants and urban regeneration grants; the inner cities initiative and its task forces of which there are now 16; the urban housing renewal unit of the Department of the Environment, which has done such important work (UHRU), now renamed Estate Action; the priority estates project, again part of the Department of the Environment; and the new housing action trusts. In addition there are numerous programmes aimed at increasing the opportunities for youth employment and training, and decreasing the opportunities for vandalism and crime.
§ From this whole panorama of economic decline, physical decay and adverse social conditions, I intend to select only two in opening the debate this afternoon. The first is land use and dereliction in the inner urban areas, and the second, what to do about the run-down council housing estates. I make this selection not simply because these are two of the most conspicuous, as well as the most deeply-rooted, manifestations of urban deprivation, but because I sense there are at last some grounds for hope of achieving improvement in the future.
§ As I reflected on this subject, it struck me that one of the most significant of all statistics is that at a time of such acute pressure on land—land for building and other development—there are an estimated half million acres in England alone, an area approximately the size of Nottinghamshire, that are vacant. An increasing proportion is concentrated in the major cities.
§ Waste land, often derelict land as a result of shifts in economic activity, is simultaneously a symptom of the malaise affecting the inner cities and a major factor contributing to it. The vacant land is not only wasteful and unsightly, but actually imposes costs on the areas surrounding it, directly and indirectly. Much of it is in public ownership, belonging to public authorities: British Rail, various dock and harbour boards, the Ministry of Defence and local housing authorities being prominent among them. How is it, thoughtful people ask, that such large areas remain vacant and unused year after year while the city spreads out its tentacles further and further, threatening the Green Belt and the countryside which lies beyond it?124
§ An answer to these questions—illustrating that many of the problems (though not all) can be overcome if they are tackled with vision and determination—can be found in the remarkable success story of the London Docklands. When the London Docks finally closed in 1981 they left behind an inheritance of unemployment, a dwindling population and hundreds of acres of seemingly hopeless dereliction. It was the most extensive area of inner city decay in Britain.
The then Secretary of State for the Environment was Michael Heseltine. He was not alone in expressing his frustration at the lack of progress that had been made over the previous decade.
I could not understand"—
he later wrote—
how anybody could allow such desolation. There were all kinds of committees, reports, discussions, but… this appalling proof that no one was doing anything effective. The warring factions in local government and the nationalised industries had not the resources or the powers, even if they had the will, to apply themselves to the enormous task before them. Everyone was involved. No one was in charge. No structure existed where decisions could be taken instead of being referred somewhere else for yet more consultation".
§ Contentious as it was at the time, the legislation permitting the establishment of the London Docklands Development Corporation—one of the first two urban development corporations, the second being on Merseyside—was to mark the beginning of a completely new era. Covering an area of 6,000 acres of land and water on both banks of the lower Thames, the new public corporation was given powers by Parliament and financial resources from central government to own and acquire land, to build factories and invest in both infrastructure and the environment so as to attract industry and commerical and residential development.
§ Above all, the planning powers but, we should note, only the planning powers, were transferred from the local authorities in the area to the Docklands Corporation. This was hardly likely to commend itself to the councils concerned, and nor did it. But who can doubt, only six years later, that the extraordinary reconstruction which has taken place in Docklands would ever have been possible without these changes which were authorised by Parliament?
Any dispassionate observer visiting Docklands, as I did recently through the good offices of the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, must acknowledge the speed and the scale of the achievements in commercial development, in housing (about which I shall say more in a moment), in public transport, and in providing new jobs. I quote one passage which seems to me to be a clear descriptive account of the achievements of the last six years from the annual report for 1986–87 of the London Docklands Development Corporation which states as follows:
Since designation in 1981 the Corporation's targets for housing have been raised substantially. This is illustrated graphically against a line of performance on housing achieved to date. Early targets of 9,000 homes on Corporation land and 4,000 homes on other land have now been revised to 16,000 and 9,000 respectively. It is estimated that 10,000 jobs had come into the area by 1986, many in the financial and other service industries. The figure is expected to exceed 50,000 within five years.
Net Corporation investment (i.e. total public investment minus receipts from land disposals) since 1981 is £257m. Private investment in the UDA [urban development area] has reached £2,242m. The resultant leverage ratio of 9 to 1 is high and increasing".
§ I understand that it is a requirement in Docklands that lower cost housing is included in all schemes, with a proportion of dwellings being offered to residents of the docklands boroughs. There is now, almost for the first time in living memory, a combination of all types of housing tenure: rented, owner-occupied, self-build, or equity sharing in new and coverted accommodation.
§ It is not only expensive riverside warehouses within reach of the City, well publicised as they are, that have been reconstructed but also run-down local authority flats acquired by developers or housing associations to be completely refurbished (not at the public expense) to provide a further stock of rented and owner-occupied dwellings. By 1986–87, 12,000 new homes had been built or were under way on land owned by the corporation and on privately owned land. Around 60 per cent. of all the new houses built on corporation land have been sold for £40,000 or less; and 40 per cent. of those on corporation land have been bought by residents of the docklands boroughs.
§ If I lay stress on housing, it is because it attracts so much less attention, particularly in localities like Rotherhithe (with the development on the site of the Surrey docks) and Beckton, than some of the great new commercial developments, many of which display the highest architectural standards. There are also the new light railway, recently opened by the Queen, the City airport, and the ambitious plans for Canary Wharf, the largest single regeneration project in Europe. Who could have foreseen, within such a short period, that the centre of gravity of the City of London would be reversed, moving eastwards again after more than a century of expansion to the west?
§ I do not want to spoil my case this afternoon by overstating it. Of course it is true that other areas of the country, especially in the North, as will be pointed out in this debate, do not have the same advantages, notably for commercial development, as docklands with its proximity to the wealth of the City of London and the rise in land values. But the lessons are of wider application: the innovation, the drive, the emphasis on speedy decision-taking, and the attraction of private capital. These combine to show that the wasteland, however damaged, can be reclaimed and brought back to serve the purposes of the community.
§ Examples of what can be done in successfully reclaiming derelict land for housing and development in the Merseyside UDC are the Wavertree Technology Park, the Tate and Lyle refineries site, which is being cleared for housing development, and the conversion of the disused Liverpool Exchange station and hotel which blighted a large part of the central business area. In the West Midlands the clearance and reclamation of the site of the former Round Oak steelworks was announced earlier this week with the aim of providing industrial and commercial units generating 1,000 new jobs.
§ Let me now turn to the second of the two aspects I want to raise. I shall do so more briefly. In the 126 debate on the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, in February, I spoke about the high levels of crime and the fear of crime endemic in certain local authority housing estates. I do not want to repeat myself now. The causes are known and are generally recognised. The size of these huge and impersonal estates; their remoteness from communal facilities and the main shopping districts, even when they are located close to city centres; the deficiencies in design; the ineffectiveness of housing managements to respond to the wishes of the tenants, especially in carrying out repairs; the way the housing is allocated; and the violence, the racial tensions and vandalism, have all contributed to concentrations of disadvantage that call for exceptional measures.
§ It happens that more than 25 years ago I was an elected member of a local housing authority in London when a number of large estates were planned as part of a programme of slum clearance. We had great hopes. But how many of those ideals have been dashed? Human nature is unpredictable, and communities developed in ways which nobody could have dreamt of at that time.
§ Vast sums of public money are currently being spent by local authorities and central government on the renovation and maintenance of council estates. The DoE estimate for this year is spending of more than £3 billion. Programmes such as the Priority Estates Project and Estate Action, reinforced by the work of numerous voluntary organisations, are increasingly being targeted on more locally-based estate management, seeking to improve living conditions by consulting the tenants and working with them in refurbishing—sometimes even completely reconstructing—buildings and making them into safer and more hospitable places to live.
§ On a visit last week to a large council estate in south London, in a neighbourhood covered by one of the inner city task forces, I was struck by the contrast between the barrenness and squalor of the public areas—the walkways, the boarded-up ground floor windows, the grilles protecting the few shops and estate offices—and the generally high standards of decoration and homeliness inside most of the flats.
§ Externally, a good deal has been done on the estate to improve lighting and to make flat rooftops and internal passages inaccessible to vandals. Walled gardens are being constructed for ground floor tenants to provide protective space. These act as a protection against the risks of having windows smashed by passers-by as well as extending the privately maintained space of the domestic interior, with its high standards, to the territory adjoining it outside. The improved amenity is immediately noticeable.
§ I saw a list of 30 projects approved by the task force working in the locality, including training and advice for disadvantaged and unemployed young people; funding for sports leadership and coaching; the conversion of disused and derelict garages into units for local people to start up new businesses; the availability of financial advice and loans from a seconded bank manager to help new and existing business ventures; and special help for Vietnamese refugee families who are still finding it hard, after several years, to integrate in their new surroundings.127
§ Lord Windlesham
North Peckham. I hope noble Lords will not think I have given too rosy a picture of what is still a colossal social and economic problem which diminishes the standard of life and the opportunities for very many of our fellow citizens. I do not underestimate the magnitude of the task, or the scale of what remains to be done in the inner cities. But in opening this debate, I wanted to strike a positive note, describing something of what has already been accomplished, and how much there is still to do.
The problems of the inner city are neither inevitable nor ineradicable. A better life in a better environment is attainable, and it is a responsibility of Parliament as well as of government to work towards it. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, the problem of inner city decline has been with us for a long time. Politicians and planners were made to focus on it when Peter Shore produced his White Paper Policy for the Inner Cities in 1977, drawing attention to what was left behind after the exodus to the new towns. In 1981 Lord Scarman's report on the Brixton disorders and in 1985 the Archbishop of Canterbury's report Faith in the City drew the nation's attention to the alarming and deteriorating situation. But it is in the last few months that inner cities have become a fashionable subject, perhaps starting with the Prime Minister's remarks on election night at party headquarters. She said:No one must slack. We've got a big job to do in some of those inner cities, a really big job, and politically we must get right back in there because we want them too next time".It was quite clear that the job was to get back the votes lost in those inner cities. Manchester had returned not one Tory Member of Parliament to Westminster. So Mrs. Thatcher is chairing the Cabinet committee, as she is on education—and what else?
For one reason or another the Government are paying more attention than they did. Earlier this month we had "Weekend World" focusing on the inner cities, closely followed by "Panorama" and a full page in The Times last week. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, is to be congratulated on timing his debate so aptly, and I should like to congratulate him on his very able and balanced speech.
I am surprised though that the Conservatives should have chosen this subject for their debate on a day when the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who is so actively involved, we are told, is out of the country. I wonder whether today the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, is speaking in his capacity as Minister of State for the Environment or in his capacity as Deputy Leader and speaking, so to speak, for the Prime Minister. Perhaps he will tell us.
What I am sure we all want to know is who exactly is in overall charge nationally of the refurbishing of these cities and of reversing their economic decline. The Prime Minister herself cannot be. Can seven ministries really move in the same direction? Which of the seven government departments is taking the 128 lead? Is it the Department of Trade and Industry, the noble Lord, Lord Young, and Mr. Perry, or the Department of the Environment, whence comes most of the money, Mr. Ridley and Mr. Sorensen? One hears rumbles of jealousy between them. What is important is that there should be a lead department and one co-ordinating Minister and a rationalisation of central responsibility.
I am sure that the Royal Institute of British Architect's inner cities committee report published in May has been read with interest. It makes a strong case for having a national renewal agency. One central body would encourage an integrated approach. One may disagree with some of RIBA's proposals, but the argument for central co-ordination is convincing. Another of RIBA's objectives I am sure is right: it is to encourage greater co-operation between central and local government, the former recognising that elected local authorities have a key role in local renewal strategies; the latter, the overriding need for a broader form of parternship in urban renewal with the private and voluntary sectors. The role of local government has been minimised by the Government. One sometimes wonders whether there will be a job for it to do at all when three more years have rolled by, its powers over housing, planning and education all emasculated.
I have been reading with considerable interest three recent DoE publications—glossy publications—Managing Workspaces, Re-using Redundant Buildings and Greening City Sites. Each gives guides to good practice and examples by case studies which are fascinating. What is obvious from these studies is that in the vast number of those presented there has been local government involvement both in initiating the project and in implementing it. In some cases voluntary and private bodies have been involved as well and funding far more often than not has been joint funding: a local authority input, money from the urban programme, sometimes private funding, sometimes a contribution from voluntary agencies; but the local authority must be in there—the elected councillors must play a part.
In an interesting article in the Observer, David Donnison, Professor of Town and Regional Planning in Glasgow, said:effective civic leadership is the most important ingredient in an urban renewal project. Clydeside is succeeding where Merseyside has often failed, not because it has better laws and procedures but because its politicians, officials and business leaders are capable most of the time of pursuing consistent, long-term policies together. They do that because they are proud of their city and are determined to make it a good place to live in".Professor Donnison argues that community action based on private enterprise can never be a substitute for confident local leadership. A look across the Atlantic is illuminating. America is now experiencing an urban revival and this revival was firmly rooted in the regeneration of city leadership in collaboration with local commercial enterprise. Kingston-upon-Hull is another example of a council with all parties working together to regenerate their city and their docks. Over 1,200 jobs have been created, drawing in private funds. This council has been rewarded by being rate-capped.
At one time the Government appeared to accept the argument that confident local leadership and 129 local involvement are essential. Speaking in Handsworth this summer, Mr. Kenneth Clarke said:We are determined that local people should have the chance to compete for the jobs that are going locally. What we do not want to see is people watching from the sidelines while their neighbourhood is being rebuilt and then having no responsibility for it when the suburban contractors move out".Recently, however, Ministers seem to be keen for their departments to be directly involved with private companies and to believe that private enterprise is the key to ending urban blight. This bypasses local government and does not bode well for good relations. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, what the Government's attitude is about this.
We cannot be certain that private money will be put in. The comparison between the private money put into the Docklands Development Corporation and Merseyside Development Corporation is illuminating. For every £1 of public money put into the LDDC, I was told that £6 of private money went in. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said £9. I do not know who is right. In Merseyside for every £1 of public money, only 13p has come from private sources. Docklands, of course, we all agree is a very special case.
This leads me to the question of finance. Public money has got to go in. I am sure that we have all read extracts of Michael Heseltine's Macmillan lecture. He said:There was no choice but to buy out the past. The private sector alone cannot do it. It will not happen of its own volition. A new spiral of hope and achievement can only be set on its way with the stimulus of public money, so profound are the social and economic forces of decline. We should not pretend otherwise".Having been Secretary of State for the Environment and having visited Liverpool in crisis, he should be listened to. Should he be the boss Minister? Many think that he should.
Another demand for public money to be put in has come in a report from the Private Housebuilders' Federation. It says that increased private sector investment on the scale needed will be forthcoming only if there is, first, substantially more public investment. It asks for grants from the Department of the Environment to be increased from £400 million to £800 million.
No doubt we shall hear of all the different grants and programmes that the Government have initiated. They are bewildering in their variety and number—nine for helping development, seven for supporting training and enterprise. Politicians find it hard to remember exactly what is involved in each and which is the sponsoring department, so heaven help the ordinary man trying to find his way around. But, before the Government boast of the money that they have put into all these programmes, we must remember that this same Government have taken from the partnership and programme authorities—the councils in the inner cities and urban communities that we are talking about—£9.8 billion of grant between 1981 and 1987, while the special programme funding has been £1.9 billion. The reductions were five times greater than the additional funding.
There must of course be adequate money for training the local people to do the more skilled jobs 130 that are likely to be the jobs created, and local people must be employed in the new jobs. It is no use to the community if the new enterprises import workers from outside the area. Only 30 per cent. of Newcastle residents benefit from new enterprises there. Can it be made a condition when plans are agreed and contracts drawn up that locals get the jobs? Is the Local Government Bill now going through Parliament going to prevent that? The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, got no proper answer when he asked this question in the debate on 21st July. The noble Lord, Lord Young, suggested that it was none of his business as it was a DoE Bill. I was shocked by that response. It just shows the need for co-ordination.
Most important of all is the need of money for housing, and housing that people living there can afford. I read that Trafalgar House Residential was offering a two-bedroomed flat in Docklands for £230,000, a three-bedroomed penthouse for £495,000. It is enough to make the locals sick. Faith in the City deals excellently with housing. A house is the most basic need, yet every month we hear of more homeless families being put into bed-and-breakfast accommodation involving not only human misery, because the conditions are intolerable, but also the most absurd waste of money. London suffers most. According to a recent survey by Shelter and the London Research Centre there are 7,792 families in bed-and-breakfast, an increase of 1,000 in just three months. According to Shelter the total cost of bed-and-breakfast to London councils and the DHSS will exceed £104 million in 1987–88.
Attracted by such rich pickings a new wave of entrepreneurs is entering the hotel market. Is this the sort of entrepreneurial activity that the Government admire? Just think of the houses that could be built for £104 million and the human misery that could be avoided if houses and hostels were built with the money that is being wasted in this totally nonproductive fashion. Again why not let the councils spend more than 20 per cent. of their own money from the sale of their own houses to ease the frightful shortage? The folly of it!
I made it my business to go this summer to Bayswater to see some of the accommodation and was taken round by a health visitor. In one small, overcrowded room was a young, very respectable looking woman with a six-week old baby. There was one chair. The health visitor sat on that, the mother and I on the bed. There was a pram which served as a cot for the baby. A busy road outside. "I hate this room", the girl said, and burst into tears. I just could not imagine spending day and night there with a baby. And for people with older children how much worse.
The health visitor told me that in that area were people from other boroughs coming in because that was where more hotels were, and the pressure was such that health visitors would no longer be able to visit and people would have to come to the clinics, which is not at all the same thing. The health visitors will have case loads of 500, whereas the recommended number is 200. Six hundred children had been found no school place. What are the Government going to do about the growing problem 131 of the homeless in the inner cities? I ask the Minister to tell us what the policy is. Have they a policy? There is not one word in the White Paper on homelessness, nor is there anything said about houses in multiple occupation.
Closely related to finance and housing is the question of inner city wasteland. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, spoke about this. The Institute of Economic Affairs produced Hobart Paper 108 on this subject in September. It is subtitled, An assessment of government and market failure in land development. Two surveys of the extent of derelict land were carried out in 1974 and 1982 by the DoE and covered public and private land. There were 45,683 hectares of derelict land in 1982 in public and private ownership. There are also large areas of vacant land outside the remit of the derelict land register and grants. Privately owned land does not appear on the land register so people cannot find out about it. The Housebuilders' Federation report I spoke of says:There is a serious lack of reliable information about the amount of vacant land, its ownership, its availability in the market and its suitability for house building".The authors of the Hobart paper propose a new approach to discourage the hoarding of this land in the hopes of future profit. They suggest a tax on land vacant for longer than a specified period; that existing use rights should lapse after a continued vacancy for, say, five years; that land use zoning controls should be relaxed; and that there should be a public register of land ownership.
No doubt the Government will not be ready to accept these suggestions but we should like to hear their comments on them, because if derelict and vacant land is not going to be brought into use fairly soon developers may find more attractive opportunities in unwanted agricultural land that may well be coming on to the market and may prefer to avoid inner city sites. So if these are to be revived haste is of importance. There is of course no excuse whatsoever for the use of green belt land, and I hope that the Minister will tell us that the stringent green belt policies will continue.
I want to turn briefly to a different subject, crime in the inner cities, and victims of crime. Two British crime surveys in 1982 and 1984 acknowledge that burglary risks are substantially greater in inner city areas than elsewhere and that council tenants are more likely to be victims of household crime than owner-occupiers or private tenants. In 1984 Merseyside County Council commissioned a survey of crime and policing. Crime was found to be the third biggest social problem after unemployment and lack of facilities for young people. In the inner city ward of Granby 54 per cent. of those interviewed had been victims of either a personal or a household crime in the last 12 months.
So what are the Government intending to do to improve this aspect of life in the inner cities? Is the Crime Prevention Council, which I see Mr. Hurd is to announce before Christmas, going to pay particular attention to these areas? What money has gone into crime prevention in total, I ask? It is worth noting 132 that the Government plan to spend £4,800 million on the prisons, the courts, the police and the probation service in 1986–87, an increase of 31 per cent. in real terms since 1979–80. Spending on housing will be £2,240 million, a decrease of 66 per cent. since 1979–80, and I think that is significant.
I like the approach of the National Council for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, NACRO. Its director, Vivien Stern, said;Crime prevention is not solely a matter for the police, nor a question of locks, bars, grilles and bolts. Our approach stems from the view that facilities and property will be protected if people feel first that the facilities belong to them, and secondly that they are worth protecting".This was the philosophy behind NACRO's first project in Cheshire in 1976 and has been ever since. There have been a lot of success stories. On a Lewisham estate in one year burglaries had dropped by 54 per cent., auto crime by 60 per cent., street crime by 48 per cent. But of course these schemes need funding. They have funds from the urban programme, the MSC and DHSS, but many more schemes could be got off the ground if there was better funding, and something would then doubtless be saved on prisons, courts and so on.
An amendment, No. 233, is down to the Criminal Justice Bill to empower the Home Office to give grants to voluntary organisations running crime prevention schemes. I hope that the Government will accept that and show that they are serious in looking for improvements of all kinds to the inner-city environment and its often frightened inhabitants.
I shall end by making one more plea to the Government to give local government and local people a proper opportunity to be involved in the regeneration of their cities. They want an end to confrontation. Look at what has been achieved by so many of them. They are willing to co-operate and they are co-operating with the private sector. What they want is what American cities get from Washington: generous comprehensive tax relief, freedom to spend capital from asset sales, and an end to rate-capping so that they can offer their own incentive grants, a sense that the revival of their cities is their responsibility and their glory. The people who live there must be a part of the revival and proud to be part of it, to share in the creation of a city and an environment in which they need no longer be ashamed to live. Could not the Minister persuade his colleagues to take a less inflexible line?
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, before making my contribution to this important debate, I should like to crave the indulgence of the House if I absent myself for a short period during the dinner hour for another engagement entered into a long time ago. But I hope to be back before the winding up.
We are much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for introducing this subject because it enables us, on a matter of which there is great national awareness, to take stock and to see whether, out of all this array of initiatives, reports and legislation, we are moving in the right direction; and whether, as a result of this great effort, that achieve 133 ment is within sight and this problem, which will clearly take some time yet to be resolved, is on the way to solution.
Perhaps the most graphic description of the so-called "inner city" problem was contained in the 1986 White Paper on public spending which said that,since the mid-1960s the central problem of inner city areas has been economic decline. This has led to a loss of population, employment and of the more skilled and mobile. It has also led to poor housing, decayed infrastructure, derelict environment, lack of private investment and increasing dependence on the state".I think that is about as clear a definition of the problem as one is likely to have and, of course, stated in those terms it is very stark and very serious, wherever it arises.
As both previous speakers have pointed out, there has been a vast panoply in recent years of legislation and of initiatives, both by Government and from the private sector, and something like two dozen major reports dealing with all aspects of this problem. There has rarely been a social problem that has attracted so much attention and that has been dealt with in so many aspects in recent times. There is thus no doubt at all about the awareness.
What we need to know is whether the great amount of activity generated by this awareness is all moving in the right direction. I can perhaps best make my contribution to this important debate by briefly asking five questions, the answers to which, I believe, could indicate whether we are mobilising this great activity as effectively as we might.
The first question I would like to pose is this: is the definition of the problem right? The term "inner cities" is a graphic one and it has stuck. But, geographically, many of the areas affected by urban blight are not located in the inner part of cities. The term must be seen as covering all areas of serious urban decay wherever they are located. What we are facing is a major need for urban renewal—a more appropriate term, I believe, for what this is all about.
Secondly, are we entirely clear on our objectives? Obviously what we are attempting to do is to bring back economic activity into areas from which it has disappeared. But experience has shown that the ways in which this has been done in some cases do not necessarily lead to increased employment of those living in these areas. What we need to define, therefore, is whether that is one of the prime objectives or not. If it is one of the prime objectives, then we need to consider whether we are tackling it in the right way.
Thirdly, are the methods right? This is the area which has attracted the greatest degree of controversy. There was an article in the Financial Times of 12th August which puts the problem fairly graphically. The heading of that article was: "Too Many Fingers In The Urban Pie". No doubt many noble Lords have read the article. I would like to quote briefly from it:While Ministers have a lot to say about the inner cities, no coherent Government policy exists to tackle their problems. What the Government does have is a series of programmes owing their existence to a variety of ad hoc ministerial initiatives over the past decade".Is this a fair statement of the situation? This is what we need to discuss.
134 Of course, there have been many achievements. The docklands were referred to by the noble Lord. Lord Windlesham. My noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe who lives in Glasgow tells me of the great achievements there, mentioned also by the noble Baroness, Lady David. I know of the great achievements already which can be counted to the benefit of the Phoenix initiative, launched from the private sector with some government support. But there are many cases where progress is very slow and uneven.
It has been suggested that a greater degree of visible co-ordination is necessary, and two proposals have been made by those who are interested in this problem. One has been the possible creation of an English development corporation similar to the Scottish and the Welsh ones which might take on board overall visible responsibility for all these initiatives, acting as the agent of the Government.
There has also been the suggestion to which the noble Baroness, Lady David, referred, put forward by the Royal Institute of British Architects, about the creation of a national urban renewal agency. All I can say is that it is very difficult for the interested outsider to be able to tell exactly how resources can be mobilised to support the various initiatives. There is such an array of sources of government funding and semi-government funding that I would have thought that a special university course is probably required in order to matriculate in the art of obtaining these funds in the right way and using them for the right purposes.
My next question is on the subject of resources. The resources which I understand will be available from the Government for these initiatives will amount to something over £500 million in the year 1987–88. This is a very large sum of money. But the question we are bound to ask is: is it adequate? What steps have been taken to decide whether this is the right sum of money or not? Have the Government conducted inquiries into this, or has this sum been arrived at by some other means? I think we are entitled to ask that question.
Of course, it is a prime requirement in all this that a large part of the funding should be stimulated from the private sector. Have the Government considered at all, following the experience in the United States, tax-empt bonds to stimulate private sector investment in desirable infrastructure projects? This seems to have worked very well there. Is it something that can be tried over here?
Finally, I should like to ask whether the right environment is being created in these areas of urban decay to bring back activity and employment. Dilapidation and a poor built environment are the outward signs of urban decline and it seems to me that that is the first job which has to be tackled to bring back economic activity and employment in these areas. There is the question in particular of the state of the housing stock in these areas referred to both by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and the noble Baroness, Lady David. This matter requires urgent action. No doubt action is being taken in some cases but I venture to suggest that this matter requires prime consideration in trying to renew the dilapidated urban areas.
135 Let me quote certain measures which might be taken. There is a strong case for the relaxation of local authority spending controls so as to permit the funding of more work through the sale of assets at least in the deprived areas. There is need for a joint promotion campaign to alert householders to the importance of regular maintenance and occasional major improvement, including publicity for warranty schemes. I happen to be personally involved in an initiative of this kind through the National Home Improvement Council. I am glad to say that Government have given us a degree of support and this needs to be extended. There should be a clear commitment by Government to provide a sufficient and stable flow of funds to tackle the worst problem areas. There should be a concentration of resources on areas of serious housing decay and a co-ordinated approach towards tackling their problems.
I have highlighted the housing problem because that is one of the most outward and visible signs of urban decay. Until it is corrected it is difficult to see how anything else can be achieved.
In conclusion, there is no doubt about the public awareness of the problem. If ever we were aware of a problem, we are aware of the problem of what we call inner cities or the problem of urban renewal. Equally, there is no doubt that a large number of initiatives have been taken by Government, official and private bodies. There is also no doubt that large resources have been devoted to the solution of the problem.
Nevertheless, I refer to the words used by Lord Windlesham in his opening remarks. He said that we are now faced with a bewildering range of policies, programmes and initiatives. It seems to me that we have reached the stage when we need seriously to take stock and to decide whether all these initiatives, all this legislation, and all the efforts made are moving in the appropriate direction and are sufficiently coordinated to achieve the results for which we all wish.