HL Deb 19 December 1988 vol 502 cc1187-96

7.5 p.m.

The Earl of Arran rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 17th May be approved [27th Report from the Joint Committee, Session 1987-88].

The noble Earl said: My Lords as the second Motion in my name on the Order Paper follows directly from the first, it may be convenient for the House if I speak to both together.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced his proposal for an urban development corporation in Bristol on 7th December last year. A team of consultants, led by Ecotec Research and Consulting were appointed to study the proposed area and the land immediately adjacent. They were asked to recommend boundaries, assess the public sector resources required and the likely level of private investment that could be generated.

In the light of their advice, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State drew up firm boundary proposals, which were circulated to both the city and county council for comment before final decisions were taken and an order made.

The Bristol Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) Order 1988 was laid before your Lordships' House on 17th May. The order was declared hybrid and two petitions were deposited against it. The petition of Bristol City Council was judged to have locus standi and the order was referred to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House for further inquiry. The committee comprised the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, as chairman and the noble Lords, Lord Blease, Lord Elibank and Lord Hampton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hood.

The committee began its inquiry on 11th October. It sat for nine days to hear evidence and submissions from the Government and the city council and then visited Bristol to tour the proposed area. It met on a further two days to consider its report. The committee made known its conclusions on 9th November and its full report was published on 7th December.

I am sure that your Lordships' House will join me in expressing gratitude to the committee for the way in which it conducted its enquiries. It made a thorough examination of the problems, potential and progress of each part of the proposed area before producing its comprehensive report. The report made firm recommendations. I am delighted to say that the committee found strongly in favour of the establishment of a UDC. It recommended that the boundaries be altered so as to exclude four areas, together totalling around 60 hectares.

The Government have accepted these proposed amendments to the boundary. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State laid an amendment order before your Lordships' House on 12th December. That amendment order was itself declared hybrid. However, your Lordships determined last week that it would be appropriate to suspend Standing Order No. 216 in this case, given the detailed inquiry which had already been held.

The effect of these two orders, if approved by your Lordships and in another place, will be to establish a UDC in Bristol. Its designated area will cover around 360 hectares.

That briefly is the history of these two orders. Perhaps I may say a few words in general about urban development corporations. UDCs are set up under Part XV1 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. They are single-minded organisations with a statutory duty to secure the regeneration of their areas. They combine statutory powers and public funding with the private sector experience of their boards. The combination of these factors ensures that UDCs are effective agencies for urban renewal.

In particular, UDCs should seek to bring land and buildings into beneficial use; they may themselves acquire, reclaim and dispose of land and other property and seek to ensure the provision of services. UDCs can encourage the development of new and existing industry and commerce, help create an attractive environment and ensure that housing and social facilities are available to encourage people to live and work in the area. They may also, by order, be made the development control authority for their area, and indeed my right honourable friend the Secretary of State intends to transfer planning powers to the Bristol UDC.

I now turn to the situation in Bristol. The City of Bristol is for the most part prosperous and flourishing. However, that prosperity is not evenly distributed throughout the city. The area to the east of the city centre contains Bristol's traditional industrial heartland. The area was mostly developed in the 19th century but now finds itself with an out-of-date transport infrastructure, serious development problems and a significant number of vacant and under-used sites. The UDC will address itself to overcoming these problems and securing the area's regeneration.

The strategy for regenerating the area will be a matter for the UDC once it is established. However, the consultants examining the area have suggested that the UDC would need to improve access for both new and existing users; open up industrial sites to ensure an adequate supply of industrial land to meet the requirements of modern industry; undertake environmental improvements and encourage further housing development; and bring back into use major derelict sites by encouraging mixed use development.

The consultants have estimated that the UDC should be able to do its work with a budget of £15 million over five years plus receipts of several million pounds from land transactions. Ecotec estimated that up to £250 million of private development could result from this expenditure.

UDCs for Central Manchester and Leeds were announced together with that for Bristol; a UDC for Sheffield was announced in March as part of Action for Cities. Establishment of those three UDCs was unopposed and they came into existence at the end of June. It is unfortunate that the Bristol UDC has been delayed. However, I hope that, if your Lordships approve these orders today and if they are subsequently approved in another place, the UDC can start work in its area early in the New Year. The Government, like the Select Committee hope that the city council will now lend the UDC its full co-operation, which will be invaluable to the regeneration of the area. I commend the orders to your Lordships' House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 17th May be approved [27th Report from the Joint Committee, Session 1987–88].—(The Earl of Arran.)

7.15 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, perhaps I may join with the noble Earl, Lord Arran, in thanking the members of the committee that dealt with these matters. I am fully aware of the time that was taken and the amount of evidence that it had to hear in order to make a recommendation to your Lordships' House. While we on this side of the Chamber have no desire to oppose the orders before us, I do not believe the situation is as the Minister indicates. In fact I believe he is looking at the matters through rose-coloured glasses.

The noble Earl mentioned that this particular order was originally tabled for process at the same time as the orders for Manchester and Leeds, and they were not opposed. They were not opposed officially and there was no recourse to the action that Bristol took. Those orders were not welcomed with open arms by the City of Manchester City Council or the City of Leeds City Council. At one time those areas were not proceeding with the best of haste to be developed. The councils had finally come to the view that they had to proceed on a partnership basis involving themselves with private money and developers. I do not believe it is right to say or to give the impression that the orders were welcomed with open arms in Leeds and Manchester because that was not the case. As I have said, both those cities were in the process, and still are, of developing substantial areas of their inner cities in partnership and on agreed terms with various financial entities.

What worries me in particular is that with the best will in the world urban development corporations are still at an experimental stage because as yet they have not proved anything. They have not been given the chance. The only example to which one can have recourse and consider is that of the London Docklands. We all know that the development as regards London Docklands has not been roses all the way. There has been severe criticism by the Public Accounts Committee in another place as regards some of the activities of London Docklands and the way in which those activities were pursued. London Docklands, like these urban development councils, need not have recourse to the local authorities in which they are situated. They can proceed lightly on their way. The only person who can muzzle them or put a tight rein upon them is the Secretary of State. If one takes the trouble to read the minutes of the Public Accounts Committee in another place one sees that there is a good deal of concern as regards what unelected but appointed bodies can do when they are dealing with large areas of land for redevelopment in inner city areas. That will be high value land whatever city it is in.

The Minister said that the City of Bristol is a patchwork where various parts of the city are prosperous and other parts are not. From my experience one can say that about any of our largest cities including London. We are within almost a stone's throw of some of the worst areas of London that require development. One has the most affluent areas of London in the West End and in the City of London, but within a mile or two one can see the utmost deprivation. Therefore, it is not peculiar to Bristol to use the contrasts as an excuse. As I have said, we are not opposing these orders, but there is the question of the Government's insensitivity in not having regard to the views of the local authorities. They represent people and they are voted into and out of office.

I do not expect the Minister to give me an answer now, but people like myself will be watching the progress of these urban development corporations. I believe that one of the first developments after London Docklands was Trafford Park on the periphery of the City of Manchester but in Greater Manchester. We must wait to see what that development produces.

Some two or three weeks ago I read with some dismay that there was a threat that the Phoenix Initiative would be brought to an end. To be very brief, the Phoenix Initiative is not an official government body. I believe its offices are situated at the Building Employers' Confederation offices. The Phoenix Initiative has been doing an excellent job in partnership with cities and it has been producing results. I have been to see a quite outstanding example in the City of Salford. This body was in negotiation for a huge area towards the centre of Manchester. As far as I know the Phoenix Initiative had been quite extensively involved in inner city development before anyone had coined the name or even thought of an urban development corporation. The body was mainly motivated by people in the private sector; namely, builders, financiers and their supporters who were negotiating with local authorities, coming to terms with them and redeveloping to the satisfaction, I must say, of the government of the day. That was without any demure whatever.

I do not expect the Minister to answer me now but perhaps he will write to me on the question of the future of the Phoenix Initiative. I do not oppose the urban development corporations: I wish them success. I believe it will be absolutely disastrous if the Government, while forming or instituting this type of procedure with urban development councils, were almost to pull the rug from beneath the Phoenix Initiative and what it stands for. It has started to produce the goods and I believe that it will produce them quicker than the urban development corporations because it is further through the tunnel. Having said that, I end on the note on which I commenced.

I am saddened that the development of cities such as Bristol cannot take place on a full partnership basis. Some local authorities appeared to be reluctant at the beginning but came to realise that without partnership with the private sector development could not take place. In the cities of Manchester and Leeds, which I know very well, development was gathering pace. It is happening now because the urban development corporation has not existed long enough for it to do anything. I hope that the formation of urban development corporations does not act as a brake on schemes already agreed on a voluntary basis between local authorities, the private sector and the building interests involved. What the Government are doing through the urban development corporations could have been done by agreement.

It may be the case that in the not too distant future your Lordships will decide to debate this important function. The Minister referred to a starting point of £15 million. As a basis for the development of a city like Bristol, that is confetti money. It is peanuts in terms of land values.

We shall not oppose the orders but we do not criticise Bristol for its course of action. It acted in what it considered to be the best interests of the citizens and the ratepayers of Bristol. Only time will tell whether the urban development corporations are value for money for local ratepayers. I look forward to the day when balance sheets are available. We shall then see whether the experiment—and it is only an experiment—has been a success or a failure. I hope that the former is the case but I am frightened to death that it may be the latter. If that is so, it will prove what I and many other people not of my political persuasion have said from the start—partnership at local level is a far better starting point than an urban development corporation.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the orders. I speak from our Front Bench but I was also a member of the Select Committee so ably chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. From these Benches, more readily it seems than the noble Lord who has just spoken, we welcome the way in which the Government have accepted the unanimous recommendations of the Select Committee. I hope that Bristol city council and the new development corporation can now work toegether in real harmony.

We were agreed in the committee that the main area needed regeneration. We all believed that that part of the originally proposed development area to the north-west which has now been accepted for exclusion has already shown lively development and can best be left in the care of the city council. With confidence we wish Mr. C. W. Thomas, the chairman designate of the urban development corporation, well. We on these Benches support the two orders. I shall certainly hope to go back in two or three years' time optimistically to see the developments.

Lord Brightman

My Lords, I am sure that the committee which I had the honour to chair will be grateful for the kind remarks made by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, and the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, on its handling of its task. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, for his kindly tribute to my chairmanship.

I found the committee's task both enjoyable and instructive but not easy. Perhaps the most important and worrying aspect was that the establishment of an urban development corporation inevitably means that the planning control of the area in question is taken out of the hands of the elected representatives of Bristol and placed in the hands of a government agency. This aspect much concerned the Select Committee which examined the London docklands order and this aspect greatly concerned our committee. It meant that the promoter of the order had to make out a strong case to justify the setting up of an agency that would supplant the local council.

There were three main issues before the committee. The first main issue was whether the area in question needed to be regenerated. The committee had no doubt that the answer to that question was an emphatic yes. Perhaps I may give your Lordships just one example. In the middle of the proposed urban development area there is a 25-acre site with the somewhat unappealing name of Marsh Junction. Until 1980 it was used as a storage area for a large board mill which has now been closed. At the northern end of this important site is a now disused and crumbling railway embankment. Beyond the embankment is an unofficial site for gypsy caravans. The rest of the site is vacant and deserted. Down the western side is a disused railway track. Along that track British Rail has stationed a line of rusty old railway wagons which bar the southern access to the site. The wagons are all marked as condemned but they have been condemned for so long that coarse grasses have found a foothold on some of them and bindweed grows over their wheels.

This important site has been unused for eight years except as a cemetery for old railway wagons. There are many other pockets of decay or dereliction. Inevitably one asks who is to blame for this state of affairs. The committee said, and I emphasise, that blame should not he laid at the door of the city fathers. As the committee stated in its report, the dedication of Mr. Patterson, the chief planning officer of the council, was abundantly clear. But the city council has many responsibilities outside the proposed urban development area, competing priorities and a restricted budget. It is hampered by the fact that it is not the highway authority, and much of the trouble stems from an out-of-date road system and inadequate access to development sites. It should not therefore be a matter of great surprise if the council has not carried out the wholesale attack on those areas of decay which an urban development corporation will be certain to mount.

The second main issue before the committee, and the most difficult one, was whether regeneration would be better accomplished by an urban development corporation, rather than by the absence of one. The conclusion reached by the committee is spelt out in paragraph 47 of the report. With your Lordships' permission I should like to read two sentences therefrom, because they are really the nub of the committee's decision on the issue: Quite apart from the injection of over £15 million of extra money, a small agency such as the proposed UDC, with highly qualified members in office, concentrating on the sole job of initiating the regeneration of a small area of the city, would have the capacity to move with greater speed and effectiveness than the planning department of the City Council. Furthermore, the knowledge that there exists a government agency to deal specifically with the redevelopment of a defined area of Bristol will give prospective developers the confidence that the area as a whole is about to be improved and a modern infrastructure created". The third issue was also a difficult one; namely, whether any parts of the proposed UDA should be excluded for reasons peculiar to those parts. After a great deal of discussion among themselves, members of the committee concluded that four parts on the circumference of the area did not really need to be handed over to the proposed corporation.

Samuel Pepys, writing in his diary on 13th June 1668, described the then city of Bristol as: in every respect another London". Seventy years later, Alexander Pope described the River Avon, where it wound its way through the city as: fuller of ships than the Thames between London Bridge and Deptford". It is perhaps too much to expect that Bristol will attain quite that eminence again in the foreseeable future. But the establishment of an urban development corporation offers Bristol the best means of rehabilitating her former industrial heartland.

I express the hope that your Lordships will feel that the committee reached the right answer in its report. If both Houses approve the proposed orders, I also hope that the city council, despite its initial opposition, will accept the situation and lend the corporation its fullest co-operation.

Lord Blease

My Lords, I too was a member of the Select Committee appointed to consider the matters under the principal order. I rise to support the approval of the orders now before the House and warmly to concur with the remarks so ably made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. I should also like to say that I welcome the critical and forthright way—and I believe helpful way—in which my noble friend the Opposition spokesman, Lord Dean of Beswick, dealt with the issues of urban development areas.

I should also like to thank the Minister for his kind remarks in reference to the work of the committee. I feel that it is only right and proper that I should indicate my pleasure regarding the way in which the Secretary of State for the Environment, the right honourable Nicholas Ridley, now proposes to implement the recommendations of the Select Committee. I do so because I am assured that the action has met with the approval of the elected representatives of the Bristol area.

The Select Committee certainly very much appreciated the help and co-operation it received from both the promoters and the petitioners. We found that both groups were strongly committed to the needs of a regeneration of the area concerned. Despite the reservations that the members of the committee had about the mode of operation and about certain planning measures, we believe that the decisions that were taken were taken in the best interests of the people in the area.

I believe that the Members of the Select Committee would like to place on record their gratitude to the chairman. the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. His pleasant and effective manner in the committee and in the drafting work made our task comparatively light. We also found the clerk and the staff of the Private Bill Office most helpful.

Finally, perhaps I may add, with I believe a sense of confidence, what is already contained in the Select Committee's report; namely that through this project the Bristol City Council and the urban development corporation can accomplish much for the benefit of the people in that particular area. Therefore I concur with the remarks already made by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, and by the chairman of the committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, that this was done with a considerable amount of critical analysis of the work of both the proposed urban development corporation and the role and functions of the Bristol City Council. With those remarks I should like to express again my support for the approval of both orders.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, as a result of this evening's debate I think it would be most right and proper if, before taking individual points—especially the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick—I were to express on behalf of your Lordships' House our great gratitude once again to those noble Lords who sat on the Select Committee. In particular we should like to express our gratitude to the chairman of the Select Committee the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, who obviously put an enormous amount of toil, good sense and hard work into the whole problem. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord spoke most eloquently about the problems of the area. The Government can only agree with the committee's finding that those problems are best tackled by a single-minded body.

I turn now to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick. I should first point out that the Select Committee in its report described the UDA—I repeat this passage again—as: A decayed area set near the heart of one of England's greatest cities. It is not an area of total devastation, but one which contains numerous pockets of decay … an area which cries out for a radically improved infrastructure and orderly development". This particular UDC is the eleventh that has been formed since the Government's conception of UDCs in 1980. I should like, if I may, to make three very quick points in regard to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick. First, he said that the Leeds and Manchester urban development corporations were not welcomed with open arms. But both local authorities are co-operating with the UDCs, and local councillors have taken up seats on their boards.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I hope that the noble Earl will give way for a moment. Is not the Minister aware that in the case of the Manchester one, the two members of the Manchester City Council who were appointed to the board—namely, the leader of the council and councillor Flanagan—did not attend the initial opening to express their disapproval of what was taking place?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I hear the point made by the noble Lord. Secondly, I remind the noble Lord, Lord Dean, that UDC members are not elected, but neither were the members of the highly successful new town corporations which were invented by the Labour Government. UDCs exist to get the job done. Their members all have local connections with the private and public sector. Where local authorities have agreed, local councillors have been appointed.

Thirdly there is no reason why the UDC should displace the Phoenix initiative. Local private sector initiatives can only be helped by the formation of the UDC. By approving the orders, we can make an important contribution to the regeneration of a sizeable area of East Bristol. It is in that context and in that vein that I commend the orders to your Lordships.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, I hope your Lordships will not think that I am labouring the point, but I should like to express my gratitude for the tremendous amount of work done by the committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, in a difficult situation. Bearing in mind the need to create the maximum goodwill in the area, will the Minister tell the House whether any members of Bristol City Council have been appointed to, or been offered and refused, places on the UDC? That is an important point.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I understand that eight appointments have already been made and that three places remain to be filled.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am sorry to pursue the point but I asked a question. Have any Bristol City councillors been appointed or have any places been offered to them?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, to be best of my knowledge none of them has yet been appointed.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, have the councillors been offered places? The noble Earl must surely know that.

Lord Brightman

My Lords, I do not know whether I am at liberty to intervene, but my understanding was that two—I may be wrong in my numbers—appointments were going to be offered to the council. I intervene only to say that that was my recollection. My noble friend Lord Blease may be able to support that recollection.

On Question, Motion agreed to.