HL Deb 25 March 1993 vol 544 cc508-11

7.47 p.m.

Viscount Goschen rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 25th January be approved [18th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the purpose of this order is to set up the Plymouth Development Corporation. An urban development corporation was formally offered to Plymouth on 6th March 1992. It was seen as the most effective method of regenerating parts of the defence estate which were surplus to the Ministry of Defence's operational requirements, along with some adjoining land. The UDC's task would be to promote development in its designated area. It would have planning and CPO powers, a proposed budget of £45 million and a board comprising equal numbers of local authority and other members.

The proposal was welcomed by Plymouth City Council and Devon County Council, with both authorities responding positively to the offer of partnership it involved. In particular, it was thought that the UDC would be able to make an important contribution to the city's efforts to combat rising unemployment and associated problems of physical decline and social deprivation.

The primary objective will be to secure the physical, environmental, economic and social regeneration of the development corporation's designated area, which has as its centrepiece the Royal William Victualling Yard. This comprises one of the most important surviving groups of historic maritime buildings in the United Kingdom and contains some of the finest industrial architecture in Europe.

Mount Wise is the second of the three parcels of land which will form the urban development area. It is arguably the foremost waterfrontage site in Plymouth, offering very attractive views across the river Tamar to Mount Edgcumbe Country Park in Cornwall. Much of the site is currently derelict but there are obvious residential, light industrial and commercial development opportunities.

The final site is Mount Batten and it offers fine all round views of the Sound and much of the city. Although over half of the site is designated as an ancient monument, there is none the less much opportunity for residential and leisure development.

The UDC will work closely with its partners in the local council and the private sector to ensure that its objective of regeneration is met. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has encouraged the partnership arrangement by agreeing to equal numbers of local authority and private sector members on the board. He will be appointing Vice Admiral Sir Robert Gerken KCB as chairman and Councillor John Ingham as deputy chairman of the new development corporation. This composition is designed to reflect the spirit of partnership which already exists in Plymouth between the public and private sectors.

Plymouth Development Corporation will have a lifespan of about five years with £45 million proposed during the period, £7 million of which will be in the first financial year 1993–94. It will be financed jointly by the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Defence. All the costs will be met from within existing PES resources. In addition, MoD land at Royal William Yard, Mount Wise and Mount Batten will be transferred to come under the ownership of the development corporation.

It is intended that the development corporation will take over the role of planning authority for its area from the city council. A planning function order has therefore been prepared and will be made immediately after the area and constitution order, which is before us today, comes into force. The planning functions order will be laid as soon as possible thereafter. Making the corporation the development control authority for its area will increase its ability to put into place more quickly and easily the necessary redevelopment strategies.

There have been extensive discussions locally about the proposal. All of the interested parties in Plymouth are fully behind the creation of an urban development corporation. By approving this order today, the House will be providing a tremendous boost for Plymouth and the South West as a whole. The proposed funding of £45 million in public resources will act as a magnet for private investment and bring about lasting regeneration. I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 25th January be approved [18th Report from the Joint Commitiee].—(Viscount Goschen.)

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, on this side of the House we usually have fairly jaundiced views of UDCs which have, in the past at any rate —and certainly in docklands—been property led, top down and unaccountable and have all too often distorted funding patterns within urban programmes. But, happily, in this case I believe that the Plymouth UDC does not fall into that situation. We strongly welcome it. More than almost any other UDC, apart possibly from one of the Birmingham ones, it is a partnership UDC which was promoted by Plymouth's Labour-controlled city council, half of whose members, including the vice-chairman, will be drawn from local authorities.

In the statutory instruments committee review, we have the assurance from the Minister Mr. Redwood, regarding one of the concerns elsewhere with UDCs, task forces and so on—which is that the trickle down assumptions of wealth created will not actually benefit local people—that, wherever possible, the UDC should employ local talent labour. I hope that the Minister will pass those remarks on to his honourable friend the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities so that we can have the same permission inserted into compulsive competitive tendering where local authorities are also involved to ensure a trickle down so that local labour is employed.

As regards the finance of £45 million, perhaps the Minister should have emphasised rather more fairly that the £45 million applies over five years and not over one year—it is £9 million a year. Plymouth certainly regards that as being at the expense of its City Challenge. But given the fact that City Challenge is being abandoned, that was, perhaps, only to be expected.

I believe that the wider problems of Plymouth are fairly well known. Of course, Plymouth was the amalgamation of three towns—namely, Devonport, Plymouth and Stonehouse—back, as I remember, in 1921–22. But economically the powerhouse has always been the dockyard which over the past five to seven years has seen the number of jobs reduced from 30,000 to 5,000. Therefore, the rate of unemployment there now stands at 14 per cent. Apart from tourism, agriculture, electronics—I do not know how Toshiba is getting on—and food processing, there is little alternative manufacturing base in Plymouth. It is of course an isolated city. I was taken there as a child and lived all my young life in the area. We never heard live music.

The future of the dockyard fairly hangs on the Rosyth and Devonport decisions. But, in the meantime, we welcome the release and regeneration of this MoD land. It is actually physically separated from the dockland land. As regards Mount Batten—where my father worked—the heights must of course remain open space. That commands wonderful views of the whole of the Plymouth Estuary, and the Sound is a place of outstanding natural beauty that must be protected whatever else happens. While Mount Wise looks on to Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, one presumes that that would be appropriate for housing development and, perhaps, some associated light industrial use.

What concerns me is the future of the victualling yard. So far as I can remember, it was built by Foulstone in the 1780s along with adjacent houses in Durnford Street—in one of which I lived. It has magnificent Grade 1 listed buildings which, in my view, are comparable to Greenwich and rather superior to most of Liverpool's Albert Dock; and adjacent obviously to that superb promontory of Devil's Point. It is unbelievable that the MoD has allowed it to fall into disrepair over the years simply because it was legally exempt from supporting it. I understand from local estimates that, as a result, it will take over £30 million just to bring the victualling yard up to a usable state. If that is true, it will take almost all of the available resources of the UDC over the five-year period.

But, nonetheless, it is a major heritage area. I think that there may well be transport problems when the project is sorted oat, especially if it is intended to make use of the area for housing, offices, a museum complex and the like. However, it would represent a major asset to the city of Plymouth. They are wonderful buildings. I very much welcome the new UDC.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her kind remarks about Plymouth and the UDC. I shall indeed pass her remarks on to my honourable friend as requested. Given the nature of the sites, especially Royal William Yard and Mount Batten with their preponderance of listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments, the corporation will be acutely aware of the need to consult closely with bodies such as English Heritage. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until five minutes past eight.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.56 p.m. to 8.5 p.m.]