HL Deb 13 March 1998 vol 587 cc426-8

12.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman)

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st January be approved [20th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper I intend to speak also to the second Motion and to move it formally later.

The two orders before the House both relate to the wind up of the remaining eight urban development corporations in England. Twelve statutory orders in total are required to achieve this, but only these two are subject to an affirmative procedure.

One of these two orders revokes earlier ones which set up the UDCs, and which designated the areas in which they operate. The other transfers certain powers from the London Docklands Development Corporation to suitable successor bodies. These are primarily powers to make by-laws and to control navigation within Docklands. Other orders have been laid before the House which will help to ensure that satisfactory succession arrangements are in place. I should like to mention two in particular.

One order provides for the UDCs' planning functions to return to the relevant local authorities. Another order transfers any assets and liabilities remaining with the UDCs on 1st April to the Commission for the New Towns. The UDCs have now disposed of most of their assets and liabilities, mainly to the private sector, to local authorities and to English Partnerships. But it is necessary to have a residuary body for what remains. The Commission for the New Towns has been designated as this residuary body.

Wind up of the UDCs has been taking place in piecemeal fashion since 1995. Not only did the previous government create the UDCs, but they also began the programme for dissolving them. When this Government took office, four UDCs had gone; and preparations for winding up the remaining eight in England by April 1998 were well-advanced. To remove any uncertainty, the Government confirmed early on that this process would continue. These orders represent the conclusion of the process.

The UDCs were always intended to be time-limited bodies. They were established in run-down areas in and around some of our major cities—areas where the private sector was no longer willing to invest. Armed with wide powers, their task was to remove the decay and dereliction, and revive the economic fortunes of their areas. The idea was that, once these areas had been given a much-needed "shot in the arm", and the regeneration process was well under way, the corporations could then be wound up.

Many such areas have been transformed as a result of the UDCs being there. New commercial and industrial development has taken place on neglected sites, creating nearly a quarter of a million jobs. Forty thousand new homes have been built. New roads and airports have been developed. Much has been done to create a better environment. All this has led to an uplift in investor confidence. For every £1 of public money that has been invested in the UDCs, nearly £4 of private money has been attracted to these areas.

These are impressive achievements, although we should not overlook the fact that nearly £4 billion of public funds have gone into the UDCs over the past 17 years. Whether good value has been achieved for this huge sum of money is open to question. A key test will be how sustainable these improvements prove to be over time.

The Government believe that the way forward for tackling regeneration lies in an approach based more directly on partnership, community involvement and local accountability, an approach which ensures that physical and social regeneration are carried out hand-in-hand. We shall be looking to the new regional development agencies to bring this about.

Therefore, while we should acknowledge the achievements of the UDCs, and give them credit for overcoming the initial hostility, we believe the time has come to bring this programme to a close and move on.

These orders are an essential part of that process, and I commend them to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st January be approved [20th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Hayman.)

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I support the orders that the noble Baroness has explained so carefully to the House. I am glad that she acknowledges that the urban development corporations have on the whole been a success. As she said, they were, of course, time limited and their time is now up.

On Question, Motion agreed to.