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House of Commons

Friday 25 March 1994

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]

Inner Cities

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Lightbown.]

9.34 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry) : I am delighted that the House has the opportunity today to consider and debate those policies that can best lead to the continuing regeneration of our inner cities. Our ambition is straightforward : our cities should be places where people are proud to live and proud to bring up their children.

I draw the attention of hon. Members to the wide-ranging work being done by the Government and many others to achieve such an ambition. I mention "many others" early in the debate because it is clear that effective urban revival can best be achieved--indeed, it can only be achieved--in partnerships, including central Government and local government, but, more importantly, local people, business, community and voluntary groups.

Inner-city regeneration cannot come from the Government alone. As Lord Hailsham once commented :

"the Conservative contends that the most a politician can do is to ensure that some, and these by no means the most important, conditions in which the good life can exist are present and more important still to prevent fools or knaves from setting up conditions which make any approach to the good life impossible except for solitaries and authorities . . . All the great evils of our time have come from men who mocked and exploited human misery by pretending that good government--that is government according to their way of thinking--could offer Utopia."

What the Government must do to be the principal partner is to ensure policies and guidance that promote partnerships and encourage continuing urban regeneration and economic revival, and where appropriate make available financial support. Indeed, Government support for urban regeneration in England, Wales and Scotland is currently running at some £4 billion a year. That includes elements of our main programmes and targeted initiatives ; indeed, they involve large sums of money.

We all need to have a shared vision for our towns and cities--bright, bustling, vibrant, economically active, attractive to live in and pleasant to work in. Of course, we should not for one moment underestimate the challenges facing our cities, or indeed, those living there--the challenges to continue to reduce unemployment, to ensure decent housing, to continue to tackle crime, to ensure that everyone can be involved in determining their own and their family's future, and to ensure that we have the skills necessary to compete in the global markets of the 21st century.

In appreciating the challenges, we should not allow anyone to fail to acknowledge what has been achieved recently. There was an interesting trailer for today's debate on Radio 4's "Today" programme this morning. In an interview at Sunderland's Pennywell industrial estate,

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Councillor Les Scott, the Labour councillor for Sunderland, and Sir Paul Nicholson, chairman of the Tyne and Wear development corporation, challenged the interviewer's doom and gloom introduction. They stressed the progress that Sunderland had made over the past five years--progress in jobs and local confidence--agreeing with each other that Government support, together with local authority and business community partnerships, has paid substantial dividends. Those who listened to the interview will recall that the piece concluded with the interviewer apologising for being five years out of date. I hope that today's debate can bring everyone up to date on the achievements that have been taking place in our inner cities.

Understanding what is needed to improve the quality of our cities requires us to look at the issues in a broader, holistic way. For example, how people shop relates to how they use their cars ; how they use their cars influences urban traffic flows ; and how local authorities respond clearly influences whether businesses want to invest in town centres and create new jobs there.

Urban issues are all inextricably interwoven and intertwined. Vibrant cities require a sound planning framework, so we wish to encourage the vitality and viability of existing town and city centres, to ensure that, wherever possible, new shops or retail facilities are developed within town centres, and only if suitable sites are not available there should those be developed on the edge of towns. Only in very rare circumstances will we expect there to be new large-scale retail developments on out-of-town, green field sites.

Indeed, recent planning guidance makes it clear that we wish to see the end of the building of out-of-town business parks, warehouses, shopping malls and housing estates which are accessible only by car. We want to recover the vitality of life in our cities and to make them vibrant and lively places in which to live.

The Council for the Protection of Rural England commented : "The Government is committed to development that takes place in urban areas as opposed to more suburbanisation of the countryside". We want to curb the growth of traffic. The planning guidance published last week on transport and the environment makes it clear that future development should be planned not only to diminish the necessity to travel but to maximise the choice of the means of travel.

Developments that are major generators of travel demand, such as shops, offices, leisure and education facilities and hospitals, should be built near railway stations or on bus routes, so that people have a choice of means of getting there, and they are not just reliant on a car.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : If the Minister is serious about wishing to curb traffic in inner cities, why is not he prepared to give London Transport the investment so that we can have a transport system in London for the year 2000 ? Why has he starved London Transport of money if he is serious about curbing traffic ?

Mr. Baldry : London Transport has received substantial sums of investment. Perhaps the hon. Lady has not noticed that we recently announced £1.5 billion of funding for the Jubilee line. We have also completed the extension to Beckton of the docklands light railway, and we are now constructing the light railway across to Lewisham. The

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infrastructure of London Transport is moving apace, as it is in other city centres, and considerable sums of money are being spent on that.

The hon. Lady raises an interesting point, and it may be helpful to have the matter out in the open at the start of the debate. She referred to spending, and I suspect that there will be a cacophony from the Opposition that whatever we are spending is insufficient. We must be clear on whether the spending aspirations of the Opposition have been signed up to by those on their Front Bench.

It has been extremely confusing for us in trying to understand exactly where the Opposition stand on public spending. The respected commentator Peter Riddle wrote just a few weeks ago that the Labour party spoke with two voices, if not more, on spending and taxes. He was commenting on a consultation paper on health, and I suspect that we will hear something about health in our inner cities during the debate.

The document contains none of the previous pledges on restoring alleged underfunding, but that is only half of the story. Labour conferences have approved motions proposing big increases in spending on nursery education, overseas aid, pensions, housing, industrial aid and a national minimum wage. A national minimum wage would cost taxpayers £1.5 billion, let alone what it would cost employers. We must understand that there seems to be a new doctrine in the Labour party. If promises are made by the Opposition outside the House--even at party conferences or to business men- -nobody is expected to believe them. Only when the promises are made on the Floor of the House do they appear to be firm commitments. That makes it all the more important that we watch closely the lips of Opposition Front Bench Members during the debate to see exactly what public spending commitments they are making.

When the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) pops up and down saying that she wants more public spending, let us make sure whether or not her Front-Bench team have signed up to that cry. I am afraid that she and her colleagues on the Opposition's environment team appear to have got themselves into trouble before. Only a couple of weeks ago, the headline of a report in The Times of debates in this House stated that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) had undermined Labour's spending promise. The hon. Gentleman appeared to have made some commitments in the House without first having checked them with his Treasury team colleagues.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : We have come to the House to hear about the Government's spending commitments, for which the Minister is responsible. Will he address himself to his plans for the single regeneration budget in the regions ? Will he tell us about the senior regional director for London ? The Minister talks about partnership, but will not the function of that civil servant be to replace elected persons ? Will he deny what I have said in the House--that this sort of structure is a cascade of patronage which is approaching neo-fascism ?

Mr. Baldry : Of course I will talk about the single regeneration budget and the single regional director in due course. It seemed important to me that, as there appeared

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to be cries for more public spending from the Opposition, we got out into the open whether those were commitments to which the Labour party was signing up. It is important to know whether we were to have another Friday debate in which Opposition Back Benchers troop into the Chamber giving the impression that they want more public spending, but when the figures come out into the open, they are disclaimed by the Opposition Treasury team.

I am also concerned that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has not understood the roles of the single regeneration budget and the single regional director. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) and I spent what I thought was a productive hour with the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues from the London Labour parliamentary group trying to explain that. As we clearly and lamentably failed to ensure that they understood, I will try again during the debate.

Before the intervention from the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, I was talking about the need to ensure that there was a choice of the means of travel, and that people did not have to rely on a car. Houses should be built in the hearts of our cities and near to workplaces which are made accessible to those living in city centres.

Congestion is an increasing curse of urban life. Reducing the need to travel through sensible planning must make sense, particularly in the light of forecasts that traffic will double during the next 25 years unless effective action is taken. Such planning policies will boost the regeneration of towns and cities, not only by diverting development back towards town and city centres but by promoting a greater diversity of activities within them.

Post-war planning policies of rigidly zoning different areas for different uses robbed far too many towns of their vitality. Too many of the 1960s housing estates are stuck out on the edge of cities, cut off from city centres and places of work. Cities are efficient transport locations, and we can use the planning system to enhance our cities as the focus for a high quality of urban life. Of course, the results of new planning guidance will not be seen overnight, and the planning decisions that are taken today will have consequences for many years to come. The new guidance to cut reliance on the motor car and to boost the vitality of our cities will increasingly have an impact as local authorities prepare their local plans and take decisions on planning applications. I am sure that what we are seeking to achieve in enhancing the future sustainability of towns and cities goes very much with the grain of what people want, and what we are seeking to achieve through the planning system strikes a vital chord. People do not want ever more sheds on the bypass if that puts at risk the heritage and undermines the vitality of existing city centres.

As well as planning for the future, we are tackling the dereliction of the past.

Mr. Spearing : What about docklands ?

Mr. Baldry : I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's point. I do not want him to get bored and want to disappear. Of course, he could not get bored--it is such an interesting debate.

It became clear in the early 1980s that large tracts of our cities were blighted by industrial dereliction and

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contaminated land. Large parts of previous industrial areas needed to be regenerated and brought back into useful economic use. For example, London docklands is dear to the heart of Opposition Members. The last time we debated inner-city issues in the Chamber a few weeks ago, the hon. Member for Newham, South was scathing about the achievements of London docklands. I was surprised at that. Subsequently, I discovered that the only newspaper that supports the Labour party has had the perspicacity to move to docklands. The Daily Mirror has moved into Canary wharf, once described by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) as a great white elephant. In a recent issue of the Daily Mirror , a report said : "The 21st century starts here . . . We can see the Thames winding away East towards the sea. The old City of London spread out to the West. Beyond it, the heart of the capital.

But we can see more than that. We can see the future." The Daily Mirror has rather more confidence in the future of docklands than Labour Members of Parliament who represent the dockland areas.

The editors of the various Mirror Group newspapers said : "Nobody could be more enthusiastic about the move to Canary Wharf than the editors of the four Mirror Group titles involved.

It's a bright new world that represents a new get-up-and-do-it attitude of Britain's young,' says Daily Mirror editor David Banks.

It's a quality location for quality staff, a young staff who are ambitious for themselves and for the company."

[Hon. Members :-- "They would say that."] Opposition Members may jeer, but the newspaper is talking about jobs and bringing a substantial number of jobs to docklands.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : The Minister must be short of ideas if he has to read chunks out of the Daily Mirror to substitute for his speech. He will know, because he was present at the launch of "Cities 94" with me at Canary wharf, that the main criticism of the developers was the failure of the Government to give adequate leadership to regeneration policies.

Mr. Baldry : That is twaddle. It is clear from what is happening in docklands that a clear lead has been given. Docklands is testimony to the leadership that the Government have demonstrated in the past decade. What is happening in docklands is being repeated elsewhere. Today's issue of Building magazine gives some evidence. Opposition Members come to the Chamber so often to seek to bury Canary wharf. It is important to make it clear that Canary wharf is a great success. [ Laughter. ] I appreciate that the Opposition do not like to hear good news, but I see it as one of our functions to ensure that they understand the realities of life.

The editor of Building magazine said only today :

"Canary Wharf is no longer half empty ; it is half full. The difference between the two is not measured in square feet, it is a question of optimism.

Developers, occupiers, clients and especially housebuilders . . . feel a whole lot better. In London, several late 1980s"


"are being hosed down for the 1990s. . . . a large chunk of the Royal Docks has got a developer. . . .

Outside the capital, the pressure is intensifying on city centre sites as there is simply not enough modern space to go around. And it is not just offices--retail, leisure, even government building work is on the up. And remember that orders are up by 30 per cent." So the success we see in docklands is a success that we are seeing throughout the country.

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Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : The building of Canary wharf is a magnificent structure. Indeed, no expense was spared. If the Minister thinks that Canary wharf is so wonderful--I share a great admiration for the building--can he tell me why Olympia and York, which built it, went bankrupt ?

Mr. Baldry : There is no secret about it. Olympia and York went bankrupt because Britain and the whole of the world was going through one of the worst recessions since the last war. It is a great pity that, even now, the hon. Gentleman cannot bring himself to welcome new jobs moving into docklands. Indeed, it is a great pity that Opposition Members cannot share even the enthusiasm expressed by the last newspaper that supports them, the Daily Mirror , in trumpeting the achievements that have occurred in docklands.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) : Is my hon. Friend aware that there is support among the Opposition for the progress and development in London docklands ? Lord Mellish, who was formerly the Member of Parliament for Bermondsey, said the other day that : "eight and a half square miles of absolute complete and utter devastation"

has today been transformed.

Mr. Baldry : Absolutely. Indeed, Lord Cocks, a former Opposition Chief Whip and deputy chairman of the London Docklands development corporation, gives a similar story.

Ms Abbott : Will the Minister give way ?

Mr. Spearing : Will the Minister give way ?

Mr. Baldry : I should like to make some progress. I have given way several times.

We also had to bring back to useful life areas such as the banks of the Tyne and the Wear and a huge acreage of contaminated land on the site of former steelworks in Sheffield. There was a clear need for a co-ordinated and locally focused strategy to tackle such areas. We introduced the urban development corporations. The UDCs have been revitalising their designated areas since 1981, acting as catalysts for regeneration, bringing land back into productive use and, in so doing, creating opportunities for new homes and new jobs--more than 26,000 new houses and substantially more than 150,000 jobs so far. All this has been, and will continue to be, of great benefit to local people.

The regeneration has involved substantial public investment--more than £3,000 million. Last year alone, the UDCs were responsible for spending substantially more than £400 million. Here, as elsewhere, the public money that we have invested and the way in which we have invested it have ensured the levering in of millions and millions of pounds of private sector funding--I estimate almost £13,000 million to date. That is very big money indeed. It is substantial further investment in inner-city areas.

The private sector is prepared to invest where it is clear that Government and local people together are committed to revitalising urban areas and creating new opportunities.

Mr. Spearing : I am grateful to the Minister for giving way in the relatively relaxed atmosphere of a Friday. I hope to respond to most of his points if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

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In respect of Canary wharf and the Daily Mirror , is the Minister aware that the developers of Canary wharf are in hock to the banks ? I understand that the Daily Mirror is not unconnected with the banks. Does the Minister agree that it is in their mutual interest to fill up the estate and talk it up, so that their liabilities are reduced ? If the Minister thinks that the Isle of Dogs is the pattern for the future and has pinned the Government's reputation to what has happened there, I am pleased to hear it.

Mr. Baldry : It makes one want to tear one's hair out. Here we have an area to which a substantial employer is bringing new jobs and new business. What do Opposition Members do ? One after another, they get up to condemn the fact that new jobs and new opportunities are being brought to their areas. It is mind-boggling. If business was brought to any other constituency in the country and new jobs and new activity were created, the Member of Parliament would be singing from the rooftops. The fact is that the only news that Labour Members like is bad news.

I should have liked to set out the achievements of each development corporation. They are extremely impressive and numerous. But I would hog too much of today's debate if I set them out in detail. The breadth of their achievements is dramatic, encompassing new internationally renowned innovations such as Liverpool's Albert dock and, again, London's Canary wharf.

The urban development corporations have secured the development of large city-centre sites, bringing about new business parks, hotels and conference centres, retailing complexes, cultural and leisure facilities, many thousands of new homes and impressive refurbishment and revival of numerous listed and historic buildings.

The House will recall my right hon. and noble Friend the Baroness Thatcher, when Prime Minister in 1987--I am sure we all wish her a full recovery from her recent illness--visiting Teesside, and the cameras catching her as she walked across a huge area of disused, derelict and contaminated land which was the site of former engineering works. I am sure that many of us can recall that photograph.

Less than a decade later, that site is no longer derelict. Today, that area is being transformed by the Teesside development corporation which, with its own money and some £500 million of private sector support, is building 680 new homes, providing some 140,000 sq ft of new industrial office and retail floor space, and will be providing more than 4,500 permanent jobs. That is what is being achieved in our inner cities.

The achievements of the development corporations are on-going--from a proposed new international airport for Sheffield, a new concert hall for Manchester, the extension of the docklands light railway to Lewisham, and many other similarly exciting projects. The development corporations are now approaching the end of their statutory life agreed with Parliament. Together with local authorities and the local business community, they are starting to plan their succession strategies to ensure that the momentum of their work is maintained. We have also been investing to tackle and turn around derelict land throughout the country with derelict land grant and city grant. Last year alone, some £30 million was spent on 166 derelict land grant schemes in inner-city areas. The schemes reclaimed about 1,100 acres of land. I

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think that it is sometimes quite difficult for us to envisage what 1,100 acres represents. It is an area reclaimed in one year from one Government scheme alone equivalent to 625 times the size of the pitch at Wembley stadium--land for industrial development and for housing, all reclaimed for beneficial use.

There are far too many interesting and exciting DLG schemes for me to be able to set them out in any detail, but many cities have benefited. For example, in Liverpool a huge area of redundant railway land has been transformed into the Wavertree technology park ; in Birmingham, nearly £500,000 of DLG has funded the reclamation of the methane-contaminated site of the former Burbury brickworks ; and in Rotherham, the massive Templeborough site--I saw it the other day--once occupied by steelworks, is being reclaimed under a DLG-funded rolling programme of reclamation, bringing about the new Rotherham engineering and computer technology centre --REACT--scheme and an estimated 220 new jobs.

In addition to derelict land grant, we also have city grant. City grant supports private sector inner-city projects, including those on derelict land, where the abnormal costs are such that the market alone would be insufficient to get the project going. Since it was first introduced six years ago, nearly 400 city grant schemes have been approved, and £336 million in public money has levered in £1,400 million in private investment. That private investment would not have been spent in our inner- city areas without a public commitment. It is an impressive ratio of nearly £5 of private money invested in our inner cities for every £1 of public money spent.

In six years, more than 2,000 acres of inner-city land have been reclaimed, more than 43,000 jobs have been created and nearly 12,000 new homes provided--all very impressive achievements. For example, in Hull the Victoria docks site is being transformed into a new urban village, with 1,100 new homes on what was 150 acres of derelict land. [ Hon. Members-- : "Labour."] In Barnsley, a £10 million grant for the contaminated colliery site is providing 400,000 sq ft of industrial and office space, which will provide more than 1,000 much-needed new jobs in the area. [ Hon. Members-- : "Labour."] At St. Helens, a £3.6 million grant for the Green Bank housing project is providing more than 300 homes on formerly derelict land [ Hon. Members-- : "Labour."]

Labour Members keep muttering the word "Labour" from sedentary positions. I am not entirely sure whether that is to remind them which party they belong to. We in central Government work with local authorities up and down the country, irrespective of their political complexion, because we want to work in partnership with them. But if Labour Members keep banging on about the virtues of the Labour party, I will be prompted--as indeed I am--to share with the House some facts about some Labour councils which they might not be so proud of. I wonder whether hon. Members opposite would welcome an association with Lambeth council--I see at least one hon. Member from the Lambeth area present in the House. Hon. Members might not have noticed a story which appeared on the "Newsroom Southeast" programme only last night. The BBC commentator said :

"it demonstrated that Lambeth council has admitted spending £9 million unlawfully on building maintenance contracts. A secret internal council report leaked to the BBC reveals that the authority also made 400 unnecessary redundancies among its

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blue collar workers. The council has admitted unlawfully spending £9 million and axing 400 builders' jobs unnecessarily. The council says it broke the law by issuing major contracts for building maintenance without going through the right procedures or even gaining proper approval. Some companies have been given important contracts, despite being on the authority's official blacklist." I am not sure whether that is a council with which hon. Members opposite wish to be associated.

Mr. Vaz : That is not a Labour council.

Mr. Baldry : I am not sure that the Labour councillors of Lambeth who appear to be running the council would accept that. I am sure that they will be interested to know that they have now been disowned by those on the Front Bench of the parliamentary Labour party. I am afraid that councils like Lambeth go from the sublime to the ridiculous. As the House may know, Lambeth is twinned with places such as Moscow, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone and even one of the red light districts of Tokyo. The council is so short of money that its town twinning officer and his assistant--one will notice that, in Labour authorities, if two people can do a job, two are employed rather than one--are not allowed to make foreign calls to the towns with which Lambeth is twinned. That is not surprising when a borough like Lambeth is losing £9 million on building maintenance contracts alone.

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East) : My constituency has an unemployment rate 50 per cent. above the national average. I sit listening to the Minister wondering what this political nonsense has to do with dealing with unemployment and poverty in the inner cities. What have the last 15 minutes had to do with these problems ? Will the Minister inform the House why, after 15 years of such Government programmes, we still have unacceptable, obscene levels of unemployment in our inner cities ?

Mr. Baldry : I am again dumbfounded. The hon. Gentleman refers to the fact that just one Labour-controlled London borough in one of its activities has lost £9 million and has made 400 unnecessary redundancies, and he describes it as "political nonsense". I think that the people in Lambeth and elsewhere would be horrified by his remarks.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West) : I point out to my hon. Friend that, in south Leeds, £46 million of public money has generated £250 million of private money, which is a ratio of more than 5 :1. It has transformed the centre of south Leeds and has more or less helped to develop the whole of the city by boosting investment confidence. It has also got the Labour council off its backside and, at long last, it is running programmes in the inner city to replace the silly plans that it has gone on about for years.

Mr. Baldry : My hon. Friend makes some extremely good points. In the last decade, there has been a transformation in the approach and attitude of Labour authorities up and down the country. The House will recall that when we first introduced development corporations in Leeds and elsewhere, they were resisted, and Labour councils fought against them tooth and nail. They refused to co-operate or work with them.

Nowadays, when I visit development corporations and local authorities, I am always asked, "Please extend the life of the corporation and give us more money". The focused

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and strategic approach of the corporations has brought great benefits to Leeds, Sheffield and anywhere else that has one.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove) : Can my hon. Friend confirm that about £12 million in rent arrears is outstanding, and that it is mostly due to Labour-controlled authorities ? If those arrears had been properly collected, they could have been used to improve council estates in inner cities and thus could have created the jobs that Opposition Members are shouting about.

Mr. Baldry : That is right, and it is worth the House noting that many Labour-controlled authorities are substantially in debt due to rent arrears and to other debts--19 out of 20 of the most indebted local authorities are Labour controlled. Islington's debt is equivalent to £20 million for each Labour councillor, and that of Lambeth and Southwark is equivalent to £24 million for each Labour councillor. In cities such as Sheffield, people face a debt repayment of £40 million. Sheffield is paying £76 every minute of every year--money which could have been invested in its infrastructure.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) : Will the Minister be a little more honest than he and his colleagues have been about those debts ? Does he accept that the local authority debt to which he referred is the result of investment in housing ? If the urban development corporations' accounts had been laid out in the same way, the houses that the Minister claims those corporations built would also have a debt entry against them. However, the Government have written that debt off, and the Minister should be honest enough to admit it.

Mr. Baldry : That shows that, in the run-up to the local elections, the Opposition are on the run because of those debts. They are concerned that the truth is getting out. Birmingham, for example, has a local authority debt that is three times that of Albania. People in Birmingham appreciate that it took Albania 40 years of state communism to acquire its debt, but it has unfortunately taken Birmingham only 10 years of a Labour- controlled council.

Mr. Henderson : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Baldry : No.

We are also working with local authorities to renovate and repair many of our older housing estates. As we know, some council estates have become very run down and have severe problems with physical decay and associated management problems. Those are often due to the original design and building standards of the homes concerned, as much as to the age of the property. In some cases, they have been compounded by inadequate estate management and maintenance. We have been, and are, investing millions of pounds every year in estate action programmes.

Estate action provides millions of pounds to help local authorities to invest in such estates and to implement refurbishment and renovation schemes, in partnership with local tenants, which is important.

Estate action often levers in substantial private investment in support of public spending. Since the programme was established, about 360,000 homes have been improved, which is equivalent to the housing stock of Humberside- -a considerable achievement. Under many of the schemes, local tenants are participating in new ways to

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run their estates, which gives them greater control, through the tenant management co-operatives, estate management boards or other tenant management organisations that have been set up.

This year we are spending £365 million on estate action.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North) : As my hon. Friend is referring to estate action, will he confirm that at least two council estates in my constituency have benefited considerably from that programme ? I have visited them. Does he agree that it would be more helpful if Labour-controlled Norwich city council gave the Government credit where it was due for the success of that scheme, in my constituency and elsewhere ?

Mr. Baldry : Estates throughout the country have benefited from estate action schemes. As part of that continuing investment, I am pleased to be able to announce that the Government have approved £40 million in support for four estate action schemes in London, costing more than £90 million in total. The schemes are at the White City estate in Hammersmith and Fulham, Northumberland Park in Haringey, the Harvist estate in Islington and the Phipps Bridge estate in Merton.

The four schemes will result in the improvement of more than 3,500 homes and their environment, and will provide nearly 500 new homes and sustain about 400 jobs in the construction industry. On all those estates, the residents will be encouraged to become more involved in the management of their homes.

Hand in hand with regenerating inner-city land, refurbishing the old and building anew, we have to ensure the continuing revival of the economic strength of our inner cities. Those needs--physical regeneration and economic strength--are inextricably entwined and often mutually dependent. For example, investors will provide money for new business premises only if they believe that they can be let because local business is expanding, with new jobs, to take over the space available.

New business is attracted to the area because of the high quality of the business premises available and because the local work force are skilled and able to meet their needs. Those factors are inextricably entwined, and we must ensure that we can tackle and meet them all.

We are all competing in a single market in a global economy. The tools that are being used can, and frequently are, the same the world over. Whether we make a success of our opportunities and beat the competition depends on the ingenuity and skills of the people using those tools. The future prosperity of our cities depends on local people having the skills to take on the rest of the world and win.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : The Minister is getting to the subject that I wanted to ask him about, but much of his speech--apart from some political sniping--has concerned a property-based approach to inner-city generation. Perhaps he will recognise that, in many inner-city areas, local people are left behind, and that behaviour patterns and lack of skills and education need to be dealt with. For example, anti-social behaviour patterns are often perpetuated. Those problems are perhaps best illustrated in the London docklands, where, in spite of the magnificent achievements, local unemployment has often increased.

I hope that the Minister will say how we can deal with the problems that are endemic in inner cities, such as low

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