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10.27 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Alan Meale): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Burgon) on securing this debate on a subject that I know is of great interest to him and to many of his constituents. I should like also to pay tribute to him for his persistence--which he practises in the House whenever gets an opportunity to do so--in promoting the interest of his constituency and the areas surrounding it.

My hon. Friend knows the importance that the Government place on regenerating former coalfield communities and of our long-term commitment to making progress in that task. As he said, I represent an area that is similar to his own because they are both ex-coal mining areas. However, he may not know that I was born in another coal mining area, in the north-east of England, and lived in a colliery house for all of my childhood.

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I should remind the House of the origins of the idea of building a millennium village at Allerton Bywater. As my hon. Friend said at the beginning of his speech, in July 1997, the Deputy Prime Minister told the Durham Miners gala:

A man of his word, to start the process, the Deputy Prime Minister established the coalfields task force, the remit of which was to identify and develop a specific programme of action to assist communities in England suffering from deprivation caused by the pit closure programme. As he explained at the time, that objective would be best served by pooling the expertise of Departments and other partners in the regeneration process.

As part of the research process that the Deputy Prime Minister initiated by creating the task force--I do not hesitate to pay tribute to its members, particularly under the fine stewardship of Paula Hay Plumb--the task force held five public hearings to listen to the views of local people. It also held discussions with key national bodies and Departments, and received submissions from more than 250 individuals and organisations. Unlike some research programmes, the task force also took the time to visit many of Britain's coalfield areas.

In June 1998, the task force produced an excellent and widely acclaimed report entitled "Making the Difference--A New Start for England's Coalfield Communities", which was deservedly well received and instigated a positive response from many interested communities, not just coalfield communities, throughout the UK. It recommended a programme of action, building on the work of the coalfields communities, and made recommendations for the Government to take forward.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, at the first coalfields conference, held at Ollerton miners welfare--not to be confused with Allerton--in Nottinghamshire, near my constituency, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister set out the Government's initial response. He said that we should take an integrated approach to coalfield regeneration to forge a new start for local communities, which would require a long-term approach. He also announced the establishment of two new national sources of funding for English coalfields: the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and the coalfields enterprise fund.

As my hon. Friend has pointed out, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister also announced that a millennium village would be built at Allerton Bywater in west Yorkshire. I shall return to that in a moment.

Following the initiation of discussions by my right hon. Friend, we spent four months considering each of the task force's recommendations in detail and prepared a comprehensive integrated written response to the report, culminating in the production of our report, "Making the Difference--A New Start for England's Coalfield Communities" in December that year.

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, in partnership with colleagues from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for Education and Employment and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, set out a detailed, integrated, long-term programme for 10 years and more at a second coalfields conference at Peterlee in County Durham. To help achievethe objectives in the task force's initial report,

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the announcement included a £350 million investment programme for the coalfields, together with details of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and the enterprise fund.

We much appreciate the positive and constructive response from the conference, which made us even more determined to deliver on our promises and to meet our obligations and duties to the people of the mining communities of Britain. The millennium communities competition proposal for Allerton Bywater is an important part of this delivery service, not just because of what it can do for Allerton, but to show, like the late, great Minister, John Wheatley, what this country can achieve in design, architecture and building of modern homes and communities.

My hon. Friend has spoken about Allerton from his perspective. I fully endorse what he has said. I am glad that he will be able to feed his views into the system as a member of the advisory panel that will help English Partnerships to select a consortium to take the work forward. I wish them well in rebuilding Allerton, which had a colliery employing 1,300 miners at its height and, as my hon. Friend pointed out, was probably responsible for more than 3,000 jobs in the community. Without the support that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has made possible, the community would have a heck of a job, because all that is left of the colliery is a largely derelict 60 acre site.

It might be helpful for me to give a little more detail about what we hope to achieve with the millennium village in Allerton. In doing so, I will try to address in detail the points that my hon. Friend has made.

In Greenwich--at our first millennium site, next to the millennium dome--we have set out to show what a community for the next century could be like. The Greenwich village will be sustainable, well-designed and have sensible arrangements for transport, in particular. The benefits of an urban village should not be confined simply to cities--or to London. We want to see them across all the English regions, and not just in the urban areas. We want to spread the benefits to rural areas too--areas such as Allerton Bywater, where we expect those involved in the project to apply the lessons learnt at Greenwich.

The millennium communities competition in Allerton has two main purposes. First, it aims to encourage the process by which developers are encouraged to design places where people wish to live, work, rest and play--a new community which is sustainable and uses the best of modern technology. Secondly, developers should demonstrate in their plans that a sustainable community can be turned into a commercial reality without public subsidy. Frankly, we believe that that is the only sensible way forward.

It will not be good enough to continue what has happened in the past 10, 20 or 30 years--much of which has failed the coalfield communities of Britain. We live in new times, with new requirements and new pressures. The English Partnerships brief for stage 2 of the competition pointed out that

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    "the Millennium Communities of Allerton Bywater will take its inspiration from the quality, vibrancy and unity of village life and match this with innovation in building design and sustainable development, as a model for 21st century communities".

An overriding theme of the competition is to demonstrate best practice, to take best practice forward and to demonstrate what can be done in the areas of energy efficiency, building technology, waste disposal and so on. It is important to provide effective, integrated local public services--particularly health--and to provide effective and integrated public transport. We want to see a 30 per cent. reduction in construction costs, a 25 per cent. reduction in construction time and--most importantly--0 per cent. defects at the point of handover.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, three consortiums have been shortlisted and invited to proceed to stage two of the competition to develop Allerton: they are Bellway, Aire Regeneration and Daniel Libeskind. They have been asked to submit detailed proposals to English Partnerships by 19 February this year. I understand that their outline proposals highlighted the need to support and enhance existing community facilities and the need to create new jobs for local people.

I am pleased to hear that discussions are continuing between the three consortiums and local authority representatives--an example of real community involvement in the revitalisation of their home areas. That factor is essential in delivering the regeneration of all the coalfield communities of Britain. We will also support communities to help themselves and, in that respect, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust will be happy to play an important role.

I am sure that the advisory panel and English Partnerships will look sympathetically at how we achieve the necessary balance between financial and social issues. The subject is being tackled also by the urban task force under the guidance of Lord Rogers, whose interim report was published today. We are looking forward to the final report in the summer, which will be taken into consideration as we develop our forthcoming urban White Paper.

Finally, I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet for his kind words about the role of departmental Ministers--in particular the Deputy Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend has put a lot of work into this project, and he has held it up as an example of how the new Labour Government can deliver some of our manifesto promises. We will take a keen interest in the work of English Partnerships and the chosen developer as they try to deliver the objectives that we are seeking for Allerton.

Once again, I congratulate and pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is persistent in his endeavours to promote the rights and fight for the future of all the people whom he represents in his constituency. He sets an example to hon. Members on both sides of the House in his efforts to get the maximum advantage for his constituents. I thank my hon. Friend for this fine opportunity for a debate.

Question put and agreed to.

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