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Coastal Towns (Regeneration)

3. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): What support he plans to give to the regeneration of coastal towns. [94211]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Beverley Hughes): We are working with the relevant national, regional and local bodies to identify and address the problems faced by coastal towns. Today, I placed in the Libraries of the House a list of the areas that include coastal towns that received funding under the fifth round of the single regeneration budget, and a list of coastal towns that are included on the proposed European structural funds map. As my hon. Friend knows, it was this Government who included coastal towns for the first time as a specific priority in SRB round 5.

Mr. Blizzard: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and congratulate her on her appointment to the Front Bench.

People in my constituency are delighted that, this summer, the Government awarded the coastal town of Lowestoft assisted area status and European objective 2

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designation. We are already in receipt of single regeneration budget money, and this new status will give a huge boost to the regeneration projects. Has my hon. Friend noticed that almost all the 20 travel-to-work areas with the highest unemployment in England are coastal towns? In view of that, would she consider including in the forthcoming urban White Paper a special section on coastal towns, so that the problems faced by those communities can be addressed by an overarching Government policy?

Ms Hughes: I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. I pay tribute to him for what he has done to raise awareness of the needs of coastal towns. The urban and rural White Papers will mark an important step in our commitment to dealing with issues that affect competitiveness and quality of life in towns, cities and rural areas. In developing both those White Papers, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wants to ensure that different areas have a place in those wider strategies. We recognise that coastal towns have specific needs, which will be addressed in the White Papers.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I join the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) in welcoming the Minister to her new position. Does she appreciate that, in many coastal towns, considerable investment in coastal defences is required to enable realistic regeneration? Will she join me in expressing sympathy for the victims of the flooding in the past few days, especially in Sussex? Will she give a clear commitment to providing the funding needed by the Environment Agency and others to upgrade and update coastal defences along our coasts?

Ms Hughes: I am pleased to acknowledge the important work of local authorities in response to the flooding, and I am sure that they will make every effort to meet the needs of their local communities. The hon. Gentleman will know that an element in the standard spending assessment takes care of coastal defences. However, I am well aware of the problems that those communities are facing, and they may want to talk to us about larger measures needed in response.

In their strategies, regional development agencies and regional bodies will consider the overall need to strengthen defences. It is worth noting that the Tories have set their face against that important regional mechanism for identifying priorities.

Local Authority Housing

4. Mr. Colin Burgon (Elmet): What plans he has for increasing the involvement of tenants in the management of local authority housing. [94213]

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Nick Raynsford): We are increasing the opportunities for local authority tenants to be involved in the management of their homes by introducing tenant participation compacts in all councils from April next year. We are also broadening our programme of grants to promote and develop greater participation.

Mr. Burgon: I thank the Minister for that reply. He will be aware that the Government are considering Leeds city council's bid for a public-private partnership housing

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pathfinder scheme, which covers Swarcliffe in my constituency. The involvement of tenants and residents in the drawing up of the community plan has been central, and Whinmoor councillors and I remain committed to further extending local people's involvement as that is crucial to the regeneration of the area. Will the Minister take my remarks as discreet lobbying on this matter on behalf of my Swarcliffe constituents?

Mr. Raynsford: I am well aware of my hon. Friend's involvement in the preparation of the proposed Leeds private finance initiative pathfinder scheme. He has been diligent in talking to his constituents and ensuring that there is effective communication between them and the city council, so that there will be full participation in the development of the proposals. He must accept, however, that we have to give further consideration to these and other proposals.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): A legitimate concern for tenants in housing management is the length of the housing waiting list and how long it takes tenants and others to be rehoused. Given the Government's complete failure to control economic migrants, it now seems that such migrants will be dispersed around the country. According to an answer given to me yesterday by the Home Office, such dispersal may be compulsory. Will those economic migrants be described as statutorily homeless under the homelessness legislation? What will their status be in relation to those on the housing waiting list and local authority tenants?

Mr. Raynsford: I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to asylum seekers. He will know that the Government have taken steps to try to define proper procedures for dealing humanely and properly with asylum applications, rather than continuing with the chaos that we inherited. He will also know that we inherited a situation in which housing provision had been slashed during the last years of the Conservative Government, leading to a substantial shortfall in the number of homes available for letting. He will know that such a position takes time to put right. We are increasing investment and implementing a range of measures to improve housing prospects, but the damage caused by 18 years of Tory Government is very serious.

Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion): Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the importance of the potential role of housing co-operatives in the management of current local authority housing stock, and in the provision of good, well-managed social housing generally? What discussions is he having with the Housing Corporation on the possible easing of both the administrative and the financial regulations to allow better development of housing co-operatives?

Mr. Raynsford: I entirely endorse my hon. Friend's views on the importance of tenant participation measures, including housing co-operatives. During the past fortnight, I have engaged in discussions with representatives of both the National Housing Federation and the Housing Corporation about how we can extend opportunities for such participation. I visited a particularly impressive tenant co-operative scheme in Birmingham, which was delivering very high standards of housing management and great

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tenant satisfaction. There is no doubt that allowing tenants more opportunities to exercise effective control over their homes is one of the keys to better housing management, and we are keen to promote it.

New London Road, Chelmsford

5. Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): How much money his Department is making available to install a bus lane on the New London road in Chelmsford as part of the integrated transport policy. [R] [94215]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): The Chelmsford transport package was accepted for the first time, and by this Government, in 1999-2000, with an allocation of £575,000. It is for Essex county council to decide which scheme to carry out, but positive measures to improve bus services are at the core of the package.

Mr. Burns: I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. The people of Old Moulsham in Chelmsford, however, will not thank him for his Government's largesse in introducing a scheme such as that proposed by the local authority.

Is the Minister aware that there has, in effect, been a referendum on the matter? In a by-election last month, the Conservatives captured that part of Chelmsford, fighting the by-election on the basis of opposition to the scheme. Given that the opposition is not to encouraging more people to use public transport, but is based on a belief that, in that part of Chelmsford, the scheme will not bring a single person into the public transport system, would it not be common sense for the Government to look again at value for money, and consider whether it is worth spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on a scheme that will not in any way enhance use of public transport?

Mr. Hill: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's congratulations, and I hear what he says about the proposed New London road bus scheme. It is clear, however, that both his own town of Chelmsford and Essex county council have identified improved bus services as the best solution to the problem of the town's rapid growth. My Department is simply responding to local judgment. If he still has problems with the proposal, it is for him to exercise his well-known powers of persuasion with the local transport authorities.


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