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Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister's statement, but will he help the House by providing a simple definition of a town, as opposed to a city? Will he pay regard to the evidence that will appear in the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee's response to the White Paper following a visit by its members to Thirsk and Boroughbridge? When will PPG25 be adopted and come into effect?
Mr. Prescott: One of the advantages of the list of questions that is distributed to Conservative Members is that it gives them the opportunity to repeat many questions--but I am sure that I will be in trouble with you, Mr. Speaker, if I give crib answers to crib questions. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady knows exactly what I mean.
As for the hon. Lady's first question, a city is a town that has been incorporated. There will be an announcement on that subject shortly, as many towns have applied to become cities. York is already a city, and, in my area, Hull is a city. There is a serious distinction between cities and towns and we are dealing with the definition. The rural White Paper will contain a definition of market towns, and we shall say something about that when it is eventually published.
We have provided for an increased number of bypasses. It is interesting that when I announced £180 billion for transport programmes, many Tory Members queued up to tell me about the need for bypasses. However, as they want cuts in public expenditure, I thought that they might want to forgo the building of bypasses in their areas. That would certainly happen if the £16 billion of cuts in the Conservative party's public expenditure programme were ever implemented.
PPG25 deals with flood plains, which are a matter of serious consideration. The hon. Lady will know that the previous Administration had a code of practice that did not mean a great deal. Many houses were planned on flood plains, and those plans were endorsed by both central and local government. We thought that that was wrong, and after the floods in 1998, I ordered a review.
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): Did my right hon. Friend hear what I heard a few minutes ago when the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) talked about a period of unprecedented prosperity? Would my right hon. Friend be gracious and thank the hon. Gentleman for his sophisticated analysis of what has happened in the past three years? Perhaps my right hon. Friend can also persuade him to use what influence he has to reopen the Asda store in Darlaston, which was closed in the week of the general election. That was a malevolent decision.
Many people will welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement. Will he kindly arrange for a courier to be sent to Bovis forthwith with a copy of the report and all the planning guidance, and ask it not to build 700 homes on a greenbelt site in my constituency? Perhaps he will arrange to look in his pigeonhole, where a letter may arrive from me asking for that application to be called in by his Department when it is submitted.
Mr. Prescott: I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome words, which were no doubt addressed to the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman), who was simply recognising the fact, which everyone else in the country knows, that in the past three years we have had unprecedented prosperity and economic growth. I am sure that we will have a chance to argue that in the coming months.
I cannot comment on Asda; that is a matter for the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells. I assume that he no longer has anything to do with Asda--or, indeed, Railtrack--but no doubt he can bring considerable experience of those companies to his present job.
As for whether I should send a copy of the report to Bovis, a copy will be sent to anyone who wishes to have one and to make a contribution. As for building 700 homes in the green belt, my hon. Friend knows that I have a planning function and role, and it would be more than my life is worth to comment on that now.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): My right hon. Friend set a target for all social housing to be brought up to a decent standard within 10 years. That is excellent, but what about the private sector? One in five houses in east Lancashire is deemed to be unfit for living in, and 99 per cent. of those are in the private sector. More of our housing stock was built before 1919 than in any other area, and that housing is in a dreadful, deplorable condition. Is any special help being targeted on east Lancashire, because its unique housing problems can be addressed only with additional central Government cash?
Mr. Prescott: I am aware--I have just received advice to confirm this--of the difficulties in my hon. Friend's constituency, and the rest of east Lancashire, with regard to home renewal programmes. The housing finance Green
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): The Deputy Prime Minister will know that there has been great concern about the length of time between the publication of the urban taskforce report by Lord Rogers and the White Paper. Some of us will look carefully at how the White Paper responds to the report. In view of the importance of regeneration, do the Government intend to appoint a sole Minister to oversee regeneration in its entirety, and if necessary to take decisions when there are--albeit understandable--differences between one Department and another?
Mr. Prescott: It is a bit rich for the Opposition to ask why it has taken so long to produce the report by Lord Rogers and the urban development taskforce. During the past 20 years, when many of our cities were in considerable decline, there was no report, no statement and no commissioning of anyone to do anything. I think that the hon. Gentleman was a Whip in the Conservative Government, and perhaps that meant being quiet. I accept that he might not have been able to say much from the Back Benches, but he could have said something to the Government. That would have added some credit to his criticism.
Nevertheless, we established Lord Rogers' taskforce in 1998 and he produced an excellent report. We have responded to that and to the Select Committee on such matters. We have made a comprehensive statement on urban regeneration in the next decade or so. When the rural White Paper is published, another statement will be made. The previous Government made no statement on either of those issues.
Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East): I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for the compliments that the White Paper pays to Leeds, and congratulate him on the pledge to improve all social housing within 10 years, and on the provision of resources to carry out that pledge. However, may I draw his attention to the fear prevalent among local government colleagues, that that pledge is aimed only at local authorities that get rid of their stock? Will he assure our local government colleagues that it applies to all local government, regardless of the ownership of the housing stock?
Mr. Prescott: I understand my hon. Friend's point about social housing. We have given a commitment that will apply for 10 years. The specific circumstances to which he refers relate to local authorities and conditions concerning the transfer of properties. I made it clear in a previous statement that arm's-length companies could be established so that local authorities could retain ownership and have access to private capital. That means public- private partnerships, which I have been advocating in other less controversial areas.
I was impressed both by the quality of Lord Rogers' report and the speed with which he produced it. I believe that I am right in saying that it has taken the Government considerably longer to respond with a White Paper than it took Lord Rogers to produce his recommendations. I am concerned that the right hon. Gentleman's statement seems to include many announcements that various matters will be reviewed. That does not reflect the urgency that some might think is needed.
The right hon. Gentleman talks continually of towns and cities. I welcome that, but one change has taken place since I had some responsibilities for these matters. Many of the problems of major cities now also face market towns and other towns throughout the country, and they, too, need attention.