Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): I agree very much with the hon. Gentleman, as my constituency is in a somewhat similar position on the edge of Manchester. The hon. Gentleman suggests that debate has centred on the south and the midlands, but I want to extend the case that

19 Dec 2000 : Column 298

has been made to the north-west. Does he agree that this is one of the most crucial issues for suburban constituencies such as ours?

Mr. Taylor: Yes, I do. I have travelled through the hon. Gentleman's constituency and accept that it bears distinct similarities to mine.

In my area, we are very anxious about three motorway service station applications in Solihull, which would mean that local people would never see the night sky again. There is interesting talk of a rail link between the Land Rover plant that is the largest employer in my constituency and the west coast main line. I cannot but think that the Deputy Prime Minister would be extremely enthusiastic about that link, as it would take more than 100,000 lorries a year off the roads. However, I trespass not on the constituency of Meriden, through which most of the track goes--the plant is in my constituency.

I am conscious of the pressure of time; there are others who would like to speak. I will end with a yuletide indulgence, if I may. I took the opportunity last Friday of planting an oak tree in Brueton park in Solihull. The oak tree was twice as tall as me, which would not be very difficult. I end on a note of tribute to the Warwickshire wildlife trust, which made this all possible--in particular Dr. Andy Tasker, the director.

My final word is simply this: let us all remember that the renaissance was financed by the private sector. There is a real role for the private sector in regeneration, and I look forward to seeing it.

9.20 pm

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I am grateful to my right hon. and hon. Friends for their restraint in allowing me to contribute to the debate. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), I represent a constituency that is largely green belt. I sympathise with and endorse the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley). Our constituencies, where the green belt will be concreted over, are the flip side of the difficulties of urban regeneration. If we suck investment and the most talented people from the north-west and the north-east down to the economic magnet of the south-east, we will continue to make problems for ourselves, which any amount of urban regeneration schemes will be unable to solve.

I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) on a brave speech--with all the loaded meaning that "brave" has when one politician uses it to compliment another--for being prepared to defend her former employers in the European Commission for a decision as outrageous as that made by Commissioner Monti.

I commend the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn). I, like him, had the privilege of visiting the Holbeck urban village. For Holbeck to be the victim of the Commission's decision--and there are hundreds of other victims in schemes such as Holbeck up and down the country--is a disaster for urban regeneration. That is why I endorse the introduction to the debate by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), Chairman of the Environment Sub-Committee, on which I have the honour to serve.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) chided the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish slightly for the extremity of his remarks. As

19 Dec 2000 : Column 299

far as I was concerned, the hon. Gentleman lost me only when he effectively compared Commissioner Monti to the Luftwaffe. Until then, I was with him all the way.

The right emotion about the decision is anger. It was a capricious, foolish, stupid decision by the European Commissioner; there was no question of balance in terms of the effect on the single market and the disaster that it has wrought on urban regeneration.

The first point that I want to make to the Minister is one of regret. The Government should have fought over the decision. For them to roll over and say that one of the factors that led them not to fight the case was because it was part of our wider interests within the European Union was wrong. If the right hon. Lady wanted to hear the legal case for fighting the decision, she had only to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, Central. With forensic skill, he laid out the legal weaknesses of the European Commission's position.

I am appalled at the quality of the legal advice that the Minister must have received if she thought that there was no case to fight. The Government should have taken the case not only to the European Court of Justice but to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, because the decision was a disaster for urban regeneration. I should like to explain in a little detail why it is as bad as the Select Committee report says. The key point is the scale of the money that has been lost to urban regeneration.

In the previous three years that the partnership investment programme was working, £2.1 billion was levered into urban regeneration, with nearly £1.5 billion of that coming from the private sector. That was building on a history of successful urban regeneration schemes that began with the urban regeneration companies of the late 1980s and the 1990s, which was picked up by English Partnerships and then by the partnership investment programme. It was a stunning success, but that success is now being lost.

Part of the Government's case was that they wanted to protect the 300 existing schemes in that quixotic way, although they were somehow in violation of the state-aid rule according to the Commissioner's ruling, and to allow those schemes to continue. The fact is that we have lost all the other schemes that were to come on stream.

All that the Government have been able to do is put £500 million extra into the RDAs to fund urban regeneration. Of course, that extra money for the RDAs is not only for urban regeneration. It has to meet a host of other priorities. It will be up to the RDAs to decide their order of priorities.

All we know is that, for the next three years, that £500 million is a maximum figure. As has been said, the real problem lies in the fact that the costs are now all up front. When the schemes have to be under way, a public sector body will have to find public-sector money for the up-front costs of the urban regeneration schemes that they want, in a battle with the Treasury and with all the other demands that are always there on public sector bodies. That will put a huge burden on individual schemes that are competing for the limited pot of money. The risk is being borne entirely by the public sector. In terms of the scale of resources available for urban regeneration, the quantum on the face of it is extremely high, but the resources will also all have to be found within the public sector.

19 Dec 2000 : Column 300

The second disaster is what has happened to the people and the talent available to undertake urban regeneration projects. When the Select Committee took evidence on the urban White Paper and the partnership investment programme we heard from some impressive people. Chris Brown of AMEC Developments and Tom Bloxham of Urban Splash are two names that spring to mind as witnesses who came across not only as outstanding entrepreneurs in their own field, but as men of immense quality, who have brought private-sector drive and enthusiasm to urban regeneration projects.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon asked how many people from English Partnerships have gone to the RDAs to help them to deliver. The real question is not where have those people gone from English Partnerships, but what has happened to the people in the private sector.

I draw the attention of the House to the evidence that we took from Chris Brown of AMEC, when he was asked:

He said:

Chris Brown was the director of AMEC Developments for urban regeneration. He also stated, when considering the effects and what is already happening within the industry:


That is the real disaster, as well as the money. All the talented people from the private sector who involved themselves in urban regeneration will do something else. The victims will be people who live in places such as Holbeck urban village--schemes whose success we desperately need in order to deliver urban regeneration throughout the country. The European Commission ruling was a disaster; we should continue to fight it and we should try to reinstate that scheme.

9.30 pm

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): It is high time that the House discussed urban regeneration. We have had a good debate--albeit conducted under the obscure parliamentary device of a 20-line motion on supplementary estimates, comprising a medley of environmental causes. Before this debate, the House had been entitled only to a short session of questions on the long-awaited urban White Paper and to some references in the pre-Budget report to urban regeneration tax breaks.

The attendance in the House, on an otherwise quiet evening, makes it clear that the latest buzz words--urban regeneration--strike a chord with many hon. Members. There is an obvious breadth of interest and experience across many constituencies. We heard of the experiences of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman); I too have visited some of the projects that she mentioned. The hon. Member for South Thanet

19 Dec 2000 : Column 301

(Dr. Ladyman) clearly demonstrated that partnership investment programmes were essential when the figures do not add up. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) made an excellent speech.

We heard outright condemnation of Mario Monti; words such as evil, mad, misguided and bonkers were used--that was the toned-down version. There was universal condemnation of the decision over which he presided. The current attacks on the green belt will continue and accelerate unless we get urban regeneration absolutely right--as was clearly demonstrated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) who described the attack on green fields in Hertfordshire. He pointed out that brownfield and greenfield interests are inextricably linked. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) mentioned the greenfield problems in her area. There are similar problems in Solihull and Reigate.

There was a broad consensus on many issues--with the possible exception of the suggestion of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) that RDAs had a monopoly on urban regeneration; I shall return to that point later in my remarks.

As I said, the latest buzz words in environmental parlance are urban regeneration. The profile of urban regeneration was raised considerably by the report of Lord Rogers--who has perhaps become its great guru--and the work of the urban taskforce. However, the urban White Paper, which responded to the report, singularly failed Lord Rogers's own test. Generously, only 14 proposals from the Rogers report were adopted by the urban White Paper.

Yesterday's news that the Government intend to overrule local authorities in the south-east--by rejecting the south-east regional planning committee figures and imposing 39,000 homes per year for the first five years and then accelerating the programme--is a slap in the face for local democracy. It is an act of environmental vandalism--as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden so correctly said--and makes effective urban renewal even more urgent.

To date, the Government do not have an impressive record on urban regeneration. In their first four years, they budgeted about £5.7 billion for urban regeneration projects, but that compares with £6.1 billion--before inflation--in the last four years of the previous Conservative Government. The Government have introduced about 26 conflicting and disjointed initiatives--as many hon. Members pointed out--many of which cut across the same resources and local expertise; for example, education action zones, sure start, health action zones, neighbourhood support funds and so on. They all have merits, but they are a disjointed and unco-ordinated muddle.

Next Section

IndexHome Page