Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Runcorn Labour Councillors Group (NT 22)

  We are responding to the Urban Affairs Sub-Committee on the above matter under a current inquiry.

  We are concerned as a local minor political party that is has taken us so long to find out about this inquiry. All our Party members are activists in our local communities, but the Local Authority has not seen fit to canvass any views on this matter.

  Many of the estates on the New Town are isolated with poor transport to outside the area. Public transport ceases after 1800hrs during the week and is nearly non existent of a Sunday. Added to this non comprehensive service, the cost of local travel is very restrictive to people on fixed incomes and low pay.

  If one compares the local services in Halton they are not equal. If comparisons are made, Halton Transport has a comprehensive bus service in the Widnes area each and every day, but these services stop running to the New Town area after 1800hrs.

  Employment opportunities are usually found through "rip off" agencies, with workers being paid minimum wages, with minimum conditions of service, not allowing people to escape the poverty trap. People with well paid employment in Halton usually live outside the Borough.

  External funding such as SRB has not reaped the results expected and if investigated, it can be seen that the majority of money has been expended on major capital works supported by the Local Authority rather than supporting long term community enterprise initiatives. It can be demonstrated that many community enterprises do not get any financial support directly from the Local Authority at all. There are instances where small community organisations are being charged for being on community related land by the Local Authority, something that was always waived by the Development Corporation and Commission for New Towns.

  The Local Authority has successfully achieved three SRB rounds, numbers two, four and five. SRB rounds two and five have spent huge amounts of money on capital works predominately in the Runcorn Old Town and Widnes area having little or no effect on the New Town area.

  SRB 4 which was a much smaller budget, has assisted with employment issues in the New Town area, but successful community initiatives do not then receive continued support from the statutory bodies.

  The Local Authority has attempted to engage with the communities in the New Town through its enforced area panels. This has not been that successful and unfortunately this policy has totally ignored many community structures developed over the New Towns life, which are still successful and recognised by the communities they serve. These organisations were at the forefront of supporting this council in its successful attempt to become a Unitary Authority, but sadly that is yesterday's news.

  With regard to employment, may of the industrial estates that surround the New Town employ people who commute into the Borough. Travelling outside of the Borough on public transport is an issue as there is only one river crossing and on occasions because of road traffic accidents or attempted suicides, the bridge is closed for hours effecting a persons punctuality and child care or carers arrangements.

  Since the New Town ceased its major house development and with the introduction of the right to buy, many of the estates are mixed rented and owner occupied. In fact, some of the smaller house groupings have virtually no rented stock left. The right to buy initiatives have left pockets of less desirable properties in the rented sector. These have a much longer turn over in tendencies adding to the Housing Management costs, which increases rent demands.

  Blocks of rented houses have had to be demolished, which adds to the inability of younger people acquiring their own properties. If your income is fixed or you are on a low wage, you cannot afford high rents and you have not got the ability to purchase your own property. This leaves people in the poverty trap again.

  Because of the Local Authority's policy (a one Party state) of seeing Runcorn as a residential town and Widnes as the commercial part of the Borough, there is less of an opportunity for local people in Runcorn acquiring employment because of the "travel factor" already highlighted previously in this document.

  When the Development Corporation had control of the lettings policy of the New Town, second generation children were catered for within those policies allowing for families to live together giving each other support. Once the five Housing Associations took over, this was a policy that was and still is deviated from, which works against sustainable and holistic communities.

  Unless there is a change of Council policy, the investment the Housing Associations are putting into the New Town area will be a further waste of public funds.

  There needs to be a commitment to support local businesses and community enterprises to employ local people, therefore supporting the real regeneration of the New Town areas.

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