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House of Commons

Wednesday 23 June 2004

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships

1. Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to support the development of crime and disorder reduction partnerships. [179829]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Yvette Cooper): Local authorities have a statutory duty to work with the police and other agencies in local crime and disorder reduction partnerships. More than a quarter of neighbourhood renewal funds are spent on local crime and community safety projects supporting the work of the partnerships.

Ms Taylor: The Safer Stockton partnership, which has received beacon status, has reduced house burglaries by 13 per cent. over three years—an excellent achievement that has been delivered by street wardens. How will that body of excellent people be funded in future?

Yvette Cooper: I congratulate the Safer Stockton partnership, which was highly rated by the beacon council panel. My hon. Friend is right to say that neighbourhood wardens and street wardens are making a huge difference—in fact, the independent evaluation found that there was a 28 per cent. reduction in crime in the first wave of areas in which wardens were used. Of that first wave, 80 per cent. have found continuing funding, and we are examining ways in which to expand the programme further.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): It is no use the Minister saying that she is examining other funding methods. The wardens were introduced in a pilot scheme, which was extended, local authorities such as Stockton were encouraged to take them on, and the Prime Minister, in extending the schemes, said that they were very popular. Then, the Government pull the rug out from under local authorities and withdraw the funding. Is not that the clearest example of the
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Government imposing burdens on local authorities and transferring public expenditure by way of their favourite stealth tax, the council tax?

Yvette Cooper: I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to the Commons. I hope that he is recovering well. I am only sorry that he is continuing to talk nonsense. As he well knows, neighbourhood warden programmes have been extremely successful and, as I said, 80 per cent. of schemes across the country are already picking up continuing funding. He talks about burdens on local government, but what sort of burden would be imposed by a £2.5 billion cut in the local government budget? I wonder whether Conservative spokesmen actually speak to each other. The hon. Gentleman ought to talk to the shadow Chancellor and get to the bottom of the funding problem. It is true that wardens need continued funding; we are providing that from various sources, whereas his party would cut it.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): I have met my local superintendent, Alasdair Hope, to discuss the crime and disorder reduction partnership in my constituency. The police have raised the planning impact assessment with me and want to know whether pressure can be brought to bear on new development. Four thousand new houses have been built in the area in the past five years, and a further 9,000 are due. If housing estates were better designed, crime would decrease. How can we improve the system?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right to say that well designed public spaces and estates can have a big impact in terms of preventing crime. Working with the Home Office, we have produced guidance on designing out crime, and I encourage his local partnership to have a look at that guidance.

Sustainable Communities Plan

2. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): What action he intends to take following the East of England regional assembly's comments on the sustainable communities plan. [179830]

The Minister for Local and Regional Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford): The Government are grateful for the work undertaken by the East of England regional assembly in assessing the infrastructure requirements needed to deliver the sustainable communities plan as part of its regional planning work. My right hon. and noble Friend Lord Rooker met representatives of the East of England regional assembly last Thursday, 17 June, and will write to them with a detailed response to their proposals once the outcome of the spending review is known.

Andrew Selous: Instead of trying to solve the housing problems of London and the south-east by ramming a vast amount of housing into only four areas around London, will the Government consider trying to spread housing growth more widely across the region, and in particular nearer to where people work, which would cut pollution and journey times? In addition, will the Minister pay serious attention to the 300,000 empty homes in and around London? Such an approach would
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win praise from the East of England regional assembly and the 17,000 of my constituents who have asked the Government to think again.

Mr. Raynsford: The Government are not seeking to ram housing down the throats of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. We are responding to their concerns which, I remind him, he highlighted in the House on 5 March when he said:

I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman does not welcome the action that the Government are taking to meet the needs of his constituents.

Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there appears to be a conflict between the position of the East of England regional assembly, which accepts the argument of the Barker review, and the need to implement those proposals somewhere? Does he not agree that the growth areas represent an opportunity to obtain balanced communities through positive planning?

Mr. Raynsford: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's positive and constructive approach to the need to ensure that we meet the unquestionable pressures throughout the south-east and the growth areas for new housing. The need for those homes, however, has to be met in a sustainable way, and it is important that that is accompanied by infrastructure investment. We are seeking to ensure that that happens, and all the discussions that are under way aim to achieve that.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): The vast majority of my constituents in North Essex have no idea that the East of England regional assembly exists. When they hear that it is going to start imposing housing targets for massive house building in my constituency they will be angry that it is just an extension of the right hon. Gentleman's Department. Why is the Government's regional policy so confused? One minute the Deputy Prime Minister claims that learning and skills councils will be the responsibility of regional government, but then that is slapped down by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. The Deputy Prime Minister wants a Barnett formula for regional government, but of course the Treasury will not give him one. Why cannot a regional assemblies Bill be published as quickly as possible so that it can be debated, instead of the Government spending all the taxpayer's money on propaganda to promote regional government, which probably nobody wants?

Mr. Raynsford: It is difficult to know which part of the hon. Gentleman's rambling question was his priority, but our commitment is to give people in the northern regions choice about whether they have an elected regional assembly or not. His party has never given choice to people—it abolished tiers of government without giving people any say in the matter. We believe in democracy, and we believe in giving people a choice.
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Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): A wide range of organisations in Milton Keynes recognise the positive approach in the sustainable communities plan to expanding Milton Keynes, meeting the undoubted housing needs of the local population and making sure that housing is affordable. In particular, may I pass on to my right hon. Friend the congratulations of the Milton Keynes forum, the only civic—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady can do that in writing.

Mr. Raynsford: Once again, I agree about the importance of a constructive approach to meeting the need for development in a sustainable way that protects the environment and improves people's quality of life. That is our commitment, and I certainly welcome all the work in Milton Keynes to achieve our common objectives.

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