Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 640 - 659)



  Q640  Mr Chaytor: The thrust of your report and your evidence today is that London, if it is to be a world-class city, has to have this total inter-connectivity but if you are saying that it is the leading city in terms of quality of life and—

  Sir John Egan: In terms of wealth creation, it probably is already. How is it going to maintain that and how is it going to house another million people over the next 10 years? That is the kind of thing we have to think about. How can it maintain this position? I think that London is absolutely vital for the rest of the country. I think it is the reason why Britain is prosperous. So, the fact that London works and works well is utterly essential to the well being of the nation as a whole.

  Q641  Mr Chaytor: Are there no parked models elsewhere of cities that London should be learning from?

  Sir John Egan: I do not think it was in my remit to be doing that and we did not do that. We looked at particular communities overseas in terms of how to build friendly housing of high quality and low cost with low CO2 emissions, for example, but we did not look at how Paris or New York ran.

  Q642  Chairman: Forgive me for not knowing this but are you still Chairman of London First?

  Sir John Egan: No. I was a vice-chairman of London First for many years. I think I might be a vice-president still but they are not very important!

  Q643  Chairman: London First is not very important?

  Sir John Egan: No, the vice-president is not very important. Vice-chairmen are far more important than vice-presidents and I think I am one or the other but I am the least important one!

  Q644  Mr Challen: Can I just clear up that you are saying that all bodies should use the relevant indicators and do not have any choice about that?

  Sir John Egan: Yes, I believe that is the case but do not think my word is law here. I am just saying that personally that is the view. We have asked, however, for the national centre for sustainable communities to basically operationalise our goal as quickly as possible in order that it can be used operationally for some of the very reasons you were raising. We were not sure that, in the time we had available, we had done a good enough job. We felt that a better job could have been done.

  Q645  Mr Challen: I am just wondering how this might have worked in practice. London is a huge travel to work area covering many, many authorities and some of these will have conflicting priorities. Some will want to minimise transport infrastructure and others, perhaps in the city, will want to get more employees in and may not be so concerned about the impact on the environment beyond their immediate boundaries. How would you see these people complying with these indicators? How will they actually be able to do that on a practical level? The probable spatial level under transport connectivity is just at a district level and that is not adequate to—

  Sir John Egan: No, I think I said that transport is probably going to have to be done at a regional level.

  Q646  Mr Challen: I am just looking at the ones in the 50 that you have chosen and it is numbers 34 to 37 and they are all at district level.

  Sir John Egan: They will be more to do with the connectivity within the place and also to outward levels where there is more prosperity.

  Q647  Mr Challen: Do you want to comment on that particular question about how these different bodies . . .? It is okay to say that individual people are simpler beings than authorities, Government and the rest of us but, to have sensible and meaningful indicators, we have to have sensible and   meaningful ways of implementing them, interpreting them and getting results out that are useful rather than simply having a tick-box approach where everybody tries to manipulate the results to show that they have done a good job and then you come along and ask other people if they are happy and satisfied and some of these other indicators and they say that they are not, which seems to me to be the history of indicators.

  Sir John Egan: One of things I was chairman of for a while was the Central London Partnership which sought to get common cause between all of the Central London boroughs. It is quite clear that the Central London boroughs do realise that one of the things they do is create employment. They know they create employment for other places. So, you have a population there but what you are doing has to create wealth for other people as well. For example, one of the most difficult ones is Westminster where not only is it a huge place for people to live but they are also the biggest single tourism product in the whole of the United Kingdom and there is a conflict there. I just simply think that it is the job of people to understand where they are and to understand the nature of the people who depend upon their city and do the best for each one of them and, where compromises have to be made, they are sensible enough to make good compromises on the basis of the people whose services are required from them.

  Q648  Mr Challen: The Government do not seem to be too impressed with the idea of having these 50 indicators exclusively for sustainable communities and they do not think they should be adopted into the community strategies. Are you satisfied with their response to your suggestion that they ought to be?

  Sir John Egan: No. This is not the end of the story. We have to operationalise them and make them work and you cannot say that they cannot work until you have tried.

  Q649  Mr Challen: Would you be happy for local authorities, say, to include many other indicators and perhaps even argue that they are more important than those you have chosen? Where do we get to with this process of having indicators if this is more permissible?

  Sir John Egan: Have you followed what I am trying to do? The key is delegation of authority from the centre to local authorities. There has been no way of doing that. People have vied with each other and governments have vied with each other to emasculate the authority in local authorities and how are you going to get leaders to actually give leadership to their communities if all the authority has been stripped from them? This is a way of delegating authority to local authorities. It is a way of being able to say, "If you can improve the sustainable of your community, we will delegate authority to you." I have asked that, that is what my report has said and I think they have been less than warm in answering up to that, but I do not think that they are going to make sense of this problem until they take delivery of it.

  Q650  Joan Walley: And ownership too, presumably?

  Sir John Egan: Yes. It is a huge point that, if we want to have communities that work, they are not going to be designed from Whitehall. Let us be really realistic with this one. That is what they have to be able to do.

  Q651  Joan Walley: I think the implications of what you are saying to the Committee are huge, particularly in respect of governance and local democracy and, in a way, need to be reflected in terms of funding arrangements provisionally from central government and it is difficult to see how, with the different partnerships that there are, local authorities can take the lead and ownership of some of these delivery mechanisms because, at the local level, often you will find that the skills or the drive simply are not there because they are under pressure from so many different quarters.

  Sir John Egan: The debates we were having about these key performance indicators are very important because I want to see all of the national service givers working in common cause with each other and being judged collectively by the same audit process. Then we can see it working.

  Q652  Mr Francois: You are making an argument for the devolution of power to local authorities.

  Sir John Egan: Yes.

  Q653  Mr Francois: To encourage people locally to take ownership of the process.

  Sir John Egan: I was asked what skills were required and I said that one of the fundamental skills was the skill of delegation from central government to local government.

  Q654  Mr Francois: In principle, I concur with you on that. You also talked about the importance of carrying local people with you and you made that point in several contexts in the discussion this afternoon, but you have also said that it is very important that there is regional planning. Is there not a contradiction in the middle of all of us in that you want to see authority devolved to the local level, you want to work with local authorities, and actually those local authorities under regional planning have no control over the most important decision which is how many houses they have to accept?

  Sir John Egan: Let me come to the key point here. I think that two or three things are going to be designed and planned at regional level. Prosperity will be a regional process. Let me give you an example. We had all those race riots up in Burnley and the general notion was that there were not enough jobs in Burnley. Burnley is not going to solve its unemployment problem itself but the place where they can resolve it is in Manchester. There are enough jobs for all the people in Burnley actually in Manchester if you had good enough communications from one to the other so that people can live in Burnley and work in Manchester, the answer is that you could do it. You will not plan the prosperity of Burnley from Burnley. That has to be a regional thing and that will mean regional transport systems are required. That is why I say that there is an absolute key. I think it is important that this relationship between regional and local authorities is restricted to a number of the key things that are best done at regional level and clearly prosperity is one and transport is another. If you are going to choose where the Royal Opera House goes, you have to maybe do it on a national basis. The big things that people require for cultural and other issues will also be planned on a regional basis as well, I am sure. That is the way it is. So, you will just have to have a regional say and then a local say.

  Q655  Mr Francois: With respect, we are not talking about opera houses, we are talking about thousands of houses with all the infrastructure implications of that. How can you take local authorities with you along the lines exactly that you have been advocating if they do not actually have a say in the most vital question of all which is how many they have to take?

  Sir John Egan: At every meeting I have had with the Cabinet subcommittee, I have asked them to stop talking about houses. I think they have done themselves no good at all by talking about houses. There was a picture on the front of the Economist when it was announced of a plane, a great big 747, flying over the south east dropping houses.

  Chairman: It was in the Spectator.

  Q656  Mr Francois: We know the picture.

  Sir John Egan: What they should have done was to talk about communities and that we have to expand communities and the only people who will do that well will be the local authorities.

  Chairman: The division bell has gone and we are going to have to break. We would very much like to come back and get into the whole issue of skills which is really what you are here to talk about in the first place.

The Committee suspended from 4.50 pm to 4.55 pm for a division in the House

  Q657  Mr Chaytor: Can I ask about the recommendations you made about skills, in particular the question of the National Centre of Excellence. Your recommendation in the report was that this should be in place or the board members should be in place for late 2004 with the centre up and running for 2005. Can you tell us where we are at and is that likely to happen?

  Sir John Egan: As far as I understand, it is possible to happen, yes.

  Q658  Mr Chaytor: Being "possible to happen" is not the same as "likely to happen".

  Sir John Egan: I think the timetable is that it will be up and running during 2005.

  Q659  Mr Chaytor: How will it relate to the other skills problems because, in the skills sector at the moment, there is a huge proliferation of funding bodies and advisory bodies and sector skills councils that are now gradually getting up and running? Is that is not just a question of another quango that is going to muddy the waters? Is there not going to be more inter-agency rivalry between who does what, quite apart from the professional bodies for architects and engineers, planners and so on? Do you not think there is a danger of agency proliferation?

  Sir John Egan: Let me first of all say that this whole area requires further research and I wanted the centre to be connected to one of our great universities in order that high-quality research could be done.

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