The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Jim Fitzpatrick): My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) has raised a number of questions that I hope are answered in my response. First, however, I congratulate her on securing this important debate. It gives us the opportunity to focus on a city that is increasingly recognised as a beacon for driving regeneration.
Plymouth has given us a lot, not least the benefit of the previous hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport, who stood down at the recent election. I pay tribute to the work of Mr. David Jamieson for what he did for the House, for his contribution as a Minister at the Department for Transport, but, above all, for the way in which he looked after his constituents. It is perhaps symbolic that the city that gave the House its first woman MP is now represented by two women MPs. I welcome the contribution that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck) made. If she makes Ministers work as hard for Plymouth as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton does, the city will have no complaints.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton has beaten a path to our door, championing Plymouth's embrace of the urban renaissance agenda. Many hon. Members will have had the benefit of attending the
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presentation that she sponsored earlier this year in Parliament on the vision for regenerating Plymouth drawn together by the city's partners, led by the city council and its leader Tudor Evans, and catalysed by Mr. David Mackay, who drew on his experience of similar work in Barcelona. It would be difficult to find a city to which the urban renaissance agenda is better suited. Plymouth is a city with a great heritage. It became a focus for some of the best post-war city planning in Europe, led by Lord Abercrombie, and it had the leadership and the confidence to implement its Abercrombie plan to a greater extent than any other British city. However, it has had more than its fair share of economic and social difficulties, including the reduction of employment in the defence estate and the challenge of global markets to its manufacturing base. Plymouth has experienced problems encountered by many of our cities, including drug abuse, domestic violence, problems in schools and high levels of crime.
My hon. Friend, however, has not brought a story of failure, despondency or despair to the House. I applaud the story that she has told us of civic leadership, vision, partnership and progress. It is perhaps unexpected to find the foundation of a vision for regeneration among planners and architects. For too long those professions have been the butt of cynical jokes, and have been blamed for many of our urban problems. However, I want to pay tribute to the work of planners and architects, not only in developing the Abercrombie vision of the 1940s and 50s but in revisiting it in the past few years. Mr. Mackay himself would be the first to say that he has built on the work of others, and I am pleased that the city council has not only developed a high-quality deposit local plan but has embraced the opportunity afforded by the new local development framework system to establish the foundation for its vision of the future.
I pay tribute to the private sector architects and planners who have partnered David Mackay and Plymouth city council to give substance to that vision. That proactive, catalytic role is precisely what our new provisions for the planning system are designed to provide, and I encourage others to look at the example laid down by Plymouth. My hon. Friend has not just brought us an example of good town planning. Encouraged by the Deputy Prime Minister's strategy for sustainable communities, Plymouth aims to achieve sustainable growth. The Mackay vision has provided a spatial context for the wider growth agenda, and I particularly welcome the way in which the city and its partners have developed their agenda to embrace the city's wider economic and social needs.
I commend the positive approach of the city council to its urban capacity study and the high proportion of new housing for the city that is planned either for brownfield land or for the existing urban envelope. Vibrant cities are places in which people want to live, not just on the periphery but in their hearts. The combination of the Mackay vision, the commitment of English Partnerships and the regional development agency, and the leadership of the city council will ensure that the city centre and the area around Plymouth's waterfront are once again places where large numbers of people can live and enjoy their lives. Bringing affordable housing, social housing and housing for more
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prosperous people back to the heart of the city is part of central planning for a sustainable community. It is part of the vision for urban renaissance.
I accept, however, that the vision in Plymouth goes further. Tackling urban design and the delivery of housing is not enough if there are not well-paid, high-quality, long-term sustainable jobs for the citizens of the city. Work is in hand to build Plymouth's future economy, and I pay tribute to people with the vision to develop a science park. The Tamar science park at Derriford is recognised as one of the country's leading exponents of the science park agenda, and I am delighted that we have been able to support that success through the RDA and objective 2 programme investments in the science park. Partners in Plymouth quickly realised benefits for the economy that a large and successful hospital and a new medical school provided through intellectual capital, the opportunity for technology transfer and the incubation of new companies. Derriford hospital and the Peninsula medical school stand out for their commitment to building links to the wider city and its economy.
Plymouth is fortunate to have one of the most impressive examples of a new university. As a contribution to urban renaissance, Plymouth must be almost uniquely fortunate in having a university with the ability to develop a 21st century campus right in the heart of the city. I recognise that the benefit goes well beyond anything that can be measured in student numbers or even in terms of research assessments. The contribution to innovation in a city such as Plymouth of a successful university is immeasurable. Its impact on aspiration and ambition in the city is incalculable. I pay tribute to the vice-chancellor, Professor Roland Levinsky, and his staff for the commitment that they show to partnering with Plymouth and growing its future together.
I also recognise that Plymouth has academic assets beyond the university. In the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, the Marine Biological Association and the Alexander Hardy Foundation, Plymouth has a world centre of marine science expertise to be proud of. All these things mean that Plymouth is well positioned to respond to the Lisbon and Gothenburg agendas. Innovation and competitiveness have to be at the heart of growth economies, and I welcome the steps that Plymouth city council and its partners are taking to build on this foundation.
I am struck by how committed Plymouth has been over the past 15 years to working in partnership. I applaud the lead that Plymouth's private sector took in developing the proposals and funding for the study undertaken by David Mackay. I welcome the strong sense of community evidenced by the local leadership of the Devonport new deal for communities initiative. I welcome the huge contribution made by the voluntary sector in Plymouth to the city's successful development of drug rehabilitation programmes. But none of those schemes would be enough if they were operating in isolation. The city council's vision of building with the chamber of commerce the Plymouth 2000 partnership more than a decade ago has proved far-sighted and beneficial. On this foundation has grown Plymouth's local strategic partnership. I look forward to the partnership moving in due course to grasp the opportunities of a local area agreement, through which
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the city will be able to extend programmes to improve the delivery of public service to the most disadvantaged; to narrow differentials; and to improve its performance on key floor targets.
That is why I am enthused by the vision that my hon. Friend has brought us this evening. It is a true vision of a sustainable community. It is a vision for a community that is committed to increasing its prosperity while at the same time increasing equality of access to that prosperity, and which is interested in its physical environment, but also in the quality of the life of the citizens who live in that environment. It is the vision of a city driven not by remote bureaucracy, but by close partnership involvement of all its communities.
That is a true vision of urban renaissance, and it is one that matches well with Government policy. In their manifesto report "Strong Economy, Great Cities", the Government have celebrated the urban renaissance that has been gathering confidence in our major cities over the past eight years. The report recognises that we must continue to give those cities the support they need to do even better, but it also emphasises our intention to apply the lessons of our successful regional cities to the next level of cities and towns in the country.
We will strengthen the role of councils such as Plymouth to lead the transformation of their area through proactive approaches to promote prosperity and create sustainable communities. Our new planning policies are also helping. Planning policy statement 6 on planning for town centres aims to promote vital and viable town and city centres by encouraging positive planning to encourage growth and manage change. We are fully supporting Plymouth's renaissance in many ways, including, for example, through our investments through the regional development agency, English Partnerships, the English cities fund, objective 2, our neighbourhood renewal fund and the Devonport new deal for communities. They are supporting projects such as the Tamar science park, the Royal William yard and Millbay dock regeneration.
We welcome Plymouth's keen and strong participation in our business improvement district pilot scheme and the overwhelming support of local businesses for the scheme, which offers the opportunity to make a real difference to the city centre environment, alongside the developments being taken forward there in support of the Mackay vision.
My hon. Friend asked me for reassurance that Plymouth's potential is recognised by the Government and that it will have help in realising that potential. I reassure her that Plymouth is on Ministers' radar screens. I have already emphasised many of the ways in which we are already supporting and investing in Plymouth. I look forward to hearing the conclusions reached by Plymouth and its partners about how the city's delivery of sustainable growth can be taken forward.
My hon. Friend has raised the question whether areas with rapidly growing populations are properly catered for by the local government finance settlement. She will know that the Government have already abolished the
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ceiling on grant increases from one year to the next, and we are now examining the use of forward-looking population projections in the settlement, which will help further. We expect to consult on possible options for grant distribution over the summer.
My hon. Friend has raised the issue of civil service relocations. Addressing regional economic disparities is an integral part of creating sustainable communities, which is where we see our commitment to relocating 20,000 civil service jobs out of the greater south-east by 2010 playing its part. The Office of Government Commerce leads on the relocation initiative across government, and the ODPM's particular interest is in realising the potential contribution of any relocation to regenerating deprived areas. As such, when Departments consider where to locate staff, we will ask them to assess the impact on key elements, including jobs, skills and investment.
My hon. Friend raised the issue of developing models of affordable housing. We want to offer as many people as possible the opportunity to own a home, and we are
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fully aware of the difficulties facing first-time buyers in the south-west. We are interested in hearing more about new and innovative ways of delivering affordable housing, and it would be useful if we could be kept appraised of any developments.
We are consulting on proposals for improving our low-cost home ownership schemes. The document "Homebuyexpanding the opportunity to own" is available on our website, www.ODPM.gov.uk, and everyone is welcome to respond to that consultation and to set out their ideas in relation to our own. Indeed, I understand that CDS Co-operatives has discussed piloting the community land trust idea with English Partnerships.
My hon. Friend asked me five questions, and the only one that I have not responded to is her kind invitation to visit Plymouth. If she will allow me a little time, because I am so new to my post, I hope that we can arrange a visit in the summer recess.