Partners in north Staffordshire have made good progress on achieving closer integration between the regeneration work undertaken by the renewal pathfinder and the regeneration zone. To date, they have established a joint commissioning sub-board and a joint development team. The expectation is that this will lead to the establishment of a single merged board in the near future.
Paul Farrelly: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and for the £67.5 million of second-stage housing market renewal funding, which is really making a difference in north Staffordshire. There are, however, still issues about joined-up delivery of regeneration locally, which also takes in regional generation zones and our regional development agency. Will he therefore be prepared to meet me, other north Staffordshire MPs and colleagues from the Department of Trade and Industry to see how we can improve delivery in the future for the benefit of all the people of north Staffordshire?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. By 2008 we will be spending £1.2 billion on the pathfinder programme, which has been very successful. I would be very happy to meet him and to talk to the DTI, which has direct concern for matters concerning the regional development agencies. If he and his hon. Friends contact me, I am sure that we will be prepared to discuss the issues with him.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): The acceptability of the housing market renewal initiative and the pathfinder scheme in north Staffordshire is based on its moderate scale and its sensible balance between demolition and refurbishment, and those two factors are missing in the Liverpool pathfinder scheme. When will the Deputy Prime Minister react to the growing criticisms about Liverpool, which have been repeated in the Audit Commission's concerns and which are denying the scheme the support of the public and his own MPs? Between us, does he not think that the more modest north Staffordshire scheme is a rather better model to be following?
The Deputy Prime Minister: No. The hon. Gentleman's basic criticism is of the Merseyside pathfinder scheme, but let me make it clear that the whole programme of £1.2 billion in payments for the nine pathfinder schemes up until 2008 will refurbish 30,000 houses, have a new build of 15,000 houses and lead to the demolition of only 10,000 houses, which is a small but necessary part of the programme. In Liverpool, 50 per cent. of the population have moved out of the area concerned, so it is not surprising that an awful lot of low-quality houses are empty there.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the criticism, but the answer to that comes from the residents themselves. When they gave their response to an unfair article by Simon Jenkins, they said about their houses:
"They are now unfit as homes for families who deserve better. The campaigners, conservationists and critics don't have to deal with 125-year-old properties that are damp, decaying and expensive to heatlet alone with collapsed Victorian sewerage systems, now overridden with rats."
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): May I say to my right hon. Friend that I really welcome the £67.5 million that we have for housing renewal in north Staffordshire? Further to the reply that he just gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), will he, when looking at the talks that need to take place with the DTI, also consider that the way in which local authorities deal with their single regeneration budgets needs to be part of the delivery mechanism? We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build and renovate homes and provide new jobs side by side in north Staffordshire. We want him to help us really lead on how we can deliver to areas that have lost so many jobs in the recent past.
The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point about two bodies. One is dealing with jobs and regeneration and the other is dealing with homes, and it is important that we get the best co-operation between them. I know that she and other Members from north Staffordshire have been clear about meeting Ministers to discuss this issue, and I would be delighted to take up her offer. When she comes along with her friends, we can have that discussion.
The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): We are providing fire and rescue authorities in England with £25 million for home fire risk checks and making a further £11.4 million available to support their fire prevention work. We are continuing national awareness campaigns and providing new fire safety education and teaching material for all schoolchildren.
Mr. Dismore: May I welcome the Government's emphasis on fire prevention, but may I also raise the future of the National Community Fire Safety Centre, the strategic body for planning and developing community fire safety initiatives? With only one staff member now in post out of the original four, will my hon. Friend confirm whether it is to continue and, if so, where it will be based and what staffing levels and terms of reference it will have?
I can confirm that the National Community Fire Safety Centre will continue. I met officials yesterday about that very point. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), the Minister with responsibility for fire services, who has promoted the work of the centre, most recently on the "See Hear" programme on national television. The centre is staffed by an official from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, but works in conjunction with fire and rescue services and local authorities throughout the country.
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Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): I have some good news[Interruption.] I have. The Staffordshire fire service not only provides poorer areas with free smoke alarms, it provides an exchange service for electric blankets. The Minister will know that, quite often, it is electric blankets that cause house fires. Are those schemes being taken up by other fire services and, if not, why not?
Mr. Woolas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the good news. I can confirm that other fire and rescue authorities are taking up those schemes. Our strategy, which is supported by fire authorities across the political spectrum, is to move more towards prevention. May I use this opportunity to give the House even more good news, which I know hon. Members will welcome? Accidental fire deaths in the home nationally are down. There were 219 deaths in the 12 months to 30 June 2005, compared with 277 tragic deaths a year earliera fall of 21 per cent. That is part of a six-year downward trend. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): My hon. Friend will know that I visited Thurrock at the end of February to see the work of the development corporation. He and I are due to meet shortly to discuss that. The urban development corporation now has negotiations under way on site acquisitions to support about 6,000 new jobs and 5,000 new homes. It is also supporting individual infrastructure projects ranging from Rainham marshes to Grays police station.
Andrew Mackinlay: I thank the Minister for agreeing to meet me this week. I welcome that opportunity. Will she paint a picture of what answer I could expect about the progress made if I were to ask the same question 12 months from now?
Yvette Cooper: Much of the progress that will need to be made relates to the site acquisitions that need to underpin some of the major developments. We have to be realistic: some of those developments will take time. However, the message that I have given to the board of the urban development corporation is that it also needs to increase its community engagement and consultation so that local people are closely involved in the development of the plans, some of which will be delivered faster than others.
Michael Gove (Surrey Heath)
(Con): The regeneration of Thurrock is a key aspect of the development of the Thames Gateway, but the Labour party's own think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, has warned that, in driving forward the regeneration of Thurrock, the Government have not done enough to consult local communities, guarantee infrastructure and respect environmental concerns. What steps are Ministers taking to take local people with them in pressing ahead with much-needed development?
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Yvette Cooper: I am glad that Members on the Opposition Front Bench now support the Thames Gateway, given that they opposed it more than a year ago. I agree that we need investment in infrastructure and support for the environment, including investment in things such as the Rainham marshes. However, investment in infrastructure costs money and as long as the hon. Gentleman's party continues to oppose the principle of the planning gain supplement and have a third fiscal rule, it simply could not fund the regeneration that the Thames Gateway needs.