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East Leeds (Regeneration)

4.30 pm

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East) (Lab): May I express my gratitude for the opportunity to raise this important matter, and my pleasure that you are in the Chair, Mr. Gale? The last time that I appeared before you was when you chaired the Committee on the infamous Higher Education Bill, when we debated tuition fees. I am grateful for your kindness then.

I start by paying tribute to my colleagues on Leeds city council. Over the years, I and others have had long discussions and arguments about how to tackle inner-city problems such as poverty, deprivation, bad housing, indifferent education, high levels of crime and vandalism, and consistently unacceptable unemployment levels. It has been argued that such problems cannot be solved, as attempts to do so have been made for decades. I was a councillor for 20 years and was involved in inner-city programmes and the like that were aimed at ending poverty. They never had that effect, but ended up simply doing things on the margin.

Leeds city council has accepted the argument that those individual programmes should be superseded by a major regeneration scheme with the objective of ending the two-speed economy and two-speed standard of living in Leeds, where there is high unemployment in the inner city and prosperity in the rest of the city. In a previous Adjournment debate, I talked about many of the sad facts of life in my constituency. Suffice it to say that three of my four wards are on the Department's list of the most deprived wards in the country, so it is accepted that there is a real problem in the inner city and my constituency.

I pay tribute to Councillor Keith Wakefield, who was the leader of the Labour group and who ran the council at the time. He started the process of procuring a private sector partner. I was worried when he lost control of the council and the Conservatives took over, but was later delighted and relieved to find that the local Conservative leader Andrew Carter and his colleague Councillor Les Carter, who handles neighbourhoods and housing, approached the matter with real sympathy and enthusiasm. However, the problem continues.

Regeneration takes two major forms, the first of which—I am sure that the Minister will know this from what is happening in east London—is gentrification. It is like the Scottish land clearances in past centuries. Local people are taken off the land, various bits are assembled, and work takes place with a developer to use it more profitably, regardless of the social effect on the people. That is property regeneration. It has its place because sometimes it is done a little more sensitively than I have suggested.

The other kind of regeneration is when we accept it in its fullest sense, as the physical regeneration of an area, as well as the regeneration of people. It is about making changes and ensuring that the objective is that local people share in the prosperity thrown up by development and business.

I have raised the subject because we are at an early stage in the regeneration process. Final discussions are going on with the private contractor, but I fear—for reasons that are not dogmatic, but understandable and
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straightforward—that the property-only type of regeneration might be winning over the property-and-people type of regeneration. The private partnership will throw up a considerable amount of money—I am not approaching the Minister with a begging bowl, as usually happens in debates on regeneration and inner cities—and it is estimated that the city council will get in the region of £120 million as its share of the profits from the regeneration. That is a pessimistic assessment because that money on its own would not be sufficient to fulfil the objectives, which are accepted by most people in Leeds. In fact, it would be a great temptation, because £120 million would allow the council to refurbish instead of change. It could be used on various parts of the social infrastructure—perhaps a new school, a library or community centre. We have had such temptations over the past 20 or 30 years, but refurbishing merely blunts poverty; it does not end it.

The argument that I hope the Minister will take to the Department is that a real partnership could be established between the Department and the Government, the other social partners and the local authority. If all the money was pooled with the local authority's current spending and the profits, and then spent differently, there would be every chance that people's ambitions would be met and that we would see an end to poverty and deprivation.

We could change people's lives. As it is, a few hundred houses in one ward were recently demolished. The tenants were given the choice of other council or social housing. If a scheme had been in place that had Government backing, the real alternative when knocking down those houses would have been to get a developer to build houses for sale and then give people the choice of continuing in a council house or going into home ownership for the first time. However, they were not given the choice.

As the scheme rolls on, I fear that that is what will increasingly happen. We will see clearances and new houses built, but they will be priced out of the reach of local people. As a result, they will continue to live in social housing—pressure will continue to be placed on social housing—instead of having their entire lives changed.

That might seem to be an exaggeration, but I shall explain two of the problems. The first is housing. The other day, Councillor Les Carter, who is in charge of housing, expressed the worry that even if he accepted my argument, he could not deal with the back-to-back properties that are to be found in great numbers in inner-city Leeds. Those were built not during the previous century, but in the century before, and were meant for working people who served in clothing factories and the like. Sadly, they are still being used to raise families. They have been refurbished time and again, but they should have disappeared. Trendy architects like to put great exteriors on them, but they have no gardens and are on crowded and dangerous streets. They are certainly not the place to bring up a family in the 21st century.

How do we deal with that problem? Should we demolish them? How do we move people, and how do we give them a choice of properties? The large council estates in Leeds were built in the 1920s. They were very
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welcome then, because they replaced slum homes in the city centre. The estates were seen as a great improvement—and they were—but they are now 70 years old. Knowing the aspirations of today's young people, it is not where they see their future. For them, it is not progress, but we have so much of that type of housing. With so much social housing, my constituency is unbalanced in terms of housing tenure. That is very good electorally, of course, but it is not so good for the individuals concerned. When that feeds through to schools, police time and social services, we have a troubled area, with all the services competing for resources, and education is a particular concern.

My point is the way in which we approach the problem. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is exceedingly generous with money when we want to refurbish council houses. That is an expensive job, as they have been up for more than 60 years. But if we want to use some of the money to persuade people to have an equity share in their own house—it may be half of what the Minister is planning to spend on refurbishing council houses—we are told that the money is in a box for decent homes and is not available for another use.

I hope that the Minister can understand the argument. I would love to see the Department sit down with Leeds city council, pool the money and ask whether its objective is to keep all the social housing in my patch or to give people the opportunity to move out. People are sitting on equity in their council homes, even if they have not purchased them. The scheme that we have worked on to allow them to take that equity and make a private house affordable seems a wonderful way forward. However, it needs the help of the Department and for it to be flexible about how the money is spent. That seems almost impossible. However, I want discussions on that to start.

The Government can build all the houses we need and want on the land that is cleared. They can say that they are available to everybody in East Leeds, but pricewise they will not be. I have dealt with one aspect of prices, but it is no use a couple going into a house unless they are working and have the income to keep it. That just leads to tears. The cycles of deprivation that have gone on for 30 or 40 years mean that there are still constantly high levels of unemployment in my constituency. The Government are needed. There is no sign of their involvement in the council's scheme, and I am not criticising the council for that. The council needs the Government as a partner.

We need a targeted system to help people to get skills and jobs so that they can take up the opportunities, which will be available. It will be bad for morale and will make some people angry if they see people moving into the new houses when they cannot. If we are about property and people, we should want to bring the colleges, the learning and skills council, Yorkshire Forward and each of the social partners together to devise programmes that get people appropriate skills and help them to find jobs in the booming economy. If we cannot do so in Leeds, I am not sure that we can do it anywhere, but if we do not do so in Leeds, that will bring questions to the Minister and me.

There is a need for partnership and proper involvement, and there is a desperate need for co-ordination. Other Departments are involved: the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of
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Trade and Industry and the Department for Education and Skills. The Government need to participate as an active partner. The co-ordinating Department must have the confidence and the ability to liaise with other Departments. One Department will not solve the problem; we need many Departments to do it.

We need partnership and co-ordination, but above all we need money. I am talking not about fresh money, but about the money we already have. That money should be freely given to be pooled, by agreement, for all the social partners and the residents to go into the areas that best trigger the move towards our objectives.

Sometimes Departments come to the table and say, "We are all in favour of participating and we'll put our money in, but we'll decide what it is spent on. As long as it is spent on something that relates to our budget and our Department, we're happy." A real partnership, real joined-up thinking and working to meet objectives mean putting the money on the table, seeing what the budget is and seeing which areas, if the money is spent on them, will move us towards the objectives sooner. That would be a proper partnership and a real move towards meeting the objectives.

Some political input is desperately needed. There are problems. Leeds city council has to be convinced that the Government are willing to have a partnership, to share an ambition and even to raise ambitions for the council. That requires some political involvement. It would be useful to involve the three MPs whose constituencies are in the regeneration area—my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon), my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn) and myself. We should be involved and consulted. Will the Minister request a meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning so that we can agree objectives and start a dialogue that gets us moving towards the objectives?

For 30 years, I have seen council money and Government money spent on inner-city poverty. Despite all the national statistics, my area remains desolate. Spending money on individual initiatives, individual schemes, community centres—this, that and the other—merely dulls poverty; it does not abolish it. If we are putting money in, I hope that the Minister and the Department have the same ambition and vision as I do. We have been putting the money in for 30 years. As Hillary Clinton says, people are mad if they continue to put money in, do the same thing and expect different results. After 30 years, we are continuing to put money in the same areas, apparently for the same objectives, and we are surprised that nothing has happened. We have to do things differently.

I hope that, in the brief time available, I have given some ideas on how to do things differently, and I would welcome some enthusiasm from the Department for a partnership to end inner-city poverty in Leeds.

4.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Jim Fitzpatrick) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) on initiating the debate. I shall return at the end of my contribution to his three principal points, which were about flexibility, joined-up partnership arrangements and a meeting with my hon.
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Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning. At that point, I shall outline what we have been trying to do, the partnerships that exist and what they are trying to do.

The Government recognise the description given by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East: the area includes a number of communities that continue to face problems of deep-rooted deprivation and disadvantage, despite significant neighbourhood renewal investment over a number of years. I note that he paid tribute to the past Labour leader of the council and to the present Conservative Councillors Carter and Carter—that sounds like the title of a Michael Caine movie. I am sure that they appreciate his expertise and support in trying to achieve their shared objectives.

The Government are determined to help to tackle the problems of our most disadvantaged communities. In 2005, we announced a further £1.3 billion package of assistance to help local authorities and their partners to narrow the performance gap between those areas and the rest of England by addressing the six neighbourhood renewal themes of crime and antisocial behaviour, education, housing, liveability, health inequalities and worklessness. Those are the exact issues that my hon. Friend said plague parts of his constituency.

The funding package comprises a £1.05 billion neighbourhood renewal fund, spread over two years, and a £265 million safer and stronger communities fund. From the national funding package for England, Leeds city council district will receive £27 million neighbourhood renewal funding in 2006–07 and nearly £15 million in 2007–08; £4,798,800 neighbourhood element funding between 2006 and 2010 to support the development of neighbourhood management in areas that contain some of the highest levels of deprivation; £2.1 million cleaner, safer, greener communities funding to deliver physical improvements to local public spaces; and £319,000 for community empowerment network funding for 2006–07 to support the strategic role of the voluntary community sector as a key partner in the local strategic partnership. A significant proportion of the funding will be applied by the local strategic partnership, Leeds Initiative, to support regeneration in the East Leeds area, and it should prove valuable in levering in other resources to the area, including European funding.

I am aware that considerable investment is planned for the development of an East Leeds link road to provide a strategic 4.5 km dual carriageway link, incorporating a high occupancy vehicle and heavy goods vehicle lane, between the Leeds inner ring road and the M1. That new road will create direct access from the M1 to the Aire valley employment area—a 400 hectare regeneration site of potential development land to the south-east of Leeds, which is already home to 400 businesses and 15,000 jobs. The construction of the East Leeds link road will enable a further 180 hectares of land to be developed creating up to 29,000 jobs

My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government's "Homes For All" five-year strategy set out the potential of mixed communities to transform persistently deprived areas of the UK. Quality and well designed housing, offering a mix of housing types and tenures attractive to a wider range of households, is critical to developing the long-term sustainability of communities. I note in particular my hon. Friend's comments about some of the oldest properties not being suitable for
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refurbishment, and the Deputy Prime Minister is regularly criticised by some who have not examined the pathfinder policy, for example. The only way forward is to demolish certain properties, but that is not at the expense of refurbishing appropriate ones. The Department has adopted a flexible approach.

As my hon. Friend knows, East Leeds is currently characterised by a predominance of social housing, as he described, which is mainly composed of council stock. The area is seen as unattractive to new households, despite relatively low house prices in the private sector compared with other areas of Leeds. Leeds city council established the east and south-east Leeds regeneration scheme to deliver a better housing mix. That initiative involves a ground-breaking public-private sector partnership aiming to transform East Leeds over the next 15 to 20 years, without additional public sector resources.

The council's use of its land assets will generate more than £1 billion of private sector leverage, delivering around 5,000 new homes. If successful, Leeds city council will consider rolling out their mixed communities initiative to other parts of the city. EASEL will create mixed-tenure neighbourhoods that are attractive to a wider range of households and ensure that proposals for each site are tailored to their market characteristics so that the long-term prospects of the area will be realised through market-led renewal. It will also include improvements to the design, fabric and management of the neighbourhood environment; promote the use of sensitive local lettings policies, which enable social landlords to create a better mix in communities, helping to address intense concentrations of deprivation; promote effective housing and neighbourhood management approaches to tackle deprivation; and link changes with action to reduce worklessness, poor educational performance and skills, crime and poor health.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has designated three areas as demonstration projects to test and share best practice in delivering the mixed communities policy. In Leeds, phase 1 of the EASEL initiative—for the Gipton area—has been designated as one of these demonstration projects, and work on clearing sites in Gipton for new homes is almost complete. The support of the people of Leeds, specifically the tenants and residents of East Leeds, is critical to the success of EASEL, something that my hon. Friend emphasised in his excellent contribution.

Leeds Initiative, Leeds city council and the East Leeds District Partnership are delivering ongoing consultation on the future of East Leeds, for example through the East Leeds District Partnership strategy and through the area action plan for East Leeds as part of the local development framework. That consultation has to date revealed broad support for the EASEL initiative, including phase 1 in Gipton. The LDF consultation is specifically seeking the views of East Leeds residents on options for the future of the area. The East Leeds District Partnership and Leeds East Homes arm's length management organisation have strong tenant and resident involvement at board level.
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The area's retention of its existing communities is vital to the success of EASEL. Again, that point was central to my hon. Friend's contribution. Those communities have formed the fabric and history of the area over generations. Work to establish the future housing needs and aspirations of the community is under way. For example, consultation in Gipton identified high levels of ownership aspiration among council tenants. Housing market research for Gipton and Seacroft is also planned, as is a wider housing market assessment of the East Leeds area. That work will inform future plans and strategies, so that future housing mix policies deliver the long-term aspirations of existing communities in East Leeds.

In terms of the more immediate needs of tenants and residents in clearance areas, Leeds East Homes ALMO has put in place a dedicated support team that is visiting tenants and residents to support them in choosing their immediate housing options. A range of options for tenants and residents is now in place to enable them to remain in the area.

A recent review of Leeds city council's allocations policy has strengthened support for council tenants in clearance areas. Under the Leeds choice-based letting scheme, they are now placed in the highest priority banding, giving them equal preference to others in greatest housing need. Direct lettings policies are in place, and ALMOs will also have the option of ring-fencing some properties for clearance households. Work with registered social landlords has also resulted in some tenants taking up opportunities to move to RSL rented accommodation.

The ability of existing communities to remain in the area is of course dependent on affordable housing provision—rented and for sale—and appropriate packages to ensure that those wishing to purchase a home can do so. Local planning policies require that 15 per cent. of new housing in the EASEL area is affordable. That policy will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

In EASEL terms, there is an early example of that policy in the phase 1 Gipton area. Leeds city council has agreed a local home-buy low-cost home ownership scheme in Gipton, so that residents who have had their homes cleared and cannot afford to buy one of the new homes in the area can purchase up to 50 per cent. of a new property, with the council owning the remaining percentage under shared equity. The scheme is funded from land sale receipts, and it guarantees affordable housing for future generations. That kind of policy will be built on to deliver affordable housing as future phases of EASEL are delivered.

I am pleased that Leeds city council is working closely with the ODPM and key regional partners such as Yorkshire Forward and English Partnerships to bring together housing and renewal strategies that make a lasting impact on the communities of East Leeds. My hon. Friend requested a meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning to discuss those matters and flexibility. As a result of previous discussions with him, I have spoken to my hon. Friend and she is more than happy to facilitate the meeting as requested.
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Local area agreements are very much about what my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East describes as important in a partnership: co-ordination, and real partnership between Departments, those involved regionally, the local authority, and local tenants and residents, to ensure that we have the flexibility and prioritisation that local areas need.
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I acknowledge the strong lead that my hon. Friend takes in promoting community regeneration. I applaud his determination to continue to improve the East Leeds area for all people who live and work there.

Question put and agreed to.

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