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17 Oct 2006 : Column 242WH—continued

1.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): I congratulate you in your role as Chairman, Mr. Williams. It is good to see you. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) on securing this debate. He prefaced his remarks by praising the youth service and also, rightly, young people for the contribution that they make. That is an apt position to start from, because in my role as Under-Secretary in the Department for Education and Skills I have had dealings with many groups of young people and he is absolutely right to say that they have a
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positive contribution to make. Good youth services—he mentioned his youth service in Nottinghamshire, and I know that there is some excellent work going on there—make the best of that.

I also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble). Obviously, there are problems in her part of the world, as she has mentioned, and she has been championing the issue in her constituency. I shall say a few words about that in the course of my speech.

First, I think that this is absolutely the right time for this debate. It is an essential debate, which the Government welcome. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood said, the Government recently announced plans for a radical reform of youth support services. “Youth Matters” laid out our vision for youth support services. It emphasises the benefit of bringing services together around the needs of young people through an integrated youth support service. That will empower young people, giving them more choice and influence over their services. Having said that, I understand the comments that my hon. Friend made about the youth service being a Cinderella and about where it stands in the priorities of local authorities. I shall come on to that in a moment, too.

The reforms make clear the Government’s recognition of the great importance of youth work and their commitment to make agencies and the services that they deliver even more responsive to the needs of young people. I note that some young people have just arrived in the Public Gallery to listen to the debate; they are most welcome. I refer to local authority youth services when I speak of youth work, but we do not overlook the valuable youth work delivered by the range of trained professionals based in other community and voluntary settings. “Youth Matters” demonstrates the Government’s recognition that those delivering youth work are crucial to the impact of the reforms.

I shall briefly summarise why those reforms were and are necessary. First, despite tremendous enthusiasm, organisations providing services and help for young people do not always work together as effectively or imaginatively as they should. The result is that money and effort can sometimes be wasted. Secondly, teenagers and their parents do not have enough say in what is provided, which results in services not always meeting individuals’ needs—hence “Youth Matters” and “Youth Matters: Next Steps”. Thirdly, more can be done to prevent young people from drifting into a life of poverty or crime. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood has already mentioned the benefit of youth services in cutting crime and antisocial behaviour.

We passionately believe in having more integrated arrangements for delivering youth support; support that helps the most disadvantaged in a tailored way. That is why we look to Children’s Trust arrangements to lead the delivery of integrated youth support, of which youth work is a key part. However, the impact of integrated arrangements are limited if we focus attention on individual funding streams in isolation. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood made the pertinent point that we are not talking only about the early years but about youth service and young people.

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Of course, as we embark on reform, youth work itself will go through its own period of transition, with its own challenges, and my hon. Friend described what has happened in his area. Young people do not conform to single silos; the young offender will often play truant, may have mental health problems, and will often lack a stable family environment, so youth support must operate in the wider playing field. I hope that Children’s Trust will help in that respect, bearing in mind the “Every Child Matters” agenda and bringing services together.

We want the new arrangements to give youth work the chance to flourish; through it, young people can achieve the outcomes that they want. We want to build on what is working but we know that we have to do some things differently. Inspection evidence tells us that about one in four youth services is not performing adequately, and we all want to give young people more than an adequate chance. We want to give young people the best whenever we can.

It is natural that periods of transition such as those that youth services are going through now should give rise to concerns about positions and roles. The debate about youth service and youth work funding highlights that, but I emphasise that integrated working does not mean a loss of identity for youth work or for any other deliverer of youth support. I hope that today’s debate will highlight that for all local authorities.

I hope that we can begin to think of funding for that aspect of youth support as part of a wider pool of resources, which are meant to help young people reach their potential by sharing knowledge with others. Youth support can refine its strengths by learning from the experience of others within the wider support services.

The debate should not be restricted to focusing on one service’s funding and how it is determined. We should take as our starting point the following questions. How do we give young people the help they need? What is the best way of delivering it? Who can deliver it, and how can we help them to deliver it?

I welcome the call for a focus on the most disadvantaged, and for youth work to be targeted there. For example, projects such as Late Zone in Dartford recruit young people on the streets to come and visit them. Late Zone is open on Friday nights between 10 pm and 11.30 pm; it is an informal information session and includes opportunities for young people to access coffee bars and other activities. I would like to see far more such projects; they reach out to young people at a time when they most need it. Other projects such as Midnight Football do similar work.

However, we must recognise that the young person’s journey is fraught with change, including in circumstances. All young people have needs, and they can find their needs suddenly accelerating, which can put them outside the support offered by the universal services. That is why we have introduced target support pathfinders in 14 local authority areas; they will inform those concerned as to how local user support services can be best designed so that they can respond to the needs of the most troubled young people. More detailed guidance will be issued later in the year, based on findings from those pathfinder projects.

The funding of youth work was mentioned by my hon. Friends. We want local authorities to consider
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what is needed in order to make a reality of the vision in “Youth Matters”. That is why the Minister for Children and Families, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), wrote to all local authorities in early February. She made clear that we are providing new funding for the youth opportunity and youth capital funds of £115 million over two years.

Those two funds have been received with great enthusiasm by young people and all who support them. As a result, local authorities should not be making cuts to core provision for youth work. They should instead be building on the transforming youth agenda; and we want them to give priority to spending on youth support in order to ensure that all young people achieve the five “Every Child Matters” outcomes. Indeed, my hon. Friend mentioned the 5.8 per cent. increase in his own local authority area.

In total, £1.6 billion is available for support services for young people, and I want to see local authorities using those resources, as local leaders of youth policy, to deliver effective services for young people. I know that some issues are currently being considered in relation to the youth service in Northamptonshire. Northamptonshire county council is working to produce an action plan that responds to the issues raised by Ofsted inspections. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North that we shall be monitoring progress closely. Ultimately, it is for local authorities to decide how much they spend on local services, but I assure my hon. Friend that I am happy to remain engaged; she was right to bring the matter to the attention of the House today.

I welcome the opportunity to look at the strengths of the current Education and Inspections Bill. In the context of the move to integrated arrangements, the Bill promotes integration by legislating on youth work matters in order to help local authorities take changes forward. The Bill strengthens previous outmoded legislation, and will help local authorities to consider how best to use the wide range of resources available to them to commission, facilitate and provide youth work. The new duty will require local authorities, as far as possible, to secure access for young people to sufficient educational leisure-time activities in order to improve their well-being. Youth work is a significant source of the current provision of such activities, and we expect authorities to recognise the importance of youth work in meeting the new duty. We will make that clear in statutory guidance. The thematic view set up by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor earlier this year rightly looks right across youth matters—at the whole landscape—and sets out our vision until 2017. That marks a real long-term commitment to services for young people, of which local authority youth services will certainly be an important part.

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Former Aerodrome Site (Radlett)

1.30 pm

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): This is not a debate about the desirability of getting freight off our roads, hence the formation of the title. It is a debate about the necessity of ensuring that rail freight locations are correctly located in areas well served by direct transport, road and rail links, and with minimum impact on local communities.

This is not about nimbyism. I want to stress the need for a truly critical appraisal of the merits of locating a large industrial facility in the green belt accessed off local roads in areas of acknowledged traffic congestion, poor air quality and noise pollution. In fact the Department of Health’s own 2006 health profile for St. Albans accepts that our local air quality rating is below the accepted England average. The Radlett area is a particular hot spot that contributes significantly to that poor rating. I am seeking to outline to the Minister why this particular proposal is an inappropriate development. It is at an early stage, but I feel that I ought to make the case for our communities.

The district council has already allocated £500,000 of taxpayers’ money to fight this proposal and given my concerns, the views of the county council and the regional planning committee, which I will seek to highlight later in my speech, I am asking the Minister to call this decision in at the earliest possible stage.

I am sure that the Minister agrees that this proposal must be robustly scrutinised in terms of strict planning criteria and not pushed through as a result of a desire by the Government to locate up to four new interchange sites around a London hub. We must move away from the positive rhetoric of the developer HelioSlough as its proposals seek to gloss over the real impact of this development and do not adequately address concerns over the impact of increased traffic and green belt requirements. The proposals also fail to fulfil locational requirements of the Strategic Rail Authority’s rail freight interchange policy document, paragraph 4.2 of which states:

Park Street is a village and access from the site will be directly adjacent to residential homes and along village roads. I, like many people, am in favour of getting freight off our roads, but strategic rail freight interchanges must be appropriately located. This former gravel working is a metropolitan green belt site that ought to be returned to an acceptable amenity for local residents.

The Minister said in response to my question of 11 October about maintaining the integrity of the green belt that

She went on to say that

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Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on obtaining this important debate and on the lead she has taken in addressing the issues surrounding the proposal. As well as addressing technical rail issues, this debate is also important for road traffic and strategic reasons, as she has rightly outlined, and for even wider environmental reasons regarding the green belt. Does my hon. Friend accept that anyone who looks at the proposal has to consider whether it will have a massive impact on the green belt in Hertfordshire, particularly in the area around St. Albans, Park Street, London Colney and Radlett in my constituency? In effect, those communities will coalesce into each other, and an area of green with important environmental qualities will be lost.

Anne Main: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the important aspects of the green belt is to stop the coalescing of smaller communities and that facility will indeed be lost should the site be developed in that particular way.

HelioSlough—the proposed developer—maintains that its study on the site shows that Radlett is an optimum site with regard to location. That may be its opinion as a result of its own study, but a county development control report released on Monday 16 October profoundly disagrees with that assertion. It states that the developers’ study is not robust and that

It concludes that

It is not just local people who believe that this green belt site is strategically important. The report says that the site has not demonstrated any real reasons to show it should be treated as an exceptional circumstance. The regional planning sub-committee report also agrees with that conclusion on the green belt, adding that

The Radlett site proposes a large 3.5 million sq ft strategic rail interchange, warehousing ancillary office developments served by the rail sidings linked to the slow up-line—the midland main line—with no direct motorway access. I do not wish to go on about access on the rail line because it has not actually been demonstrated that the site will get the additional capacity or access to it: that is a transport issue, not the issue I am dealing with at the moment.

There is no direct motorway access and all road access from the new signalised roundabout on the north orbital will be off the A414. A direct road access link for the proposal has already been refused and deemed unacceptable by the highways authority, so all new and existing traffic must still use local roads.

County development control’s view in a report to the director for the environment is that the A414, which will provide the access point,

That would have a huge and detrimental impact on local road networks.

A report from the regional planning sub-committee dated 6 October said that

Again, an excellent planning reason to turn the proposal down.

The impact on the local roundabouts is less well defined in the developer’s proposals, but the county report says, from the scanty recommendations that are in the developer’s proposals, that

It is also worth noting that in the health outcomes for St. Albans, we have some of the highest road traffic incidents, which is above the national average.

Work by the Highways Agency for the regional spatial strategy examination in public showed that specific congestion issues were anticipated for this part of Hertfordshire. Without the proposal, we are still anticipating a massive impact on congestion, and the proposal will only add to that in a detrimental way. The A414 in particular, which will provide the access point, was highlighted as creating congestion issues. Any highways problems that already occur on the M25, and they are numerous, cause rat-running and severe additional congestion. The addition of thousands of extra lorries trying to access the site would cause mayhem beyond comprehension.

The traffic implications beyond the two roundabouts that feature heavily in the developer’s application are also important. The developer seems conveniently to forget that this will impact on the whole of St. Albans and my hon. Friend’s constituency as well. It is not just a Park Street and Radlett proposal.

The Highways Agency does look further afield and is concerned about the junctions where traffic joins the trunk road networks: junction 21A and 22 on the M25 and junction 3 of the A1(M). As a result of those concerns, the Highways Agency has already issued a holding objection to the proposal.

The proposed Park Street bypass, which has long been argued for by local residents, is a key part of this scheme. Unfortunately, that will not deliver the bypass scheme the residents wanted in order to get the lorries that are already there out of Park Street and eliminate the traffic that clogs the village. It will have no impact on the traffic concerns of the Highways Agency.

With regard to alleviating traffic within the village, it could be possible, for example, to exclude heavy goods vehicle traffic from Park Street and Frogmore, but the impact on HGVs that currently use Harper lane, the B556, to access junction 22 of the M25 and on all related local car movements will not be addressed by any bypass proposed for this application and therefore it does not address current traffic concerns and will only add to them. That remains a valid concern and was accepted by the highways authority in its report.

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Point 17.9 of the county development report, that

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