Regenerating the English Coalfields - Public Accounts Committee Contents


Summary

Reviving the former English coalfields is one of the largest regeneration challenges to face the country over the last 30 years. Between 1981 and 2004 over 190,000 people lost their jobs in coal mining. The speed and extent of pit closures resulted in severe economic, social and environmental deprivation in many communities. In response, the Department for Communities and Local Government (the Department) developed three specific initiatives to regenerate coalfield areas, involving a commitment of almost £1.1 billion of public money.

As at July 2009, the three initiatives had spent £630 million and had brought 54 former coalfield sites back into working use, and enabled private development of 2,700 houses and 1.1 million square metres of employment space, and provided financial support to around 3,000 community projects. Despite the initiatives, 37% of coalfield areas continued to be ranked amongst the most deprived in England in 2007.

Thirteen years after the start of the initiatives, the Department still lacks a clear vision and has no overarching strategy for the regeneration of these areas, has not sufficiently coordinated the three strands of the regeneration, and has failed to coordinate wider Government activity. In consequence, training and support to help former coalfield communities find employment has rarely been linked to job opportunities created on coalfield sites.

We have serious concerns about the value for money of the coalfield initiatives. The Department does not know what improvement the initiatives had made to the lives of people living in the coalfield areas, as it does not have a robust assessment to prove to us the true number of additional jobs created. Nor does it know the business occupancy rates for employment space on the redeveloped sites, or the number of people from former coalfield communities who have benefited. The number of jobs the initiatives had helped to create could be anywhere between 8,000 and 16,000. We are concerned that public money has been invested to create jobs that would have been created anyway. While progress has been made, coalfield regeneration has cost the taxpayer much more than originally expected, and it has taken much longer than planned. The Department needs to develop more sophisticated benchmarks that take into account the different levels of contamination on a site and allow separate evaluation of the incremental costs to develop housing and employment space.

On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General,[1] we took evidence from witnesses from the Department and the Homes and Communities Agency on the lack of coordination demonstrated by the Department, information the Department collected to judge performance, and the need to consider future direction in the light of the economic downturn.




1   C&AG's report, Regenerating the English Coalfields, HC (Session 2008-09) 84 Back


 
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