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Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Earl. As he says, there is little between us. The difference is whether the provision is on the face of the Bill or in guidance notes. If it is in guidance notes, will the noble Earl be good enough to explain to the noble Baroness and myself how the Government interpret Clause 122 in the light of sustainable development and respond to the noble Baroness's question on how they expect local authorities to respond to the Government's sustainable development agenda in requesting financial assistance for regeneration and development? If he can do that, very kindly before Report stage, we shall have to look at his response and consider whether we come back to the issue on Report. I hope that I can rely on the noble Earl to produce a letter to us.

Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord can rely on me to produce a letter. I am a little worried about whether I shall be able to produce it before Report stage. I suspect that I shall. However, he will have observed that there is a period of relaxation which he will no doubt enjoy over the next week or so and, oddly enough, officials usually enjoy that period too. It may be a little difficult to produce the letter before Report stage, but I shall do my best.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Earl. I had not realised that officials needed to enjoy a period of relaxation.

Earl Ferrers: They only do that after they have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Williams.

Lord Williams of Elvel: That is a fair point because they have plenty to think about after I have spoken. I hope that we may receive the reply before we come to Report stage because both the Liberal Democrat Benches and our Benches, with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I believe, feel that there is an important issue in Clause 122. Unless anything else needs to be added, having had that assurance and in the light of the interval between now and Report stage and the rest that I hope everyone will enjoy, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 219:

Page 72, line 21, after ("housing") insert (", including wheelchair accessible housing,").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that proper consideration is given to the provision of wheelchair accessible housing when an area is undergoing regeneration or development. The single regeneration budget is one of the major contributors to the regeneration of urban areas. The Committee will be aware that there is currently a shortfall of around 325,000 dwellings nationwide, suitable for people who use wheelchairs.

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When an area is being redeveloped, the opportunity should be taken to provide more wheelchair accessible homes. Properly designed wheelchair accommodation decreases dependence and reduces the cost of care. It also reduces the limitations on family life. The effect is that the wheelchair user will have a greater opportunity to be economically and socially active, contributing to the community rather than taking from it.

I appreciate that it will not always be appropriate to include wheelchair accessible accommodation in each development. However, it is in my view essential that proper consideration be given to the inclusion of this type of home in all schemes covered by the clause. I hope that my noble friend can confirm in his reply that the matter will be given proper consideration. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: I support the amendment. I remind my noble friend how splendidly the Government behaved on the question of making, for example, taxis and other public service vehicles accessible for users of wheelchairs. If it can be done for people in a mobile condition, I should have thought it would be even easier and better for it to be done where people live in a static condition. The matter is important and I hope that the Government will be sympathetic about it.

There may be another way of achieving it apart from the one used in the amendment. However, the amendment raises the issue and it might be a suitable way of dealing with the problem.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, who put the case fairly. Whether the proposal should go on the face of the Bill is a matter which we can discuss, but the thought and the concept are right. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Baroness Hamwee: I wish to put on record the support of these Benches for the thought, although I share the doubts as to how best it could be expressed. The thought is important and it is right to raise it now.

Lord Lucas: We sympathise with the amendment but believe it to be unnecessary. Clause 122 provides the Secretary of State with a discretionary power to give financial assistance to persons who incur expenditure in connection with activities which contribute to the regeneration or development of an area.

The clause lists nine examples of activities which are considered to be eligible for support. These include the provision or improvement of housing, to encourage people to live or work in the area or to benefit existing residents. Notably, it also includes activities which benefit local people who have special needs due to disability, in paragraph (i) of subsection (2). The needs of disabled people, including those dependent on wheelchairs, are thus already specifically mentioned in the clause and in a general reference which relates to all the activities listed, rather than just housing. I hope that that will satisfy my noble friend.

Lord Swinfen: I think it probably will, particularly if the Government agree to an amendment that I have put

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down later on in the Bill concerning building regulations. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 220 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 221:

Page 72, line 34, at end insert--
("( ) Any financial assistance given under this section shall further any national, regional or strategic planning guidance given by the Secretary of State and any development plan prepared under Part II of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Dubs. It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I also speak to Amendments Nos. 222 and 223 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

As the Committee will be aware, development plans are required from local authorities under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. It seems to us to be important that those development plans, when they are approved by the appropriate authorities and the Secretary of State, shall have some status which governs regeneration budgets. The amendment that I propose would ensure that:

    "any financial assistance given under this section shall further [development plans or] any national, regional or strategic planning guidance given by the Secretary of State".
I hope that the amendment is almost uncontroversial, but I ask a further question of the Minister. As I understand it, the current funding for economic regeneration projects such as City Challenge is only payable to statutory bodies. Clause 122 would, it appears, allow the Secretary of State to make payments to any such body, although our amendment would restrict it to being within the development plan. But if the Secretary of State were to make payments to a non-statutory body, the question arises: how would accountability of the spending of public money be ensured? I hope that the Minister will be able to answer that question. I have said enough to introduce Amendment No. 221 and I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 222 and 223. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Amendment No. 222 is not very different in its aim from Amendment No. 221. I had in mind that with a system where central government, both in Whitehall and through its regional officers, runs the regeneration budget, it is appropriate that we should remind ourselves that we have quite rightly a plan-led system. Local authorities create, by no means lightly or quickly, their own development plans. With a system in place for strategic plans, the regeneration which is assisted under those arrangements should fall within the strategies and objectives of the plans. Perhaps more controversially, I do not believe that we should allow the Government's regional officers to set a strategy almost by default.

Amendment No. 223 is about transparency and accountability, requiring an annual report from the Secretary of State on the financial assistance given. The reason that I make that suggestion is twofold. First,

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the system run through the urban regeneration agency, a quango, and through the use of the government's regional officers makes it necessary to ensure that accountability is properly in place and that the decisions can be considered in a proper fashion as well as understood.

The single regeneration budget has brought together a series of programmes of government expenditure which were previously administered separately, each with its own criteria and objectives. I have heard concern expressed that the establishment of a single budget will have the effect of hiding changes which are made to the allocation of funds for different types of activities. That perhaps takes us back to our debate a few minutes ago.

Previously, there was clear, separate accountability--perhaps that is putting it a little high. There was at least a mechanism for understanding the amount spent on, for instance, housing renovation under the Estate Action programme and services to ethnic minorities. In the case of the former urban programme, the Government made public decisions on the planned division of funding between environmental, economic and social objectives.

Given that there are changes in bringing together those programmes, only after the successful bids have been analysed will one understand what has taken place. I am told that there seems to have been a reduction in the funding previously available to TECs for labour market schemes. I have already mentioned housing renovation. Due to the confusion over Section 11 funding, there has been a significant cut in the funding allocated for services to ethnic minorities. I am told that there has been a net loss of about £7¼ million in London alone as a result of a first round of challenge fund bidding.

I have recently seen a report on a study by the Chartered Institute of Housing. I understand that the study indicates that, in its view, competition for single regeneration budget cash has acted as a form of rationing for housing schemes. The report said that new or improved housing has lost out to job creation, training and crime prevention in four regions. It comments that it had a low political priority and was even viewed with hostility. I quote from Inside Housing. The report says that some partnerships said that they had been warned off housing projects by government regional officers. I do not know whether the Minister will be able to comment on that and give us some assurances.

Clearly, there are concerns about the transparency and the accountability of the way in which the budget is run. For that reason I tabled the amendment.

9 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Baroness said that her Amendment No. 222 was not significantly different from Amendment No. 221 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I believe that she is right. She said that previously it was much easier to see where money went because it was allocated to various separate plans and it was ring-fenced--a certain amount of money was given for a specific project.

One of the drawbacks of that system was the very reason that the money was ring-fenced. It was decided some time ago that we should move to a single

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regeneration budget which puts all that money together, as the noble Baroness knows only too well, and allows people to bid for it. We have found that we have had better value for money that way. I do not want to go into the justification for the single regeneration budget here, but the fact is that that is what happens now and it has proved very successful.

The amendments of both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord reflect points which have been raised before. The Environment Committee in another place considered those areas when it made its first report on the operation of the single regeneration budget challenge fund. The points were also covered when the Government responded to that report.

The amendments would require financial assistance for regeneration and development to relate to planning guidance issued by the Secretary of State and to development plans.

We agree that bids for support under the single regeneration budget challenge fund should take full account of the Secretary of State for the Environment's planning policy guidance, local authority development plans, and other regional strategies such as single programming documents prepared in relation to European structural funds. The bidding guidance for Rounds 1 and 2 drew specific attention to this; and it has been reaffirmed in the guidance for Round 3, which was published on Friday, and which the noble Lord will be glad to know is in the Library. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, will be able to find his copy in the Library and that nothing disastrous happens to his copy. If he does not have an annotated copy, one will be there in the Library for him if he wishes to find it.

However, we do not think it is necessary to specify this or other detailed aspects of the arrangements in legislation. That would make the arrangements especially rigid. For example, it is also important that bids should, where appropriate, take account of national strategies relating to sustainable development, and regional or local strategies relating to housing or health. Those national and other strategies are clearly set out in the bidding guidance issued to local authorities and others, and are reflected in the criteria relating to bid assessment by government offices for the regions.

The noble Lord was concerned about accountability. In fact, there is no change in the powers of accountability. Payments may already be made to any person under Section 27 of the Housing and Planning Act 1986, which this legislation replaces and the grant offer letter includes conditions which ensure proper accountability by various methods, such as the clawback of grant.

I turn to Amendment No. 223 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. That amendment requires annual reports of actual and planned financial assistance towards each of the activities listed in the clause. The whole purpose of the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund is to attract and support a group of activities for the regeneration and development of areas. Any one successful bid may involve a range of different projects combining to offer a total approach to local problems. What the public money is buying

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therefore consists of several of the statutory activities listed under Clause 122(2). It would therefore be impossible to provide the information sought by the noble Baroness without the imposition of a considerable bureaucratic burden on individual partnerships who, rightly, seek to give priority to making their projects work on the ground. It would have the detrimental effect of encouraging people to think in terms of separate activities rather than of the project as a whole.

As bidders put their own money into the various projects, it will be necessary, as a start, to extract that money from the whole in order to arrive at the public money expended. Then, in turn, the public money would have to be separately allocated in the accounts between the various functions. It would be a considerable bureaucratic exercise.

We are keen to establish precisely what achievements are realised by projects, and partnerships are therefore required to report regularly on the outputs of their projects; for example, on the jobs created, the people who have been trained and the homes that have been improved. They also provide overall details of expenditure.

The noble Baroness was concerned about housing obtaining its fair share of resources under Round 2 of the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund. There were 172 successful bids planned to construct or refurbish 91,000 dwellings, which is a 26 per cent. increase on Round 1. The noble Baroness was concerned also about Section 11 not receiving its fair share of resources. We are moving away from secular interests towards identifying the wider benefits which ethnic minority communities, voluntary groups and local communities more widely are deriving from the Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund.

Therefore, while I understand the reasons behind which the noble Baroness tabled her amendment, it would be considerably bureaucratic and would not work. As I tried to explain, while I understand why the other two amendments were tabled, the Bill is better without being so amended.

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