New Towns

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 18th July 1986.

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Photo of Dr Ian Twinn Dr Ian Twinn , Edmonton 1:30 pm, 18th July 1986

My hon. Friend is quite right. The first generation of new towns worked very well. In fact, what we call the first generation, which were built from public funds after the second world war, are really the second generation. The first generation rose from private enterprise. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister will be tempting us to go down that line in the future with more private enterprise. The Ebenezer Howard idea of private capital being invested in new towns is a masterly idea. The idea of pouring vast sums of public money into new towns was a good idea in the post-war years because we had to reconstruct. We also had low interest rates, which helped the first generation of new towns make a return on their capital.

The third generation of new towns came along after the oil crisis and it was then that the problems really started. They had to borrow over long periods at high interest rates and they got into a terrible muddle, not knowing whether they were starting to get a return. They carried on borrowing. In the end, knowing that they were not getting anywhere near breaking even, the Government found it necessary to intervene. Along with other of my hon. Friends, I welcome the Government's action. It is important that we put the finances of the new towns on a firm footing, so that we can go forward. We do not want to stop the progress of the new towns. We want the idea of the new towns and the development corporations to roll on, develop, and to continue meeting the needs of our country. To fossilise it and let them carry on with a debt burden that they are unable to service would have been irresponsible. Therefore, I congratulate the Government on their action.

I have my personal doubts about the success of the new towns, in a sense. I represent an outer London area— Edmonton—which has been the victim of the magnetic attraction of the new towns. They have drawn away the population. They drew away the young, skilled, mobile work force from my constituency, and with it went the jobs. They were tempted, or bribed, to the new towns around London. My constituency has suffered from the new town policy. I do not object to that because it was in the long-term interest of this country as a whole. Of course, that is what we must be concerned with in the House.

Before I sit down and let my hon. Friend answer the points that have been raised in the debate, I should like to make a plea for more openness of information from the new towns. There has been a singular lack of openness from the Government today on the draft statutory instrument. I shall not labour the point; other of my hon. Friends have made it. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will want to reply to the points that have been made.

The new towns have been a byword for secrecy. There is now a movement for local government—we have to include the new towns as a variety of localised government —to throw open its doors and provide information for the citizens in the area. I hope that my hon. Friend, while keeping in order, will talk about openness in the new towns.

I welcome today's debate. It has been a valuable debate, perhaps more valuable and useful than my hon. Friend had intended. Nevertheless, I hope that, on reflection, he will think that this morning has been well worth while. We look forward eagerly to his reply.