Urban Policy

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24 March 1993.

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Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd , Lewisham West 12:00, 24 March 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a further statement on his plans for future initiatives on urban policy.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

We will continue to support the regeneration of our cities through encouraging private investment and using public resources effectively. That is why I announced today my proposals for promoting growth along the east Thames corridor, which will be of great benefit to Lewisham and south-east London.

Photo of Jim Dowd Jim Dowd , Lewisham West

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. It will go down very thinly in Lewisham because of the damage caused by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement in November. Does he recall that it was his Department which asked the London borough of Lewisham to prepare bids for the urban programme last year, that that was done at a cost of many tens of thousands of pounds and that his November statement rendered the exercise completely worthless? Despite his assurance that the money would not be wasted because the borough could apply for urban partnership, not one penny piece has come to Lewisham, with the net result that 1,500 jobs and training places have been lost. Are not his assurances about the urban programme completely worthless, in accordance with the Government's statement on taxation, and does not he continue to do immense damage to the prospects of the people of Lewisham and urban areas generally across the country?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

Urban partnership, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, is a competitive programme and Lewisham was not successful in that competition. However, it was successful in the competition for city challenge, which is a far bigger programme and from which the borough of Lewisham is receiving £37·5 million over five years. That is attracting larger sums of private sector investment. It is absolutely disgraceful for the hon. Gentleman to ask a question about resources in Lewisham without mentioning city challenge. We are accustomed to Opposition Members selling the country short. The hon. Gentleman is selling his own borough short.

Photo of Mr Alan Howarth Mr Alan Howarth , Stratford-on-Avon

May I encourage the Government to retain the city challenge programme? Even if the precise expenditure under the programme in future years cannot at this stage be determined, will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Government intend to build on the achievements of city challenge in mobilising the varied resources of inner-city communities in a new and constructive spirit of partnership?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. City challenge has revolutionised the approach to partnership between central Government and local authorities by escaping from the dead hand of routine and encouraging authorities to examine from scratch the way in which resources can be most effectively deployed. I shall certainly take my hon. Friend's remarks into account in considering how we are to take the programme further.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

Does the Secretary of State accept that it is a gross discourtesy to the House and to hon. Members who represent Kent, Essex and east London constituencies that he has not made a full statement to the House about the east Thames corridor instead of announcing it at a press conference this morning? Will he also note that while the east Thames corridor documents trail an expansion of housebuilding in the east which, of course, is welcome, the problem is not a shortage of planning permission for housing development in east London, but a shortage of customers and the inability of local authorities to once more build homes for families?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

I certainly do not accept that there was any discourtesy. It is not customary to make oral statements to the House on planning guidance of that kind. I took steps to ensure that hon. Members, including the hon. Gentleman, knew in advance that the documents would be available in the Library this morning at precisely the same time as I gave my press conference, because I was anxious for hon. Members to be fully informed. The hon. Gentleman spoke about customers for houses. We know that the Labour party does not look any further than its nose, but the purpose of the guidance that I issued this morning was to plan for the future and for recovery. That is exactly what we shall do.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman , Billericay

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his announcement today of the task force to examine developments in the Thames corridor, which will be most welcome to my constituents. Housing developments throughout my constituency have restarted, so, when I cast my eyes around, I see that there is obviously regrowth and regeneration in the economy. We have many thriving industries in the docks, in Shell and at Ford Dagenham which are only seeking the opportunity for redevelopment. That will come with the kind of interest that my right hon. and learned Friend is taking in our part of the world.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's acute powers of observation, for which she is renowned. Using those acute powers, my hon. Friend has seen evidence of recovery all around her and her constituents. Those signs will become increasingly apparent over the weeks and months ahead.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Why does not the Secretary of State have the courage to admit that if his future initiatives, including that which he announced today, are anything like his past urban policy initiative they will be a complete disaster? Have not the Government learnt the lessons of docklands? Given the Government's humiliating defeat in the vote on the Committee of the Regions, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bow to democracy and give the House an assurance that people in the east London corridor and in inner-city areas will be properly represented on any bodies, structures or organisations which the right hon. and learned Gentleman creates through their democratically elected local councillors, not through the Secretary of State's stooges and puppets?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

If the hon. Gentleman had taken trouble to study the announcement that I made this morning, he would know that the whole purpose of the task force that I have established in the east Thames corridor is to work together with the area's 16 local authorities, to help them to co-ordinate their efforts and to put in place the framework necessary to make sure, for the benefit of the people in the area, that we take the greatest advantage of the opportunities that the area has to offer. I am confident that, in time, we shall all benefit from the results of that exercise.