Government Regeneration Programmes

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 28th April 2004.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Ainger.]

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North 9:30 am, 28th April 2004

I am glad to have secured this debate and to have the chance to raise a few questions about the future of Government regeneration programmes. Before doing so, however, I record my strong support for the overall thrust of the Government's regeneration strategy.

My constituency is not alone in bearing the scars of some ill-judged regeneration programmes prior to 1997. Estates such as Wornington Green in north Kensington were the subject of a city challenge programme, but the thrust of the approach was on changing bricks and mortar. That was one of the defining characteristics of the schemes adopted in those days. The programme was carried out with little consultation with the residents, and ended in a massively expensive redesign of the estate. That resulted in the construction of a number of enclosed and unsupervised communal spaces where youths and drug dealers inevitably congregated, thereby creating exactly the problems that any thoughtful regeneration programme would have tried to avoid.

Similarly, the Lisson Green estate in the Church Street ward of my constituency received state action funding for a 10-year programme that only now is drawing to a conclusion. The scheme was so badly handled that it resulted in construction works being carried out simultaneously in virtually every corner of the estate for almost the entire programme, but with not one penny being spent on community or economic development. I saw that happen again and again in my constituency in the 1990s.

Today, my constituency is benefiting from streams of funding that have an entirely different focus. They include investment in capital infrastructure, particularly money being channelled through two arm's-length management organisations that are focusing on bottom-up development, with consultation and community development.

I have found the neighbourhood renewal fund a particularly useful source of investment for improving community development. The fund is paying for two teams of neighbourhood wardens in the Church Street and Queen's Park wards of Westminster. I expect that my hon. Friend the Minister will say something about neighbourhood wardens, because a new evaluation shows that they can reduce crime by an average of 28 per cent. They have proved to be popular and valuable, and have become a vital part of the wider policing family. In Kensington, the NRF is funding a number of police community support officers in the St. Charles ward, where they are helping to bear down on persistent antisocial behaviour in the Dalgarno neighbourhood.

I am delighted to say that we recently secured support for a neighbourhood management scheme in the Church Street ward, one of the 10 per cent. of most deprived wards in the country. That money will help develop capacity, which has already been boosted by NRF funds and the support of the Paddington development trust. It has brought together the multiplicity of landlords in the neighbourhood to ensure that they work together and deploy their resources more effectively in dealing with the problems that are commonly experienced by tenants, regardless of who their landlord is.

The New Life for Paddington project has delivered a £13 million single regeneration budget in the Paddington area since 1999. It has proved to be extremely effective in consulting the community, and has delivered a range of services in education and employment—and much else beside.

We also have four Sure Start schemes. They are the best example of regeneration in its widest sense, with a sensible focus on parents and very young children. The children's fund has been helping to deliver programmes to seven to 14-year-olds by paying for much of the summer programme that took place on the streets and estates of Westminster last year. There are many other sources of funding—the single pot, money paid through the regional development agency, the European social fund and much else.

My purpose today is to praise the investment and the approach taken by the Government. It is not enough, and we could ask questions about a number of issues, such as the micro-management of some schemes and the fact that they are often required to meet too many detailed targets. None the less, the thrust of the approach is right and important. That said, I have worries about the future, which will be the main thrust of my speech.

By far the most important question that I shall raise with my hon. Friend the Minister relates to sustainability. Between 20 and 25 area-based initiatives are estimated to be due to end in 2006, including the current programme of European Union structural funds and the neighbourhood renewal fund. It is something of an open secret that mainstreaming is more talked about than done. I look in vain for signs that my two local authorities are committing major efforts and resources to applying Sure Start principles or neighbourhood management principles to wards and neighbourhoods that are not directly targeted and included in the targets for the 20 per cent. most deprived areas.

Yesterday, we had an important and valuable community conference on antisocial behaviour in the Dalgarno neighbourhood, which was attended by my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety. We heard that a neighbourhood management co-ordinator would be appointed to facilitate co-ordinated working between the eight different landlords that own property in that deprived neighbourhood. I welcome that unreservedly, but the co-ordinator is being paid for by the NRF, which is due to end in 2006. We have been trying for years to get our landlords working together effectively, and that post will make an important contribution. However, we do not know whether it will have a future after 2006.

As this Minister knows, only a month or two ago, we had to respond to a crisis in the funding available to us through the children's fund. The crisis arose because the relatively slow build-up to the programme, which is generally a sensible approach, resulted in an over-commitment in the middle of the programme and a subsequent clawing back. There was scurrying around at the end of the last financial year to put together resources to try to ensure that the children's fund would carry on along roughly the predetermined lines. Unfortunately, although additional money was put back into the children's fund after that hiccup, it still means that some of the programmes that I expected to take place in my local neighbourhoods this summer will not now happen.

There are a number of concerns about what will happen to very important schemes and projects that have been developed over the last few years, particularly the neighbourhood warden scheme. There are concerns about whether neighbourhood wardens will be picked up by other sources of funding. Given the pressure on local government budgets and the understandable sensitivities among local councils and the Government about council tax levels, it is unlikely that most local authorities will be able to take up the funding of such wardens. Can the Minister give us a steer on the future of neighbourhood warden projects in particular and on the NRF more widely?

I am well aware that much of the information that I seek depends on the outcome of the comprehensive spending review and, however much I would like detailed responses on these points today, I do not expect them. However, will the Minister at least reassure me that the widespread concern about the longer-term future of the NRF, neighbourhood wardens and the fallout from the possible loss, particularly to London, resulting from the EU structural funds coming to an end in 2006 is being heard, and that consideration is being given to a long-term commitment to those projects after 2006? The approach of building up slowly, taking time and running programmes over a much longer period than was envisaged in regeneration programmes in the 1990s is such a good way to proceed, but there is a shadow hanging over those projects. The sooner we can lift that shadow and allow them the confidence to develop into the future, the better things will be.

My second point, which is very much related to sustainability, involves the concerns over gap funding. This is not a criticism, but rather a statement of reality. A number of regeneration strands come from different Departments—primarily the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, but also from the Department for Education and Skills, the Department of Trade and Industry and others. Because of that, putting together community regeneration programmes on the ground is sometimes like knitting spaghetti. One project will often be dependent on match funding and complementary funding from a number of different sources.

To take one particular example, the neighbourhood nurseries initiative has made an important contribution to creating affordable child care in neighbourhoods where there is a need to allow parents to secure child care at a reasonable cost because of high levels of worklessness. In London, in particular, the initiative has not been able to unfold in a way that overcomes the high development and capital costs. To make the neighbourhood nurseries initiative function and to create some sense of sustainability, the London Development Agency has taken a national lead among regional development agencies by putting in gap funding to meet some of the shortfall between real costs and the level of costs necessary to make the care affordable.

What will be the future of gap funding, particularly within the RDAs? Let us suppose that the NRF is guaranteed after 2006 and that projects continue. Unless we can have confidence that there will be future investment in the single pot and that the shortfall will be met, particularly the shortfall in skills and economic development in the EU structural fund programmes, we will find that those projects that are dependent on a multiplicity of sources may become vulnerable as a consequence.

I am not making any secret of the fact that I am talking about London, simply because we know that we have two particular problems in London. We have exceptionally high costs in terms of labour, land and capital, a fact that is widely recognised. However, we also have the highest levels of poverty in the country, with 54 per cent. of children in inner London living in poverty, and we have the highest levels of worklessness despite a tight labour market.

The Thames gateway is an important example of a unique opportunity to close the worklessness gap between areas such as Tower Hamlets and the rest of the country. Tower Hamlets has the lowest employment rates in the country. The gateway provides an opportunity, but things will not happen by themselves. Between 1991 and 2001, 55,000 jobs were created in the docklands area, but people from Tower Hamlets did not benefit because of the lack of investment at the time in skills training and other support mechanisms. We need to be assured that the investment from the single pot and the other funding sources that will complement it will be available to meet the range of needs of that workless population, from skills and employment training through to affordable child care.

As the single regeneration budget comes to a close and the single pot becomes the principal mechanism by which the investment will be channelled, one of my main concerns is to know what the future of community development and capacity building will be. The single pot is focused on economic development, and one understands the reasons for that, but one of the benefits of many of the programmes that the Government have developed over recent years, and one of the benefits of the SRB, was the scope for community development and capacity building. I am anxious to know what future funding will enable us to meet the needs of those highly stressed, alienated communities that require future investment. The new deal for communities, which I am sure my colleagues will talk about, is very valuable but, as we know, it is limited to a relatively small number of pockets of deprivation.

When I applied for this debate, I originally sought to focus on issues surrounding the index of deprivation. I know that the index of deprivation is now imminent and that there is therefore little to be gained by talking about it at any great length. However, the Minister will no doubt know that a number of us who represent London and other urban areas felt that the index of deprivation 2000 effectively discriminated against urban areas and that our share of regeneration funding available to those authorities ranked in the 88 most deprived decreased as a consequence. We made several proposals on changing the domains to correct the bias against urban areas. I do not know whether the Minister will be able to say anything about that today, but we very much hope that the index of deprivation will include the crime and physical environment domains, and reflect other important indicators of the level of needs in our communities, such as income measured after housing costs, adjustments for variations in benefit take-up, and pupil mobility and ethnicity as an indicator of diversity.

However valuable the additional funding streams are that have been made available to us in recent years, I know from my own neighbourhoods that there is still chronic deprivation, and that is reflected in the London-wide poverty and worklessness statistics. Boroughs and wards in my area cannot afford to lose the investment that they have been able to secure in recent years. They need the confidence to plan for the future; they need not only the investment that they have already received but continued commitment and a fairer share of the resources that are available.

In summary, we are handicapped a little by the sheer multiplicity and complexity of the funding streams, but buoyed up, too, by a strong, well-managed economy. The Government's regeneration strategy has been successful on many fronts, but we are asking for help for the cities, and particularly for London, so that they can continue to lift their neediest communities. We need to recognise the exceptional challenges faced by communities such as mine, which have growing populations, exceptional diversity and high levels of polarisation. I hope that the Minister can assure my colleagues and me that community and economic regeneration will continue and flourish after 2006 and that urban areas will receive the share of regeneration funding that their needs warrant.

Photo of Mr Iain Coleman Mr Iain Coleman Labour, Hammersmith and Fulham 9:47 am, 28th April 2004

I am grateful for the opportunity to make what I promise will be a brief contribution to this important debate. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

Order. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman as he gets into his peroration, but I must remind hon. Members that I will not call them if they do not stand up.

Photo of Mr Iain Coleman Mr Iain Coleman Labour, Hammersmith and Fulham

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck on securing this important debate. I shall try to highlight the particular concerns of my local authority, Hammersmith and Fulham, and, of course, those of my constituency. As she said, it is important to recognise the significant contribution that the Government have made to regenerating some of the most deprived and poorest sections of London, particularly inner London. I also want to touch on other regenerations as they affect London more generally.

For the past four years, I have been delighted to chair the north Fulham new deal for communities programme, which is making big improvements in the north Fulham area, and particularly the west Kensington area, which is, without question, the most deprived part of my constituency. The NDC for north Fulham has been granted £44 million over 10 years, and the project is beginning to make a significant difference to local people.

In the last year, for instance, there has been huge support from local people for the excellent community police team and community support officers, who are an integral part of the project. The special designated police force for north Fulham has made a real difference to the area's crime figures, and the initiative has been hugely popular among local people. That model of area-based policing, which includes extra matched resources from the Metropolitan police, must surely be a way forward for similar geographical or ward-based area policing projects.

Other improvements include those around the North End road market, support for breakfast clubs and after-school activities at local primary schools, and a massive refurbishment programme for the previously rather neglected Maystar estate in Star road. The refurbishment of the estate, which had not previously had moneys directed at it for refurbishment, has also been model of consultation and support. The programme has been led by a group of residents from the estate, who have planned and led the entire refurbishment project. The refurbishment has meant that many areas of the estate that were previously hot spots for crime and antisocial behaviour have now been redeveloped in a way that, as many local people, particularly the elderly, have told me, makes them feel a lot safer. They are delighted with the project, which has been possible only because of the close working relationship between the three-star local authority housing department and the NDC north Fulham delivery team.

The partnership between regeneration projects and the local council is a model for similar future schemes. Other projects that have already been given significant support from the local community and approved by the NDC board for the coming year include the development of the new early years centre at Normand Croft school at a cost of £4.5 million and the redevelopment of Normand Park, with the installation of CCTV on the main market and a range of initiatives to improve access to GPs and other health services.

That is all good news, but there are still serious housing problems in Hammersmith and Fulham. The council has a duty arising from the communities plan to influence and establish balanced local housing markets to help promote mixed and sustainable communities. However, the new challenges for Hammersmith and Fulham are testing and it will be difficult if not impossible to achieve those balanced local housing developments. As evidence for that, in 1996–97, Hammersmith and Fulham council accepted a duty to 618 homeless households, whereas last year they accepted a duty to 811—a 31 per cent. increase. At the end of 1996–97, 749 households were placed in temporary accommodation by Hammersmith and Fulham council, whereas at the end of last year, there were 1,798—a massive 140 per cent. increase. It is a matter of regret that the council placed a third of those households in temporary accommodation outside the borough, inevitably causing stress and strain to some of the vulnerable households in question. For example, single mothers were removed from their local communities and support mechanisms, which increased levels of stress and isolation for already deeply traumatised and vulnerable young people.

At current rates of supply, Hammersmith and Fulham council cannot meet even the most acute needs, let alone try through normal supply routes, such as council and registered social landlord void properties, to meet the accommodation needs of those on low to middle incomes. Average price levels for Hammersmith and Fulham are 429 per cent. above the national average, which means that the borough has the fourth highest prices in London. The minimum price for a one-bedroom flat in Hammersmith and Fulham is £165,000 and, for a three-bedroom property, the minimum is £325,000.

A recent study undertaken by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that to purchase an entry level home in the borough, a household would need an income of £89,000 per annum. The average income of a nurse at the time of the survey was £22,500 per annum. That hinders the promotion of more sustainable and cohesive communities and results in a greater level of overcrowding because available social housing units are prioritised for homeless households.

Overcrowding has a range of consequences on health, levels of antisocial behaviour and educational attainment. Therefore, it is essential that more work be done to establish a greater supply of affordable housing for rent in the borough. Despite the fact that the local authority has the best record in London for providing such accommodation, it is still a drop in the ocean compared with the vast unmet needs of local people.

The trend of increasing employment and decreasing unemployment rates in the borough is good news, but it has meant that the proportion of high-needs groups seeking work is increasing—for example, lone parents, people with disabilities, refugees and young and older people. The needs of those groups will not be met without continual additional public funding through regeneration projects, such as the NDC and the single regeneration budget.

Since 1997–98, the bulk of regeneration funding coming into the borough has been SRB funding, with significant additional funding from European programmes and the NDC, which I mentioned earlier. However, SRB funding will decline between now and March 2006, and the European funding, which has contributed significantly to projects in the borough since its peak in 2001, is projected to fall after next year. London Development Agency funding is picking up in the area, but there is no commitment that the strategic area programmes will continue after funding ceases. The next financial year, 2005–06, is the final year for the SRB programme and the neighbourhood renewal fund. Objective 2 finishes in 2006–07, as does the LDA funding commitment for the Park Royal-Wembley programme. It is unclear what funding will be available for Hammersmith and Fulham after then.

In relation to unemployment and skills, 5.4 per cent. of the working age population are claiming jobseeker's allowance and 42 per cent. of those claimants are long-term unemployed. The 2001 census showed that the level of black and minority ethnic unemployment is more than twice that of the white population and that a high proportion of the adult population have no qualifications. Some 25 per cent. of the working age population have poor literacy and numeracy skills.

A high proportion of the population does not have English as a first language. There are serious language barriers and there is low investment in training. In one primary school in my constituency, 62 languages are spoken. In the Phoenix high school, in the north of the borough, 126 languages were spoken when the last survey was conducted four years ago. Along with all that, it is still not unusual for 60 per cent. of the children attending other local primary schools in the area to be on free school meals. There is a mismatch between the skills of the borough's residents and the jobs being created on major new local developments.

To conclude, a lot has been achieved through the Government's commitment to regeneration in Hammersmith and Fulham. Like the local people, I am grateful for that. However, a huge amount still needs to be done. When the Minister sums up, I would be grateful if she could advise the Chamber on what practical plans the Government have to ensure that future regeneration schemes recognise the high needs associated with the deprivation and poverty in areas such as Hammersmith and Fulham, and in other constituencies similar to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North. Such areas are sometimes classed as wealthy, but, in practice, they are not. The Minister must know that there are still high levels of deprivation and poverty in such areas. Much more work needs to be done to recognise that and to deal with it.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 9:56 am, 28th April 2004

I welcome this debate and I thank my hon. Friend Ms Buck for introducing it and choosing the topic. As one who represents a constituency similar to those of other hon. Members who have spoken on inner-city deprivation in London, I welcome the principles behind what the Government are trying to do by putting large sums into urban regeneration. Having spent my time under the previous Administration pleading for money for urban regeneration, estate repairs, housing improvements and all the rest, I am pleased to be able to discuss with this Government how much money we will receive for improvements, rather than how much will be taken from us. That is a marked improvement, and I welcome it. Any criticisms that I raise concerning regeneration programmes are not criticisms of the principle, but I am concerned about the methods of disbursing the money and about the efficiency of the process.

There are, traditionally, high levels of unemployment in my constituency. Most of the time they are higher than the national average; indeed, the level is well above the London average, even now. There are various issues associated with that. My constituency, like that of my hon. Friend Mr. Coleman, has a considerable number of families living in bed and breakfast or otherwise inadequate accommodation, and we experience the problems of under-achievement in schools that go with that. It is too simple to say that schools are at fault if children under-achieve, as there are clearly other factors involved.

I have been a councillor in Finsbury Park in north London and I am now the MP for that area and the neighbouring borough of Haringey. I have seen the problems of the area first hand since the early 1970s. I have always admired the way people in the local community have got together to try to improve the situation, to campaign for adequate disbursement of resources and to knock the heads of three local authorities together. As other hon. Members will understand well, urban constituency and borough boundaries are almost meaningless. The division is often arbitrary; it just goes down a road, cutting communities in half. Finsbury Park is an example of that: three boroughs happen to meet there. The community coalesces around Finsbury Park, but it is represented by three MPs and three borough councils, and it suffers all the problems that go with that. I do not have a simple solution to that, but there must be a willingness to work together and try to co-operate to achieve improvements.

As one who helped to found the initial Finsbury Park working party—my hon. Friend Mr. Love will remember the days in the early 1980s when we were involved with that—I was pleased when the Government agreed a £25 million single regeneration budget scheme for the area. There have undoubtedly been considerable improvements as a result, and I am not complaining at all. We have seen environmental improvements and enjoyed less crime and better street furniture.

However, we have consistently had problems in getting together representatives of the different modes of transport to discuss Finsbury Park station. We have had more meetings about that station in the last 20 years than about anything else. Unfortunately, it is still uniformly grotty, as hon. Members from the north will know if their trains have terminated early at Finsbury Park and they have had the joy of a journey from that station. If the Minister could ask the Secretary of State for Transport to tell the strategic and national rail authorities and any person with rail attached to his name to do something about it and support what Transport for London is trying to achieve, everybody will be very happy and Ministers will be welcome to visit Finsbury Park in future.

I want to discuss the democracy and openness of the operation of the single regeneration and urban renewal schemes. The problem is that there are many overlapping Government initiatives in inner urban areas—single regeneration, neighbourhood renewal fund, Sure Start—all of which are laudable in their own way. However, their local managers and directors spend an awful lot of time meeting the local managers and directors of broadly similar schemes and those who operate local community schemes and initiatives. They, in turn, spend an awful lot of time writing letters to charities and other benefactors to raise money to secure match funding. I question the efficiency of some of the schemes; I wonder about the time spent by public employees meeting other public employees to discuss achieving the objectives that they have been set by central Government and then reinventing the wheel by creating a local bureaucracy to administer the schemes. All that could and should be done by the existing local authorities, acting in a slightly more open way than they did in the past.

In Islington, we have a strategic partnership board, which exists to disburse the large sums of Government money that have come into the borough in recent years. The board is chaired by the leader of the council, and there can be confusion as to whether he is leading the council that is administering services or chairing a strategic partnership board that is disbursing Government money. Because of the way in which that money is disbursed, the public think that a lot of it is local authority money. I ask the Minister in a friendly way to ensure that there is transparency about the amount of central Government money that is supplied for urban renewal and regeneration schemes and to clarify that it is not to be used as a subsidy for existing council services that ought to be funded in the traditional way. It seems that the schemes are being used to subsidise local services, when they should be an add-on to improve the life of the community.

There have been many debates within the strategic partnership in Islington, and two members of its board have resigned, citing as their reason the lack of transparency in the operation of the scheme. I hope that the Minister will understand that, although we welcome the schemes, her Department should make an opportunity to examine their efficiency, openness and democracy and the way we spend large sums of Government money supporting local schemes. Because of match funding, I wonder how efficiently some of the money is disbursed and how well we are using the skills of local community leaders.

Like other hon. Members, I frequently visit community centres and projects. All one ever sees in their offices are stacks of forms waiting to be sent to charities to raise small sums. Is that the best use of people's time, or would they be better employed in making hands-on improvements in their communities and delivering services to them?

I welcome what has been done so far, and I hope that the Government will continue the urban regeneration programme. However, the skills and the structure that already exist in local government are there to be used, and it will be quicker and more efficient to do that than to establish an alternative system.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North said, there is a problem when the schemes come to an end. Local people who have got together and developed skills to support and carry out three, five or seven-year programmes are left high and dry afterwards. There seems to be no end strategy; for example, to pass the programmes on to local authorities or to set up an appropriate trust or a mini-local authority in the area.

We need to consider the problem; of course, we want to continue the improvement that comes from bricks, mortar and money, but safe, sustainable communities, which we all want to live in, come from communities working together and having a local focus. Often when the schemes just disappear, the local focus disappears with them, and the Department would do well to think about that. I say that in a friendly way—I welcome the money but I want it to be spent more efficiently.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon 10:06 am, 28th April 2004

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck on securing the debate. Although its title suggests that the issue goes beyond the capital, the fact that every Back Bencher who wishes to speak represents a London constituency shows just how important the subject is to the people who live and work in London.

The hon. Members who have spoken so far represent inner-London constituencies; I represent an outer-London seat, but I regret to say that it has had little support from the Government in respect of regeneration schemes. I question that decision. Parts of my constituency have the same problems of deprivation as areas of inner London. London is a huge city, with rich and poor neighbourhoods side by side, and it is assumed that outer London is full of leafy suburbs. That assumption tends to mask the deprivation in my constituency in areas such as Colindale, west Hendon, Burnt Oak and even parts of Edgware, which is usually thought of as a wealthy area.

My constituency has been told to expect 10,000 extra households in the next 10 years, and I am extremely concerned that there will not be a consequent growth in affordable or key worker housing. There will be more homes for the wealthy people moving into the constituency, but little provision of housing for people who have grown up in the area and want to continue to live near their friends and relations. There are serious prospects of their being unable to do so, largely because of Barnet council's housing policies.

I sometimes question the Government's attitude to the major regeneration projects in the capital. There will be enormous investment in the Thames gateway, but that is a long way down the line. In my constituency, three schemes are on the stocks being worked up and they are pretty well ready to roll, but there has been no real Government contribution towards them.

People want to live in my constituency, which is why all the additional homes are expected. The economy is strong and jobs are available. There are infrastructure problems, but the transport links exist, much though they need improving. In the Thames gateway, all those things must be provided. Why on earth are houses being built in areas when it is questionable whether large numbers of people want to live there, where there are no jobs yet and where the transport links do not exist? The answer, of course, is that to build affordable homes in north and west London is more expensive, because land and building costs are more expensive.

I am concerned that we run the risk of duplicating past mistakes. Many houses were built in the north, for example, but they became derelict because people did not want to live there. That will not be the problem with the Thames gateway, but it would be more sensible to capitalise on existing schemes that are ready to roll rather than anticipating jam tomorrow.

The three schemes in my constituency were originally envisaged by the then Labour-controlled Barnet council, but they have been moved on, and manipulated, by the Conservatives who now run the council. The Spur road-Stonegrove development in Edgware has 600 homes on it at present, of which 485 are rented. There will be 1,350 homes on that site, with no extra affordable homes at all. Similarly there are currently 600 properties in west Hendon. Some 2,200 homes will border the Welsh Harp including penthouse suites with wonderful views, but there will be no extra affordable homes. There are 1,800 homes in Grahame Park, of which 1,300 are rented. That number will rise to 3,300 with a net loss of social housing units. It is utterly scandalous. It is a missed opportunity to provide affordable homes in a place where people want to live. Such homes are desperately needed in my part of London, if not in the capital as a whole.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

The hon. Gentleman has given us some appalling examples of the lack of affordable housing in the new plans. How did that get through the local planning process? Did not the inspector pick up that there was no affordable housing built into those large-scale housing schemes?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

The three schemes are currently in the planning process. We will have to see how that develops. The problem is that the local authority gives itself planning consent for its own schemes. Although there is a degree of scrutiny beyond that, I remain concerned for reasons that I shall explain.

I have no objections to regeneration. The people who live on these estates badly need decent housing but, as a result of these schemes, their children will not be able to live nearby and will have to move farther afield. The new homes will simply be for rich people, for whom, frankly, we do not need to make provision in this way. Clearly something needs to be done about tenure mix on these estates. We need to balance them up more to create a more cohesive community. I have no problem with that at all.

Photo of Mr Iain Coleman Mr Iain Coleman Labour, Hammersmith and Fulham

I, too, am shocked by the figures that my hon. Friend has given. Such developments would never be allowed by my local authority because the planning department would normally demand a minimum of 50 per cent. affordable housing. However, it worries me that, recently in parts of my constituency, private developers have been submitting applications for blocks of 14 units. In inner London, if there are 14 or fewer units, affordable housing does not have to be supplied. Has that been in happening in Barnet too?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

The position is even worse in Barnet, and I will come to that later.

Barnet council is not interested in providing affordable homes. Councillor Salinger, who is the relevant cabinet member, is not unsympathetic, but he is rather lukewarm in his attempts to drive this issue. The real problem is the ideologue behind Barnet council, the deputy leader, Councillor Coleman, who is also the Greater London authority Member for Barnet and Camden. What we have seen, which I will illustrate when I talk about some of the future private schemes, is the beginnings of the gerrymandering of my constituency and parts of Barnet. I do not make that allegation lightly. As hon. Members may know, I used to be leader of the Labour group on Westminster city council during the reign of Dame Shirley Porter. I know the issue of gerrymandering inside out.

This is not just a question of homes for votes, which everyone knows about. Part of the policy adopted by Westminster council in those days went way beyond the homes-for-votes scandal. It included the use of planning controls to bring in as many Conservative voters as possible through the widespread granting of planning consent for private sector developments without any real push towards social benefit and providing affordable homes. It was probably the more important part—in terms of numbers—of the way in which Westminster council was rigged. I raise my concerns today that Barnet council is potentially going down that route through its manifest failure to deliver affordable homes for people in the constituency and the borough.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

My hon. Friend's remarks worry me greatly not just because of the historical parallels but because, by one of those strange quirks, Westminster is linked with Barnet in the sub-regional housing strategy. There is a general presumption that investment in housing in places such as Westminster is so high cost that we should look to lower-cost areas like Barnet. If affordable housing opportunities are not available there, despite rising homelessness and overcrowding, I wonder where that leaves other partners in the sub-regional strategy.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which Westminster council Tories ought to discuss with Barnet council Tories. However, I suspect that we will not see a great deal of progress.

My hon. Friend Mr. Coleman raised the question of private developments. There are two major private sector housing developments taking place in my constituency—at the Inglis barracks site in Mill Hill east, which could create 2,500 extra homes, and at the RAF East Camp site in Colindale, which will create 2,000 extra homes. Those will be combined with potential major development schemes for the Colindale hospital and Edgware hospital sites. I am concerned that Barnet council is not pushing as hard as it should for a fair proportion of those homes to be affordable for local communities. Negotiations are under way, but I do not believe that the council is pushing as hard as it could.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of what are sometimes called euphemistically "infill blocks" of 14. That problem occurs to an even greater extent in outer London, because the threshold in outer London is 24 not 14. A private developer can therefore build a block of flats of up to 24 units without having to provide any social housing. I raised that issue with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Mr. McNulty when he was the Under-Secretary responsible for housing, planning and regeneration, because he experienced the same problems in his constituency. I urge the Government to examine the matter to see whether the threshold for outer London can be reduced, even if not much can be done to address the problem generally in London.

Every time I turn a street corner, I increasingly see a building being demolished and a block of flats being built so that wealthy people can move into the area. On some of the main thoroughfares out of London—the A41, for example—the old family houses that we desperately need are being demolished and replaced by blocks of shoe boxes. That is not the way forward. Barnet council must take a large part of the blame for that, because it has not implemented its own policy. The issue must be addressed quickly.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

The problem of Barnet council is worse than the hon. Gentleman suggests. He quoted the figure of 24 units—it is 14 in Hammersmith and Fulham—but local councils can change that figure if they want to gain tighter control, even though they may have to negotiate with the inspectorate to get those figures through. In my area—south Shropshire, which is not an urban area—the figure is 50 per cent. affordable housing on sites of two or more houses.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention—he reinforced the point that I was making. Barnet council has not taken action in that regard. When an issue comes before the planning inspectorate—on an appeal against a refusal, for example—it is said, "Well, Barnet council has not adopted the policy, so what can we do about it?" The solution to the problem is for the Government to issue tighter guidelines.

I shall make a few specific points about the problems that we have experienced in regeneration. First, there is the question of the right to buy, which significantly distorts some of the funding issues related to regeneration schemes. As soon as a regeneration scheme appears to be on the cards, the property sharks come round trying to buy up the flats—they give people the money to use the right to buy and then buy them out, knowing that they will get substantial extra money through the compensation arrangements. That abuse must be tackled rapidly, because it significantly distorts the funding and cost arrangements of regeneration schemes.

Secondly, the regeneration schemes in my area currently receive no Government money. In the absence of any major contribution from the Government, it would be helpful for support to be given towards the infrastructure costs—health, education, the utilities, and the roads and transport network, in particular—because those services have to be funded out of the projects. That might give us the opportunity to squeeze some social housing out of the schemes.

Some of the schemes are very good. The west Hendon scheme is potentially brilliant. It involves the replacement of a failing estate, but it is more than a housing scheme. It envisages the comprehensive regeneration of a very run-down neighbourhood, including streets of Victorian and Edwardian housing, which has been blighted for years by poor infrastructure, an appalling road system, lack of investment and the erosion of its commercial base. That is the sort of project that we should encourage. The Government are, to a degree, letting Barnet council off the hook in the matter of trying to make such schemes effective.

Barnet has the appropriate schemes. We could provide more social housing if Barnet council had the political will for that—which it does not—and if we had more help from the Government.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I drive up and down the A41 about four times a month.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton 10:20 am, 28th April 2004

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for arriving late. It was not my intention. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck on securing the debate and bringing to it her great knowledge and experience on matters of urban policy.

I welcome the debate because we do not debate regeneration as much as we should. I am a strong supporter of the thrust of the regeneration activity that the Government have undertaken and, in particular, the move away from the old bricks-and-mortar policy of simply rebuilding communities and estates and towards a policy that is more dependent on social regeneration. Experience shows that unless we combine bricks and mortar with social regeneration, the benefits will not be sustained in the longer term.

I want to raise with the Minister some of the statistics that are bandied around about economic and social regeneration. We constantly hear about the number of houses being built and jobs being secured and retained. Often, those figures are not sustained in the longer term. We urgently need a methodology that gives us confidence in what regeneration policy brings about and that what is created will be sustained.

I wish to raise several points about regeneration and how we can improve the impact that we are making on some of the most deprived communities in the country. It is a truism among people who are interested in regeneration policy that it must be for the longer term. The idea that long-term sustainability can be created by popping into a deprived area, building a few houses or painting a few doors and then leaving is now understood to be risible. We need more long-term programmes over 10, 20 or 25 years, and that is what the new deal for communities has created.

I understand that we must manage expectations. Undoubtedly, the new deal for communities has created an expectation of change. People are anxious for change as soon as possible. We need to enter into partnership with local communities so that they understand the build-up to a sustained regeneration policy.

There has also been enormous press speculation. The press love to show up the inadequacies of whatever is happening, to point out what huge sums of money will be invested through the new deal for communities and to show that it has not delivered. I know that the Government have been somewhat rocked by some of the press speculation.

I make a strong plea that we hold our nerve, and that plea is based on evidence. Although an early report by the National Audit Office makes some general criticisms of the programme, it is on the whole supportive and to the extent that it suggests that the new deal for communities could be exported to other countries. We must keep faith that our long-term regeneration activity will show real benefits for some of the most deprived communities.

I want also to emphasise something that is already part of Government policy. The communities in which we are trying to carry out the relevant activities must be in the driving seat. They must play a leadership role. We constantly use the word "empowerment" in the context of regeneration policy. It must be made a reality. Experience shows that if the people in a community are not involved and are not empowered to have a say in decisions about their community or estate, regeneration will not be sustainable in the long term. We will have to go back in five or 10 years to do the same again, with little or no benefit but a great deal of cynicism from the local communities involved.

The leadership role must be part and parcel of our regeneration activity. However, to achieve real change in the communities, we need to build capacity. As has been mentioned, capacity building is critical, and there must be greater investment in it for two reasons. First, all sorts of professionals are involved in regeneration activity and they all come with financial and property qualifications, but most have no idea of how to build community consensus. Whether or not it is in the form of a qualification, experience and knowledge of how to build consensus in a community should be given to people who are involved in regeneration activity. The National Audit Office report on the new deal for communities shows consistently that the professionals in charge simply did not know how to create a community consensus. I would be the first to say that it is not always easy—it can be extremely difficult—but unless we give people the necessary training to cope and properly equip themselves, we will not make progress.

The second reason for greater investment is that we need to build capacity in deprived communities. It is no good sitting people around a table and saying, "You're now the board—take decisions." The communities need assistance to achieve that. One reason why the new deal for communities has taken such a long time to gear up is because that capacity has had to be built, and greater effort and investment needs to be made. If it is not made, those communities will not be able to rise to the occasion, take the right decisions and understand the problems as well as the opportunities and benefits that will accrue. If we can create that capacity, they will have every chance of success.

The Government also need to reconsider the rationalising area-based regeneration activities, and I know that they have already done that. Like, I suspect, other hon. Members, I know from my local community that whatever the regeneration activity that takes place—whether it is a Sure Start scheme or the old health or education action zones, for example—everyone at a local level is confused: no one knows who has responsibility, which Department is involved and from where the money arrives. A complex picture is made even more complex at a local level, and we need to look carefully at rationalising our regeneration activity and ensuring that it is focused on what I believe is the Government's overall aim of achieving significant improvement for our most deprived communities.

That brings me to my final point, which relates to the new programmes—the strategic partnerships and the neighbourhood renewal funding—and to mainstreaming or the so-called "bending the spend". That was introduced for two reasons. First, everyone involved, including the Government, recognised that no matter how much is put into area-based regeneration, it will never be enough to do what is necessary for deprived communities. Only by involving mainstream funding and getting the huge central education and health budgets into deprived areas will we make a significant difference. The second reason was that the national strategy, which took a long time to develop, showed clearly that the delivery of public services in deprived areas is significantly inferior to that in other areas.

I solidly the support the mainstreaming of public services into deprived areas. My concern relates to the vehicles by which that is done, in particular when a strategic partnership has a local authority in the lead role that does not share either the programme's or the Government's overall objectives. There is a problem with that and the issue must be examined.

We know that there is a variability of neighbourhood renewal funding and partnerships throughout the country. It is too early to take decisions on that, but the Government need to consider the matter carefully to assure communities up and down the country that everything is being done not only to focus activity on their areas, but to ensure that budgets are mainstreamed to get additional resources to alleviate the poverty in those areas.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities 10:30 am, 28th April 2004

I, too, congratulate Ms Buck on securing the debate. It is a shame that there are no Members from other major urban areas. We have had a good representation from London, but large-scale urban regeneration is also happening in places such as Liverpool and Birmingham. It is a shame that we have not heard some of their stories and about the potential difficulties that they are facing. Perhaps we have not heard anything because everything in those areas is sweetness and light, but I doubt that.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

I represent Gateshead, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that if I were able to say something, I would.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

Thank you for that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North raised a series of practical questions, which I will not go over again. She was right to challenge the Minister on some practicalities and on the future of the funding schemes, and I wait with interest to hear the Minister's answers. We also heard some appalling stories from Mr. Dismore about Barnet council, and something should be done to ensure that affordable homes are available in that area. The situation is a disgrace, so he was right to raise the matter in the House.

I found myself in particular agreement with Jeremy Corbyn. He hit the nail on the head with his plea for transparency and for us to use the skills that councils already have as a vehicle for delivering regeneration rather than continually setting up new schemes, with new groups of people trying to run them while often straddling lots of different bodies. It would be far more effective to put the money through councils rather than to keep reinventing the wheel with new schemes. There is a huge amount of experience in councils.

There is a range of funding schemes, and the Library notes for this debate identify a few. They include single pot funding, the single regeneration budget, Sure Start, the European regional development fund, the European social fund, the new deal for communities, the new opportunities for physical education and sport, the neighbourhood renewal fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the children's fund. Those are only the major funding streams; there are even more potential ones, and that is part of the overall difficulty. The Government need to get a grasp of the funding streams. It is right to invest money, but the way in which it is going in is causing some difficulties.

I shall touch on one of the funding streams in particular—the new deal for communities—but I shall not be as kind as Mr. Love. Again, the money is welcome, but I have concerns about the fund's performance that, in light of its report this month, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister seems to share. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister reassurance that the problems are being tackled.

There is the awful case of Aston Pride, which the Government stepped in and stopped last year. It is worth reminding Members that, in two years, Aston Pride spent only £2.4 million out of the £10 million that had been allocated, and most of that was on administration. It failed completely in its intention of regeneration. The managers failed to do the basic things such as setting up a bank account, obtaining a cheque book and registering with Customs and Excise. There was an appalling lack of basic administration skills. I shall be generous and say that any scheme can include a bad egg somewhere in the country, but there are problems in other parts and other schemes, albeit not to the same extent as Aston Pride, which is definitely the worst case. Those problems should be examined.

One question that the Minister could do well to address is whether the scheme will live up to what it was established to do. The ODPM, when it was the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, said that the new deal for communities was

"designed to reduce the gaps between some of the poorest neighbourhoods and the rest of the country".

Yet the national evaluation by the ODPM in April 2003 stated that the 39 NDCs amounted to only

"perhaps 1 per cent. of the deprived neighbourhoods in England. The Programme was thus not intended to make a major dent in the scale of neighbourhood level deprivation."

Perhaps the programme was sold too much to begin with; people expect it to achieve more than it is likely to.

Overlap is another issue. The new deal for communities is going to areas with an awful lot of other schemes going on. The ODPM found out that an NDC programme sometimes overlaps with as many as 10 other area-based initiatives—the single regeneration budget, health action zones, education action zones, employment action zones, excellence in cities, Sure Start, European Union-funded area-based initiatives, small education action zones, sport action zones, and youth inclusion projects. Often, the same group of people is expected to juggle matters between different boards. We have heard about capacity building, but we must realise that we perhaps ask too much. We might want to streamline some of the problems.

The ODPM evaluation of April last year reported:

"Where a large number of other ABIs exist . . . this can impede the involvement of partner agencies, which may find themselves committed to a wide range of neighbourhood initiatives."

The Government recognise the problems, but the solutions have not yet been seen. The evaluation report was published a year ago. We need answers from the Government about where they will go to tackle some of the problems apparently inherent in the new deal for communities.

The main problem takes us back to the points about not going through the existing route provided by councils and the sheer cost of administering the schemes. The average spending on administration is 10.3 per cent. of overall cost. Currently, of the £2 billion that has been committed, £1.14 billion has been spent, of which £117 million has been spent on administration. That is 10.3 per cent. The Aston scheme was on a par with that. Heywood in Rochdale spent £25 million, of which £9.6 million—38.36 per cent.—went on administration. Those are the Government's figures.

The cost of administration is clearly a huge problem. We can realistically expect, with those levels of spending, that if the schemes continue to run and the £2 billion that has been allocated is used, another £88 million will have been spent on administration by the end.

Photo of Mr Iain Coleman Mr Iain Coleman Labour, Hammersmith and Fulham

The figures that the hon. Gentleman is outlining are staggering, and I am appalled by them, but do not they represent shameful figures for the organisations that are supposed to be the accountable bodies in the NDCs? Birmingham council is probably one example.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

Part of the problem is that the council route is not being used. The bodies are not directly accountable to councils. I should prefer the funding to go to the councils. I think that even some of the worst, least efficient councils would do the work at a lower administrative cost than can be achieved by setting up new schemes every time. That problem is inherent in the way that the operation works.

To sum up, there are too many different funding schemes, and the Government need to attend to that. There is too much administration because of the way in which schemes are set up. More of that money could be channelled down to where it is needed if existing routes and experience were used. The message must be: trust the local councils. There is always the odd bad council but, by and large, local councils know the problems in their area. Clearly, as in the case of Barnet with housing, they do not always act on that knowledge.

My plea is that the Government should try to push the money more through local councils instead of always setting up new schemes. Otherwise we will see the bad cases that I have highlighted repeated time and again. That will not do anyone—not only the Government, but politics in general—much good in the public's view.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Shadow Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) 10:40 am, 28th April 2004

I congratulate Ms Buck on securing this debate. I am relatively new to the Front Bench and I found it educational to listen to the range of speeches on such an important topic.

I declare an interest, insofar as it might impact on the subject: I am a director of a family property and building company.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Shadow Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

No, not in Barnet.

We have heard some interesting contributions. All political parties must pay serious attention to what happens in our inner cities, particularly those areas that suffer high deprivation. We all know of the problems: there is lower educational attainment and higher levels of crime. Even though we have higher levels of employment, many people are still economically inactive through sickness or because of housing and community problems. It is therefore perfectly sensible for the Government to try to improve the situation.

Of course, the most important thing is to have a sound economy. Mercifully, the British economy has performed better than those of our European partners over the past 10 years. [Hon. Members: "Seven."] No, I rather suspect that our economic revival was based on the reforms introduced by Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Nevertheless, it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge that, relative to our neighbours, the British economy has done well over the last decade.

The fact that economic improvement pulls more people into employment and gives them a chance to obtain skills and achieve a much better standard of living will inevitably improve prospects for people in many of the most deprived areas. However, that, in itself, brings problems. As I listened to the contributions of London Members, it occurred to me that some of the difficulties suffered in their wards are a consequence of higher house prices and the investments being made in those areas. Some might not be happy with such investments.

Things might have been different some years ago, when people would have been more focused on employment rather than trying to tear down and rebuild properties in the cities. When we consider urban policy, we need to consider what is happening not only in London but in many provincial cities. However, there are some good signs. Last week, The Economist pointed out that, for the first time in ages, there was a net inflow of population into some provincial and northern cities, which has countered the trends of the past 20 or 30 years.

The Government seem a little too obsessed with building on greenfield sites and with the communities plan, and those of my colleagues who represent seats in Buckinghamshire and Berkshire—and elsewhere—are concerned about the Government's housing targets. I believe that we should focus on trying to keep populations in city areas, rather than moving people out and building on greenfield sites.

If we had a reasonable urban policy, we could have a great deal of success in keeping people in the cities. The evidence shows that if we can get to grips with some of the problems, people quite like living in our cities—particularly young people. A number of things need to be done. Politicians should be ambitious for those areas. We should have outlook and ambition. We need to give people hope and certainty. What Mr. Love said about the longer term was important.

The hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North asked important questions about what is likely to happen to a number of schemes, including the neighbourhood renewal fund, after 2005–06. I shall give the Minister adequate time to reply to that point. It is important to work with the market on urban regeneration, because it is the only way to achieve substantial change. It is important to think locally and to act accordingly, and to get communities involved.

The point was echoed in the debate that a certain class of well-paid bureaucrat was administering the schemes, and we heard from Matthew Green that some schemes are expensive to administer. How local communities are involved is important. I admit that I have a slight prejudice, as I was a local councillor for 14 years. For all its difficulties, local government is one of the best ways of delivering local services. Too often, Governments set up new, headline schemes for political motives—we are all guilty of that—rather than feed money and resources through local authorities, which could often do the job just as well, or perhaps more cost-effectively.

It is important to be flexible at a local level, and to allow a degree of difference in different areas, because one size does not fit all. This matter should be given serious consideration and support. That is certainly the approach of my party. To use a phrase that is not often used: for the sake of one nation and consent, we must do our best to ensure that all our citizens have a fair chance in life.

The hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North mentioned design and lighting, particularly of estates, and that point deserves further discussion on another day. If more thought had been put into city estates, it would be much easier to keep a handle on some of the crime and antisocial behaviour in inner-city areas.

Overall, it is important that the Minister answers the specific points raised by London Members. There are some good signs of urban regeneration. Some of our provincial cities are vibrant, but all the people I have spoken to in cities such as Leeds, Bristol and Nottingham, which are doing quite well, feel that there is still a problem in that there is a wine bar culture in one part of the city centre, but deprivation in others. We must ensure that the success and regeneration of such cities, and the money being invested in them, is spread more widely, so that all communities feel that they have a stake in what is going on.

The hon. Member for Ludlow started to read out some of the schemes, and I was tempted to go through the 48 listed by the House of Commons Library. They are all worthy in their own way. Several of those worthy schemes are certainly complex and they involve a somewhat more bureaucratic approach. I wonder whether it would be sensible to rationalise them and to place more focus on giving resources to local authorities.

When money is linked to a time limit, schemes and initiatives have to end at a certain point. Local authorities then have to pick them up, but we all know that they are not necessarily in a financial position to do that—at least, that is what they tell me, and I suspect that it is true. It would probably be better to have fewer schemes with longer life spans and longer commitments to the communities that they are supposed to help, and to have greater involvement from local authorities.

I will now sit down to give the Minister an opportunity to address the specific points of Members from the greatest city in the world—London.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Developement) 10:48 am, 28th April 2004

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck on securing this debate, and on using it to raise a wide range of important issues of regeneration, such as support for deprived areas and the future. Many of my hon. Friends raised concerns about London, and I will try to respond to as many of them as possible.

First, I will say a little about the Government's overall approach to the future of regeneration. In doing so, I will pick up on some of the London-specific issues raised by hon. Members, which they will find apply to areas across the country. Over the past seven years, we have focused strongly on improving deprived areas, while recognising that some areas face multiple problems, such as low employment, low achievement in education, poor health, a poor physical environment and disfranchised local people. Such problems are often closely interlinked, and solving one part of a problem without addressing others is not sustainable in the long run.

We have seen substantial increases in investment through the neighbourhood renewal fund, the new deal for communities, the wardens programme, housing and other mainstream programmes concentrating on deprived areas, programmes involving English Partnerships, the coalfield regeneration programmes and housing market renewal. For example, £2 billion is going to the new deal for communities over 10 years, another £2 billion will be made available through the neighbourhood renewal fund over the next five years, and hundreds of millions of pounds will go into additional community investment, neighbourhood management and other programmes.

It is part of our approach, however, that regeneration programmes are not simply about new investment; in effect, the strategy must have three aspects. First, there must be economic regeneration, because if we do not deal with the underlying economic problems that some areas face, such as the need to get more people into jobs, we will not improve things in the long term, no matter how much we do to improve the physical environment—the bricks and mortar. That is why the regional development agencies, as well as the investment in skills and welfare to work, are so important. Mr. Syms conceded that the overall performance of the economy had improved, although he was perhaps a little churlish about giving the Government the credit for the economy's overall stability and the macro-economic changes that have supported that stability and growth.

Secondly, there are the improvements to the physical infrastructure—the bricks and mortar—including the housing infrastructure and the transport infrastructure, which my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn mentioned in relation to Finsbury Park tube station.

Thirdly, there are issues around community-led development. That means supporting not only local communities but the people in them and local community groups, as well as community capacity building. At the individual level, it also means helping people to gain the skills that they need to get jobs. We have to do all three things. As my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North highlighted, too many initiatives have concentrated on just one aspect and have therefore not succeeded or been sustained.

Considerable changes are already taking place as a result of regeneration programmes. There is evidence that the employment gap between the 88 most deprived districts and the average is narrowing, and that the education gap between them is starting to narrow. The first wave of evaluations for programmes such as the warden schemes has shown a 28 per cent. drop in crime in scheme areas, and I shall say more about that in a minute. Sure Start and NDCs are also showing promising signs at the local level. Finally, there is progress on decent homes, with 1 million more homes now reaching the decent homes standard. That means that 1 million more families are not living in cold, damp accommodation.

I want now to address some of the specific issues that hon. Members have raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North asked about the future of funding after 2006, and many other hon. Members raised similar questions. As they will know, we have attempted to set out funding programmes that are more long term than ever before, and the new deal and Sure Start both involve 10-year funding programmes. We have set out a three-year rolling programme of spending reviews. That is in strong contrast to the previous system of annual funding decisions, which were often taken by central Government. As part of the current spending review, we are considering funding through to 2007–08. Obviously, I cannot anticipate the decisions that will be taken as part of that review, although hon. Members will know that the conclusion of the review and the announcement of the next wave is timetabled for July. However, I can say that we retain a strong commitment to deprived areas, and we are reviewing the way in which we spend much of the investment.

An announcement will be made later today about the index of deprivation. It recognises many concerns, and certainly those raised by my hon. Friend Mr. Coleman about the need to identify smaller areas within larger wards, where pockets of deprivation may exist next to areas of considerable affluence. The focus of the new index will allow us to do much more detailed work on local areas and, therefore, to target pockets of deprivation in future policy decisions.

On mainstreaming, hon. Members debated whether the issue was the difficulties with mainstreaming, the need for greater mainstreaming or the need to simplify funding streams. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North talked about directing more funding straight to councils. My hon. Friend Mr. Love argued for simplification of area-based initiatives. We need to strike a balance, because we are considering a series of different issues. In some areas, we have halved the number of area-based initiatives through the work of the regional co-ordination unit. We are considering further simplification of such initiatives to make it easier for local areas to take sensible decisions and not have to deal with competing funding streams.

The funding for many of these regeneration programmes must involve local councils. I agree that they are critical partners in this respect, but equally we must involve other agencies, because councils cannot do the work alone. There must be strong support for local agencies to work in partnership with other agencies, so that they do not have to go it alone or work in isolation. We are considering variations in performance between local areas and what can be done to improve transparency and to address areas where there are poorly performing local strategic partnerships in contrast with areas where performance is fantastic.

I was asked whether there would be support for community-led projects rather than too much focus on economic projects. Continued support is needed for community capacity building and community-led programmes. There will be changes in the way in which funding takes place as a result of the change from the SRB to regional development agencies. Many of the agencies already strongly support work in deprived areas. However, we must beware of going too far in the other direction and having considerable community-based capacity building in some areas when, at the same time, little is done to address the economic issues that they face. There are areas in the north where we need a greater economic focus, not simply a community focus.

Matthew Green raised issues about delivery and NDCs. There were problems with the Aston Pride NDC, which is why the Government acted, but we should recognise the important progress that NDCs are making and the considerable results that they are starting to produce. The fact is that strong community-led regeneration programmes take longer to achieve. My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton highlighted some of the difficulties. Such programmes require far more work with local people, and we must recognise that the most deprived areas are sometimes those that have the least community capacity in the first place. It can therefore take longer to work with local people to give them the confidence to take control of local changes and make decisions. We should recognise the important progress that some NDCs have made.

We have funded 250 neighbourhood warden programmes across the country, which have proved extremely popular. Indeed, they are probably the second most popular group of programmes after Sure Start. The evaluation results for the first wave of warden areas are startling. They show a 28 per cent. drop in crime. That reflects partnerships, not just the work of wardens, but if only 10 per cent. of the drop is due to wardens, they are proving very cost-effective.

In response to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North, I should say that mainstreaming seems to have been effective with the first wave of wardens. The first wave is running out of funding this April and is expected to move to mainstream funding. More than three quarters have got their future funding sorted out. Many of the remainder are confident that they will do so and are in the last phases of negotiations about that. A small number of programmes are not being continued and a small number of wardens are being replaced by community support officers. However, we reckon that, in addition to the Government-funded programmes, at least a further 250 are being funded with no Government funding. They are testimony to the fact that local areas can adopt effective mainstreaming.

My hon. Friend Mr. Dismore raised a series of issues about housing, but I am likely to run out of time before I can deal with them. I agree that we need more homes and affordable housing. We are considering that through the planning system and the spending review. He will know that the Mayor's plan sets out a 50 per cent. target for affordable housing. Local authorities, including Barnet, will have to address issues relating to affordable housing as part of their plans when they come to review the plans in the light of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill. I cannot comment on the individual cases that my hon. Friend raised, which are still in the planning system, but certainly the system should consider such issues further in future.