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The Government also suggest that the new homes bonus will help to get the homes built that we all need. That is all very well, but people must be able to afford to live in them. It was interesting that the Prime Minister came to Lewisham to launch the “affordable” mortgage scheme last month. He stood in a development that I, as the cabinet member for regeneration, had promoted. It is a large-scale regeneration scheme with 788 homes, 146 affordable rented properties and 40 shared-ownership properties. That scheme received a grant of £20.5 million from the Homes and Communities Agency. I hesitate to say that the scheme would not have gone ahead had we not got that grant, but I can 100% say that the amount of affordable housing in that scheme would have been less had we not received that grant. When we talk about regeneration, we need to think about giving people the opportunity not just to live next to middle-class people but to live in a decent home and to be able to do well at school, feel good about themselves and to be able to go out there and get a job. I find it ironic that when the Government are launching a scheme about housing, they stand in a development that would not have been so good had it not been for a Government grant, and that that Government grant is a legacy of the previous Labour Government. I am lucky because parts of my constituency are being regenerated, but a number of schemes have stalled.
In conclusion, let me talk briefly about the Milford Towers development in Catford. It is a ’60s block, which looks like a concrete fortress from the outside. There are
about 250 flats above a Tesco supermarket and ’60s shopping area. The council is working hard to find a commercially viable regeneration project that will enable people who live in appalling situations to get a new home and move on with their lives.
Earlier, the Chairman of the Select Committee spoke about the lady from Rochdale who talked about being ashamed of bringing people to her home and neighbourhood. I met a lady who works in Tesco and lives in Milford Towers. She said that when her daughter got married, she could not get ready at home because of the state of disrepair of the flats, so she went to somebody else’s house. She did not want to leave on her wedding day from where she lived. That said it all really and shows the need for that regeneration scheme.
We talked earlier about the definition of regeneration. People who live in such an environment are not worried about definitions; they just want their lives to improve and something to change in their communities. It is for that woman and her daughter that I urge the Minister today to look again at some of the Select Committee’s recommendations about the scale of the challenge that exists in some of the hardest-hit areas of our country. Please look again at the ways in which the public sector can work with the private sector to kick-start some of those stalled regeneration schemes, so that we do not lose the knowledge, skills and experience that have been built up in the regeneration sector over the past couple of decades. This is too important to get wrong.
It is a great pleasure to follow a fellow Select Committee member, Heidi Alexander. As a new member of the Committee, let me say what a pleasure it is to serve under the chairmanship of Mr Betts. This is the first report in which I have been involved. Much of our discussion was based on what regeneration entailed. It is clear that regeneration affects many areas of life, not just housing—there was a bit of a preoccupation about housing among many of the people who gave evidence to us—but tackling a combination of aims that are social, economic, physical and environmental. We became familiar with those terms in our subsequent report on the national planning policy framework.
The previous Government used the most widely used definition for regeneration. They said that it was
“the broad process of reversing physical, economic and social decline in an area where market forces will not do this without intervention.”
The last bit of that definition is the most critical. Later, I will speak about what the alternative mechanisms might be.
While we were taking evidence for our report, there was a real sense, even an assumption, that any form of regeneration is necessarily reliant on large-scale public investment. That view was articulated most by those in the regeneration industry to whom Simon Danczuk referred. They are the planners, designers and architects who have become totally dependent and reliant on a substantial flow of public funds to deal with this serious issue. The sector is struggling to come to terms with the new reality of the economic situation that we face.
Regeneration always has a local dimension. I am pleased that we in Rugby understand the need for regeneration, and I am delighted that the hon. Member for Lewisham East has drawn attention to how hard my community are working to deal with the consequences of the current state of the economy. In 2010, our local strategic partnership produced a regeneration strategy on behalf of Rugby borough council, setting out a robust framework for regeneration activity in our borough and considering indices such as income, health, education, housing conditions and environmental quality for areas within my constituency that, despite her words, were identified as needing regeneration activity. We are working hard locally to bring together strategies for dealing with them.
My comments will deal with four issues, the first of which is public investment, as opposed to private, and where funding might come from. We have not yet heard a great deal today about the influence of the recently announced national planning policy framework, which will set a new context for regeneration. We have not heard enough about what action the Government are taking. I will return to my assessment of some earlier regeneration projects.
In his tour de force, my hon. Friend Mr Binley reminded us all of the truism that less public money is available—not for regeneration, but for all the great things that we expect our Government to do for us. I am concerned about the great weight that the classic definition places on the need for public funding. The classic approach to regeneration involves a simple and potentially divisive claim that the market cannot regenerate, on the basis that the market caused the problem in the first place. If the market caused the problem, the conclusion seems to be that the market can in no way help with the solution. That is not always true. As we heard from the National Housing Federation, we are bringing in both private and public investment in regeneration. Each £1 spent on construction generates £2.80 in economic activity. There are good reasons to encourage both public and private investment.
One point that emerged from our evidence that runs contrary to the evidence provided by some of my colleagues on the Select Committee is that public sector involvement can occasionally discourage private investment, simply because if it is known that public money will be made available, the private sector sits back and waits for that to happen. There is evidence from the Department that tagging an area for regeneration can raise land prices, because if people expect a load of public money to come into the area, prices are driven up. That increases the risk for private sector investors and, in many cases, discourages them. Another issue with some of the regeneration that has taken place is how much public sector money has got lost in bureaucracy and the administration of projects. It is estimated that between 5% and 7% of some budgets have been lost in administration.
It is not true that the private sector always fails. For example, UK Regeneration— a private company with a programme for 20,000 homes by 2020, backed by Barclays Capital—is offering finance and a group of experts to shape the regeneration of key sites for private rented homes within mixed-use developments. The Wellcome
Trust recently set up a high street fund to offer assistance to firms facing financial difficulties in the wake of the August riots.
In addition, the Government have announced schemes to stimulate the housing market, particularly the new build housing market, including the NewBuy mortgage indemnity scheme and the build now, pay later scheme, all of which will benefit areas where regeneration is taking place. It is interesting that the Select Committee is working on a report about getting private funding for social housing, which will also contribute to regeneration.
We recognise that the actions that the Government can take are limited, but they have done numerous things. One of the biggest initiatives introduced recently is localism, to which many references have been made in the debate. It is a decisive Government initiative to transform regeneration, much like the planning process generally. In the prelude to the national planning policy framework, the Planning Minister, my right hon. Friend Greg Clark, said that people felt that planning was something done to them rather than something that they were part of. The remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South bore out the point that it is important that people feel part of the regeneration process, rather than feeling that it is being done to them. When the Select Committee went out and visited communities to take evidence, that was clear from the messages that people gave.
As the hon. Member for Lewisham East pointed out, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It is not simply a matter of allocating a certain sum to an area; every project is different. What is right for regeneration in the north might be completely different from what needs to happen in more deprived areas of London and the south-west. I welcome the Government’s realisation that regeneration should be done locally.
It is useful that that community focus should be seen as a fundamental part of the national planning policy framework. We have heard reference to the importance of local neighbourhood plans in ensuring that individuals and communities have input into the development of their areas. I know that the Minister will reply later, but when he gave evidence, I asked him whether he felt that the previous planning system was a factor in causing many regeneration schemes to stall. He answered:
“Undoubtedly. Planning in this country, as we all know as Members of Parliament in our local patches, is one of the most endlessly complex, needlessly bureaucratic, horribly confrontational systems that you could possibly invent. I know of relatively few people who do not think the system is broken and in need of urgent fixing.”
I hope that the fact that we have fixed it will go some way to creating additional regeneration activity. We have localism, the NPPF and now the community infrastructure levy, which was introduced by the previous Government but implemented by this one. Local authorities can choose to charge the levy on developments in their areas and use the money to fund the infrastructure that the local council, the community and the neighbourhoods want. Therefore, development might be more readily received and undertaken by local authorities, as they will no longer be out of pocket before new building takes place and can build new roads and infrastructure before regeneration starts.
Tax increment financing works by allowing a local authority to borrow money for its infrastructure projects. Time after time when we took evidence, we learned that it was vital to build infrastructure early, as it attracts other development. Interestingly, the importance of tax increment financing is not lost on the British Property Federation—the body that we will ask to carry out development in regeneration areas. The BPF says:
“TIF can offer a solution for regeneration projects which depend on the delivery of a piece of infrastructure for which funding cannot be found from other, public or private, sources. TIF allows more upfront money to be raised by committing incremental business rates…to be used to repay that initial investment… it will allow some stalled schemes to go ahead.”
Stalled schemes were raised with the Committee time after time when we took evidence.
My final question is this: does regeneration always work? It is important to remember that many parts of regeneration affect certain types of communities, and we need to work hard to support those communities. Generally, regeneration takes place in established urban areas, often in the zone between the city centre and the suburbs that are further away. There is a presumption that regeneration always has to happen, but part of what the Government should do is to look at the provisions that can be made to prevent the need for regeneration in the first place, by paying proper attention to those zones within our urban areas at an earlier stage: prevention is, of course, better than a cure, and if we need to spend and are being asked to spend significant sums of money on regeneration, why do we not act more quickly and remove the need to regenerate in the first place?
When we do take a decision to regenerate, it is vital to get that regeneration right; otherwise, more harm can be done to a community. All the members of the Select Committee who went on site visits will have their own memories. What struck me very strongly was visiting Hulme and seeing a successful regeneration project taking place, but that project was actually a regeneration of a regeneration project that had taken place 20 or 25 years earlier and had failed. In the new project, tower blocks that had been put up in the 1960s and ’70s had been demolished to make way for something that is much more attractive. Perhaps the first regeneration project actually made things worse rather than better. I remember sitting in a room and being shown slides of those tower blocks and walkways between buildings that were completely unsafe. They were in areas where substantial levels of crime and social problems developed as a consequence of doing regeneration badly. As I say, where we do regeneration, let us get it right.
In an earlier intervention, I referred to the evidence that the Select Committee received from the mayor of Newham, who said that his area seemed to be one of perpetual regeneration. The whole point about regeneration is that it is an intervention that changes things, but intervention in Newham during the past 20 or 30 years does not seem to have changed things. According to the mayor’s account, the deprivation index in the area has not shifted at all. Regeneration, far from being something that happens once, has become a permanent state of affairs.
The hon. Gentleman is making a really interesting point about learning lessons from the past and I wonder whether he will join Labour in pressing the Government to carry out a genuinely large-scale evaluation of previous regeneration initiatives, so that we can learn lessons from them.
I am not sure about a large-scale evaluation, but the Select Committee certainly took evidence on such issues, and I am sure that all that evidence is all available and in the public domain.
In conclusion, regeneration includes many positive and much-needed programmes to improve run-down areas, but we must not lose sight of the fact that we live in an era with a difficult economic climate and public investment in all sectors—not just regeneration—is being substantially reviewed. Nevertheless, we have an opportunity right now to make a determined push to attract private sector investment into regeneration, so that it no longer needs to be considered as the preserve of the public sector alone.
Thank you very much, Mr Howarth, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon.
I apologise to all present for my late arrival for this debate. It was not without sending a note to the Chairman in advance to explain, and indeed the reason I was detained is entirely material to the speech that I will now make.
I was on the way to Downing street for an appointment at 2.30 pm to hand in a petition. It is a petition prepared by my local newspaper, the Ilkeston Advertiser, which has been running a campaign to reopen the train station in Ilkeston, one of the two towns in my constituency of Erewash. This is a long-running campaign by the newspaper; indeed, it has been a community campaign for many years. The reason it is relevant to this debate is that we have already heard about a number of different aspects of regeneration, but for me infrastructure is at the heart of regeneration and it is a key element of what we are trying to achieve around the country when we consider regeneration.
I will expand on that point about infrastructure and say why it is relevant to my constituency of Erewash. Ilkeston is now the largest town in the country without a train station and, as I have already said, it is one of the two towns in the constituency of Erewash. The lack of a train station in the town brings difficulties because it deprives people in my area, particularly young people, of the mobility to go out and seek extra training and new jobs. They could get to both Nottingham and Derby much more quickly if they had the mobility that a train service offers. Of course, a train service would also bring visitors, shoppers and new businesses into the town and, in my view, the resulting opportunities would be endless. Derbyshire county council, which is doing a great deal to try and press for this project, says that there would be 150,000 extra journeys if the project were successful, which would bring massive economic benefits to Ilkeston and indeed beyond. So I have started my speech by referring to what I regard as a key component of the whole concept of regeneration, which is mobility for people, and that mobility is achieved through infrastructure.
In many other ways, my constituency is quite blessed in terms of infrastructure. The M1 motorway runs right through the heart of my constituency and, as I have explained, we are near to both Nottingham and Derby, and we are also near to Sheffield. However, in terms of social mobility and particularly for young people, train travel is extremely important, and local rail services—along with longer term and larger infrastructure projects such as High Speed 2—are key in achieving that social mobility. I will certainly continue to do all that I can to campaign for the train station in Ilkeston to reopen. I can tell all right hon. and hon. Members in Westminster Hall today that our campaign group has been lucky enough to have had a meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport on this matter, and we are waiting for a response from her. I look forward to receiving her response and I know that our campaign has backing from across the community in Erewash.
As I am not a member of the Select Committee, I have not been involved in producing the report on regeneration, but I have really enjoyed listening to the speeches from members of the Committee and I have been very well informed by them. For me, what is really required is the fusion of national vision and local implementation. I suspect that Heidi Alexander and I are probably not too far apart about where we want to get to, but my intervention on her earlier was to make the point that regeneration is about empowering people by setting them free and trusting local communities to make the decisions that are right for them. That is because the key components of regeneration vary greatly around the country.
I noted the point that the hon. Lady made in her earlier intervention. Does she accept that some previous schemes, in particular the housing renewal areas scheme, put local residents at the heart of the partnerships to regenerate their areas? Localism is not something that this Government invented.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but she may not be surprised when I say that she is tempting me down a path that I am afraid I will resist going down. That is because what is required is a broader approach, which I see being presented through a wider context such as the Localism Act 2011. The emphasis on infrastructure is also important, and I see the coalition Government proceeding with that and putting it in place throughout this year and next year. That is what I hope we can achieve in Erewash.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and it is good to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth.
We were involved in the previous Government’s sustainable communities project, which did not have much local involvement at all. It reported directly to the relevant Minister; I think that the first one was Mr John Prescott, as he then was. Lord Rooker was responsible for the report that started that project, but when he was asked about local involvement at a meeting, he said, “Our job is to push through the Government’s plans.” That attitude concerns me enormously, and we need to learn from it. Does my hon. Friend think that that is a proper view to take?
I essentially agree with my hon. Friend’s points. Local communities have a better understanding of their needs and of their vision for the future than do civil servants and politicians based a long way away—certainly far from Erewash—down in London. I accept that a number of factors are involved, but having strong local leadership and empowering it must be at the heart of what we are all trying to achieve.
I thought that it would assist if I set out this afternoon that it is never just one aspect of such leadership that is required, but a number of different cogs in the wheel. My constituency is very varied, and pockets of it have some of the highest levels of social deprivation in Derbyshire. Erewash is in the south-east corner of the county and, historically, it was in some ways neglected by the county council. Now, however, its needs are recognised and understood, and strong leadership is in place. For example, our local enterprise business partnership—the Erewash partnership—is made up of representatives from across the board, including local government, large companies and small and medium-sized enterprises. Together, they create a robust networking organisation, which brings strong business support for new start-ups and beyond. It is an organisation with vision, and has won national awards for its success. It grew organically, and has always been supported by the local council, which sees that it is a successful formula. Such decisions are best made locally, and not far away in Whitehall or Westminster.
We have also had the benefit of other projects. The Long Eaton townscape heritage initiative has drawn on the constituency’s background. Erewash is in the heart of the east midlands, and lace making, textiles, furniture making and upholstery are an important part of our heritage. It is difficult for me to get through a speech in the House of Commons without reminding Members that we have the one remaining traditional lace factory in the country—Cluny Lace—which made part of the lace for the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress. I will not cease to mention that.
My point is that that heritage has perhaps gone. Local businesses have moved into the service industry, and we have a lot of support for high-tech firms and SMEs moving in. The heritage of train building is extremely important to the area, and also to my family—my grandfather worked on the trains all his life. The local council was able to support the local community, by understanding that heritage and implementing appropriate regeneration in the town centre, to give it a vision and make it an enjoyable place to live and work. That project is ongoing.
The feeling is equally strongly in Ilkeston. The Minister will be pleased to hear that we have set up our town team there and have submitted—as have many other Members—a bid under the Portas pilot scheme. We have our fingers and toes crossed. The project brought together not only the local authority and the local enterprise partnership but transport groups, Able Disabled Ltd, Wash Arts, and other small businesses, to provide what is required for regeneration—vision and strong local leadership, as I said originally.
I attended this debate because I wanted to point out that regeneration has to be locally focused. It has to be what is right for a local community, and if communities are empowered with the right structure, opportunities and funding, that can be achieved. We will certainly continue to do all that we can in Erewash.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Howarth, and to contribute to this important debate, the topic of which has been the subject of detailed consideration by the Select Committee. It is pleasurable that eight members of the Committee have been able to be here and that other MPs have chosen to participate. I remind Members that we are debating the Select Committee’s report in response to the Government’s published strategy. We have had the opportunity to hear of a great bid for funding for Erewash, and of greater reviews of Northampton and Cleethorpes, but I want to bring us back to the strategy and to what I believe should happen.
A problem in the past has been that with every change of Minister—whatever the Department has been called—there has been a new initiative. In my view, there has never been a proper evaluation of what succeeded and what failed, what was good and what was bad, and whether we could learn lessons. Historically, when Governments have succeeded one another, they also have failed to do that. I am a strong supporter of the Government and of almost everything they do, but I believe that there has been a missed opportunity with the strategy, and I hope that we can persuade my right hon. Friend the Minister that there needs to be much more of a proper strategy for regeneration.
As a veteran of local government, I go back—beyond some others—to the urban programme and the damage that it did, with small amounts of funding that had huge strings attached. It was not really successful, and we still bear the scars across the country. There has been a whole series of schemes, but time does not permit me to go through them all, and I would lose everyone to boredom were I to do so.
The problem is that regeneration is not just about replacing people’s houses. Someone can be given a decent place to live and that will be an improvement, but have they been given a job? Have they been trained to get a job? Has their health been improved? Have the life chances of young people been improved, so that they can get a job in their environment? Has it been ensured that the education system is right and that we have true equality of opportunity, so that people can aspire to be the best they can? Has there been the opportunity for the private sector to invest and create jobs? Without all that, spending on any single strand—whether housing, training or education—is almost wasted money. We need what I call wholesale regeneration of areas, rather than the picking off of little bits and pieces. That is one of my greatest concerns about the position regarding the Government’s strategy.
During the Select Committee inquiry, we considered successful and less successful regeneration schemes, and drawing strengths from the successful ones will start to lead us to what the strategy should be. There are limited resources, and I gently remind Opposition Members that the Government inherited a huge deficit, with one in four of the pounds that they spent having to be borrowed. There is no pot of gold to be handed out willy-nilly. However, it should be clear that if we have a regeneration strategy and Government funding is provided, competition is needed. Ministers should not simply dole out cheques for an area; people should come together as communities in partnership with the private sector and others to compete for the money that is available.
In addition, given the economic position faced by the Government, there is no doubt whatsoever that it will be extremely difficult to make revenue funding available, but the Government gave a commitment before the election to continue to fund the capital programmes and not to cut capital funding in the way that the previous Government planned. My hon. Friend Jessica Lee mentioned infrastructure, which is a key point. Often, the private sector wants to invest, but things—blockages—prevent it from doing so, and I well remember an example. On the site of Central Middlesex hospital in the London borough of Brent, 80 acres of prime industrial land were not going to be invested in. By using regeneration money, a new road was created and suddenly huge amounts of investment came in. Hon. Members can go and see that today. That investment dwarfed the amount of public money that came in. Therefore, a relatively small spend on an infrastructure project produced large-scale private sector investment.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about the limited availability of money. I should like to ask him the question that he asked us earlier. With limited funds available, does he believe that they should be spent in the areas that are most likely to grow or in areas where the need is greatest?
That is a key point in the whole regeneration debate. My hon. Friend Mark Pawsey mentioned the evidence that we received from the London borough of Newham, where investment has been made in regeneration schemes for 30 years. When we forcefully asked the mayor of Newham whether that should continue and when we should stop public sector investment, he said, “We’d all dearly love to see it end, but just not now.” The view seemed to be that we will still invest in Newham for another 30 years and nothing will change. The housing will be nice, but the indices of deprivation will hardly have shifted.
My view is that if there are limited resources, they should be applied where the maximum gain can be achieved. We have to be honest about the situation and say that certain areas will not get funding because we will not get the most gain from them in terms of growth and opportunities. We have to concentrate the resources, as opposed to saying, “We’ll spread it thinly for everyone,” because by doing that nothing is achieved.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the consequence of the policy direction that he is outlining is that some areas will be abandoned altogether or, indeed, will go backwards if no resources are given to them by the private or public sectors?
The potential consequence is that, yes, areas could be told, “We can’t invest anything in you because we’re not going to get any leverage from the private sector.”
I want briefly to describe three regeneration schemes. I was chairman of the Harlesden city challenge company that was bidding successfully for Government money. We in that regeneration scheme were in direct competition with everyone else. We brought together the private and the voluntary sector. Uniquely, that city challenge project was about promoting economic growth; creating 2,000 new jobs in the west London area on the Park Royal estate; improving the housing stock on the Stonebridge estate, which was a dramatically bad estate at the time; and improving Harlesden town centre. It was a wholesale regeneration project. Some £37.5 million of Government funding produced £200 million of private sector investment. It was a brilliant and highly successful project that was supported by both parties in Brent.
At the end of that project, we evaluated it and asked whether we had succeeded. Against every single criterion that we had agreed with the Government, we had succeeded. However, when we evaluated the project properly, we said, “Well, in this case, has the unemployment rate changed at all? No, not a bit of it.” We evaluated why and found that, as soon as someone got a job, they moved out the area to somewhere better to be replaced by someone who had not got a job. In many ways, yes, the project had been successful, because it had created jobs and safeguarded existing jobs in the area, but it had not ended the deprivation. I have repeatedly said both here and in the main Chamber that investing money in the areas of greatest deprivation does not solve the problem. We have not yet resolved that key issue.
The second regeneration scheme that I want to mention is one that my right hon. Friend the Minister will remember well: the Chalkhill estate in Wembley, which was a similar type of council estate to the one that we saw in Hulme. High-rise blocks built in the 1960s replaced some lovely family houses and were built as a village in the sky, where no one would need a car and everyone would live in peace and harmony. People had to compete to get into that estate, but it was not long before people were trying to escape. I remember the previous director of housing describing Chalkhill people coming together to form the escape committee to get out of that dreadful estate.
The replacement of all that awful housing—no one in their right mind would want to live in such an area because of its security issues and run-down nature—was funded by selling off a large part of the land to Asda. We used the capital generated to replace the housing in partnership with a private sector developer. We made sure that the housing was replaced in the way that the community wanted. Instead of having architects and planners doing things to people, the project was based on what people wanted. In our visit to Hulme, we saw a very similar type of exercise.
I should like to allude to the situation in the London borough of Harrow, which relates to a much more recent development. The redevelopment of Harrow town centre was going to be promoted by Harrow college moving there.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House
As is popular, I should say, “As I was saying.” I was talking about a regeneration project for Harrow town centre that goes back two or three years. Harrow college had an imaginative scheme to transfer its main college from my constituency to the centre of Harrow. Harrow on the Hill tube station, which is a fundamental hub in north-west London, would be regenerated. The college would move; there would be new housing and a new shopping centre; and the council would relocate its main civic centre to the town centre.
The scheme was put together creatively by a key partnership of the public and private sector, including Transport for London, but the fundamental issue was whether we would get funding from the Learning and Skills Council. It was presented as a multi-million pound project, bringing in huge amounts of private sector investment. Harrow college spent more than £10 million of its own resources to develop the scheme.
At the last minute, of course, the LSC had over-committed all its funds and every scheme was pulled. As a result, the regeneration of Harrow town centre was put on the back burner and will never happen without substantial public sector investment. The key point is that a relatively small amount of money is required to produce huge private sector investment.
I regard that as a failure of regeneration activities under the previous Government, where everyone was led up the hill—to believe that all this would happen, funding was in place and it would all occur properly—only to be let down at the last minute, when there was never any possibility of public sector funding. That is why, in respect of a strategy for regeneration, we must be open and honest and say that the limited resources must be concentrated on areas that will produce the greatest possible return and improve the quality of life for the maximum number of people.
Page 36 of report states what the strategy should provide. That is significant. We should have a strategy that emphasises the need for private sector leverage coming in on the back of public sector investment. We should aim for the maximum possible private sector leverage. I depart from the script in the report, because I believe that in competing for regeneration funds the whole process should be competitive, ensuring that we bring together partnerships of the private and voluntary sectors, the community, local authority and all other public bodies. There must be clear priorities, a clear plan and everyone must know what is going to be provided and committed.
In any form of regeneration, strong community involvement is needed. After all, the community living, working and playing in those areas will suffer the consequences if we get it wrong. Therefore, it is important that people are not only consulted, but are part and parcel of the schemes that are to be developed.
Each area listed on page 36 of our excellent report, which I was pleased to participate in and support, emanates from our review of the Hulme project and of city challenge. In my judgment, there has not been a proper and full review of all those different regeneration schemes and various types of activity that Governments of both persuasions have launched on society. As a result, we have in-built failure in many of the processes. It is important to hold a review of the successes and failures of the past. We need to be honest and up front with people, to say, “This is the money that will be available. If there is no money available right now, we will work towards making it available in the future, so that people can plan for that future.”
We can help and assist Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government to formulate a detailed regeneration strategy that is truly a strategy for regeneration, as opposed to a pulling together of lists of the various different programmes available. By doing so, we would give people the chance to create regeneration opportunities over the next five years. Under successive Governments, the Ministers responsible have changed fairly frequently, but we have had a period of stability under the current Government, and I hope that our Ministers can take the report forward in the spirit in which we give it, as critical friends of the Government. We warmly endorse the capability of regenerating local areas. There is no single way to do so, but a coherent and convincing strategy is necessary, so that everyone who participates in regeneration can believe that things will change.
It is a pleasure to be able to take part in this debate, which has been an excellent one. We had powerful contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) and for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) and from Government Members. Mr Binley gave us an excellent example of community participation, which we could certainly all learn from and apply in our own areas. All hon. Members were champions for their local areas, although I have some concerns about the policy direction outlined by Bob Blackman.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Betts, the Chair of the Select Committee, for a stunning speech, which got to the heart of what is wrong with and absent from the Government’s regeneration strategy. The Communities and Local Government Committee, which is clearly flourishing under my hon. Friend’s chairmanship, has produced another excellent report, deserving of a wide readership.
Let us be clear: the Select Committee has been truly scathing about the Government’s approach—rather, about their lack of a strategic approach—to regeneration. I have read many Select Committee reports while I have been in the House, and I have never read a report that was so uniformly negative in terms of the evidence coming before the Committee about the strategy of the Government. That strategy is outlined in “Regeneration to enable growth: What Government is doing in support of community-led regeneration”, but the report can lead only to one conclusion. What is the Government strategy doing? The answer is obvious and transparent: absolutely nothing. The Select Committee states of the strategy that
“the document gives us little confidence that the Government has a clear strategy for addressing the country’s regeneration needs. It lacks…direction and is unclear about the nature of the problem it is trying to solve.”
That is truly damning. It would be impossible to be more critical of the Government’s approach. Instead, I endorse the report and, in the few minutes that I have, will give the Minister a steer on what I think his Government should be doing if they are serious about regeneration.
The Minister might like to start with a clear definition of his meaning of “regeneration”. The Select Committee has helped enormously, because the report starts with such a definition:
“Regeneration is a long term, comprehensive process which aims to tackle social, economic, physical and environmental issues in places where the market has failed.”
That was not taken on board by the Government, whose response to the report stated:
“Regeneration is an essential element of our approach to building a strong and balanced economy. A strong national economy depends on the strength and vitality of local economies across the country”.
There is no mention of any other regeneration factors that need to be taken into consideration apart from building a balanced economy.
The Minister is probably too young to know, but in the 1990s, after years of Conservative administration, many of our cities and more peripheral areas were languishing, dilapidated and in desperate need of investment and regeneration. That taught us that trickle-down economics do not work, which is an important and painful lesson that “Regeneration to enable growth” seems to have forgotten completely. When Labour came to power in 1997, it helped to regenerate Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Reading and—I could go on—many of our city centres. We also regenerated some of the areas of housing neglect, in particular on the edges of our cities and towns. We inherited from the previous Government a £19 billion backlog in repairs to social housing, so the task was absolutely massive. Labour then introduced a whole range of initiatives although, to be fair, we did not get every single one right. Nevertheless, there was an understanding that some areas in some communities needed more resources and more assistance to improve and to give their citizens opportunities.
Labour’s approach evolved over time. By the time we reached the neighbourhood renewal fund, which was applied effectively in my own area of County Durham, there was a strong partnership-based approach with local communities right at the centre—that was the point that I was making to Jessica Lee earlier. The approach levered in private sector funds on the back of public sector investment, but it did not only concentrate on housing. The key is in the title: it was the neighbourhood renewal fund and not the housing renewal fund. It looked at investing in the environment, social issues, housing, leisure and employment; it brought new training initiatives into the areas; and it was primarily led by the local community.
My point is that what the Government have said in their “Regeneration to enable growth” document—that the new approach is to lift the burden of bureaucracy and to empower local communities to do things their way—is totally wrong, because such communities, which include mine, did not experience the neighbourhood renewal fund as burdening bureaucracy. It was a resource to be used to turn the area round. Indeed, in evidence to the Select Committee, Ros Groves, chair of a Liverpool residents group, said that regeneration “has to be community-led.” She also stressed that “community-led regeneration” was nothing new.
Similarly, Mike Taylor, head of regeneration in Nottingham, said:
“In terms of the ideas and the revitalisation of communities” there has been a bottom-up approach
“for many, many years.”
The Government are simply wrong to try to suggest that regeneration initiatives that were previously in place and supported by local communities were not also led by them on many occasions. They were certainly involved in them to a great extent.
My hon. Friend was talking about the history of the bottom-up approach in regeneration initiatives. Projects such as the neighbourhood renewal fund and the working neighbourhoods fund gave community groups resources to do the work that needed to be done in their local areas. That was not hollow rhetoric about giving power: it was giving money to enable that to happen.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. She said something earlier that I want to touch on. When I was reading the Government’s document on regeneration, I had an image in my head of people washing their hands. I had that image because the words on the paper were telling me that the Government are saying that they will just provide a whole new set of powers, but will not provide support to enable anything to be done. That is a travesty.
More than anything, the previous schemes showed that we need a holistic approach to regeneration. As the Chair of the Select Committee said, we have learned that we need a long-term approach to regeneration. My experience in my area of County Durham, which suffered massively from the deindustrialisation of the 1980s, is that by 2007 those areas were only just starting to be turned around after about 10 years of investment, because it takes a very long time, especially when trying to turn round areas that have gone through years and years of dilapidation, lack of investment and unemployment. It takes a long time to change cultures and to embed new opportunities.
I, for one, think it is a tragedy that when I met my local authority a couple of weeks ago to find out what we were going to do about two areas in Durham whose regeneration has stalled, it said that it had very few resources available, but of course will do what it can with the council’s budget to support community-based regeneration in one or two areas, although the level and scale will not address the issues.
The hon. Lady’s comments are both interesting and constructive, in keeping with this debate. My concern about money is where it can be taken from to ensure that the sort of investment that is wanted in regeneration takes place. We would have to find money from somewhere else to give more to regeneration.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I will come to it in a moment.
Before abandoning regeneration altogether, we need to know whether the Minister sought a comprehensive evaluation of what worked previously, and what could be improved. Under this coalition Government, we are witnessing a return to the same old Tory policies, with a 42% cut in the decent homes programme and the failure adequately to support the building of new homes and facilities that many communities are crying out for and which, importantly, could be a catalyst for private sector development in the area.
Interestingly, the report documents 76 initiatives that the Government claim are policies that citizens can draw on to regenerate their areas. I am sure that communities are ecstatic about the fact that a civil society red tape taskforce is on hand to help to regenerate their areas, alongside the local government resources review taskforce, which will no doubt help regeneration. I have a very specific question for the Minister. I was surprised by some of the initiatives listed in the document, particularly the supporting people fund. I understand that the fund assists local authorities to help people with acute care needs to pay for the assistance they need. Is the Minister seriously suggesting that the supporting people budget should be diverted to regeneration initiatives? That is the point that the hon. Gentleman raised. We are making it difficult for local authorities in terms of the priorities for spending that they are facing.
Even the few schemes that could have a positive impact on communities are not working. For example, a survey for Inside Housing found that only 21% of the authorities surveyed were spending the new homes bonus on housing and planning-related projects, and that not all of them provided direct benefits to communities in exchange for consent to development. That prompts the question why the new homes bonus is even on the list of regeneration initiatives if the money is not being ploughed into communities.
The Minister and others have made much of the regional growth fund, but I will not repeat the comments by Lord Heseltine. We appreciate what he said, although I am not sure that the Minister has fully understood exactly what he said. I accept that, so far, the regional growth fund has done reasonably well for the north-east in terms of the number of projects, but not necessarily the money involved—[ Interruption. ] I am rather worried about the thunder, which may be anger, but I am sure that it is not directed at me, so I shall carry on. The crucial point is that even businesses that received round one money received only 20% of the money, so it has had little impact on the ground, and those companies do not necessarily provide employment for people from the most disadvantaged communities. That is why the definition of regeneration is so important. I will not stand in the Chamber and say that economic regeneration is not important; of course it is, and Opposition Members are pushing the Government to have a plan for growth in the economy. My point is merely that economic growth and regeneration are not the same things, and I am not sure that that is clear from what the Government say because the whole concentration is on economic development.
Given all that, as the Minister knows well, there is no strategy for regeneration. The concept of localism is being used to say, particularly to poorer communities,
“Here you are, this is the Localism Act. Get on with it.” There is no understanding of the need to direct funds to certain neighbourhoods to compensate for market failure, or to assist when market conditions make development and regeneration more difficult.
Regeneration is about renewing large-scale infrastructure, and the Labour party welcomes the money that is going into projects such as Crossrail. We think that large-scale infrastructure development is crucial for the future economic development of the country, but regeneration is also about renewing communities and developing policies to enable that to happen.
The shadow Minister is being generous in giving way and I am grateful. Is there not an opportunity to use the enterprise zones that are connected with the new community infrastructure levies—I am actually still a section 106 man—to ensure that people provide jobs and training for some of the NEETs about whom we are concerned?
The hon. Gentleman has raised two important issues. I was going to come on to those points, but I will make a comment now. The evidence given to the Select Committee about enterprise zones, and indeed my experience—I remember the first time that we had enterprise zones—suggest that although businesses moved into those zones because of the tax incentives and grants, the jobs were not necessarily new. It remains to be seen whether enterprise zones will create new jobs: if they do, that will be great. However, those jobs will not necessarily be available to people from the most disadvantaged areas, because other things such as training, skills, transport and good housing have to be in place. There has to be a holistic approach.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned CILs. One worrying thing about the late changes that were made to the Localism Bill before it became an Act was that it became easier for developers to wangle their way out of a CIL and for schemes to be designated as unviable if a CIL were applied. That is something that we will have to watch carefully over time. Of course we know that it is a difficult economic environment and that things will be difficult for many developers. Nevertheless, it is important that CILs are applied where possible.
In my last few minutes—
First, the Government need to develop and publish a strategy to address the problems faced by the most disadvantaged communities. Secondly, they need to publish a strategy that indicates how private investment will be attracted to areas of market failure. Thirdly, previous schemes must be properly evaluated and lessons learned. Fourthly, the DCLG needs to issue guidance about how public land can be used to stimulate regeneration. Finally, we need to have a holistic approach. It would be good to have a cross-departmental strategy for regeneration and an idea of how community budgets could be used to drive forward regeneration in partnership with local communities.
In conclusion, I was on the team from Newcastle university that evaluated the city challenge initiative. There was much in that initiative that would be welcomed today, and it was an approach that sought to be community led. I hope that the Minister will seek to bring such schemes forward.
Thank you, Mr Howarth, for your chairmanship in the second half of this debate. It has been an enormously good and welcome discussion, and I congratulate the Communities and Local Government Committee on having instigated and written the report and pushed it through to a conclusion, including this valuable debate. It has given us the opportunity to air a subject that, as hon. Members have said, is not always aired as much as it should be. It is a matter that is vital to our citizens and the economic future of the country.
Unlike many Select Committee reports that I have largely welcomed, on this occasion—as a one off, I am sure—I think that the Committee has got it wrong. My reason for that was revealed in the contribution made by the excellent Chair of the Committee, Mr Betts, whose opening speech concentrated almost entirely on what one might call the housing element of regeneration, and in particular the ending of the housing market renewal programme. Indeed, he went so far as to say that things to do with economic change in the country, such as High Speed 2 and Crossrail, could not be counted as regeneration. That theme was picked up in other contributions, particularly from Opposition Members, and led to the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson giving the reasons why, in her opinion, the Supporting People programme has nothing to do with how we regenerate communities.
There seemed to be, however, some cross-party agreement about the idea that we cannot just regenerate. My hon. Friend Bob Blackman made the excellent point that we can go ahead and rebuild and reshape the physical nature of a community—I am very familiar with the Stonebridge Park estate, which I know well—but 20 years down the line we could end up with the same levels of deprivation, and if we do not tackle those problems, we will not truly regenerate. The Supporting People programme is an important element of that. I do not seek to wrap it up and claim that the regeneration fund is bigger than it is, but if the £6.5 billion is not viewed in the context of regeneration, in many ways it will be wasted in the overall scheme of what it actually means to change lives and regenerate communities for the future.
I hope that the Minister did not misunderstand the Committee’s comments. No one was denying the benefits of the schemes in the Government’s report, but he says that because a scheme such as HS2 will benefit areas that require regeneration, along with the rest of the country in terms of economic growth, it should therefore be counted as regeneration funding. That is in absence of a strategy for how that stream of funding will connect with other funding and benefit the poorest areas where market failure has occurred. That is the problem with the Government’s approach.
I understand the point that the Committee Chair is trying to make, but the problem with his analysis is that he is prepared to completely disconnect the joined-up nature of the economy and its ability to succeed in different parts of the country. After he discussed High Speed 2, it was pointed out that there are severe pockets of deprivation in Birmingham—precisely where High Speed 2 will initially run. I do not seek to claim, and I hope I have not given the impression, that all spending in any area, whether Supporting People, High Speed 2—name your project—is regeneration spending. I seek to demonstrate that such spending is not just incidental to, or a coincidence of regeneration, but a fundamental part of it.
Perhaps that is where the Government disagree on a fundamental level with the Committee’s report. I believe that economic regeneration, and regeneration overall, are two sides of the same coin. Unless we build an economy that is capable of producing jobs, generating wealth and therefore benefiting all the citizens of our society, and unless we can do that across the country, rather than just in one corner or area of it, we will never get out of the problems so eloquently described by hon. Members today. The mayor of Newham addressed the Select Committee and said that after all these years of huge public spending, the outcomes are not much different.
Here we have the fundamental difference of view. I think that we cannot simply do regeneration to people or communities. When we try to do regeneration without improving the economic viability of an area, it simply fails and 10, 20 and 30 years later we are left in the same mess that we were in initially. There can be no finer illustration of that point than the housing market renewal programme. As I listened to some of the contributions from across the Chamber, my blood was starting to boil. The description of the housing market renewal programme that I heard this afternoon was so distant from the reality on the ground over the 13 years for which it was in place—in fact, it was slightly less than that—as to be a grotesque bending of the truth.
This is what one independent group called Save Britain’s Heritage highlighted about the housing market renewal programme. It said that Government inspectors condemned whole rows of terraced houses based on 10-minute visual inspections, even though it would have been cheaper and much more sustainable to refurbish those houses. In fact, the Select Committee in, I think, 2005 said that the designation of areas for demolition in effect increased deprivation in those areas. Many social landlords prepared the ground by voiding and boarding up properties. In turn, that undermined the housing market values. My hon. Friend Mark Pawseyreferred to the hope value—he did not quite describe it in that way—of the private sector waiting for the public sector to come in and improve its returns. The Select Committee describes that as deliberately managing decline to make the notional benefits of wholesale demolition and redevelopment more attractive, ensuring larger windfall gains for the state.
Managed decline was precisely the right description of the housing market renewal programme, which I believe was a national scandal. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the housing market renewal programme was ultimately a huge disappointment. I have the figures with me. It destroyed 10 times more homes in this country than it built. Nothing—no programme—did more to destroy homes and communities in this country than the Luftwaffe in the second world war, but the housing market renewal programme did more housing destruction and community destruction than there has been at any time since the war.
I want to say how fundamentally I disagree with the Minister. I just wish that he would make the visit that I made to Merseyside and talk to people about how the programmes there were developed in consultation with and with the agreement of the local community. The problem, of course, is that before we do the rebuilding that the Minister is talking about, we have to do the demolition. The rebuilding has been stopped to a large extent because the Government have now cut off the funding. That is the reality of the situation, is it not?
The reality of the situation is that more than 10,000 homes were destroyed by the housing market renewal programme and just 1,000 homes were built. That is the reality of the programme. The Chairman of the Select Committee should be aware that I have visited Liverpool, Sefton, Hull and Stoke-on-Trent on numerous occasions. I went to Stoke-on-Trent to launch the £35 million, doubled up by local spending to £70 million, in order for there to be an exit from the housing market renewal programme. I recall that I met a woman there who described the programme: how people had come in from outside, it was called a consultation, but the community hall was so full that the meeting had to be broadcast outdoors. They were told that their streets would be knocked down. They are still suffering to this day from the damage that the housing market renewal programme did. It was a national disgrace, and I was pleased to bring it to a close. The programme was an enormous mistake.
The Minister talks about a national scandal. Does he agree that it is a national scandal at the moment that people are living in homes on streets where houses have been knocked down? They are living in blighted communities. Although the Government have put forward a transition programme, it is a drop in the ocean compared with the resources needed to deal with the problems that exist today in those communities.
Perhaps the hon. Lady is not aware of just how much time I have spent with and energy I have expended in these communities over the five years for which I have been either the shadow or the actual Housing Minister. I appreciate that she is right to say that people were left abandoned and stranded in empty streets after the disastrous demolition and managed decline programme that was housing market renewal. The Government managed to bring in money to close that programme and ensure that anyone who lives in a street that is largely empty will now be rescued from that situation. It was very much a rescue programme for a disastrous Government scheme.
I disagree with the conclusion that some people have drawn that the toolkit of different methods available—now open—to all local areas to manage the problem left by housing market renewal and failed regeneration in the past can be ignored. I am talking about the heart of where these problems exist—places such as Sefton—where at local level people have decided to use programmes such as the new homes bonus so that they can borrow against that money, flatten an area and bring in developers to create new housing there. That is being done not through some enormous Government scheme, with money that we cannot afford, but by using the initiatives that are in place. The initiatives are in the toolkit—initiatives such as TIF 1 and TIF 2.
Another initiative is the regional growth fund, much discussed this afternoon. I noticed that it was entirely dismissed by Opposition Members. That is quite bizarre. We know that, for example, both Hull and Wakefield—housing market renewal areas—have been specifically helped by that funding. It is not true to say that only 20% of that funding has been pledged or allocated; £1.7 billion has been allocated or is under provisional allocation, so that figure is entirely inaccurate.
I want to clarify that I was not suggesting that round 1 money had not been allocated. I was pointing out that although the money has been allocated, it has not necessarily been received by the intended recipients.
I can bring the hon. Lady right up to date on this. There have been 176 bids in relation to the first 2 rounds, and conditional allocations of £1.4 billion. She may well be right to say that not all the money has been paid out. Just as it takes time, as she argued earlier, to do regeneration, it also takes time, as she well knows, to spend money even on very worthwhile causes. None the less, the purpose of the regional growth fund is of course to try to rebalance the economy. If people do not accept, as the Government do, that we have to fundamentally shift and change the dynamics of the economy to make areas that have been regenerated continue to work in the future, perhaps it is difficult for them to understand why we think that the regional growth fund is essential.
It does not stop there, however. We have talked about the £35 million doubled up to £70 million of public money that has gone into bringing the disastrous HMR programme to an end. We are in the process of legislating to localise business rates. That is an enormous potential benefit for towns, cities and areas across the country. It will not, as it has sometimes been characterised, disadvantage deprived areas of the country. In preparation for the debate, I got hold of this list. We can look back at previous changes that would have occurred if business rates had been localised and look at the additional power that the measure will therefore give local areas. It is interesting to note that Liverpool would have had a 37.2% change in its business rates from 2005-06 to 2009-10. If it were able to keep that money, it would be 37% better off than under the old system, whereby all the money is centralised and then doled out. The figure is 38.2% for Knowsley, 36.3% for South Tyneside, 31.1% for Manchester, 26.9% for Sunderland, 26.8% for Sefton, 26% for Doncaster, 25.1% for Middlesbrough. The point that I am trying to make with those figures, very graphically, is that another policy that will provide the tools to local areas to enable them to regenerate in a manner appropriate to them is the localisation of business rates. It is absolutely critical to regeneration and, for some reason, entirely overlooked in the response.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which may just describe a fundamental difference in belief and understanding between the Government and the Opposition about what drives an economy. If by regeneration, the hon. Gentleman simply means how much public money we can pump in to create public sector jobs in order to continue to sustain an unsustainable future, then perhaps he makes a point. My understanding of economics and the economy says that unless we are able to create wealth in this country and produce jobs that are not simply the Government employing people but the private sector employing people, we will never see real growth.
It is good to see that 500,000 new jobs have been created in the economy since the election and that unemployment has fallen this week. That shift is fundamental; it is important and it happens through regeneration, which excludes things such as the regional growth fund. It includes the enterprise zones, to which hon. Members have referred. Roberta Blackman-Woods made some good points about whether such schemes can end up displacing activity, but I do not believe that that will be the case. Hertfordshire, in my part of the country, does not have an enterprise zone, and I do not think that all of our businesses will get up and move to an area that does. Enterprise zones are about creating the right economic dynamic for new businesses, which is really important.
Local enterprise partnerships are a really important driving factor. In trying to understand our approach to regeneration, hon. Members talk about having some big Government document. Essentially what the Select Committee report says is that our document is too thin. From what I have heard and read in the report, it says, “What we need is a big document. If we had a big document somehow the country would regenerate better.” That has been tried and it has failed time and again. What we are giving the communities in this country is the ability to run their own regeneration policy and to do it through schemes such as the enterprise zones and the local enterprise partnerships, which make a real and sustainable difference.
I have heard some very impassioned speeches this afternoon about what is happening in different parts of the country, including Northampton Alive, which shows how communities can and will, if they have the leadership and determination, come together to regenerate.
The Minister is most generous in giving way and I am grateful for what he says because it will work well at home. Does he recognise that our enterprise zone, which is the largest in the second tranche, is specifically for precision engineering and high technology? In order to fill it up with 400 companies, we have to go and sell abroad, because we have not got those companies that would want to move in this country anyway. The enterprise zone is a major driver to get inward investment into this country from the developed nations.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and completely gets it. The point is if this country is to thrive and survive it needs inward investment. It is a fantastic example of how a community can get together and work right the way across the local economy to bring in people from all different aspects—the local council, the county council, the MPs, the councillors, the business people, the academics—and actually grow an economy.
I am only a third of the way through the list of different things that I wanted to highlight let alone the many pages that are highlighted in this toolkit. UK Regeneration is a private enterprise that is able to raise money from the private sector and then get involved in regeneration. It is raising £30 million from Barclays Capital to regenerate areas in Nottingham. I understand that some people find it difficult to appreciate that to invest privately can be good not just for private investment but for regeneration. It is absolutely working and it is happening on the ground and we have heard the scale of ambition from UK Regeneration. The Empty Homes Agency is working hard to fill empty homes. In the context of regeneration, I am surprised not to hear from Her Majesty’s Opposition, or perhaps in the report, more of a welcome for the fact that 20,000 homes that were empty are now full. Since the election, the number of empty homes has fallen faster than at any time since 2004, because our regeneration policy, which says, “Let’s stop knocking down homes and instead fill the ones that are there,” is starting to work.
City deals—one has just been agreed in Liverpool, and more are coming along—are enormously important in delivering exactly the kind of localism that I know the Committee welcomes, because it has investigated how localism, which did not exist previously, could operate. When one adds up things such as local enterprise partnerships, enterprise zones and city deals, one starts to appreciate that it is a massive transfer of power. I know that it is difficult to lose the idea that everything must point to Whitehall and Westminster: “When is the Minister going to come up with an enormous report to back all this up?” Actually, transferring those powers to our great cities will enable a lot of regeneration to be done much nearer the ground.
I want to finish, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
The Portas pilots were touched on but not mentioned in great detail. They are an attempt to get behind the regeneration of our town centres. Again, interestingly, the Select Committee Chairman did not refer to retail regeneration of run-down town centres large and small throughout this country. To me, that is what regeneration is all about, which is why I am proud that we have launched the Portas and that 371 towns have applied. They will have the opportunity to be Portas winners, and even if they are not, they will have the opportunity to take part in their own regeneration.
Brief reference was also made to the national planning policy framework, which is an enormous fillip for those who are keen for regeneration to take place in this country and who want to make it much easier. We have the get Britain building fund for housing and the Growing
Places fund. My hon. Friend Bob Blackman mentioned a road in Park Royal that was driven through, enabling much more private sector investment. That is the fund available. It is large—hundreds of millions of pounds—but again, the report barely refers to it.
Decent homes funding was mentioned by several hon. Members, including the Opposition Front-Bench spokeswoman. I absolutely agree that it is a huge priority. That is why, given that the decent homes programme failed to finish on target for 2010, I am proud that we have put another £2.4 billion into finishing the task. It still will not be quite finished, but given the overall economic circumstances, I would have thought that that said a huge amount about our approach to improving homes and regenerating communities. I have discussed how the new homes bonus can be used.
I had hoped to have time to mention all the comments made by hon. Members that I thought were good, but I see that time has beaten us. This Government are absolutely passionate about regenerating this country. We could not be more attached to its importance. We have considered what happened in the past; I think that my earlier comments show that I have considered in great detail the No. 1 so-called regeneration programme in this country, the disastrous housing market renewal programme. If Her Majesty’s Opposition’s response to the report is to call for more of the same, I say no, absolutely not. We will not continue to devastate communities in that way. Instead, we will hand them the power, the tools, the knowledge and, for many of the schemes that I have described, the money to get on and do it themselves.
I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend Simon Danczuk about Kevin Maddison and Committee staff for the excellent work that they did in producing our report. I thank all Members for contributing. We have certainly had a lively and stimulating debate. If Select Committee reports do nothing else, they clearly generate a bit of interest and contention among Members.
Clearly, we differ about the nature of the funding streams to which the Government refer and whether, simply because some regeneration areas will benefit from national schemes, that can therefore be labelled regeneration funding. It certainly does not amount to a regeneration strategy. There is still a need for area approaches, as my hon. Friend Heidi Alexander called them, or a wholesale approach, as Bob Blackman described it. They must certainly be localist, in that a different approach must be taken in different areas, but that does not mean that the Government cannot evaluate what has worked in the past, propose ideas from other areas to communities, promote good initiatives and determine where money can best be spent. The Select Committee might well return to the topic in two or three years’ time to review what progress has been made.
Sitting adjourned without Question put (