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Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): I share the hon. Lady's frustration with the answers given by the Department for Education and Skills about new schools. I have tried the same questions myself and received a similar response. What I have been able to establish is that, under the provisions of the Education Bill, there is an opportunity for new schools to be set up by new promoters. In her response to me the Secretary of State said that no more than 10 schools a year might be built.

Ms Shipley: The hon. Gentleman makes a supportive point to mine about trying to obtain information on new schools, but I believe that our Government should be proud that we are building schools and that we are investing—massively, as I shall show—in school buildings. It was the Conservative party, of which the hon. Gentleman is a member, that left our built education structures—schools, classrooms and the playgrounds that our children play on—in an absolutely disgraceful state. Throughout my constituency, children were literally falling over in playgrounds where the tarmac was crumbling over on itself. They were in schools where the temporary buildings were disintegrating and were damp. These are gradually being replaced by the Labour Government, but in order to reach design excellence there needs to be a much greater awareness of what that is and what is going on. Good enough is not good enough.

The Government are to be congratulated on establishing the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. CABE could point the Minister in the right

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direction for school buildings, because it seems to have sniffed out quite a few of them. There seems to be a particular problem with the PFI-funded school buildings initiative. According to a recent report in the journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, some 500 schools have now

and, apparently, the

The good thing is that, at last, money is being invested in schools after years of under-investment by the Conservative party. The bad news is that the opportunity to produce buildings of architectural excellence is being squandered. According to CABE's commissioner, Richard Fielden,

It is a sad waste that communities that desperately need their schools to be replaced or refurbished are receiving buildings that, although adequate, are far from life enhancing.

In disadvantaged areas, schools may well be the only public buildings and, as such, are the community focus, but instead of a new construction providing a much-needed catalyst for rejuvenation, they are merely good enough. They are better than that which they replace, but far from good enough to enhance young lives. The Architects' Journal suggests that the Department for Education and Skills is addressing certain aspects of school-building design, but I contend that a Department that, only last week, could not supply a simple list of new schools will struggle in its task to champion design excellence in the built environment.

So what is good design? I emphasise that I am not talking about personal aesthetic taste. CABE has produced some worthwhile guidelines for good school design. To design-conscious people most of the points are extraordinarily obvious, but the truly shocking thing is that most new building work fails to address some basic principles. Those principles include, first, good, clear organisation with an easily legible plan and full accessibility; secondly, spaces that are well proportioned, efficient and fit their purposes; thirdly, circulation that is well organised and generous; fourthly, appropriate levels of natural light and ventilation; fifthly, attractiveness in design to inspire pupils, staff and parents; sixthly, good use of site; seventhly, attractive external spaces with appropriate security; eighthly, a lay-out that encourages community access and facilitates use out of school hours; ninthly, robust materials, which weather and wear well; and tenthly, scope for future adaptation. Finally—this is hugely important—the building should transcend the sum of those parts to produce genuine delight for all who use it and a sense of lasting quality.

I make a plea for environmentally sensitive construction. As I have already said, some £1.2 billion-worth of school building projects are at the planning and procurement stages. In addition, billions of pounds will go into the construction of new hospitals and housing in the next few years. That represents massive buying power, and I urge the Government to decide to require high environmental standards as part of all new

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building works specifications. The combined political pressures and financial considerations could be galvanised to ensure the mass production of energy-efficient devices, which would, in turn, drive down unit costs.

The Government should use their massive spending power to stimulate and support a rigorous environmental strategy. It is, frankly, scandalous that new buildings are constructed that do not utilise the best practices available to reduce energy consumption. Moreover, deprived areas surely deserve the best in terms of energy efficiency. I very much welcome the Government's fuel poverty strategy. Because of poor building insulation and inefficient heating systems, many people in Britain, particularly in disadvantaged areas, cannot afford to keep their homes warm in winter, so I am very pleased that the Government are working hard to upgrade existing housing stock.

Much stronger legislation is needed to require new buildings to be low in fuel consumption and high in insulation values. I am aware that guidelines on that matter exist, but I suggest that requirements would be more appropriate to create a level playing field. I should like the Government to commit themselves to requiring new houses, hospitals, schools and other buildings to reach the highest standards of insulation and to use alternative power sources. That would enable the Government to take a massive step towards meeting their welcome and well-meant environmental targets.

To conclude, this really is a vision thing. Could Ministers, perhaps led by the Prime Minister—the issue is as serious as that—envisage the rejuvenation of the disadvantaged urban village of Lye to the point where it becomes a centre of excellence in design and environmental standards? Could our disadvantaged areas become places of national pride, civic pride and local pride? In fact, the money is already being made available; the need is very obvious, so it is surely now a matter of political will power.

11.25 am

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Ms Shipley) in the debate. I nearly called her the hon. Member for Shipley. She speaks with much knowledge and experience, especially of art and architecture. I took the opportunity of reading "Dod's" while she was finishing her speech, and I see that she not only has a postgraduate degree in architectural history, but is the author of 17 books, several of which are on architecture.

It is not good enough just to regenerate and provide help for the disadvantaged areas of Britain; we must find ways to do so in a decently designed environment. One of the great errors of the 1960s and 1970s was that huge tower blocks were thrown up. They were quite ghastly and horrible places in which to live. That creates some of the disadvantages that we now see in some areas, so I hope that the Minister will bear in mind what the hon. Lady said about design in the inner cities.

I was interested to hear the hon. Lady talk about Lye. In my constituency, there is a place the name of which is pronounced in the same way, but it is spelt Lea. It is probably the leafiest area in England. It is a tiny hamlet in the middle of the countryside, surrounded entirely by trees, so hon. Members may think that it would be difficult for someone from a constituency such as mine to

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imagine the situation in Lye, which the hon. Lady described. As I shall explain in a moment, there are definitely areas of deprivation even in a leafy area such as North Wiltshire, as well as in more obviously disadvantaged areas, such as her constituency.

Hon. Members have already asked whether we should adopt what many describe as the bricks-and-mortar approach to the disadvantaged areas of Britain, or whether there should be a much broader approach to correcting deprivation. Of course, the latter approach must be the right one to take. We must consider crime, traffic, education and health. All those are vital, and there is no point in having a regeneration strategy unless due account is taken of those difficult problems. But I fear that I shall fall into the traditional trap and address myself only to the bricks-and-mortar approach because, as the hon. Lady said, if we do not get that approach right, it is no good putting the other things in place. Hon. Members will expand on those other areas in a moment.

I should like to think from scratch for a second. The problem with planning and regeneration over the years has been that we have not paid attention to the obvious and basic physical fact that we are 55 million people living on an extraordinarily small island. We do not have the advantages of America, for example, where planning restrictions are lax and people can build and regenerate as much as they like. We cannot do that; we are incredibly short of space, especially in the south-east and south-west of England, although perhaps less so in the north. Our planning policies in the post-war years have resulted in some of the worst areas being in the north of England, as well as in the south.

The key to regeneration, not only in our inner cities but in the suburbs and rural areas, is to realise that, given the an ever-increasing population—55 million, but growing—and, more importantly, an ever-increasing number of households, we need to find a way for those people to live in the style to which they wish to become accustomed or to which they are accustomed already. They will often live in more densely populated inner cities than has traditionally been the case. We need to provide them with the sort of infrastructure, educational facilities and so on that we now all have a right to expect.

In the past 20 or 30 years, a curious mindset among town planners has prevented the regeneration and the high-density building in the inner cities that we all demand. That results from the fact that the British people seem to believe that the ideal place in which to live is a cul-de-sac. For many years, town planners have drawn their street plans and dotted the houses around the streets. The streets are therefore entirely dominated by the motor car.

In the Prince of Wales's interesting development in Dorset, that approach has been turned on its head. He has put all the houses along the streets, with facilities for the cars behind the houses. Mixed in with the houses are schools, shops, factories, churches and the rest of it. To some degree, the development has replicated the excellent model of an English village, which has a variety of different houses. There are big and small houses for rich and poor people altogether in one place. The car is not given priority; it is relegated to other places. Rather than creating more and more suburbs that consist entirely of cul-de-sacs with houses dotted round them, we should perhaps adopt the approach that the Prince of Wales's planning gurus have promoted over the years.

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If we adopted such an approach, we would create a mixed environment in which the young, single mothers and the elderly would be able to do what they often want, which is to live in small flats on the same level as the shops. We cannot do that at present, because our planners have traditionally expected us to leave the inner cities and to move to the suburbs and to bigger and bigger houses that we might not need. Planners do not provide the accommodation that we need in town centres.

The approach taken in this country stands in sharp contrast to what occurs in many European cities, such as Paris. The more prosperous people move into the centre of Paris. Strangely, the outer suburbs are the poorer areas while the centre of Paris is the richest part of the city. In Britain, the opposite is the case.

The figures tell us starkly what has occurred. In 1951, 19.3 million people lived in conurbations, but the figure has gone down to 17.3 million today. By contrast, the number living in out-of-town areas—in the south, in particular—has gone up from 3.4 million in 1951 to 4.8 million today. The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions acknowledged that when it said that migration flows have

as it rather patronisingly calls it—

We are progressively allowing our people to move from the inner cities. One of the first messages that we should learn from the debate is that we should seek a way of reversing that trend if we are to save areas, such as mine, from extensive rebuilding and extensive use of greenfield sites. If we are to provide the housing that people want, we must find a way of building it in the centre of towns.

Lord Rogers clearly sent that message and one of the great disappointments of the Labour Government is that, having appointed him to produce a first-class report with about 130 recommendations, they have—principally, I suspect, because of the Treasury—decided that they are unable to implement his proposals. Ministers in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions might argue passionately in favour of Lord Rogers' proposals in Cabinet Committees, but they are constrained by their colleagues in the Treasury. We must consider Lord Rogers' views and seek to create his image of an urban renaissance in the nation.

We should be extraordinarily worried by the destruction of greenfield sites. North Wiltshire is already suffering from Labour's regional house building policy, which means that an estimated 1.5 million buildings will be constructed on greenfield sites during the next 20 years. To put that figure into context, that is the equivalent of building 40 towns the size of Slough. I would not be as unkind as Mr. Betjeman in calling for friendly bombs to fall on Slough. However, if 40 Sloughs were replicated across the nation, friendly bombs might have a role to play.

As the hon. Lady said, we face the problems of declining schools, closing shops, rising crime and wrecked cars on the streets. We should be concerned about such problems, which form the centre of this debate. I have already mentioned the Prince of Wales's development at Poundbury in Dorset. It is an exemplar that we should follow. We must find a way of rehousing

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our young and elderly people in cities as much as possible. That is the first lesson that we must learn from this debate.

Docklands was mentioned earlier, but the Barbican was the first such development after the war. Different kinds of housing with the appropriate infrastructure were built on a huge bomb site. The windy corridors of the Barbican are perhaps an example of how not to solve the problem, but a good attempt was made to do so.

Another such development is likely to take place shortly and I should declare an interest in that my flat overlooks the area. I hope that the Government will act shortly to remove the ghastly Government buildings in the three huge tower blocks in Marsham street and replace them with something that can be considered best practice. It should be a mixed development with different kinds of housing, shops and business. We should try to use the development in Marsham street to show what can be done to regenerate a pretty scruffy area. The buildings have been vacant since I was a special adviser there seven years ago, but I hope that the Government will move quickly to get rid of those ghastly excrescences on the landscape and that they will construct something that will act as an exemplar for the rest of the nation.

I accept that there are problems with the approach that I have outlined and I wish to touch on a couple of them. In many inner cities and deprived areas, there is a pattern of diffuse ownership. We do not know who owns the properties. One individual may own one patch of a site and someone else may own other bits. I therefore hope that the Government will consider changing the arrangements for compulsory purchase orders so that we can find a way of bringing land together and creating a worthwhile scheme as a result.

VAT on housing constructed on the derelict areas of inner cities has been mentioned and it is an important point. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has suggested that he intends to act. If he can bring the rate of VAT for such housing down to at least 5 per cent. and if he can persuade his colleagues in the European Union to do what he has not so far allowed them to do—which is to bring the rate down to zero—that would be great. It is bizarre that our Chancellor can put the rate of VAT on a particular good or service up but, if he wishes to abolish it, he cannot do so. That is a strange aspect of European law, but he should be ready to bring the rate of VAT on regeneration projects down to zero.

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