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Tom Brake: I would just like to ensure that the hon. Lady understands that those comments were not mine but those of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, which is at the coal face of delivering regeneration strategies.

Ms King: I would just like to ensure that the hon. Gentleman understands that no single programme has made a bigger difference to the life of people on one of the poorest estates in the country than the NDC programme. It was introduced on the Ocean estate in Tower Hamlets to improve the life of more than 6,000 residents there. We had one of the highest rates of infant mortality in Britain, and the sure start programme—which is integrated with a range of other programmes to challenge and reverse those appalling statistics—is making inroads. I have been honoured to work with many people who used to be in permanent confrontational mode with every form of authority, and I have found it incredibly inspiring to see their energy transformed into constructive engagement in the decision-making process.

There were problems, however, and one of the biggest problems that we had in our area surrounded the right to buy. Although the Government allocated Ocean NDC £56 million, as soon as people on that incredibly run-down estate heard that literally loads of money would be pumped into their estate after they had received nothing—not a bean—for decades, the first reaction for many of them was to make a right-to-buy application because they thought that they could make money on their properties.

One estimate is that, as a result, 80 per cent. of the £25 million earmarked for the housing element of the project will have to be spent buying up houses sold under

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the right-to-buy scheme. I do not believe that any hon. Member—whether in the Opposition or the Labour party—could possibly think that a good idea. I hope that, in the interests of regeneration, the Minister and the Government might consider suspending the right to buy in regeneration programmes if that right negates the entire regeneration programme so that no one is enabled to have a better quality local environment.

On right-to-buy schemes, I tell Opposition Members that I agree with the sentiment behind giving people, many from low income families, the opportunity to buy their houses. I fundamentally disagree with them that the price of handing over that opportunity is to remove vast swathes of social housing. Hon. Members will know that, for whatever reason—I shall try to say this diplomatically—after 20 years during which many present Conservative Members were in government, we were left with a £19 billion repair backlog.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) suggested that fewer houses have been built under Labour. That is not true. Hon. Members should remember that the right to buy is about social housing, and more social housing units are being built in London than were ever built in any comparable time frame under the previous Administration. However, we are having to spend a huge amount of money repairing the damage that occurred as a result of degeneration. That is where a lot of money is spent.

It is appalling to think that, last year, 11,000 social housing units were sold off, but only 3,000 have been built to replace them. We need to take measures to deal with that problem. The maximum right-to-buy discount could be limited to £25,000, and the time before people were able to sell on those properties for a quick buck could be lengthened. Those sales create more sink estates. For example, people in Tower Hamlets are selling on their right-to-buy properties to rather disreputable private landlords. There are many reputable private landlords, but those properties have been sold to companies that put leaflets through the door, saying, "Let us buy your property", because they know that house prices in Tower Hamlets have exploded.

A year and a half ago, a four-bedroom terraced house in Wapping sold for £600,000. The same property was inhabited by a teacher in the 1970s—not even a Member of Parliament could afford it now, never mind a teacher. So we obviously have to consider key-worker housing in our regeneration strategies. Most of all, we have to increase the provision of affordable housing, so that those people on average and below average incomes can afford to live in areas such as Tower Hamlets.

What has the council done? It has engaged in many specific regeneration projects. It has also engaged in a variety of private-public sector partnerships with Canary Wharf. I gave an example earlier of the skills match employment brokerage agency, which has helped 1,500 local people into jobs in the last year alone. I also mentioned the Will Crooks estate, which is one of the estates closest to Canary Wharf—it is within spitting distance. Of the 400 adults of employment age living there, only two have managed to obtain employment in the metropolis that overshadows them. The local Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick)—two Members represent Tower Hamlets—is working hard to ensure that people on that estate enjoy the fruits of regeneration.

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That takes us back to the issue that we discussed earlier. How do we enable local people who live in the shadow of vast regeneration projects to benefit from them? One of the answers is through community-led regeneration organisations such as the Isle of Dogs community foundation and the Bromley-by-Bow centre, which is a nationally recognised social enterprise that serves as a role model for many newer voluntary and community organisations gaining a foothold on the regeneration ladder. I pay tribute to Tower Hamlets education and business partnership, which is nationally recognised as a model of good practice.

I also want to mention some of the innovation that has been taking place. There has been a great willingness to test out new approaches and take risks. For instance, networks of community-based access and vocational training providers offer courses that reflect the specialist finance, banking and knowledge economies of Canary Wharf and the City fringe. Specialist enterprise support agencies have emerged and they range from the cultural industries development agency to the ethnic minority enterprise project. Such agencies have helped more than 250 businesses to start up and grow. I also pay tribute to the work of the Prince's Trust in east London. It has helped many young people who have often been in long-term unemployment into jobs, which is a wonderful achievement.

I hope that the continuing wave of regeneration will take into account the needs and wishes of local communities. Some huge projects are involved and they have an influence far beyond Tower Hamlets or east London. For example, the Bishopsgate goods yard, to where the East London line will be extended, will open up transport opportunities for an entire region. In Spitalfields, another very large regeneration project has yet to receive the support of all residents, although many local businesses write to me to say how much they welcome such new development. However, an equal number of correspondents who are local residents are terrorised by the idea of this development project. We do not need more bland, enormous, dehumanising slabs of corporate office blocks, which add no character to the neighbourhood. We need projects that bring together the community's aspirations and reflect some of the community's character. Unfortunately, that has not happened in the past.

I want to sum up by looking at how much has been achieved. In Tower Hamlets in 1997, the unemployment rate was 16.6 per cent. As a result of the projects, local efforts—especially by the local council and the community—and the Government's strategy, our unemployment rate has fallen in five years to 11.6 per cent. That is a fantastic achievement. However, we still have one of the highest unemployment rates in London and, indeed, in the country.

My hon. Friends the Members for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) and for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman) made the case for London. I know that people outside London get infuriated because they think that all its streets are paved with gold, but I wish that they would recognise this one fact: there are more poor people proportionately in London than in any other region. That fact seems to have been lost in the same way as Londoners once did not recognise the extent of rural poverty, which we must acknowledge. I hope that people outside the capital realise that although some of the richest people in Britain live in London, some of the poorest also

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live here. We must ensure that our regeneration policy takes that into account. We must use planning gain agreements—section 106 agreements—to promote the regeneration that helps the poorest people.

I hope that the comprehensive spending review will give a significant boost to investment in social housing. The Labour Government have trebled the amount of money for social housing and, as I said in a debate on Tuesday, we are millions of pounds better off under Labour. However, we also know that we need more. We have to ensure that regeneration benefits all stakeholders—residents, businesses, schools and school children, faith organisations and the voluntary sector—because we have to eradicate the poverty that stalks the capital and this country.

1.2 pm

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): I declare an interest as a director of a family building and property company, in case anything that I say relates to that.

The debate is important; we know that from the number of hon. Members present and from what they have said about their communities. Regeneration impacts on all of us. Hon. Members on both sides of the House come into politics to do some good or make a difference. Political action on regeneration, especially in disadvantaged areas, can make a difference providing that it is sensible and measured and that it involves the communities.

We have heard much about the built environment and individuals in communities. The key factor is that community leaders need to have a vision and set out the way forward. We all know about cycles of decline: firms move out of an area, housing deteriorates and the most enterprising people decide to leave; public services are not at their best, and people struggle with inadequate health, education and transport infrastructures. That creates terrible problems, resulting in crime and lawlessness. It is frustrating for people who live in such areas, and who have known their communities in better times, to see that happen. Ministers and politicians have to put regeneration high up the political agenda. It must be a priority. We need to put our efforts into ensuring that we provide leadership and a vision so that communities can pull themselves out of those circumstances.

A few years ago I visited the Heritage Foundation in Washington. I talked to some fairly right-wing individuals who said that for a long time they were relaxed about the fact that most of America's problems were in the ghettos and inner cities until they realised that being indifferent to them meant that they spread. The problems had a cultural impact on adjacent districts, and the rising crime rates spread there. It is beneficial for everyone in society to tackle such problems because they can easily move into other areas. Sometimes that will require more public investment, but overall that would be to our benefit.

In most of our major cities—Manchester, Birmingham or wherever—many of the prosperous suburbs feed off what happens in the city centres. There is great interlinkage. No politician can be indifferent about the fate of people who are left in our inner cities.

The Government have a surprisingly wide range of measures to deal with the matters that we are discussing; indeed, I agree with those who say that there are probably too many measures that are too complex. Perhaps much more should be done to publicise all the grants and other

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schemes that are available. I was unaware of many of the schemes that could be accessed, and I suspect that many people in many communities are similarly unaware.

There are some measures that I welcome. In the past, I fought the seat of Walsall, North. In doing so, I noticed that there were many contaminated sites. The accelerated tax credit of 150 per cent. to encourage owners and investors to get contaminated land back into the system is a positive move. The private sector will not do that; however, it can take advantage of the scheme for the benefit of communities.

I welcome also the 100 per cent. capital allowance for putting flats over shops. One of the problems is that when people move out of cities, we cease to have communities. People are no longer looking down the street to see what is going on. We must repopulate some areas of our cities. Some business districts depopulate in the evenings, which is not good. Anything that encourages more people to live over the shop may be good for the general community.

I am not enthusiastic about the recent Budget announcements of reductions in stamp duty for people who buy houses in some deprived wards. It is a rough-and-ready approach. There is expensive and prosperous housing in some extremely deprived wards. People will have to apply for discounts in areas where they are likely to be available, and the scheme will be a minor part of any regeneration activity.

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