Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. How many staff has it?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) 120.

  101. Are there specific staff dedicated to specific areas? We have heard of the Thames Gateway team. If there are, why particularly that area?  (Ms Bridges) We have one team dedicated to the Thames Gateway, the Thames Gateway Strategic Partnership, which is a small team of eight people. Apart from the head of the unit, it is mainly staffed by secondees from participating local authorities. That reflects the long term government commitment to the future of the Thames Gateway as an important part of regional planning policy and regional economic development for London and the south east. The Thames Gateway is an important resource in dealing with growth in the area and accommodation of future housing.

  102. Those of us who represent other areas might question why there are not dedicated units for those other areas.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The purpose of the Policy Unit is to drive the headline areas identified in the Urban White Paper. All urban areas will benefit from better use of land, better places for buildings, better quality of life in towns and cities.

  103. I do not think you have quite answered my question. Can I turn to public spaces and walking? What do you expect the outcome of the review of the management and maintenance of public spaces for the comprehensive spending review to be? Do you think it is likely to recommend additional resources to be spend on public spaces?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The public spaces cross cutting review is trying to identify policy that will improve the quality of public spaces. It will address the issue of whether or not additional resources are required. It will then inform the comprehensive spending review that will decide in 2002 what the right conclusions are.

  104. It will address it but you are not sure what it is going to recommend?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will tell you what you can get if you spend extra money. It will also identify the sorts of practices that would improve public spaces. It will also encourage individual departments to make proposals in their own spending review bids to improve public space.


  105. How far is it involving both the old part of the Department of Transport and your sections?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is involving all parts of government and in particular transport, local government, the regions and the housing, urban policy and planning bits of our department. It is also involving DEFRA; it is also involving the Home Office and DCMS.

  106. Do you think our report on walking in towns and cities helped that discussion?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think it did help that discussion considerably. I think we responded yesterday to your report on walking.

  107. Last week, I think.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I apologise.

Christine Russell

  108. I am aware that there has been quite a lot of research and review going on of policies that relate to the historic environment and we were expecting that there was going to be a government statement. It has not happened yet.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) This is in response to the power of place document?

  109. Yes.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That statement will come in the next few weeks.

  110. Before Christmas?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  111. Could you give us a sneak preview and tell us whether or not you agree with the conclusions of power of place that historic buildings do play a vital role in urban regeneration?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I agree with the last sentence, namely that historic buildings do play a vital role in regeneration, and that we should take active steps to preserve our historic heritage. It would be wrong for me to go further when the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions are going to issue a detailed statement.

  112. That will be a joint statement?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.


  113. Why has it taken them so long to agree or have they still not agreed?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think there is any disagreement between them. I do not know why it has taken so long to produce the response to it. I suspect that there have been other things that got in the way before it was produced.

Mr Betts

  114. Would you like to hazard a guess as to how many urban regeneration programmes there are now within your department and in government more widely?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It depends what you mean by government. If you cover every initiative, including things like education action zones, health action zones, the single regeneration budget, new deal for communities, there are very, very many.

  115. We had a guess at about 35.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I was going to say more but it may well be that you are more accurate than I am.

  116. I suppose there is a cynical feeling that new initiatives come out once every so often for ministers to get publicity from them rather than because they are needed in local communities. Is it not about time we streamlined some of these or are there so many now that they are falling over each other and people do not have any idea how they interrelate to each other?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is plainly time that there was a much more streamlined approach to how you deal with particular initiatives. I do not agree with your characterisation at the beginning. It is plain that if you went to certain communities you would see that those area based regeneration schemes have saved certain communities from completely falling over the edge. If you look, for example, at the 39 new deal for communities areas they are regarded as doing well in particular areas. It is early days yet and I think it was right for us to do them. It would be wrong to write off huge tranches of regeneration because there are too many schemes in existence. There are too many schemes; they do need to be streamlined. The Regional Coordination Unit in government is presently working on trying to reduce the number and streamline them. We in government are very aware of the fact that initiatives bring with them application burdens, monitoring burdens, complication burdens which are not welcomed on the ground. What is more, they do not join up with each other adequately. We need to ensure that is the position as well.

  117. On the point about how better coordination might be introduced, there is a feeling as well that one of the difficulties has been that central government has been wanting to do things itself and channel money down by one initiative after another. On the ground, the one body that might be able to do some better coordination, because it is closer to the localities, is the local authority.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I agree.

  118. To a large extent, they feel they have been bypassed in this process. The money has been sent down, round them, not involving them or at least not more than superficially. If there is going to be better coordination, should they not have a bigger role in that coordination?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. We would see local authorities as very much the community leaders in relation to all of that, but there are other people who need to be engaged in the process, other statutory providers—for example, the National Health Service—and the community and the business sector. Local strategic partnerships do represent a real way of bringing those people together. Local authorities have to take the lead in setting them up because they are the community leaders, but you do need to engage these other players in order for there to be focused regeneration. I do not think local authorities are being bypassed in money terms. The neighbourhood renewal fund, which goes to the 88 most deprived areas, goes straight to the local authorities for them to decide how they spend money on regeneration or fighting deprivation in their areas.

Christine Russell

  119. It has been announced that there will not be any more SRB programmes but the existing programmes will still be running for another six to seven years. Many of the programmes that they are delivering are neighbourhood renewal programmes. Could you tell us how government offices and the RDAs are working together to deliver those programmes?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) RDAs have responsibility for single regeneration budget money. Most of the money is allocated but the distribution of the money to the particular schemes they will get advice on from government offices. The responsibility in relation to it rests with the RDAs now.

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