Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


Memorandum by Colin Pickthall MP (West Lancashire Constituency) (NT 36)

  I welcome the inquiry into the problems of New Towns currently taking place.

  Skelmersdale, in my constituency, suffers from all the problems of other New Towns with the addition of being relatively isolated (it has no rail links) and in an area of high unemployment since the 1970s.

  Over many years I have sought to make the point, to successive Governments, that concentration on Inner City deprivation, important as it was, led to an ignoring of the needs of smaller urban centres like Skelmersdale. These towns' needs were similar to those of Inner Cities yet they had few of the compensating advantages (decent public transport, cultural infrastructures, shopping choices, leisure facilities, plus special Government investment and attention.)

  During the 1980's the local West Lancashire District Council and myself made repeated representations to Government asking that the assets in the New Town left in the hands of the Commission for New Towns (later with English Partnerships) should not simply be stripped off, but at least a proportion should be left in the town as "seed corn" for regeneration projects. These pleas were ignored, not to say ridiculed.

  The recessions of the 1980's and 1990's did long term damage to employment in Skelmersdale and created unemployment levels in some of the New Town wards that were amongst the highest in England.

STRUCTURAL PROBLEMS IN SKELMERSDALE

  Like most New Towns, Skelmersdale was built in a hurry over a period of about a decade. Originally intended to house 80,000 people, its growth was stopped at about 40,000, thus ensuring that the town never got the basic infrastructure it expected its hospital was cancelled; its public transport system was never developed. It has no cinema and very inadequate sports and fitness facilities.

  Most importantly, its housing has grown prematurely old all at the same time. Housing put up in Skelmersdale used virtually every experimental method known, many of them proving to be failures. Thus the local authority, which took over responsibility for the social housing from the Development Corporation at the end of the eighties, has been faced with a major problem of refurbishment and even rebuilds, throughout the nineties and into the new century, a problem that Governments have not fully recognised in its Housing Grant allocations.

REGENERATION

  Regeneration has been led chiefly by the District Council calling upon SRB and Objective 2 money. In particular the upturn in employment since 1997 has been underscored by regeneration work in the Industrial Estates led by the District Council.

  Key development now is to be in and around the town centre to turn it into a commercial and civic centre which Skelmersdale has never had.

  A key element in regeneration is the use of development land, not only as location for key development but also to provide resources for the Local Authority to address key regeneration projects.

  This is nullified by the position of English Partnerships who hold most of the publicly owned land in Skelmersdale but have the brief to asset strip it. West Lancashire District Council holds a small amount of land in the town, but that is subject to claw back.

  I understand that the North West RDA has put in for the EP assets to be handed over to the RDA. While I understand that the RDA's desperation to acquire assets to put together a realistic budget, I maintain that EP assets should be returned to the appropriate local authority specifically for regeneration projects in the New Towns.

  I also strongly believe that LA's should be freed from claw back, which totally stifles their initiative.

  There is no means by which government has ever recognised the physical structural problems of New Towns built on the Radburn principle. This means that every Council Service costs more, especially refuse disposal and local transport. It also creates many more problems of crime and disorder and of social alienation than are experienced in traditional towns of similar size.


 
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Prepared 16 April 2002