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Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Thomas of Macclesfield mentioned the ravages of the industrial revolution. Those were manifest, particularly in the north of England, as he mentioned. Both Manchester and Liverpool, simply in order to clear their slums, had to export more than ¼ million people into areas outside the city. We know that ever since the war, under successive governments, through the subsidy system, massive deck-access flats were built which were wholly unsatisfactory, havens for crime and all sorts of social problems. They have had to be demolished and, of course, are still being paid for by the tenants.
Urban areas have been talked about today, but they are not homogeneous. If we look at election results in big cities over a period of time, we find that the western constituencies--that is, the constituencies on the west side of big cities--tend to be Conservative and on the east side they tend to be Labour. Why is that so? It is because the prevailing winds in this country blow from west to east and all the rubbish, the pollution, and so on, goes to the east side. Therefore, those who are rather well breeched. or more comfortably off, tend to migrate to the west, leaving the working class to put up with the rest.
That fact was demonstrated recently. The House of Commons statistical section recently published a brief about a report entitled Mortality by Constituency. It reports the results of a survey carried out by researchers at the Department of Geography at the University of Bristol. I should declare an interest here in that I am a graduate of Bristol University. However, it will not surprise your Lordships to know that I only got a lower second. The figures in that report show that mortality varies from one constituency to another. In fact, in the constituency of Bristol West, you are less likely to die before the age of 65 than you are in my old constituency of Bristol South.
Bristol West has had a massive green lung called the Durdham Downs for many years. Development there is absolutely forbidden under an Act of 1861. Indeed, that downs Act of over a century and a third ago protects that green lung. The equivalent area in Bristol South is filled with playing fields and is being steadily nibbled away by development. Given the health record which I mentioned, what is the latest proposal for development on this green lung which is being chipped away in Bristol South? It is a bus depot. Only yesterday the British Lung Foundation issued a report about the cost of air pollution. It says that the most dangerous air pollution identified is,
The latter cause all sorts of things; indeed, the diseases which follow from that situation are a hypochondriac's dream. That is the latest suggestion for the people of Bristol South, who are already handicapped in that respect.
If we are to consider the whole question of planning, we need to think about the machinery involved. It is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs. In the particular instance to which I referred, the posting of a letter about the proposal, which did not go out until Friday by second class post, meant that the recipients had already lost one quarter of their complaining time by the time the letter was delivered to their homes. I should also mention the way in which the proposal was advertised. Notices were placed seven feet above the ground, mainly on a dual carriageway where the speed limit was 50 mph and where there were no residential properties. It simply is not fair to expect people to co-operate with such a system.
We wonder why people are not interested in local government, but the way in which some planning matters are conducted by local authorities is one answer. We ought to consider that aspect because there has been a recent development in Bristol; namely, those concerned flogged off the airport so that they could have a bit of money at their disposal. Moreover, in an article in the Western Daily Press of 23rd January, Councillor George Micklewright (the leader of the city council) said:
One of the suggestions was to build a new swimming pool on the Filwood site. However, a little later on in that same text, we find, tucked away, reference to the fact that the move could mean the closure of several other pools. The article then goes on to list the names of four separate local pools. People can walk to those pools in their lunchtime. They can also walk there from their homes and have a swim. If such a swimming pool were to be built in Hengrove Park, that would not only take money off the middle class from North Somerset, but also everyone else would have to get in a car or use some form of transport to get there. It does not make sense. When my noble friend the Minister replies, I hope that she will deal with some of these more local points.
Any Chief Whip worth his salt could organise that sort of response at the drop of a hat. We really must take consultation much more seriously. As I said, I hope that my noble friend will deal with such matters in her response. In particular, there is the recent publication on 14th January from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport saying that all local authorities must look seriously at the selling off of this sort of playing-field land, even before the Government bring in legislation.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Marlesford on bringing forward this debate today. I should also declare an interest. I am a former poultry farmer, now retired, but we still have a family interest in a farm in Suffolk.
I should like to begin with the challenge of urban regeneration. My home town of Leicester is currently in the middle of such a programme. A 30-acre site in the middle of the city was compulsorily purchased at a cost of some £9 million and the ground cleared at a further cost of £7 million to £8 million; the money coming from City Challenge and English Partnership respectively. The site will comprise an office block, a business park, 71 units of social housing, 131 dwellings for private rent and a 240-bedspace hall of residence for De Montfort University. None of this would have been possible without a huge injection of public funds. Because of the complexity of the site, a former scrap metal yard, and of the many organisations involved, the lead time before development can take place is considerable.
The project began in 1993 and should be completed by the end of this year. It is an exciting project and a good example of what can be achieved. In addition to this project, three others are going forward, thanks to money from City Challenge. Perhaps I may just mention one of them; namely, the complete refurbishment of a former hosiery mill into one and two-bedroom accommodation.
Those projects would not have been possible but for the commitment of many people; for example, government agencies, local authorities and the developers. We need to make our cities safe and secure places to which people will wish to return and live. While recognising the success of those projects, one has to acknowledge that urban regeneration will not provide for all our housing needs. Villages, too, need to grow, thus enabling them to be vibrant places in which to live and work.
Statistics have already been quoted today and I, too, should like to highlight one particular sector. In 1961, the population of one-person households under pensionable age was only 4 per cent.; by 1994 that figure had risen to 12 per cent. In the same way, one-person households of over pensionable age rose from 7 per cent. in 1961 to 15 per cent. in 1994. Clearly the growing need has been for smaller units of housing as both starter homes and for the older population.
We have seen great changes in country life. Nearly 40 years ago I attended Moulton Agricultural College near Northampton. At that time some 65 students took the one-year general farming diploma course. Today only 12 students are on the equivalent course. Others cover specialised subjects such as animal welfare, countryside management, equine courses, horticulture and farm mechanisation, to name but a few. These changes are reflected on many of our farms today. Fewer people are employed. Diversity, contracting out and specialisms have taken over. Two of our neighbouring farmers in Leicestershire have diversified. One converted a former pig unit into stabling where people keep their own horses and a thriving centre has been established. The second has developed a farm centre to which the public come to see at first hand the animals in their natural environment and to learn about the countryside. Visits from schools are a regular feature. Rural businesses like these must be encouraged to develop, particularly at a time when the rural sector is under such financial pressure.
I am sure we all welcome that statement. We must make sure that before large-scale development takes place existing houses, whether in town or country, are fully used. Shops and offices should be taken into consideration too. We look to see a balance between the protection of our countryside and provision for future needs.
Flexible approaches must be key in our future policies, with a balance between town and country. It is not a question of town versus country. There must be the opportunity to create new jobs and to encourage businesses to thrive while at the same time conserving our countryside for future generations. I thank the noble Lord for introducing this important debate today. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.
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