Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-48)
MS MARGARET FORD, MS PAULA HAY-PLUMB, MR DENNIS HONE AND DR PAULEEN LANE
WEDNESDAY 3 JULY 2002
40. When you are considering selling sites, how can you balance up the requirement to get maximum income with the requirement to get benefits for the local community?
(Ms Ford) You have actually hit on the absolute core of the issue for us in terms of managing that tension. We have two statutory bodies at the minute. My Board sits as the Urban Regeneration Agency and it sits as the Commission for the New Towns and they have different objectives. What we have been trying to do since 1999 is exactly do what you are suggesting which is to balance these, and I will ask Dennis to give you the detail of that, but it is a very, very real tension which sits at the heart of everything we do.
(Mr Hone) In terms of maximising receipts, I would say that our legislation requires us to get the best consideration and there has been a change now in the last few years to move us much more to looking at issues affecting the local communities in which we are disposing of land. We brief sites when we go to the market according to all of the criteria under PPG3. We are looking at increasing densities and, for instance, on energy efficiency we are briefing all our sites at eco-homes "very good" and in Milton Keynes we are briefing them at eco-homes "excellent".
So we are trying to push boundaries and to move markets incrementally, but, nevertheless, we have to work within financial constraints, as do other NDPBs and other public bodies, and, therefore, we have to have an eye to taking things to the market which enables us to generate receipts which actually fund our expenditure programme.
41. So what you are saying sounds as if the emphasis is on maximising commercial returns.
(Ms Ford) I think it is changing.
42. It sounds as if it is very slow.
(Ms Ford) It is slow to change, but I think I would emphasise what I said at the start, which is that this organisation has only had responsibility as English Partnerships for three years and we have been trying very hard in that period to take forward the principles of urban regeneration, the work that we do there and take that into the new towns and it is taking longer than any of us would have wanted.
43. Well, what about the guidance you have in relation to new towns? Do you undertake any social benefit issues?
(Ms Ford) Well, again the conflict that has been there is that our statutory responsibility as CNT, and government policy was very clear until the last two or three years, was about maximising receipts there.
44. What about now?
(Ms Ford) What we are trying to do now is change that, but it is taking time. My Board is absolutely seized of the fact that what we are more about now is not maximising receipts but optimising receipts for the benefit of communities and we are trying very, very hard to turn that around.
45. Is that a clear policy or do you need clearer guidance from Ministers?
(Ms Ford) No, I do not think we do need clearer guidance from Ministers, but we need to try and up the pace significantly because hitherto in the last two or three years it has been too slow and we recognise that.
(Ms Hay-Plumb) If we look at an area that we have planned more recently, so it is the new English Partnerships' methodology, and I am going to use south-west Northampton to try and draw the last two questions together, in that area we have brought forward our land with primary focus on the use of that land for the local community, for the local authority. That will guide the way that land is briefed, to answer a specific question. In particular, the plans for there include local retail, a GP surgery, a nursery, community centre, country park, playing field, new transportation, and all of that aspect has been brought within the master plan and those are the kind of projects that we have been working on as we have tried to move and bring the two remits together for the benefit of the new towns.
46. Can I just ask you three fairly quick questions to end. Firstly, in your opinion, do you think some of the development corporations were wound up perhaps too soon? Secondly, whose responsibility do you consider it now is to deal with the problems that we saw in places like Corby where those towns never achieved the critical mass of population that was intended? Finally, what lessons can we learn?
(Mr Hone) Were they wound up too early, well
47. A yes or no would do very nicely.
(Mr Hone) Well, they were Ministers' decisions on the winding-up dates and it is not for us to second-guess Ministers' decisions. Undoubtedly the assets of new towns were transferred when they had not achieved critical mass to CNT, but it was Ministers' decisions.
48. So achieving critical mass really is crucial for the new towns?
(Ms Ford) Yes.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence.