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Lord Whitty: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. It is important that the communities in our inner cities, many of which are of multiple ethnic origin and background, must be fully involved if we are to deliver a better quality of life for the city as a whole. It is important that all the schemes, whether they are backed nationally, or whether they are produced at local level, as I hope most will be, engage the ethnic minority communities. I recognise both the efforts of Tower Hamlets and the problems within that area which is one of the most deprived in this country. I hope that we shall see the full engagement of the whole community in helping to redress the situation.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of London's greatest assets is the River Thames? The Thames is much cleaner than it was, and much of the development in Docklands has been very successful. The Minister can presumably give some credit to the previous administration for both those aspects. Why, on page 134 of the White Paper in the section on London, is there no mention of the River Thames? Is the Minister aware, to take just one example, that at this very moment, between Vauxhall Bridge and Chelsea Bridge on the north side of the Thames, new private palaces are being built on the river front that will shut off access to the river for the
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the noble Lord's final point. I accept that the Thames is a major asset for London and Londoners. It is not mentioned specifically in the London part of the White Paper. I am not sure that the Trent is mentioned specifically either, or any other river. The problem in regard to some developments on the Thames is this: under the GLC, new developments had to provide for access to the river if they abutted it. That provision was dropped as a result of the abolition of the GLC and those powers reverted to the riparian boroughs. The developments to which the noble Lord refers, although large, are not large enough to fall within the powers of the Mayor of London. I believe that all are a matter for Westminster City Council and, I am informed on good authority, for Kensington and Chelsea council. That is where the responsibility in planning terms initially lies.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, will the Minister recognise as being among the most important beneficiaries of the White Paper the family I visited in bed-and-breakfast accommodation last week? They had been living there for 12 months, depending on take-away food; there were four children aged from one to 11, and the five year-old was waking up in the night with nightmares and showing other signs of high anxiety as a result of those living conditions? Does the Minister recognise that family as typical of the families who will benefit from the outcome of the White Paper?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I hope so. Clearly, in many of our cities, London in particular, homelessness and lack of appropriate housing for families and especially for young people is one of the blights of our cities. It is to be hoped that the developments foreshadowed and the resources allocated in the White Paper and our other policies will address that problem. The Statement that is to follow the housing policy Green Paper will also be relevant.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the report is of real importance and that it should be debated at greater length? Does my noble friend accept that we are justified in hoping that a considerable amount of attention will be given in that debate to the need to avoid eating into the green belt when in many cases there is a perfectly reasonable alternative? My noble friend has mentioned brownfield development. There have been many good developments on brownfield sites, and more are needed. I think, for example, of the site near to my home. A few years ago it was a burning colliery spoilheap; last summer I counted 11 species of butterflies on it. That is the kind of transformation that is needed in many other areas. Does my noble friend accept that greater public attention might encourage that kind of necessary development?
Perhaps I may ask one other question. Our towns are frequently built along rivers, in many cases for vital historical reasons. But planners do not seem always to have paid much attention to the rising tides and the effect of climate change. Can we ensure that future development, unlike a great deal of development over the past 20 years, will take proper account of that phenomenon?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, on my noble friend's second point, the events of the past few weeks have indicated that sometimes, despite the recommendations of the Environment Agency, planning permission has been granted by local authorities for developments vulnerable to flooding. If climate change has the effect that now seems apparent and floods become more frequent, that will increasingly be a problem. I hope, therefore, that attention will be paid to that. The House will know of the additional resources announced by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister to deal with the immediate situation.
So far as concerns the green belt and greenfield sites, it is important that we connect the proposals in the White Paper to encourage development on brownfield sites in our cities and towns with the need to reduce pressure on the countryside. I was gratified to see, in relation to the announcement by the Chancellor last week of fiscal incentives, that the spokesman for the Council for Rural England said that he very much welcomed the package of measures harnessing the tax system to breathe new life into our cities, which at the same time was bringing great benefits and helping to save thousands of acres of England's countryside. That juxtaposition needs to be seen as part of this strategy.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, in adding my welcome for the White Paper, perhaps I may express the hope that the improvement of the condition of existing housing will figure very largely in its implementation--a point made by my noble friend Lady Maddock and by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath. As the noble Lord will be aware, successive house condition surveys have shown that something like 20 per cent of the housing in this country is either substandard or requires major renovation and repair. This issue is very closely related to the problem of fuel poverty that will be considered shortly on the Third Reading of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill. Can I hope that the targeting to which my noble friend referred will also be applied to that issue and that, in the next house condition survey, we shall see a real dent being made in the number of substandard houses in Britain today?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord that the allocations given to local government of £5 billion for improvements in the housing stock, which apply to social housing, their own stock and to owner occupied stock, will help to make a serious attack on the backlog of poor housing and lack of repairs as regards existing housing stock. As to fuel
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister give the House an assurance about the problem of the disposal of playing fields by some local authorities to developers? My noble friend will recall that this matter was referred to a few weeks ago when it was revealed that this undesirable practice was continuing, notwithstanding the change of government in May 1997.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I recognise this problem; indeed, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister referred to it in his Statement as being one of the contributory factors to reducing the quality of life in many urban areas. We do impose a stricter regime than had been the case prior to this Government coming into office. Nevertheless, some selling off of playing fields seems to be continuing. This matter needs to be seriously considered by local authorities, and the owners of those playing fields, if they are to make a serious contribution towards the quality of life in our inner cities. The Government are determined to play their part in that process.
Moved, That the Commons message of yesterday be now considered; and that the promoters of the Bill have leave to suspend any further proceedings thereon in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament, provided that notice of their intention to do so is lodged in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments not later than 12 noon on Monday 27th November;
That the Bill be deposited in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments not later than noon on the second sitting day in the next Session with a declaration annexed, signed by the agent, stating that the Bill is the same in every respect as the Bill at the last stage of the proceedings thereon in this House in the present Session;
That the proceedings on the Bill in the next Session of Parliament be pro forma in regard to every stage through which the Bill has passed in the present Session, and that no new fees be charged to such stages;