06 February 2004
Millions of pounds are being poured into rundown estates in northern England as ministers deny claims that too much housing investment is concentrated in the South.
Promising to reduce North-South disparities, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott unveiled plans for a 'northern growth corridor', stretching from Merseyside to Tyneside.
In Merseyside, one of nine market renewal pathfinders announced 12 months ago, £86m will be spent over two years on better housing and wider regeneration. In Newcastle/Gateshead, another pathfinder, £69m is available for similar projects.
A £500m market renewal fund was created in February 2003 as part of the Sustainable Communities plan. While each pathfinder was given a £4m start-up grant, most have still to receive their main budget. In October, Manchester/Salford was allocated £125m.
Since the launch of the plan, most attention has been focused on London and the Southeast where up to 200,000 homes will be built, but Prescott stressed he was equally committed to tackling low demand in the North.
'There is a new confidence and energy in many of our northern towns and cities. After years of decline, people are moving back,' he said on February 2, at the launch of Making it happen – the northern way, the government's second progress report on the communities plan.
The pathfinders are expected to raise a further £732m in private finance and other public funding, including extra investment by housing associations. Meanwhile, 27 local authorities will share £89m to improve urban parks and green spaces.
Prescott also announced that the London-Stansted-Cambridge growth area is being expanded to include Peterborough and parts of Cambridgeshire, and a sixteenth urban regeneration company is being created in Gloucester.
Jim Coulter, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, welcomed the attempt to tackle urban decline, but said a further £100m per year would be required in the forthcoming Spending Review. 'There are no quick-fix solutions,' he said. 'It will require 15–20 years of sustained investment to turn these problems around.'