Conference news from the Delivering Sustainable Communities summit

3 Feb 05
People are being attracted back to Britain's cities by better buildings and public services, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott told urban planners this week.

04 February 2005

Prescott upbeat about regeneration

People are being attracted back to Britain's cities by better buildings and public services, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott told urban planners this week.

Speaking at the Delivering Sustainable Communities summit in Manchester on February 1, Prescott said Labour had reversed years of decline in urban areas by combining philosophies developed in the US and Europe.

More homes were being built on brownfield sites and extra money invested in services, he told delegates. He added: 'There's a surge of confidence in our towns and cities.'

Prescott pointed to a study of English cities, published the same day by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which shows that most have experienced a growth in population since the late 1990s.

In Manchester, the population is growing by almost 0.5% per year whereas, seven years ago, numbers were falling by a similar amount. The only major city to buck the trend is London, where the population has declined following rapid growth during most of the 1990s.

Prescott stressed it was vital to mix 'new urbanism' with a European model of social justice. 'Control will not work on its own, but nor will free market solutions,' he said.

Labour had already exceeded a target of 60% of new homes being built on brownfield sites by 2008 – the current figure is 67%. It was also building 33 homes per hectare on land in Southeast England, compared with 25 per hectare in 1997. 'We have saved an area of greenfield land the size of Oxford,' said Prescott.

Announcing two new urban regeneration companies in Blackpool and Salford, he promised that better urban design would improve the quality of life.

He also praised a newly developed prefabricated house, on show at the conference, which could be built in six weeks.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone joined Prescott in announcing three consortiums that will run a first-time buyer's initiative in London. Each will provide around 1,000 low-cost homes.

Local bodies promised more financial freedoms

Finance ministers will support efforts to build sustainable communities by delegating decision-making to local and regional authorities, Chancellor Gordon Brown told the summit.

Recognising that Britain is entering a third phase of regional economic policy, he pledged that the Treasury would encourage innovation rather than 'applying first aid' in socially deprived areas.

Although finance ministers were not noted for their far-sightedness or generosity, said Brown, Britain's economic, social and environmental policies were closer to being in tune than ever.

The chancellor paid tribute to local authorities for their success in attracting investment to inner cities, but said it was necessary to go further and ensure that economic growth can be sustained.

'We must use all the levers to encourage local skills and innovation,' he told delegates. 'From the top-down centralised systems of regional and urban policy of the mid-twentieth century, the focus is now on local indigenous creativity.

'Inner-city areas should be seen as opportunities for thriving businesses rather than 'problem areas', he added.

A business growth incentive scheme, allowing councils to keep a proportion of the extra business rates paid by new firms, will help councils raise up to £1bn over the next three years.

Calling for an ambitious Britain where there is 'no cap on potential' and 'no ceiling on talent', Brown said: 'Local people making local decisions about meeting local needs is the way forward.'

Good design can reduce crime levels, says Clarke

Planners can help reduce people's fear of crime through better urban design, said Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

Pointing to the extensive use of CCTV in car parks, Clarke urged local authorities to work together with other agencies. 'Estates can be built in a sustainable way to counter crime,' he said.

Although burglary and car thefts have decreased, the home secretary accepted that there is a gap between crime levels and the public's perception of the problem.

'It's mostly antisocial behaviour and things like disrespect and graffiti, often fuelled by alcohol,' said Clarke during a round table discussion with Cabinet colleagues Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, and Ruth Kelly, his successor as education secretary.

Clarke later admitted that politicians could reduce 'Nimbyism' by being more open with the public over controversial decisions such as where to site new airport runways and asylum centres.

'We have a more educated population that is ready to address these questions,' he said. 'It's our responsibility to have debates on difficult issues.'


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