Anthony Steen – 1978 Speech on Inner City Liverpool

Below is the text of the speech made by Anthony Steen, the then Conservative MP for Liverpool Wavertree, in the House of Commons on 20 June 1978.

When the Prime Minister, in September 1976, announced a major review of inner city policy, the whole country held its breath waiting for a major announcement—a plan to rejuvenate the ailing towns and cities of the nation. For the previous 10 years the Government had indulged in innumerable investigations. There had been 15 phases of the urban aid programmes, the community development projects, the educational priority areas, the neighbourhood schemes and the six town studies divided between urban guidelines and the inner city studies. There was a study on transmitted deprivation, the quality of life studies, the urban deprivation unit, the comprehensive community schemes, the Greater London Council deprived areas project, the area management trials and, last but not least, the EEC poverty programme, which is still going on. In all, £100 million of Government money was spent on these inquiries.

When, in April 1977, the Secretary of State presented the Government’s proposals for reviving the inner cities, it was seen as the culmination of a long line of investigation and research. The Secretary of State said:

“we have to shift the emphasis of Government policy and bring about changes in the attitudes of local authorities, of industry and of institutions.”—[Official Report, 6th April 1977; Vol. 929, c. 1227.]

He spoke about a unified approach to urban problems. Little did we guess that that meant a unified approach of all those in the public sector—in local and central Government—to the exclusion of private sector and industry, of even the unions, of the voluntary organisations, the insurance funds, the banks and the local people themselves.

The Secretary of State spoke of the immediate priorities to strengthen the economies of the inner cities, with suitable firms being encouraged to establish themselves in the inner areas. He spoke of policies of population movement, and from what one can gather he meant that the people were to be brought back into the inner cities.

The White Paper that followed, presented to Parliament in June 1977, recognised that a halt had to be called to the outflow of population. Liverpool has lost 150,000 people in the 10 years up to 1976. That is 22 per cent. of its population. The plan then was to set up special partnerships, but after a year we learned from a parliamentary answer that the Secretary of State had chaired the second meeting of the Liverpool partnership committee. The right hon. Gentleman said:

“The Committee discussed key issues and priorities. It agreed that to improve the quality of life for those who live and work in the inner city, so as to minimise the outflow of population, must be the overall objective. Measures to improve employment prospects would make the most impact. Other priorities in the physical and social fields were also discussed. Specific proposals will be developed for the committee to consider at its next meetings.

The Committee also agreed on arrangements for consulting voluntary organisations”

—we are still awaiting those—

“as the work proceeds, including the establishment of a central information point on the partnership and the production of a newssheet.

The Committee took note of a proposed submission by the City and County concerning the urban programme for 1978–79. They noted representations by the City and County Councils about the Inner Urban Areas Bill and the proposed new magistrates court ​ building in Liverpool.”—[Official Report, 13th March 1978; Vol. 946 c. 27–28.]

That answer was given nearly a year after the partnerships had been established, and a year after the White Paper. That was about two years after the Prime Minister had called for a complete review.

To many people in Liverpool this has all been a very sick joke, a bitter pill, because they have been able to see little improvement in the inner city, and all the evidence indicates that things are getting worse.

The White Paper that was published in June last year called for a new approach to housing. It sought to put a stop to the bulldozer and to prevent local authorities from hoarding land. Great concern for environment planning, education, social services and health was expressed. You name it, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and it is in the White Paper. The aim was to revive the inner city, the Government’s Utopian dream. But it is a facade. As we can see, there is no visible change in the environment in the city. The policy for the inner city is not failing; it never got started.

I want to give three instances to illustrate the view that I am putting forward on behalf of a great number of people in my constituency and others that the Government’s much publicised urban revival programme is not happening in one of the most deprived and needy cities in this country.

I cite three examples, but I could cite a great many more. Take the case of the 100 houses which are to be built on a green field site known as Crawfords playing field, in the middle of a residential area in my constituency. It has from time immemorial provided a magnificent open space, just the kind of environmental improvement of which the White Paper speaks for the population that lives around it.

This has been on the plans of the local housing association, Merseyside Improved Housing, which, of course, is a publicly financed body. The plan is to build 100 houses, which will entirely destroy the environment and the amenity.

The Liverpool City Council has gone along with this plan. It is giving planning permission. This will mean that the site will be developed and the 100 houses will ​ be built on it. This will destroy its tranquility and its advantages.
In one of the annexures to the White Paper, which sets out the policy and how everyone should go about it—

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange)

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Steen

No, I shall not give way. I am sorry. It is because in the last debate that I had on Liverpool, when the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) was speaking, he refused to give way to me. If the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland, Exchange (Mr. Parry) will excuse me, I should like to try to finish the arguments that I am putting forward.

The important point here is that paragraph 21 of the annexure to the White Paper says:

“The fall in population in many cities provides opportunities, as funds permit, for creating more open space in inner areas for recreation and visual enjoyment. Dual use arrangements with local schools may be possible. Not all environmental improvement requires a lot of extra resources.”

The paragraph goes on to deal with a great number of things that local authorities can do to improve the amenity and the environment.

But in this case the local authority is not proposing to do anything at all to stop this butchering of a green field site from going ahead. Perhaps the Minister can explain how this can be when there are about 1,200 acres of unused land in the partnership areas alone in the inner city, and of those 1,200 acres, 800 are owned direct by the Liverpool City Council, a further 200 are owned by nationalised industry and there is very little land in that partnership area which is privately owned.

So we have the Liverpool City Council giving planning consent for a green field site in the middle part of the city, we have the inner city with vast tracts of vacant land in the city council’s ownership, and we have a public housing association, funded entirely by the Government, building houses on a green field site which is of amenity value.

This, of course, is in direct contradiction to the principles expounded by Ministers in successive speeches and in the White Paper, and in many ways in the ​ Inner Urban Areas Bill. There is no point in talking about the wish to bring back houses to the inner city when in the next month or two a start will be made on desecrating a green field site and bringing population further out of Liverpool into the middle city. The green field site is not in the inner area, it is out of the partnership area.

Perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to explain how that squares with the Government’s policy, bearing in mind that the Secretary of State is chairing the partnership committee in the area.

I should like now to turn to a secondary point flowing from that, namely, that the argument of the city council is that the families who will be living in these houses will come out of houses which are near to the site and which are to be demolished. Again, the Secretary of State has consistently stated, over and over again, starting at the habitat conference in Vancouver in 1976, that Britain has pensioned off the bulldozer, and that in the cities the bulldozer will no longer go on knocking things down. But in Liverpool it continues at an alarming rate. Hundreds of families are being displaced and pushed outwards as the bulldozer continues. This is a good example.

Therefore, instead of these houses being rehabilitated, which apparently is Government policy, that is not happening in Liverpool to the extent that it should be happening, and the bulldozer continues as the houses decline. If the Government were serious about the revival of the inner city, they would see that mortgage facilities were available for the pre-1919 houses, which at present are not within the local authority grant scheme. The older houses in the inner city will continue to be demolished, whereas the Government’s policy is to revive them. Perhaps the Minister can deal with that point as well.

Mr. Parry

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Steen

No, I shall not give way at the moment. I am sorry.

Mr. Parry

It is on one quick point.

Mr. Steen

All right.

Mr. Parry

I thank the hon. Member for giving way. He refused to give way ​ to me earlier because my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) refused to give way to him on a previous occasion. The hon. Member is attacking the Liverpool City Council. At present, the council consists of a Liberal-Conservative pact.

Mr. Steen

I am grateful for that intervention, but the hon. Gentleman is wrong. It is a Liberal pact. There are Labour councillors and Liberal councillors, and the Conservatives are holding the balance of power. On this issue—the green field site—the Liberal and Labour councillors are united. That is what I have been told. I understand that they will not swap this green field site for some of the derelict acres of waste land. If the situation is otherwise, I stand to be corrected, but I am told by totally reliable sources that it is a Liberal-Labour pact—perhaps those councillors have not heard what has happened here—and the result is that this land is to be built on.

I must move on now to my second example, which makes nonsense of the proposals in the Inner Urban Areas Bill and concerns the development of small businesses in the inner city. I pass over the “fourteenth Budget” and the damage done to the small trader by an extra 2½ per cent. on the payroll tax—which has been mentioned quite a bit since that “fourteenth Budget’—and I turn directly to the case of Pine Engineering. Pine Engineering is a small, successful precision engineering company in Liverpool.

Mr. Pine has told me that his company is planning to move because its premises are to be demolished for a public building programme, inner roads, and so on. Mr. Pine’s situation is in a constant state of flux, because the county wants to build the inner road and the Liberals on the city council say that they will not have it. There is constant uncertainty. But Mr. Pine knows that if he is forced to move he will not be able to remain in the inner city. The Minister should recognise that.

Inner city land is currently valued at between £30,000 and £36,000 an acre. Land in the outer areas of Liverpool is currently valued at £9,000 per acre. Mr. Pine cannot possibly transfer his business to one of the vacant derelict sites in the inner area which are owned by public authorities and nationalised industry, because he cannot pay at the rate of £36,000 an acre. The Inner Urban Areas ​ Bill will not do him the slightest good because he cannot avail himself of any of its provisions and it does not allow him to get finance to buy or lease land.

The most that Mr. Pine can do is to move into one of the Department of Industry’s advance factories, which are being built, or one of the Liverpool City Council’s advance factories, which also are being built. That is what is happening. One will find that existing businesses are transferring to the advance factories, and the amount of new employment and new industry coming into the Government’s advance factories and those of the city council is minimal.

Thus, the Government’s aim of increasing the number of jobs and raising the level of prosperity in Liverpool is not being realised because of the artificially high land values which have been attracted by the public open spaces. So long as the local authorities are allowed to hoard this land, as nationalised industry is allowed to hoard it, the artificially high land values will continue. As I said in the Standing Committee on the Inner Urban Areas Bill, until the Government do something about land values in a place such as Liverpool, we shall see small businesses moving out and job creation reduced, and the inner city will go from bad to worse and decline My third example is the Victor works of Lucas, which is in my constituency. This is to be closed, with a loss of 1,400 jobs. I was delighted to learn that the Government are to help in the building of a new factory and that Lucas is to be able to employ 400 or 500 of those men at that works. But—one would hardly credit it—that factory is to be built on a green field site outside the city boundaries, in, I believe, Wilson Lane, in Huyton, and no jobs will be created in the inner city.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Wilson Road.

Mr. Steen

Wilson Road—I am obliged. How the Government justify the investment of millions of pounds in a factory outside the city boundary, which means that the jobs which could have accrued to the city centre will not be there—this is one of the problems of the inner city—I cannot understand, especially when the whole direction of their policy is supposed to be for the ​ revival of the inner city and the building of new factories. I wonder how the Government justify that, and how the city council allowed it to happen.

There is a population drift of 25,000 a year from Liverpool. Thirty per cent. of those living in the inner city want to get out. Unless new businesses are put in the inner city as a conscious policy, that drift will continue.

With the city council’s aid, the Government are abandoning the housing programme which would revive the inner city, they are giving up the intention to create new jobs; and they are financing new industry outside the city boundary.

What have the Government done to persuade the council that this is not the way to conduct their business? What does the Minister intend to do to halt this drift? To the people of Liverpool, it appears that he is simply shuffling the chairs around on the deck of the “Titanic”.