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Katherine Shonfield

Who is setting the agenda for the next election and the next government term? Education has Blunkett, law has Straw, medicine has an increasingly impressive Milburn: who do we have? Prescott.

He is the latest in a long line of lacklustre Labour ministers for the environment. Labour appears incapable of coming up with the goods. Compare with the Tories.

Heseltine had fire - granted, he spent most of the time misfiring - but he was the first post-war politician to declare with passion a commitment to cities and urban life. It is significant that when asked to name her personal hero, the incoming Deputy Mayor of London (Labour) chose former environment secretary John Gummer (Tory).

Take the Urban Task Force Report. This innovative, practical document, a result of immense goodwill by the most distinguished experts and the only tangible result yet of 'joined-up thinking', is now over a year old. It has gathered dust on Prescott's coffee table while government has the cheek to generate rumours claiming that its message wasn't clear enough - a transparent cover-up for non-action, which would be laughable if it weren't so despicable. Lords Foster and Rogers are having to resort to bypassing the bureaucracy and negotiating directly with the Treasury for implementation funds. Good for them. But do doctors, lawyers or even teachers have to fight for the public interest like this?

As Gummer himself recently pointed out, despite 'recommendations on task force issues, the local authority mindset remains'. For them, development in centres is simply more difficult than on greenfield, so permissions just carry on being granted. We need to offer a carrot to those who do it the sustainable way, and a legally enforced stick for those who don't. If secretary of state Two Jags Prescott doesn't give a monkey's, what hope is there?

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