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Urban White Paper: could do better

Government measures to encourage an urban renaissance have been attacked by Lord Rogers, who argues that they fall short on crucial issues and will not do enough

Lord Rogers last week attacked the government's policy for an 'urban renaissance'and said it failed to tackle key issues such as harmonising taxation on greenfield and brownfield development.

Lord Rogers said he 'remained disappointed' by the measures set out by John Prescott in the Urban White Paper and demanded 'more government action.In no way will we ever say this is enough. It's never enough, ' he said.'On crucial issues of land assembly, land clean up, resource allocation and statutory powers, this White Paper falls short of what is going to be required to engender a real urban renaissance.'

He warned that the measures will not protect the 'vast area of rural land' already earmarked for development, before describing the policy as 'the first step in what is still a long road to an urban renaissance'.

The attack came despite Prescott's claim that he has backed all but six of the Urban Task Force's 105 recommendations.This was contested by shadow environment minister Archie Norman, who said that only 14 of the recommendations had been met in full while 57 were not addressed or were rejected outright. The remainder, he said, were 'fudged'. Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Don Foster described the 160-page policy document as 'sound and fury signifying not a lot'.

The Urban White Paper, the first since 1978, promises to overhaul the basic tenets of the planning system, including a review of the system of planning gain; to establish a new ministerial committee on urban policy headed by regeneration minister Hilary Armstrong; to create 12 more urban regeneration companies and four more millennium communities, similar to those at Greenwich and Allerton Bywater; and to inject £321 million into parks and green spaces in towns and cities.There will also be new legislation to make it easier for local authorities to make compulsory purchase orders on derelict properties. The tax incentives outlined by chancellor Gordon Brown in the pre-Budget report are also included in the plan, along with new powers for the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment to boost the network of architecture centres and create urban design skills centres across the country (AJ 16.11.00). However, no extra cash has yet been earmarked to help CABE do this.

Prescott also rejected proposals to tax the owners of vacant urban land, to protect developers from ongoing regulatory demands over contaminated land once it has been cleaned to an agreed standard and to charge full council tax to owners of vacant homes.But the most controversial move was the rejection of the harmonisation of VAT on new building and refurbishment to encourage the reuse of buildings in towns and cities.

Prescott revealed his frustration that Brown would not loosen the purse strings for this measure, saying: 'That one remains to be achieved. I must tell you the frustration for me is not just limited to this area.'

Lord Rogers demanded legislation in the form of an urban renaissance bill to firm up the White Paper commitments and welcomed the fact that the policy's progress will be scrutinised at an urban summit in 2002.

Labour's plans to regenerate the physical fabric of towns and cities is an attempt to stem the exodus of 90,000 a year from English conurbations and to reduce social problems in cities such as violent crime, which last year affected twice as many people in cities as in the countryside.

New government figures also showed that while threequarters of rural residents declared themselves 'very satisfied' with their living conditions, only 35 per cent in towns and cities felt the same.

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT THE WHITE PAPER

Royal Institute of British Architects: 'The Urban White Paper is an ambitious strategy for regenerating our inner cities.

Obviously we would have liked a greater emphasis on tax incentives, particularly the equalisation of VAT on brownfield and greenfield development. The emphasis on the quality of design means that architects will move to centre stage.'

- Wendy Shillam, RIBA urban regeneration spokesperson Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment: 'The government's request that we take on this urban design role is a resounding vote of confidence in the success of CABE over the last 12 months. The amount we do will be determined by the resources that are made available.'

- Sir Stuart Lipton, chairman, CABE Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors: 'The UWP shows strong evidence of government commitment to urban renewal, but still leaves a number of issues to be tackled. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors was looking for a clearer direction in particular areas such as the creation of Urban Priority Areas, new sources of funding to replace the crucial partnership investment programme and clearer definitions of the areas where incentives such as the removal of stamp duty are to be offered.'

- Chris Brown, RICS, urban regeneration spokesperson Town and Country Planning Association: 'The White Paper doesn't go far enough in a range of areas we believe are vital.

Densities need to be higher, much more has to be done to clean up contaminated land and strategic planning needs to be much stronger if it is to join up the bewildering plethora of new partnerships and initiatives which businesses find impenetrable.'

- Gideon Amos, director, TCPA

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