Funding still eludes urban wastelands

5th May 1995 at 01:00
The Prime Minister may voice his concern about the "concrete wastelands" of inner cities, but his Government's mechanism for funding projects means that the worst affected areas can miss out, according to Professor Michael Barber of Keele University.

Mr Major's assault on the "ghetto estates" appeared to backfire when he tried to make political capital out of urban misery in the run-up to the local elections. Speaking last week at the Social Market Foundation think tank, Mr Major condemned the ghetto estates created by what he called socialist municipalism, only to be chastised by opposition politicians for being directly responsible for one of the most horrific estates in Brixton in his days as a Lambeth councillor and housing chairman.

Mr Major said the Government's education policies - the national curriculum and regular inspections - will raise standards in inner-city schools. He said he wanted schools to set their own performance standards: "I will be encouraging the first pilots on this later this year, including some inner-city schools."

But those hoping to hear specific policies on urban regeneration were disappointed. The Government is proposing a White Paper which is expected to give greater power to tenants' organisations and offers housing association tenants the right to buy, but Mr Major hinted nothing more in the speech.

The Conservative Government has had urban problems pushed in its face with riots in Brixton, Toxteth and Bristol in the early 1980s. But apart from commissioning reports, such as that by Lord Scarman, its response has been a patchwork of initiatives. And keeping up with the various ways of getting money and how to apply for it can be a full-time job.

The Government's thrust now is partnership between business and the public sector. It has brought together 20 schemes from five government departments to pool the money into one pot - the single regeneration budget. Education schemes, such as Compacts and teacher placements, which aim to bring schools and industry together, are now subsumed into the SRB. All bodies, from councils, community groups and schools, now make their separate bids to ministers Professor Barber said: "In spite of the Government's efforts, local authorities are still the driving force behind urban renewal programmes. It is the local authority - often in partnership with a TEC or private business - which puts the bid together for the single regeneration budget. The local authority is still seen as the moral authority to represent these areas.

"The problem is that only those who can draw up a bid and get it accepted get the money. Therefore money is not always targeted where it is most needed. But there again you could argue that if an authority or organisation can't put together a bid it may not be able to administer a programme."

Professor Alice Coleman, of King's College London, author of a report commissioned by the Department of Environment on how to improve inner-city estates, believes that Mr Major is correct when he associates anti-social behaviour with anti-social architecture.

She said by breaking down buildings into smaller units, blocking off long walkways and providing gardens people can become more socialised and feel safer.

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