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Tuesday, June 29, 1999 Published at 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK


New life for England's cities

Report suggests 200 ways to improve inner cities

A task force headed by world-famous architect Lord Rogers of Riverside has called on the UK Government to revive English cities by reversing urban rot and stopping suburban sprawl.

Rory MacLean reports: "Report aims to answer need for more homes"
The Urban Task Force, created by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and chaired by the former Richard Rogers, announced a series of recommendations on how to improve cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle at a news conference.

"Urban renaissance will improve the quality of life for everyone living in England's towns and cities," said Lord Rogers, the man responsible for the Lloyds of London buildings and the Millennium Dome.

The government, which commissioned the task force to come up with ideas on reversing the spiral of urban decline, hopes to create millions more city homes for the next century.

Millions of homes needed

John Prescott: "Quality of life - that's what this report talks about"
Whitehall bureaucrats say 3.8 million new households will be needed by 2021, and the government wants these to be on existing "brownfield" sites rather than untouched "greenfield" countryside.

The task force has spent more than a year looking at practical ways to stem the population drift from city to countryside.

In a report, entitled Towards An Urban Renaissance, the task force suggests:

  • Reducing value added tax (VAT) on brownfield building from 17% to zero to bring it into line with greenfield sites

  • Persuading the Ministry of Defence, Department of Transport, health authorities and other government agencies to release hundreds of acres of unused urban land

  • Establishing a Renaissance Fund with a £500m war chest to spend on urban developments

  • Create Home Zones, where pedestrians have the right of way over cars and lorries
Lord Rogers said that, with the exception of some wealthy and well looked after areas of London, there was need for change in all English cities.

"Our cities are in a very bad state, we are probably at the bottom of the European league," Lord Rogers told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Cities with an industrial heritage have been destroyed, they are full of gaps left by empty buildings and brown land."

The report says future regeneration must be based on the principles of design excellence, social well-being and environmental responsibility.

Inner-city tax havens?

It says people should be encouraged to live closer to work, and communities should be rebuilt with shops, schools and other facilities are within easy reach.

[ image: Architect of the Dome has a vision of the future]
Architect of the Dome has a vision of the future
Transport links are a vital part of this strategy, to encourage people to ditch their cars and make more use of buses, trains, bicycles and even their own two feet.

Practical solutions include scaling back the amount of greenfield sites ear-marked for house building but not already given planning permission - and making it clear to developers they will not get planning permission for greenfield sites in the future.

The BBC's Rory McLean: Need for more people to live in cities
The report also floated the idea of inner-city areas become "tax havens" where low rates of council tax might encourage people to move back to the area from the suburbs.

Lord Rogers also wants more continental-style open public spaces, parks, and tree-lined avenues.

Manchester praised

The report praises cities where such schemes are already being encouraged.

It cites cases of good practice in Ipswich, Portsmouth, Rochester, Bristol, London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester, Leeds, Halifax, Harrogate, York, Tyne and Wear and Stockton-on-Tees.

[ image: Attempt to halt the drift to the countryside]
Attempt to halt the drift to the countryside
Manchester was picked out for specific praise for the regeneration of the Canal Street area, and Glasgow for its recognition of the importance of culture and street life.

But Liverpool was criticised. The city has lost 36% of its population since 1961, and has thousands of empty residential and commercial properties. It also suffers from high unemployment and high crime.

'No strategic overview'

The report said the authorities in Liverpool had failed to take a proper strategic overview of the city's needs in the wake of its decline.

But the Leader of Liverpool City Council, Councillor Mike Storey, told BBC News Online: "There is strong evidence that Liverpool's decline has been reversed - most notably in the city centre where there is currently £1bn worth of investment."

He said a new company was being set up on Wednesday to fund the regeneration of Liverpool.

Lord Rogers said the UK could learn a lot from urban regeneration schemes in the Netherlands and Barcelona.

Plans under fire

But the idea of moving people back to the cities has been criticised in some quarters.

Property developers say creating attractive new homes for families on old industrial sites often means expensive clean-up operations first.

The Civic Trust has warned of too many incentives to lure people back to cities.

Director Mike Gwilliam said: "It is dangerous to have incentives like that because it will lead to divisions.

"Our view is to tread very carefully on this because we don't want to create a divide between town and country."

The government will study the 200 proposals before deciding which to accept and implement.

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