People have been "left stranded in appalling conditions" as a result of government cuts to regeneration projects, a group of MPs has said. The Communities and Local Government Committee said efforts to improve deprived parts of the North and Midlands had been stopped mid-stream. It said the government had "no adequate strategy" for regeneration in England and must help those left "trapped".
The cross-party committee focused on the decision to wind up the controversial Pathfinder housing renewal scheme last year. The scheme was designed to revive run-down areas in the North West, the Midlands, the North East and Yorkshire by tearing down old terraces and building new homes. But critics called it "an exercise in social cleansing" and said it had resulted in perfectly good houses being demolished - and often not replaced - when they could have been renovated. The committee said the decision to end funding for Pathfinder had left a "profound impact" on people's lives.
Labour chairman Clive Betts said: "We saw and heard for ourselves what happens when the government stops investing in regeneration. "In Rochdale, we found row upon row of boarded-up houses, the direct result of the withdrawal [of funding]. We met a family trapped in a half-abandoned street after the promise of a new home was not fulfilled. We heard similar stories from other Pathfinder areas. People have been left stranded in appalling conditions: many are owner-occupiers, often vulnerable people with no other options. The government must act to help these people and to eradicate the blight that has been left in so many neighbourhoods."
The committee said the government's regeneration strategy, published in January, provides "little confidence" that ministers have a clear plan of action. "It lacks strategic direction and is unclear about the nature of the problem it is trying to solve," the MPs said. "It focuses overwhelmingly upon the achievement of economic growth, giving little emphasis to the specific issues faced by deprived communities and areas of market failure." The MPs warned that government plans were "unlikely to bring in sufficient resources" - including from private sector sources - to improve the situation, and leaving deprived areas without help risked storing up social, economic and environmental problems for the future.
In response, Grant Shapps said it had been "tough picking up the pieces" from Labour's attempts at regeneration which relied on "bulldozing buildings... whilst desperately hoping someone might come along to reorder the rubble.
"We'll shortly be announcing additional funding to help those people living in the worst-affected streets, and we'll continue to untie the hands of councils and residents so they can make the key decisions over how they would like to improve their own neighbourhoods," he said. "But we know that true regeneration can only be achieved by creating the conditions for communities and businesses to thrive in. That's why local enterprise partnerships have already replaced the failed regional development agencies, and low-tax, low-regulation enterprise zones are being planted across the country to give businesses the incentives they need to grow their local economy and create thousands of new jobs."