Prescott offers 'great deal' on Del-Boy's patch

Urban renewal: Ministers announce £800m to revive nation's poorest areas during visit to south London
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The Independent Online

They came by train, not Reliant Robin, and there was hardly a sheepskin jacket in sight. But when John Prescott and Gordon Brown swept into Peckham yesterday, the resemblance to Del Boy and Rodney was uncanny.

They came by train, not Reliant Robin, and there was hardly a sheepskin jacket in sight. But when John Prescott and Gordon Brown swept into Peckham yesterday, the resemblance to Del Boy and Rodney was uncanny.

The Deputy Prime Minister was the short, garrulous one and the Chancellor the taller, slightly awkward one, as the pair tried to sell their new Neighbourhood Renewal Fund to the punters of "sarf" London.

On the face of it, the pitch seemed easy. Mr Prescott announced that over a three-year period, 88 of Britain's most deprived areas would share government cash intended to improve housing, raise school standards, reduce crime and improve health.

He was virtually giving it away, he said. Not £200m, not £500m, but £800m for the nation's poorest. And the lucky ladies and gents of Peckham would see Southwark's £15m share of the lolly.

London SE15 may have been put firmly on the map by BBC television's Only Fools and Horses sitcom, but the super-modern, whiz-bang Peckham of today is enough to make the real Del Boy choke on his pina colada.

In place of graffiti-adorned tower blocks in the Nelson Mandela House style, low-rise homes have been built together with neat gardens and rest areas. A brand new library and leisure centre, both designed in Legoland style and hues, have contributed a splash of colour.

Even the Nag's Head pub has been replaced by a swish café complete with cappuccinos and aluminium chairs. As a man who believed that "al fresco" was the Italian bloke who ran the local sandwich shop, Del would definitely be nonplussed.

When Mr Prescott arrived at Peckham Square, the heart of the new development, he was certainly in top wisecracking form. "You've got a lot of room here. Do you want to buy the Dome?" he joked to a gaggle of women who had formed to hear the sales patter.

Mr Prescott led the whistle-stop tour of the local housing estate, before visiting the library and then the leisure centre. Mr Brown remained in the background, leaving his partner to get on with the banter.

The Deputy Prime Minister said that the Sumner Road park, where residents have been encouraged to get involved in gardening, was an example of the kind of scheme the Government wanted to promote.

"A lot of the time, places get vandalised because people feel they are not theirs, and if things are allowed to slip a whole area can be dragged down," he said. "There is going to be a lot of money going to areas where it is desperately needed to improve education, reduce crime, improve the housing facilities - all the things that make for good community living.

"The same people who were living in tower blocks here are now in good quality houses, and I am delighted to see it. It can be reproduced across the country - £800m is a lot of money."

But one local resident, Carol Willis, was not taken in by the sales pitch. She complained to Mr Prescott that Peckham Rye railway station nearby had been spruced up purely as a cosmetic exercise for his visit.

"It's a pigsty normally. I've been complaining for months, but because these two are here they got the bleach out andgot scrubbing and it was all done up. You could eat your dinner off the floor now," Ms Willis said.

Mr Prescott, however, was having none of it. "If they did clean it up, surely that's worthwhile anyway?" he said. Trotters Independent Trading Ltd would have been proud of that one.

Then, after nearly an hour, Mr Prescott decided to shut up shop. A man in plain clothes, claiming to be from the Daily Mail newspaper, was making inquiries about soft drug use and members of the Cabinet. It was time to leave the manor.

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