Prescott plans an 'urban renaissance'

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The Government pledged "a lasting urban renaissance" with changes in planning and design to provide good quality homes and services.

The Government pledged "a lasting urban renaissance" with changes in planning and design to provide good quality homes and services.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced the Urban White Paper which he said would explain how towns and cities can function as "economic powerhouses".

The 160-page document Our towns and cities - the future draws heavily on the recommendations of architect Lord Rogers's Urban Taskforce report which last year called for better quality housing and improved health, education and police services to encourage the middle classes to stay in town rather than flee to the countryside.

Chancellor Gordon Brown announced last week a £1 billion package of tax measures to increase investment in urban areas, including an exemption from stamp duty for properties poor areas.

Mr Prescott said the new planning policy guidance would put urban renaissance at the heart of the urban planning system. There will also be a wide-ranging programme to improve parks, play areas and open spaces.

He said there would be more money and flexibility for the regional development agencies, a bigger focus on skills and a new £100 million public private partnership for the English cities' fund.

A new national green flags scheme will encourage and reward excellence in managing parks and green spaces based on blue flags for beaches. A dedicated £96 million fund will be available for parks and green spaces from the new Opportunities Fund and £225 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

There will be up to 12 new urban regeneration companies and five more Millennium villages including a new one in East Manchester's Cardroom Estate.

Mr Prescott pledged measures to cut crime, and empowerment for local communities to help themselves through the creation of local strategic partnerships.

The White Paper also gives details of how the £180 billion 10-year transport plan links in with the drive for better towns and cities.

Lord Rogers of Riverside said: "The White Paper must be regarded as one important step along a very long road. The Government has established a vision for what our towns and city's could be like in 20-years, well-designed and managed places where local people can contribute fully to community life. Now they must combine powers, resources and political will towards implementing this vision."

But Lord Rogers warned that a renaissance could only happen if there was genuine joined-up Government.

"There is still much more to be done. 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.

"I also remain disappointed by the failure to equalise VAT between old homes and new. We must create a level playing field to both promote urban regeneration and protect the countryside. I now call upon the Government to follow aspiration with legislation, to make a deeper commitment to urban areas within its election manifesto and to review this policy framework within the next three years."

Mr Prescott who was challenged in the Commons over Lord Rogers criticisms said: "I recognise Lord Rogers wanted more, but the direction is right, the strategy is right."

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