The Prince takes on inner-city decay: Last week, the Prince of Wales made a powerful attack on unemployment and housing. Stephen Castle reports

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The Independent Online
THE PRINCE of Wales has called for a new strategy to tackle urban decay, poverty and poor housing during a meeting with close advisers and charity workers in Scotland.

In an unscripted 10-minute speech last week, the Prince expressed his frustration at the lack of improvement in housing conditions over the past decade and argued that the whole system was failing.

His comments followed a tour of the run-down Craigmillar estate, about two miles from the centre of Edinburgh, which made a visible impact on him. Later, at a private meeting in Edinburgh's Signet Library, Prince Charles addressed some of his most influential volunteers and supporters. Although the Prince was careful not to criticise Government policy, one of those present at the private meeting commented: 'If I had been Ian Lang (Secretary of State for Scotland) I would have felt my ears burning.'

The Prince argued that his tour of Craigmillar, where unemployment is high and around one in five properties is empty, proved that lessons had not been learned. The design of the estate provided no focus or centre to a soulless area, he said.

His comments, described as 'passionate and powerful', follow recent attempts to streamline his various trusts to help give them greater impact.

Last Wednesday's speech is seen by some as an indication of the Prince's desire to re-focus attention on his long-established charitable work, following the publicity surrounding his separation. Preoccupation with homelessness, unemployment, crime and young people coincide with growing public concern about similar issues.

During the 1980s, the Prince sometimes appeared at odds with the Conservative Government following occasional - usually unscripted - comments about social conditions. After visiting East End sweat-shops staffed by Asians in July 1987, he remarked that the conditions were not far removed from those of the Indian sub-continent. 'It really is not acceptable' he said, 'All we are managing to do is replicate some of the conditions these people have left behind.'

His comments echoed those made by an earlier Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, in South Wales during the Depression, when he argued that a derelict steel works 'brought all these people here. Something must be done to find them work.'

Prince Charles also made clear in Edinburgh that he believes that a national strategy should be developed to confront the growing social problems accompanying high unemployment. He is thought to favour an all-party approach which would embrace business, charities and churches.

There is acute anxiety among the Prince's supporters that any new campaign on social issues could be seen as a public relations offensive or an attempt to improve his image after Andrew Morton's highly damaging account of his marriage break-up last year. Some of those closest to the Prince believe he should keep a low profile until the fallout from his marriage break-up has fully dispersed.

The Prince's programme over the next few months includes a visit to Barrow in March, when he will talk with unemployed people, and a trip to Derby in June to look at the effects of the recession on manufacturing industry.

Advisers say that the Prince has put his own house in order by reorganising his charitable works. During a conference in Sutton Coldfield last year, the Prince reflected on the scale of the social problems confronting his trusts, observing: 'There are so many people that need help, but it is simply impossible for us to do everything.

'We cannot raise enough money and we are going to be in an ever more difficult position in years to come.'

Environmental issues are considered 'safer' terrain for the Prince to speak out on. They formed the central preoccupation of a recent visit to Mexico, judged a success by royal aides. Prince Charles also met the new American President and vice-president before the British Prime Minister or any other Western leader.