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Hague: Common sense for our cities

At a press conference at Conservative Central Office, to launch 'Common Sense for our Cities', Rt Hon William Hague, leader of the Conservative Party:

"This morning I want to talk about the future of our inner cities. In a moment Archie Norman will take you through our plans for urban regeneration, and Ann Widdecombe, Liam Fox and Theresa May will answer your questions about the role police, doctors and teachers can play. But first I want explain why inner cities matter.

"Why should the Conservatives talk about inner cities at all, after all we represent few inner city constituencies? I will tell you why.

It is because we are ambitious for all the people in this country and we will govern for all the people of this country.

"It is because we believe that for Britain to have a better future we need vibrant inner cities every bit as much as we need a viable countryside.

"It is because our plans for improving schools, hitting crime hard and a better NHS are the foundation for reviving our urban areas.

"Make no mistake, without ridding our cities of crime, without creating inner city schools that parents want to send their children to there can be no real urban regeneration.

"If everyone who can get out of the inner city does so at the first opportunity, if everyone with the wherewithal joins the exodus as soon as they have a family to look after, Britain is the poorer and so are those that they leave behind.

"The futures of our countryside and of our inner cities are inextricably linked. The delicate balance between urban and rural Britain is gradually being eroded.

"So as we lose the heart of our cities, we undermine the future of the countryside by imposing new homes and house building targets that threaten its unique character.

"Those who remain in the city are poorer because businesses refuse to locate there. Too many schools fail to teach basic skills and discipline. In too many areas a sense of community and order have disappeared leaving people feeling isolated and vulnerable to crime.

"Many of our city centres have been redeveloped in recent years, offering cultural and commercial opportunities for the prosperous, but often the residential areas that surround them remain places of great deprivation and poverty.

"Here the concrete tower block estates play home to unemployment and welfare dependency, high crime and drug abuse, poor schools and poor housing. The shops have all gone, the hope has disappeared and pensioners and families have become prisoners in their own home.

"Successive governments have tried to tackle these problems. Some initiatives and schemes have brought about improvements. But many have foundered in a sea of red tape and town hall bureaucracy. It is time for a co-ordinated approach across the fields of health, education and the Home Office. It is time to meet the challenge of regenerating our cities head on. Time not just to deal with the symptoms of inner city decline but with the causes as well. It is time for common sense.

"So we will demolish the very worst examples of the concrete tower blocks which have blighted people's lives by design.

"We will give tax incentives to a new breed of privately-led Regeneration Companies who will invest in urban areas. We will reduce business rates. We will cut council tax on previously empty homes and we will encourage a new generation of owner-occupiers by cutting stamp duty for first time buyers, promoting shared ownership schemes and extending the Right to Buy.

"We will allow charities and private bodies to take over failing schools and to set up new ones so that the benefits of discipline, standards and choice are available to children in inner city education.

"We will make our inner city streets tougher for criminals by putting more police on the beat and letting them get on with the job of tackling crime. We will also clamp down on disorder, giving councils more power to act against graffiti, litter and the kind of neighbours that make people's lives a misery.

And we will improve access to the NHS by offering incentives for experienced doctors to come out of retirement to practice in the inner city.

"Better housing, better schools and health care, safer streets, and more jobs. These are what we need to root out deprivation in our inner cities and to persuade families who have the choice to stay in urban communities.

"They are practical measures based on encouraging entrepreneurship, extending ownership, offering choice, upholding discipline and maintaining order.

"They show that Conservative values are for everyone."

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