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Spelman: Reconnecting with our cities

Speech to Conservative Spring Forum 2006

"Modern Britain is characterised by cities with new hearts beating to the rhythm of a young generation, but the paradox is that while the café culture and wine bars initially draw young people to our cities, the crisis in affordability means that fewer and fewer first time buyers can actually afford to live there.

City centre regeneration has been successful in many places in delivering high class shopping and vibrant nightlife, but it has not been successful in delivering homes within the financial reach of young people.

If you are a first time buyer today you are likely to be in your early to mid 30s, you will probably need to spend at least £150,000, and there is a 50% chance you have had to get help from your parents to get the deposit together.

If you've been able to do all that you will be one of the lucky ones, let's not forget for a lot of young people they don't have the luxury of parents who are in a position to help them out financially.

What hope do today's first time buyers have of scraping together a deposit when council tax has soared by 84% and the average bill is now over £100 a month.

The only grain of comfort to be had is that they are not paying a Local Income Tax bill which would make council tax look like small change.

If you are a young person sharing, earning wage, and sharing a flat with others the implications cost of a local income tax would be huge and the scope for putting aside any savings would be minimal.

Buying a house wasn't always like this.

When I was a first time buyer some twenty years ago, it was a bit of a struggle getting the deposit together and meeting the mortgage payments took some discipline, but it was manageable.

For a whole generation the prospect of owning a home of their own is fast disappearing, and nowhere is this more acute than in our cities.

That is just one of the reasons why it is vital that today's modern compassionate Conservative Party

- a party which throughout its history has done to more aid home ownership that any other -

continues to reconnect with our cities and the people that aspire to live in them.

When I first stood as a candidate in Bassetlaw I met miners who had never before imagined being able to own their own homes, but have since done so under .Right to Buy'.

But I didn't imagine that fourteen years later I would find myself meeting a whole new generation of people who simply can't imagine owning their own home.

As we did then, we need to give those people a helping hand to live in a home of their own at a price they can afford.

The government sees the solution as being simply a numbers game of delivering more and more units of accommodation, but it lacks any sort of vision or ambition.

Of course we need more houses, but we need to think more strategically but where they go.

Many of our cities provide a great opportunity which is being overlooked, and that opportunity lies just beyond the regenerated city centres in the decaying suburbs and industrial works that encircle the centre.

In many cities you can sit at a café table on the quayside or in the plaza and actually see in the distance where the decay begins,

or if you are driving into the city centre from the suburbs you will travel through land aching for regeneration.

This phenomenon has been described as "urban diabetes" where the energy of the new hub does not circulate to the city's extremities: its derelict industrial workings and outer housing estates.

That is why I am so excited about the launch of the new Cities Task Force led by Lord Heseltine, and it's not for nothing he is affectionately known in the North West as the Minister for Merseyside!

Lord Heseltine will help us offer people in cities up and down the country the chance to spread the revival of our cities beyond the central business district.

Too much of urban Britain lies decaying. Labour seem to have given up on it. But we have a vision for it.

Those near city suburbs and estates can be made attractive once again with a new model of suburban living,

garden suburbs with family sized housing,

good schools and public amenities,

all within walking distance of city jobs.

We are seeing the phenomenon of graduates of our British cities wanting to stay put and raise their families there but they can't afford the luxury penthouses of the city centre.

Instead of fleeing the city and commuting back over long distances our new model suburbs can provide affordable and eco-friendly near city living.

The city revival which follow will see people's aspirations met with uplifting, environmentally friendly, affordable homes within easy reach of the city centre designed with a sense of community and sustainability.

But instead of offering this, Labour has limited it aspirations to what is has termed 'growth areas' in the south east.

In an amazing political paradox Labour with its electoral strength in the North seems to have turned its back on its potential.

Instead it has a massive programme to demolish up to 400,000 homes there, whilst putting 2 million more buildings in the South, a signal which simply says "Go South young man".

I still find that hard to reconcile. If you look at the houses earmarked for demolition in the north, you will see that if they were the same houses in Putney or Guildford they would in high demand.

The reason why this isn't the case further north is because this government has failed to deliver balanced economic growth through the country.

I want to see all parts of our country share in the nation's prosperity and economic growth but sadly this simply isn't happening.

So for me that just another reason why it is crucial we continue to reconnect with our cities up and down the country.

I say continue, because let's not forget, we are already coming back in places like Birmingham and Leeds and we control the councils of towns and cities like Bradford Coventry Dudley Walsall and Tamworth.

Those places are feeling the effects of a modern Conservative Party in tune with the aspirations of today's electorate.

The challenge for us is to make sure the Conservative Party continues to strengthen its presence in or towns and cities and I hope that you, like me, will be straining every sinew in between now and May 4th to help deliver that."

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