Commons Gate

Departmental Annual Report and Estimates 2002

ODPM Committee 29 Jan 2003

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Memorandum submitted by Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
Examination of Witnesses

MR JOHN PRESCOTT, a Member of the House, Deputy Prime Minister and MS MAVIS McDONALD, Permanent Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, examined.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I agree, Deputy Prime Minister, that transport and environment ought to go together. Is it the case that the two Departments were split because the plans to improve roads and widen roads and bring in new road programmes was actually in conflict with making improvements to the environment?

Mr Prescott: No. If I can refer you to the plan itself, as to how much was going into rail and roads, in fact the same amount of resources is going into roads. What I did point out when I launched the Transport Plan was so much would go for roads but then we would start up the integrated studies to see whether it was best to move people by road or rail or a combination of the two. What Alistair is doing at the present time as Secretary of State is looking at these studies and making recommendations. If more people go by road than rail, with the consequences on greenhouse gases, et cetera, and the environmental considerations which come from congestion, yes, you can say it would be better if they were on public transport but you have to have the capacity to encourage them to change to that. It is the same on the Underground as it is on the railway system.


Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Would it not be better if we concentrated more effort on encouraging business and commercial development in the north instead of continually overheating the south? Would that not relieve the housing problems with the south becoming over-congested and uncomfortable for the people who live there, whereas in the north we have lots of capacity? Why do we not do more about that?

Mr Prescott: I think the people in Hull might say something like that. We have thousands of houses in Hull, why don't we bring people from the south east and take them into Hull and say, "You should be happy, you have a house in Hull". To that extent, people do want to live where they want to live. If you were born in the area, you might feel you want to live in the south east rather than the north east. The bigger question is, should we actually stop the growth in the south east and somehow have it transferred to the north east? That argument is as old as the arguments on regional economics. Do you take the work to workers or workers to work? Let me give you one example I had to deal with on planning - if you look at Vodafone who were planning to develop in --- I forget the town but in the south east ----

Chairman: Swindon, I think.

Mr Prescott: Yes, that is exactly where it was. They were developing in about 50 different areas and they were developing at such speed they wanted a big building concentrated in one place, and they said, "We can either do it here where all our people live, or if we don't, we will go down the road to Slough, but we are not picking the south east." Or they might even pick France. You can say, "Don't go there, go to the north east" but they say "No". You would have to be prepared to direct industry in that manner, which we have not been prepared to do up to now. You can persuade if you like, ask them to go, and in fact the north east has developed a great deal from the persuading of capital from abroad. I have never felt that by inhibiting growth in the south east it will necessarily lead to further growth in the north east but it is a matter of judgment.

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