In her first interview since her promotion, Hughes denied that there had been any hold-up in the DETR’s policy and said that the department had never had a deadline for legislation. Rumours in the industry, however, suggested that the white paper was due out before Christmas.
Hughes, a former parliamentary private secretary to local government minister Hilary Armstrong, is an undersecretary of state at the DETR. She is also the former head of the Trafford Park Development Agency in Manchester.
A large part of her new job will be to oversee the efforts of the new regional development agencies. She said: “The RDAs are drafting economic studies that need to be submitted next month.
“These are intended to provide a medium- to long-term plan of what is needed by the RDAs for regeneration. I’m especially interested in the impact on the local community. They must demonstrate that the plans will reduce poverty and deprivation. There must be a change from what has gone on before.”
The minister was speaking to Building after chairing a fringe meeting sponsored by Tesco on rebuilding communities in war-torn cities.
Hughes gave some details of how she envisaged that the RDAs would operate. They would need to develop indicators to allow them to show how well poverty and deprivation had been tackled, and she was insistent on the need for community participation in regeneration schemes. “We must get people involved from the start,” she said.
When asked about controversy surrounding the Millennium Village project in Greenwich, Hughes pleaded ignorance. “I will become planning minister responsible for the dome after the millennium, so I have been kept out of that one,” she said.
In the short time she has been in office, Hughes has been responsible for launching the government’s drive on IT best practice and a web site that will help local authorities with best practice.
Commenting on the web site, she said: “Councils have a lot of preparation to do before the best-value regime comes into force in April 2000. It is essential they have all the information they need at their fingertips.”
Hughes – dubbed one of Blair’s Babes – is a big fan of elected mayors in Britain's major urban centres. “Powerful mayors in places such as Manchester, Birmingham or Liverpool would make important contributions to the regeneration of cities and regions,” she said. Labour has plans to introduce elected mayors across Britain following the election of a mayor for London next spring.
Hughes has been a critic of the Lottery Heritage Fund. As MP for Stretford and Urmston in Manchester, she was involved in the fight to develop the northern branch of the Imperial War Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind. Although the £28m has been raised for the project, Hughes accused the Heritage Lottery Fund of not helping. She was also leader of Trafford Council when the plans were drawn up.