Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill
Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North, Conservative)
Let me explain to Members who do not know Portsmouth well that there are three roads leading to the island. Those who take the western road will enjoy a plum view of an area called Stamshaw and Tipner on the left as they head into the city. It is part ships’ graveyard and a dumping ground for disused troop carriers, part Ministry of Defence shooting range, part former dog track and part disused industrial site. Local people have been desperate for the area to be regenerated for decades.
Before I became a Member of Parliament I met one of the landowners, who was keen to invest in cleaning up the site and proceeding with plans to build more homes and community facilities. The council had written to him saying that it would not welcome the seeking of planning permission while it did not have a vision for the whole site, and that the issue of road infrastructure was still in question. He produced that letter for me. He then produced a second letter which had been written to his father in 1973 by the same local authority. Apart from the fact that the former letter had a jazzier logo on the header and an Arial font, and the latter had been typed on an old-fashioned typewriter, the letters were the same, almost word for word.
Local residents were fed up with having endless discussions about opportunities resulting in no delivery. That has changed now that the go-ahead has been given for the new motorway junction on the M275 at Tipner, as was announced in a statement last year. That has enabled the whole area to be regenerated. The new road will provide access to the development site, and will greatly reduce the impact of construction traffic on local roads. At present, the only access to the site is via narrow Victorian streets which are heavily and unavoidably used for street parking, servicing and local access,
Regeneration of the Tipner area would bring major benefits to Portsmouth, most notably the cleaning up of former industrial land and the creation of new open spaces, parks and waterside walks, and much-needed homes and jobs. The master plan for the area includes 1,600 new homes, 30% of which are to be affordable housing, 25,000 square metres of business accommodation for 1,500 new jobs, and a new hotel complex. The transport infrastructure will not just enable development to take place, but help to ease congestion and parking pressures which, in the most densely populated city in the UK apart from London, are considerable.
A new, additional bus priority lane on the M275 will improve public transport between Tipner and central Portsmouth, and bus reliability. As it will be an additional lane, it will not remove any capacity for general traffic. There will also be a new means of access to a park-and-ride site from the new motorway junction. That is all good stuff, and I am happy to report that work started this summer. The Homes and Communities Agency has begun the cleaning up of the land that it owns, along with some owned by the council, as the first phase of the scheme, and contractors have begun work on the old PD Fuels site off Twyford avenue as part of their work to clear and prepare the other three plots for development.
I have been struck by the ambition that exists in our city. Business has challenged the local authority to do more to enable the whole harbour to be developed and to make best use of MOD unused sites, creating a destination port for cruise ships and potentially achieving world heritage status. I have been impressed by the collaboration between the different sectors in the city and the emerging of a shared vision of the exploitation of the heritage and natural assets possessed by Portsmouth, as a deep-water harbour. I am very pleased by what the Government have done to remove obstacles in order to enable those complex partnerships to flourish, and especially pleased by the pragmatic steps that they have taken to enable us to use former MOD land. I urge the Government to continue to build on the pathways that they have created between the Treasury and English Heritage in that area in particular.
I have some sympathy with the Opposition, because the job of this Opposition is a difficult one. They do not have a plan themselves that they can articulate, and they cannot criticise the Bill or the investment that it would allow—investment that would come either directly from the public purse or from the private sector, the Bill serving as a catalyst in the latter case. Instead, they say that the Bill is not required. I would argue that good financial management and parliamentary scrutiny suggest otherwise. The Opposition are also in denial about the rate at which work is proceeding, and, in their criticism, are sending the message that Great Britain is closed for business.
In the coming years, £1 billion will be invested in Portsmouth through a pioneering partnership between business and civic leaders. That will be made possible by the infrastructure projects that the Government have announced. Members need not take my word for it: by happy coincidence, today’s edition of the Financial Times contains an article by James Pickford about that £1 billion investment, which includes the Tipner scheme.
The Opposition have no credibility in this regard. The infrastructure projects that I have described were not advanced under the last Labour Government. They promised a £200 million investment in school buildings for Portsmouth, and not a brick was laid. More peculiar still, when I submitted a freedom of information request to the Department for Education after I had become a Member of Parliament, asking what correspondence had taken place on that major investment project, I was told that none existed. I found that extremely suspicious: I had thought that at least a couple of letters would have been written. Let us not forget, as well, that Labour presided over a private finance initiative contract for our local hospital that provides very poor value for money for the local health economy and forced the closure of wards.
If we are to judge a Government’s infrastructure plan on the basis of value for money, return on investment and “cracking on with it”, the Opposition will not fare well. I urge them to show a little humility today, and, if not to reflect on their record—I realise that that might be painful—at least to support our communities in their ambitions. Portsmouth’s ambitions require both positive thinking and positive action, and I urge all political parties, their Members of Parliament and their councillors to get behind our communities’ plans for growth and help to attract that investment. The whole House should support this Bill.