Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:47 am on 2nd May 1980.

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Photo of Mr Martin Stevens Mr Martin Stevens , Hammersmith Fulham 11:47 am, 2nd May 1980

I do not want to make this a party utterance, but it seems to me that the Labour Party has adopted a negative approach to this exciting opportunity.

Third, the efforts to co-ordinate these developments have not been very efficient, and planning delays have been unnecessarily extended. The uncertainties of political change and political pressures discourage developers from getting to work until public money has been committed. They do not know whether, if they establish a business or plant within the dockland area, the rest of the area will be developed as they hope, or whether they will find themselves isolated in a desert. We must give potential developers the confidence to believe that they will form part of truly exciting central metropolitan area. Co-operation between the Government and developers is therefore essential.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) seemed sceptical when I begged the Labour Party to be less negative. He said that the Labour Party was not negative, but what is one to say to Mr. Andrew Mackintosh who on 11 March this year, as planning spokesman, said the first thing we will do in May 1981 "— if his party should be returned to power at County Hall is to kill it ", " it" being the proposal for the docklands southern relief road. My argument to-day is that this road is an essential factor in the success of docklands. Unless my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench make sure that the plans for the road reach an irreversible stage in the next 12 months, we always have to face the possibility, though not on a 3·9 per cent. swing, that Mr. Mackintosh might, if the worst came to the worst, have a chance, in his unlovely phrase, to " kill it".

It is therefore disappointing that the public inquiry into the proposed dockland southern relief road, which was to have been held this summer, has now been postponed until the spring of 1981, and that we cannot expect a decision until the following May. I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister, with all the emphasis of which I am capable, that he could then find that it is too late.

Briefly, the arguments in favour of the development of the southern relief road are these. By providing first-class cross- river access linking five major roads it will open up the whole dockland area to the employment, investment and confidence that it so badly needs. No improvement to existing roads could provide adequate first-class access and the infrastructure essential for development. Without this road the Government's policy for an enterprise zone in the docklands will be crippled and ineffective. Without the road most of the schemes for the Surrey docks will fall.

I know that it has been thought that the Surrey docks might be made part of the urban development corporation, and that is still one of the options. But the attitude of the Southwark council has been such that I understand that Mr. Broackes and his deputy chairman, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) might defer to the wishes of the local authority and not seek to make the Surrey docks area a part of the corporation.

Whatever decision the Government and the chairman and his colleagues arrive at on this issue, I beg my hon. Friend to ensure that his ministerial colleagues know, as I am sure they do, that if this chance of including Surrey docks within the total area of the dockland development is lost now it will not recur.

The road should be very high among the priority schemes in London of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. An early start is critical. The opposition to the road from the dockland boroughs is parochial and short sighted. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has from the outset of the Government's term of office made it clear that he is sympathetic in principle to our views. On 25 June 1979 he committed the Government to a comprehensive approach to the problems of London's major roads. On 22 April this year he announced that the studies on the Jubilee line were going forward. I have a report from the Greater London Council into ways of achieving the benefits of the Jubilee line at a lower cost.

Only two days ago my right hon. Friend announced that £105 million would be made available for a river crossing from Beckton to Thamesmead which would link the A15 and the A2, which, while far to the east of the area I am describing, will make an important contribution to opening up East London. For centuries the River Thames has been the capital's main highway. In the past it enabled London to flourish as the world's greatest port. Unrestricted river access was essential to the Port of London, hence the absence of bridges over the river and the dependence on tunnels.

London is segregated by the Thames. It can be crossed 25 times upstream of Tower bridge and only twice downstream within the same distance. The need to keep the river open for navigation has resulted in the docklands section having only one-third of the crossing capacity which today exists for the equivalent section upstream from Chelsea bridge to Kew bridge. That constitutes a major lack of communication facilities in the dockland area compared with the western side of London. I do not want to take the time to make a prolonged breakdown of the historical background to the need for the relief road, nor to seek to review the arguments advanced in an unsatisfactory document by the London boroughs of Southwark and Tower Hamlets in which they set out the case against the road. I think that most of the professional people, including those who found themselves appearing to be the authors of the document, have felt that it was less than a totally satisfactory or mature approach to the argument.