On 1 July, the House approved orders setting up the London Docklands Development Corporation and vesting in it certain lands owned by the Greater London Council and the Port of London Authority. Two further orders were approved by the House on 30 July vesting in the corporation lands owned by the London boroughs of Southwark and Newham. In the debate on those orders I told the House that further orders had been laid affecting some 63 acres of land belonging to Tower Hamlets borough council and some 44 acres owned by the Greater London Council. It is those two orders that we are concerned with today.
The Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 enables urban development corporations to acquire land compulsorily and, in the case of publicly owned land, by means of a vesting order subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses. The principal purpose of the latter provision is to enable UDCs to have enough land at the outset for their own early projects and to prepare a range of sites for private development.
The corporation put forward proposals for the early acquisition of some 850 acres of publicly owned land. Orders vesting 278 acres of Port of London Authority land in the West India and Millwall Docks and in Beckton, 15 acres of GLC land on various sites, 142 acres of Southwark land and 87 acres of Newham land, have already been approved. The Corporation is also negotiating for the purchase of land from the British Gas Corporation, British Rail, the Thames Water Authority and the Central Electricity Generating Board.
The Government's case for the orders is that, to be effective, the London Docklands Development Corporation needs to own a substantial amount of vacant or underused land on which it can carry out any necessary preliminary work and then release it for development. That is a key component of its strategy.
Most such sites are in public ownership and several of them are included in the orders before us. Hon. Members may recall that the Government's proposal to set up a development corporation was considered by a Select Committee of another place. That Committee heard evidence and sat for 50 days and produced a unanimous report which endorsed the Government's proposals, with the exception of a proposed change in the boundaries. Although that Committee did not consider the specific proposals for vesting land, it clearly accepted the need to vest land in the corporation.
The two orders before us today were laid on 10 July and were open to petitions for a period of 14 days. One petition, by the Greater London Council, was received against the GLC order. Two petitions were received against the Tower Hamlets order: from Tower Hamlets borough council and the Association of Wapping Organisations—a local community group.
In its petition, the GLC argued that the vesting order would deprive the councill of potential sites for public sector housing, and that the inclusion of various plots would prejudice the implementation of various development proposals envisaged.
Tower Hamlets council argued that the vesting order would deprive it of land which it proposed for public sector housing, that the corporation already had sufficient land for its purposes, that the order would frustrate a civil engineering contract for the reclamation of various parts of the London docks complex and that in any event the order made no provision for indemnifying the council against the obligations arising from that contract.
The Association of Wapping Organisations argued that the vesting order would deprive the local community of new public sector housing, and that community facilities enjoyed on some of the plots proposed for vesting would be taken from them.
In response, the Secretary of State pointed out that the question of the availability of housing land had been considered during the lengthy proceedings on the designation order, that assurances had been given to all three bodies concerning particular points which they raised, and that the development corporation would take over the reclamation contract. Compensation will be paid to Tower Hamlets for any loss suffered as a result of the vesting order, in accordance with the provisions of the compensation code.
The three petitions and the Secretary of State's representations were considered by a Hybrid Instruments Committee sitting in another place. The Committee's report was published and is available to hon. Members in the Library. In it, the Committee took the view that, as far as the land for housing was concerned, that matter had already been sufficiently dealt with by the Select Committee. The Committee also felt that the assurances given by the Secretary of State and the corporation adequately met the remaining points raised by the petitioners and, therefore, that no substantial ground for complaint remained.
The way is therefore open for both orders to be considered by hon. Members tonight. The development corporation has the task of regenerating the whole of docklands, and it is essential to that task that the corporation should have an assortment of sites in all parts of the urban development area as a base from which to pursue its activities. These two orders will finally give the corporation that broad base, and I commend them to the House.
I thank the Minister for his explanation of the orders. It is clear from what he says that there has been considerable contention about the orders in that the Greater London Council, Tower Hamlets London borough council and a community organisation have been prepared to petition against them in another place. It is well known that the Opposition opposed the concept of the UDC. We opposed it on two grounds. The first was the question of local democracy and local accountability—something of which we have heard a lot with regard to other Bills that now seem to have disappeared from the purview of the House.
We are concerned that the people of Tower Hamlets and Newham, that the people who elect the Greater London Council and their local councils and that those local councils, as elected, responsible bodies, should have some say in deciding how key land in their areas should be developed. We were also concerned that the urban development corporation, a new concept in Liverpool—I see the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) present—and docklands, which are strictly urban areas, would tend to react as though dealing with a green field site where no one lived, no one had roots and no one belonged. One could get away with that attitude in a new town. One cannot get away with it where there is an established local democracy and an established pattern of living and where people have lived for generation after generation, as in Tower Hamlets.
It would be improper and it is not my intention to refight old battles. We are, however, entitled to examine the order to see how the development corporation is tackling its duties. We were assured by the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services that there would be enormous co-operation and that the urban development corporation would not attempt to seize all publicly owned land in the area. We were told that it would look at prime sites and that it would examine its needs for the proper planning of the London docklands. We were told in regard to the local council or the Greater London Council, that there would be no attempt to acquire every square yard of land belonging to the council.
These orders give us serious disquiet as to how the UDC goes about its job. It seems to us that the UDC has sought to acquire, under the vesting order, all land in the area which was earmarked for houses with gardens, and all land in the area with housing on the river frontage which was owned by public authorities. They are the keynotes of our disquiet. I shall go into details of particular plots later. Considering Wapping, for example, we find that it is not only all the available land in Wapping that would be available for houses with gardens. That virtually means, as no doubt my right hon. and hon. Friends will say later, all the available land in the whole of Tower Hamlets that is available for houses with gardens.
We must consider whether land and houses with gardens should be the sole preserve of the private sector. Should it not be possible for the local authority and for generations who have lived in Wapping to acquire what most of my constituents in Widnes and most of all our constituents desire—not a high-rise or other flat but a house and garden of their own? I think that that is a perfect entitlement for the people of Wapping and of Tower Hamlets.
On the question of land earmarked on the river frontage—and many of the GLC orders as well as some of the Tower Hamlets orders deal with land on river frontage—the councils concerned have over years planned that these sites should be available for people who live in the borough and who should have the right to live on the river frontage. I shall explain one of our fears. River frontage houses fetch, understandably, a considerable price on the market. Houses on some of the sites that may have been acquired under these orders will fetch between £100,000 and £250,000. I doubt whether many of the people of Wapping or of Tower Hamlets have the ability to buy houses that cost between £100,000 and £250,000.
Has my right hon. Friend any proof to back what he is saying from the Opposition Front Bench—that it is the intention of the UDC to build houses on the river front for sale at between £150,000 and £200,000? He has said that as though it were a fact. Will he let us know where he got that information from?
It is well known that river front houses sold by private enterprise command very considerable prices. I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) for his intervention, because if he or the Minister can say that there is no possibility of that sort of thing happening in regard to these river front sites, and that the people of Wapping and Tower Hamlets can have some of the choice sites on publicly owned land and at rents that they can afford—or, if property is sold, to which I have no objection, at prices that they can afford—I have not the slightest objection. I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey will agree that from the Opposition Front Bench I am entitled to ask questions about this matter.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the problem with the docklands in London—it is true of those in Liverpool as well—is that the land has been allowed to deteriorate and that what the UDC, as I understand it, is planning to do is to put in the infrastructure to service that land so that it can be productively used by private enterprise and that, as it is now, it is fairly useless and has been for many years?
If that will regenerate and redevelop London docklands in a way that is fair to its inhabitants, I am in agreement. There is a difference—I must say that from the Front Bench because I know the hon. Gentleman's area as he knows mine—between London docklands and the Merseyside dockland. There is not the same resistance by the local councils in Merseyside. Also, the areas are different. Some people live in the Merseyside area, but not as many as those who live in the middle of the urban development corporation area in the London docklands.
I do not wish to deal with the orders in detail, because many right hon. and hon. Members represent the areas concerned in the vesting orders. They know much more about the local problems and difficulties than I do. However, I wish to question the Minister about the Tower Hamlets order, and especially plot No. 1. That plot is 36 acres of land in Wapping. It was earmarked for local authority public housing with gardens. Again, I come back to my point that people who live in London are entitled to have gardens if they wish. Thirty-six acres of prime land in Wapping is an enormous area, although it may not seem so in a rural sense.
On the Tower Hamlets order, plot No. 6 is the next largest amount of land—about 17 acres. We are talking about a total of 53 acres that was publicly owned and designed for public authority housing with gardens for people who were qualified to live in the area and whose families had lived there for generations. Plots Nos. 3 and 5 mentioned in the same order do not represent the same quantity of land, but they are riverside sites. The local authority petitioned in another place against the order. It planned to allocate public housing on the riverside land to people who lived in the area, who wished a site by the river and who could afford to acquire one.
Will the Minister tell us the intention of the urban development corporation towards those plots? The corporation has the power to build the houses. Will it do so rather than the Tower Hamlets local authority? I would feel some satisfaction if it did. I cannot understand the lack of local democracy in the matter. Will it be possible for those who live in Tower Hamlets to have their homes on such prime site?
Some of the sites were earmarked for ordinary public authority housing. Some sites were designed for housing associations ——
——and they have also been swallowed up. Will the urban development corporation work together with the housing associations so that housing association houses can be built? They may do that, but I am entitled to ask for an assurance that the Government and the urban development corporation intend to do so.
The GLC order deals mainly with the Isle of Dogs. Here again we are talking about prime land right on the river front. I refer particularly to plot No. 15, amounting to nine acres; to plot No. 8, which amounts to 11½ acres; and to plot No. 17, amounting to four acres. All three are riverside plots. If the London Docklands Development Corporation viewed those sites with the same mind as a building entrepreneur, it would make a fortune. But what about the rights of the people who live in the area?
On the face of it, the orders give us some cause for concern. The development corporation has acquired almost every square inch of publicly owned land, but we fear that the democratically controlled local authorities in the area, be it the GLC or the Tower Hamlets borough council, have been excluded. We were concerned that the corporation might operate as though docklands was a new town or green field development, and we fear that that might be taking place.
I want to hear what the Minister says before deciding whether to call for a vote on the orders. I hope that what I have said is wrong. I want docklands to do well. I want the area to be developed. I do not want to see the dereliction that now exists. However, I do not want the corporation to do well at the expense of people and their families who have lived there for generations.
I listened to the right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) with interest. I am disappointed with the fact that both the GLC and the borough of Tower Hamlets have opposed the orders.
I am one of the small band of hon. Members who have served on the joint docklands committee. From my own experience, I know how the authorities represented tried hard to retain both influence and property within their boroughs. They were gravely mistaken. I was disappointed with the lack of progress. The only way in which the London Docklands Development Corporation can properly address itself to its task and overcome years of neglect is to take an overall view.
The right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) is our guarantee that this work will be undertaken in a proper and sensible fashion. That was why the right hon. Gentleman was appointed to such an important position on the development corporation. I am quite convinced that no one will be sold a house for £150,000 or £250,000 on the river frontage.
Moreover, I should be interested to learn, if such houses now exist, how much the boroughs concerned paid the previous owners. Had there been such houses, I suspect that the authorities would have taken a different view from the one that has now been put forward.
I am disappointed with the fact that the authorities should take such a negative view. I hope that this is not merely a dog-in-the-manger attitude. I was not impressed with the behaviour of their representatives on the joint docklands committee, on which I served for three years. I have every confidence in the present management, and I am certain that it will do a proper job of which we can be proud and on which we can look back with pride in the years to come.
The orders concern the ownership and control of about 107 acres of land, all of which, apart from half an acre in Rotherhithe and the Surrey docks, is located in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, and particularly in the constituency that I have the honour to represent.
The land is owned by the London borough of Tower Hamlets and the GLC. The orders will strip them of their ownership and transfer or vest the land in the new Docklands Development Corporation. It is a not insignificant quantity of land and it is concentrated in Wapping, around the old London dock area, and in a substantial part, though not the heart, of the Isle of Dogs.
No one who knows anything of the history of the area, the needs of the people of Tower Hamlets and the plans made and already far advanced to meet them will fail to understand the anger at the orders that is felt by the people of those areas and by Tower Hamlets as a whole.
The borough has had a more difficult and intractable housing problem since the war than any other London borough, perhaps even greater than Bermondsey, though we have been virtually on a par. I think that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) became Minister of Housing in 1964 he put Tower Hamlets at the top of the list. That was the state we were in at the time. The borough now has one of the worst unemployment records in the country as well.
In the past 12 years the movement of the port of London's activities down river towards Tilbury has gradually released large acreages of land, which, as it became available, opened up the prospect of use for the many purposes of the people of Tower Hamlets—new factories, offices, amenities, educational purposes and the housing that the people still urgently need.
With great foresight and at considerable cost and effort, the London borough of Tower Hamlets bought the London dock in 1975 and, through the Wapping plan, laid out, after consultation, a programme for the development of the whole 100 acres involved. Fortunately, part of it has already proceeded to a point where the Government and their agent, the development corporation, can no longer intervene. The area reserved for industrial development was occupied by the vast new premises of International News and by The Daily Telegraph and other job-creating enterprises. For the first time, substantial estates of small houses and gardens have been built in that area of docklands.
I should tell the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen), who intervened earlier, that there is no question of this being an abandoned, unused, long-held, rotting area of publicly owned land. The council bought the land in 1975 and proposed its development as part of the docklands strategy in 1976. I adopted all the major parts in 1977, when I was Secretary of State for the Environment, and the go-ahead and the funds were given. The results can be seen on the ground.
The future of a large area of the rest of Wapping and a huge contract for the infrastructure, which went to the Hybrid Instruments Committee in another place, were being debated. Things are moving and the situation is quite different from that which I remember in some parts of the inner dockland in Liverpool.
It is on the use of the remaining land in the London dock area and the land that has recently become available on the Isle of Dogs—some of it has become available only very recently—that the people of Tower Hamlets have pinned their hopes for a transformation in the amenities and circumstances of the area and, indeed, the whole borough.
Those prospects are seriously under threat and for many people they have been cruelly dashed. More than half the 107 acres—a total of 55 acres—is reserved for housing. It will still be reserved for housing but not, I fear, for the people of Tower Hamlets. It will not be for houses to rent. The houses will be offered for sale at prices which I am afraid will be beyond the reach of all but a small minority of the people of my borough.
The enormity of what is being done must be considered against the quantity of land available for housing which will be left to the borough of Tower Hamlets if and when the order is approved. We shall have precisely eight acres left for housing in the borough. I remind the House that in a single plot listed with others in the schedule to the Tower Hamlets order 30 odd acres in Wapping are to be transferred, still for housing, to the London Docklands Development Corporation, and, as we have heard, other land in Wapping to be developed by housing associations and for sheltered flats for the elderly—with riverside views—will be lost to my borough.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) spoke of a number of prime riverside sites on the Isle of Dogs at London Yard, Caledonian Wharf and Masthouse Terrace.
There are other areas, too. I shall be interested to know what, somehow, can intervene between the market mechanism and the price of those properties, especially the riverside ones. Is any intervention possible in a way that will bring the price remotely within the grasp of the people of my borough?
My right hon. Friend spoke of prices of £100,000 and £150,000, and I know where he got those figures. They are not all that fanciful. There is a thin scree of warehouses in private ownership at the bottom end of Wapping. They have been converted into flats by private people and are on the market. The original conversion price was about £60,000, but they are selling at well over £100,000. How it can be different if private owners are to take over and develop for flats and houses the riverside views on the Isle of Dogs and elsewhere in Wapping and how they can be made available at prices lower than what I anticipate, I do not see, and the onus of proof is upon the advocates of the order who occupy the Government Benches.
The enormity of what is being done can be measured further by the size of the Tower Hamlets waiting list. Eight acres of land in Tower Hamlets will be left, and we have a waiting list of 8,000 families seeking to be rehoused. The prospect of dockland enabled my borough to plan for the future, and it planned for between 1,500 and 2,000 new dwellings in the dockland area which, with the modernisation of existing dwellings, would have enabled it within a measurable period of years to overcome the greater part of our housing need in Tower Hamlets. This transfer of housing land will wreck the housing strategy of my borough and condemn its people to years of prolonged housing shortage.
That is not all, however. Because of its originally dense building and its shortage of building land, Tower Hamlets has been forced almost throughout the post war years to build high-rise flats and not houses. We have a higher proportion of flats and a lower proportion of houses with gardens than any other borough in London. I am not speaking simply of people's preferences, which are overwhelmingly in favour of having houses with gardens. I am speaking of certain categories of need. I have in mind families with disabled children, for whom houses with gardens are often essential. In present circumstances, it is a need which we cannot meet.
The case against the orders was only partially deployed before the Hybrid Instruments Committee in the other place on 21 October. However, I acknowledge that the general case against the Docklands Development Corporation was argued at greater length in the earlier part of the summer. Putting on one side the question of whether we go ahead with the Docklands Development Corporation, I contend that this massive transfer of land, particularly housing land, is not a necessary part of the major purpose of the Docklands Development Corporation. Those purposes can go ahead if the housing land is not so transferred. I contend further that it has clear and obvious disadvantages for the people of Wapping, the Isle of Dogs and Tower Hamlets generally. It is strongly opposed by them. They cannot see—nor is it possible to show them—that their interest lies in this particular transfer of housing land. For those reasons, I join with others in opposing these orders.
I shall confine my comments to what should happen to the land that we seek to vest tonight on the basis that there is a certain relevance between what happens in London docklands and what happens in Liverpool dockland, although I accept that there is a difference between the land in the docks in the two cities.
It is probably less than useful to run round the course and consider Whether the UDC is a good thing or whether the public money would be better used in in-filling vacant sites that already exist in the inner city. A substantial amount of public money has been put aside, and will increasingly be put aside, to revitalise dead areas of the docks in two of the principal urban areas of this country. The importance to the House and to the Labour Party is that this involved massive Government intervention in rundown, depressed areas which have been neglected, although there have been attempts in London, whereas there have been fewer attempts in Liverpool, to revitalise them.
It makes good sense for the urban development corporation to be used to prepare land. Its function must be to use public funds to install services and to make the land attractive for urban development and expansion at the point where private investment will be ready to use it. That, in my view, is the major purpose of the urban development corporation. It should not get involved in building factories and spending money on development. Its sole role, in my opinion, is to market the sites and to sell them and sell the freeholds to those people who are prepared to develop them. It is no good if the corporation just offers leaseholds and short leaseholds to companies which are willing to come into the area, simply because as experience has shown, when local authorities let their property to factories on short leases, the factories are unable to get bank loans to improve the premises and are not prepared to sink large sums of their capital in revitalising ailing factories. One of the cardinal rules for urban development corporations in Merseyside and London is that they should sell off the sites for private development once they have put in the infrastructure.
I want to say something about the London docklands, and about waterfront sites in particular. A unique opportunity will be lost if some of the lands that we seek to vest is not used to establish a small experimental free port. There are free ports in Germany and Eire. They work well, and I understand that the Hamburg free port works particularly well. The EEC may well oppose a further extension of the free port concept. However, there is a strong case for placing a free port in the London docks and another on Merseyside.
The free port is a simple concept that will bring great benefit and prosperity to such an ailing part of London. I think that all hon. Members will agree that the fundamental requirement of city renewal is the attraction of fresh private investment into our declining urban areas. That is the thrust of the Government's enterprise zones, and the partnership, the urban aid and other urban development initiatives. We must also lift unnecessary controls and reduce bureaucracy. Such considerations support the concept of establishing a tax-free port, which—unlike enterprise zones and the urban development corporation—would require virtually no additional public funds and no extra staff on the public payroll.
Such ports would be designated by the Government in areas that have sufficient water front space. There is plenty of water front space at the London docks and on Merseyside. The key point is that there must be sufficient space away from the rest of the port and separated by a fence or wall. For all tax purposes the port would be viewed as being on foreign soil. On Merseyside, a wall already exists round the docks and a small part of that site could be set aside for the free port. A similarly small site of only 20 or 30 acres could be set aside in the London docks for a similar tax-free port, when the land is vested tonight.
The important factor is that once the goods had been unloaded from ships into the zone they would be free from all Customs entry procedures and would attract no duty or VAT until they had crossed the port's boundaries into the country. The land in the tax-free zone would be foreign soil. While the goods were in the zone they could be processed by factories specially built inside the zone and on the water front site for that purpose. Goods could be manufactured, consolidated, reassembled and shipped out again to other parts of the world and no levy would be raised. Importers could inspect the goods before they came into Britain from the zone. They could discard substandard items and spot shrinkage and evaporation before duty was paid.
Has the hon. Gentleman checked whether, even if the scheme were good and acceptable, it would be permitted under the Treaty of Rome and EEC regulations? I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) is in the Chamber. As we are virtually prevented by the EEC from cooking our own sausages. I doubt whether the EEC will permit us to do such a thing.
I have almost concluded that point. However, the land could be used for a particular purpose. Opposition Members have been talking about using it for housing. The right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) devoted most of his speech to housing. I am trying to explain that a tax-free port would be far more appropriate for the site. Nevertheless, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I accept your ruling.
In response to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis), I should say that there are three of four tax-free ports in Europe. Britain should not be at a disadvantage. There is a tax-free port in Shannon and one in Hamburg. The advantages that Hamburg and Shannon have should be extended to London and Liverpool.
There would be obvious advantages in establishing a free port. Factories located in the zones would enjoy advantages similar to those that they would enjoy if they were located abroad. Business men would need to find less money for cash flow, so they could bring in goods and take them out again without having to find capital to pay duty first. There would be less bureaucracy and paperwork.
The attraction of using the land in that way is that the responsibility for policing and general security would be in the hands of a self-financing board of commissioners who would maintain and supervise the security operations of the zone, raising the necessary finance either by way of a general service charge from those doing business in the port or from a percentage payment of goods passing through the zone.
The attraction of private enterprise in the London clocks is well understood by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I welcome the orders and the transference of the land to the urban development corporation, but it must be used to develop private enterprise and to extend the opportunities by which wealth creation may be returned to this country, to London and to the docks.
The case against these orders has been marshalled so comprehensively and thoroughly by my right hon. and hon. Friends that I need to add little to what they have said.
I underline the comment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) that the great mistake that has been made in setting up and giving powers to the London Docklands Development Corporation is to operate it as an analogy to an urban development corporation, which takes a green field site where it is not necessary to carry out exhaustive consultations with the starlings in the air or the earthworms under the ground or which builds up a small village into a city of a quarter of a million people—as is the case with Milton Keynes—and apply the same method to an area that has been densely populated for at least a century and a half.
Of the total area that was originally contained within the joint dockland scheme, the part that is covered by these orders and operated by the London Docklands Development Corporation is about a quarter of the acreage of all the docklands area in the five boroughs. But more than half the population of the docklands area lives on that quarter of the acreage.
The area is along narrow strip of land, a little wider at one end than at the other, and between 25,000 and 30,000 people live there. Although the Isle of Dogs, knocked about badly during the war, has a mainly new community, at the western end of the patch, in Wapping and Shadwell, people have been living there for generation after generation and they have a fierce and intense local patriotism. They are being treated by the Government and by the corporation as though they were not there. The area is being treated as though it were a green field site. No consideration is being given to the principle that the views of those who live in the area should influence the development of the area. The views of those in Tower Hamlets, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) has explained so clearly and graphically, are that they need a much greater provision of low-cost housing. Most of them want to rent, but there are others who want to buy. Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I do not fuss about that, as long as it is housing that is available to those with relatively low incomes in an under-developed area which has suffered many setbacks from the bombing blight of the war to the planning blight of post-war years.
If we were to receive an assurance from the Minister or from the corporation that that is what will be done with the land, we should all be happy. We have had no such assurance so far. There is no sign of any such assurance forthcoming. If it is to do no more with the land than what was planned to be done by the Toynbee housing association, which is doing a marvellous job in another part of the borough, or on a site at Shadwell which was to be developed by the Circle Thirty-Three housing association, or the rest of the area that was to be developed by the borough council, or it wishes to do exactly the same, what is the point of the operation? What is the point of switching control? What is the point of setting up a new organisation to do precisely what it was intended to do before?
If that question is posed, the only conceivable answer is that the development corporation wishes to use the land differently. If it wanted to do the same, there would be no point in making the proposed changes. The Minister talked about the Government providing great resources. His right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that on many occasions when I and others have questioned him. Those resources could have been put into the local authority. A large proportion of those resources consists of money that has been filched from the local authority in cuts in rate support grant. If that had been done, the money would have been spent and the developments would have taken place subject to democratic accountability. The public would have been able to have a say in the way in which it was spent, instead of having this Jove-like corporation with Olympian powers. The Attorney-General should not look so puzzled. He knows who Jove was. The corporation will be accountable to no one. It will be remote as it sits on top of Mount Olympus.
Let no one think that it is any substitute for real consultation for the corporation to take one chap from each of the three councils that are affected and to put them on the board. That will not provide real consultation with the local community, whose standard of living and environmental assets will be decided by the corporation.
We have all talked about housing on riverside sites. I do not want £100,000-£150,000 flats, or houses that are valued at even larger sums, such as those that are in that beautiful area at the bottom end of the Isle of Dogs that looks across to Greenwich. I do not want either those or council houses going to the river edge. I want a river walk all the way from Tower Bridge round to the bottom edge of the Isle of Dogs.
However, that costs money, because it means that some land is being taken away, which can be sold at about £250,000 an acre. A local authority does such a thing. If it does not, its electors will kick it in the teeth. I dare anybody to kick the London Docklands Development Corporation in the teeth. It has shown up to now a considerable degree not merely of authoritarianism but of what can be described as contempt for the views of those who live in the area that it administers. It is not even implementing the promises that were made by the Government and the guidelines that were laid down by the Select Committee in the other place.
I am particularly concerned about that and about the attitude of the corporation and its officers towards the public. There was a promise "to involve the public". There was a directive from the Select Committee which stated:
The UDC must win the confidence of local organisations…They must always let the Docklands Forum know what they are thinking of doing.
That is not done. No adequate information has been provided to docklands organisations. When the corporation asks for opinions, it never allows anything like adequate time for people to put together those opinions, mobilise them and pass them over, nor is there the least evidence that when people rush to give a view in the agreed time, it is taken into account. The Select Committee laid down that the corporation should take cognisance of those opinions, but there is no evidence of that at all.
I shall give some examples. I repeat that inadequate information is given about the intentions of the corporation. It has been terribly difficult to obtain lists of planning applications from it. It has been a great battle to obtain them. We have succeeded in getting them for the Joint Docklands Action Group and for the Docklands Forum, but none of the other organisations, for example those represented in the Association of Wapping Organisations, which petitioned against the orders, received any lists of planning applications. Therefore, they do not know what applications are coming forward or what developments are likely to take place.
The corporation will not even publish the dates and the agendas of the meetings of its planning applications committee. It goes to great lengths to ensure that the people in the area do not know what is being planned for them. I repeat that in that it is failing grossly to implement the promises made on its behalf in advance by the Government and the instructions of the Select Committee.
Does my hon. Friend recall that exactly the same thing happened in that part of London when, without adequate consultation of the local people, the monstrosities of the tower blocks were erected? We know what has happened since. We even have to blow them up because the buildings are falling down. There was lack of discussion and consultation with the people.
I take that point. But when an elected authority is involved people can make demands on the authority with a sanction behind their demands—the sanction of the ballot box at the next local authority election. The people of Wapping, Shadwell and the Isle of Dogs, and the people in my half of the borough who are on the housing waiting list and are affected by the fact that almost all the land available for housing in the borough is being swiped from it today, have no chance of influencing the development corporation because they have no sanctions and no vote. That is a monstrous violation of the system of democratic accountability that we in this country hold so dear.
I have grave doubts about what will happen. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) says that nobody can say what the corporation will do and nobody can prove that it will do anything nasty. He is quite right. But one can put two and two together and draw some conclusions. If its intentions are impeccable, why does it not tell people its intentions? Why does it not disclose more of what it is up to? Why does it not let people know what the planning applications are? If some of us are suspicious, it is the corporation's own fault because it is so tardy in letting people know what it is up to.
The corporation was set up to maximise the private enterprise development element in the area. That is what was said when it was set up. It operates under a chairman who, according to his autobiography, was one of the toughest, most ruthless private developers of expensive property that there have ever been. I am not doing him an injustice in saying that, as I am merely repeating what he has written about himself. It would therefore be very surprising indeed—I should be very happy, but I should certainly be very surprised—if the corporation then used the land to provide housing for the people of Tower Hamlets at prices they could afford.
It is because I believe that is not what will happen that I shall certainly vote against the orders today.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When that proposition was put to the House and we indicated by not commenting that we had no objection, there was no thought at that time of the vast interest that would be generated by this debate. I wonder, therefore, whether it is possible for the orders to be taken separately. It is a matter of considerable importance. The proposition was to take the orders together if it was for the convenience of the House. I believe that it would be for the convenience of the House if they were taken separately to allow this very important issue to be thoroughly examined.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) as it is in consequence of our having been political opponents in two general elections that I can claim a certain valuable knowledge of that part of the East End.
The House should recognise that in Tower Hamlets there has been an appalling history of the destruction of Regency and other older homes, many of which were originally in private ownership. Rather than improve them, the Socialist council replaced them with public sector tower blocks which did little to improve either the quality or the quantity of housing stock.
It seems to me that the intervention of the new urban development corporation would provide the opportunity for choice in housing that has been sadly lacking in this part of the East End of London. The clear imbalance that exists in Tower Hamlets between private and public housing has been a key problem in this unfortunate and somewhat wasted area.
Tower Hamlets has been renowned for two things for too long—the incredible areas of unused land surrounded by corrugated iron that strike anyone travelling through that part of the East End and the aforementioned tower blocks that have given rise to the description of the London borough of Tower Hamlets as "the London borough of tower blocks". Many of my constituents, who are former constituents of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, have had to move to the green field areas of Hertfordshire because of the lack of suitable housing that is open to them in that part of the East End.
It is, therefore, in the interests of the people of Tower Hamlets that the urban development corporation should be given the opportunity to redevelop these wasted areas and give the people in that part of London the choice of housing that they so sadly need.
As this debate is concerned with what the development corporation has done, what it has not done and what it should do, and as I am its vice-chairman, I hope that I shall be allowed some time to explain what it has done and what it hopes to do. I do not think that it is the Minister's responsibility to defend what we have done or what he have not done. It is for those who like myself have accepted the job to stand up and be counted.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) that Tower Hamlets, which I have known all my life, although not quite so well as Bermondsey, is a borough that was affected by the worst kind of housing problems of any borough in the country. The borough has faced those problems with courage and bravery. Over the years, it has done a job that I have understood and respected. If it has made mistakes the same applies to every borough council in Britain. However, when one considers the area's immense problems and also the devastation of the war, I have nothing but praise for what the borough has attempted. It is unfair to comment on what one sees on the perimeter of Tower Hamlets. One needs to see some of the better housing within the borough.
An obvious fact, missed throughout the debate, is that opposition to the establishment of the London Docklands Development Corporation means that nothing happened until the end of July. We were made legal on or about that time. There followed the beautiful month of August when, as everyone knows, hon. Members and borough councils work like mad. So there was a hiatus. Our first action was to appoint staff. We had appointed a general manager designate. We had then to appoint a chief planner, a chief development officer, a chief financial man and a whole range of chief officers while bearing in mind that this House and the whole of docklands would resent any idea that we had built up a huge empire that was uncontrollable.
I am not making excuses. I am simply stating the facts of life. It was September when we started getting these officers into place. For one post alone, there were 1,500 applications. It takes time to open envelopes, sort out the candidates and arrange interviews. As soon as officers were appointed, we tried hard to get things moving. I was appointed—this will not surprise hon. Members—as chairman of the committee that would deal with housing. I have already signed contracts for 600 houses in the Newham part of docklands and recently signed a contract for another 600 in my own constituency of Bermondsey, making a total of 1,200 houses. The contracts have been signed and will be started before 31 March. I hope that they will be completed before the end of 1982.
I shall be asked what sort of houses will be provided. Hon. Members have every right to ask what is planned. I have always maintained that the development corporation should be judged on what it does. It is right that we should prove to hon. Members and to docklands people that the right decision was made when we were appointed, so I just throw up the first thing that comes to mind, which is the fact that I have signed contracts for 1,200 houses. I hope to go to Tower Hamlets to be involved in the signing of more contracts for new homes, all to be completed as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
I want to make it abundantly clear that every house with which I am associated—past and present—has been in the price range of £18,000 to £25,000. That makes a mockery of the figure of £150,000 that was thrown up from the Opposition Front Bench, as though I were the type of person, or the board were the type of board, that would look for characters with that sort of money to spend. That is not in my orbit at all.
This is what we have done, so let us be judged on that and on what we are doing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) made a very important point about consultation, and rightly so. I shall explain that matter to him and what I intend to do. We have started building the sort of houses that ordinary people can afford. I say that without offence. I talk about it in my constituency. In dealing with its problem, Tower Hamlets had to go—as did Southwark in dealing with its problem—for massive redevelopment by the local authority. No one quarrels with that. The removal of acres and acres of slums alone could be done only by a local authority. In the place of the slums, various kinds of flats were erected.
We all have tower blocks in our constituencies. I take my share of the responsibility for those, as much as anyone in the House, because I was the Minister when we continued the previous Government's policy of building high. In those days we believed that that was the right policy. That was wrong. Looking back, I wish that we had never built any tower blocks. I wish that we had never got involved in industrial building, but that is another argument.
It is easy to say that now. When people first went into the tower blocks, they were a heaven upon earth. With one particular lot of buildings, Queen's Buildings, five families shared one toilet and one tap. They were put into a tower block and they thought it was heaven. It was fabulous. But now, a few years later, it is not heaven. It is lousy; it is hell. That is especially so for people with children. I suppose that this is because of the progress of living standards. No borough council, even in its wildest dreams, would ever go for that policy again.
However, as a result of that policy of clearing the slums, and so on, about 86 per cent. of the entire accommodation in Tower Hamlets is rented. It is owned by the borough council. In my constituency the figure is about 82 per cent. I propose to make an injection here by building homes at a price range of £18,000 for a one-bedroom flat to £25,000 for a three-bedroom flat. I shall be giving people in those areas the chance to buy for the first time.
Perhaps it will be shown that this is wrong and that I should not have done it; I do not know. But I have a strong feeling that I shall be killed in the crush. When my local authority experimented with about 20 houses, overnight it had 600 applications to buy. The irony of the case being advanced by some of my hon. Friends is that they talk in terms of putting up council flats. Let us forget my argument about accommodation for rental and building for sale, and so on, and let us just take the council's case. My local authority has just done this. It has built houses where I come from. They are very nice houses. But the rents are £42 a week. That is to rent a house from the borough council. When my hon. Friends say that people want to rent property because they cannot possibly afford to buy, I must say to them, with great respect, that £42 a week is a hell of a lot of money. It is a hell of a lot of money for a place that will never belong to the tenant anyway.
My right hon. Friend has tonight announced that he has signed some contracts for new private housing in my constituency. Will he take it from me that not only has the borough council provided homes for sale in Newham previously but that the information regarding the activities of the UDC is inadequate? Will he please look at this matter? The information that he is giving to the House tonight has not been officially transmitted either to myself or, as far as I know, to the public in the area, and the present situation is no good.
I was at Newham a week ago, when I met the council officers and the Mayor. I am sorry that my hon. Friend was not there, but I have nothing to do with those who attend meetings arranged by the borough council.
I took four members of the UDC with me, including three senior officers.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar raised an important point that should be answered tonight. What are we doing to inform the local community? It would be appalling if we went to those areas with a sense of arrogance and decided that we were going to do certain things without telling anyone locally. We have tried very hard to devise a fair and honourable scheme, but we have some difficulties. I do not know if my hon. Friend Knows the number of community groups that wish to be consulted. There is not just one—there are dozens. That was the heartache with the Docklands Joint Committee. Nothing could be fairer than the principle and democratic right of consultation with those people, but one cannot spend one 's life discussing with groups. One must do something, if it is only to say "Goodbye".
We must set up an organisation, which I call the "Docklands forum". We must pay for it and its staff, separate it from the urban development corporation, give it its own offices and make sure that it has complete independence. We inform the forum of everything, such as details of planning, and let it transmit the information to the various groups about which they will know. That is the only way in which I can see the plan working.
That does not mean that I and other members of the board should not receive representations from groups—such as the Wapping association—where it is justified. That type of group is not on the list that I talked about. We have heartaches and problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said that we have not told anybody anything. We started only in September, apart from my dashing around to get housing projects started. We are trying to build up a strategy plan and sell all the areas to private enterprise, for housing and infrastructural development.
I have already taken up too much time, and others wish to speak. We must set up a consultation system. This speech will be read by my critics next year, by which time I sincerely believe that we shall have not less than 2,500 houses under construction in London's dockland area and not less than about £800 million of commercial work. Judge us on merit. We must bring the area to life. It has been derelict for so long—I have seen the process of dereliction—that whatever we do must be a success.
The House is fortunate that the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), despite the fact that he is vice-chairman of the corporation, is still a Member of the House. Although I have perhaps a vested interest in his concentrating on his vice-chairmanship and thus giving an opportunity for one of my colleagues to take his place as Member for Bermondsey, it would be in the interests of Parliament if he would continue for a little longer and bring to bear his knowledge and activities in debates on the docklands.
The plots of land that are being vested in the corporation have ramifications that go far beyond Tower Hamlets and the other boroughs. While I do not wish to detract from what has been said by hon. Members who have spoken about Tower Hamlets, the use of the land, especially those parcels contained in the GLC order—which I understand will form part of the enterprise zone in the area—has a wide impact on the surrounding area. I have received many representations from industrialists in my constituency who are worried about the use of the land and the development of an enterprise zone.
I am advised that a small parcel of the land is in an enterprise zone. That is why I believed that I was in order to mention the matter. The enterprise zone is not the responsibility of the corporation, but. the Minister has a responsibility to re-examine the propriety of having an enterprise zone in the development area because it will have such a devastating effect on the industry in the surrounding boroughs.
I suffered grave discourtesy from Lord Bellwin, the Under-Secretary of State. He did not have the courtesy to reply to my letter but merely sent me a duplicated copy of a letter to another hon. Member. I hope that the Under-Secretary who is to reply will convey my displeasure, and that of the House, at such discourtesy.
I am delighted that the land is being taken away from the GLC. I do not make a party point because, whether Labour or Conservative is in control of the GLC, the development that it is doing in Thamesmead is a disgrace. It has suffered delay after delay. If the GLC had been left to do the development in dockland I doubt whether it would have taken place. I support the order on that ground alone.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) about the river walk. It is an important item. I hope that the corporation will preserve a river walk through the area.
The right hon. Member for Bermondsey referred to £42 a week being charged for rent and rates in Tower Hamlets. The GLC is charging well over £50 for rent and rates for accommodation in Thamesmead. That is a scandal. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his corporation will succeed in selling the property to people who are suffering from the scandal of local authorities charging excessive rents and imposing high rates so that they may escape and enjoy benefits similar to those of owner-occupiers in the development corporation area.
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall comment briefly on the points raised in the debate.
I wish to correct an impression that the vesting of land by the corporation is a huge undertaking in relation to the land mass involved. I remind the House that the total for which the corporation is responsible is 5,100 acres. Its intention is to vest 523 acres and, if the House agrees, a further 107 acres, making a total of 630 acres. That is the total amount of land which the corporation intends to vest.
I also remind the House of the supreme problem that the corporation must face. It is a question not just of revitalising land for productive uses but of trying to recreate within a vast and important area of the East End a whole new economy. It is achieving in the initial stages the vesting of land for housing development, open space, environmental improvement and riverside walks. Its intention is to produce a substantial amount of riverside walk. But its primary purpose is to generate sufficient development of industrial and domestic provision so that the community can live again. I remind the House that the corporation has been in operation for barely four months. It is therefore incumbent on us to recognise that we are discussing the very early stages of what is hoped will be its successful and profitable development.
The right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) was concerned about the provision of housing in Tower Hamlets. I reiterate that the corporation has reached agreement with the borough of Tower Hamlets that it will give due consideration to those on the waiting list in that borough for the housing that it hopes to provide. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the chairmen of the borough councils of Tower Hamlets, Southwark and Newham have agreed to become members of the board. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is important to ensure that the housing policies pursued by the LDDC bear a proper relationship to the needs of the area and the aspirations of the community. I think that most hon. Members on both sides of the House would welcome that development.
The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) referred to the problems associated with the contract in Wapping. I assure him that the LDDC is taking on that contract. It is hoped that agreement will be reached between the contractors and the corporation on the maintenance of the contract.
I assure the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar that, in so far as the borough of Tower Hamlets and the LDDC wish to negotiate compensation, the requirements will be met in accordance with the public principles laid down for compensation in these matters. I wish to reassure the right hon. Gentleman that there is no intention by the LDDC of selling the borough of Tower Hamlets short either on the housing policies that it pursues or on the handling of the land for which originally the borough was responsible.
Reference has been made to the developments at Beckton in the area represented by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). Some 600 houses are to be built there at an average price of £25,000. I recognise the feeling of hon. Members that the housing policies of the LDDC—I remind the House that the LDDC is not a direct housing authority; it is seeking to sell land for the development of housing—should provide mixed pricing and ownership. The role of housing associations, of low-priced ownership and of shared ownership is part of the plan. Therefore, there is no question of housing land being developed purely for the kind of speculative development that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, as is his wont, would seek to try to frighten the House about at this time of night. If there is any Olympian prospect, it is that the hon. Gentleman, who has noted the appalling failures of the housing policies pursued in that borough, should now find himself in a vindictive mood against the new policies being pursued by a corporation that is seeking to rescue much of the Isle of Dogs from the desecration of the previous incumbent.
I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) that we cannot be involved in an argument about free ports. We have established an enterprise zone within the Isle of Dogs. I am sure that all hon. Members agree that it is sensible to try to get new commercial and industrial development, but that to get involved in free ports is not on.
I welcome the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) about the sheer scale of the problem. It is vital to keep that in our minds.
The right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who has by far the greatest knowledge of this matter as regards the development corporation, was right to say that rooting in the community is being sought. Consultation, availability for discussion, discussion with the boroughs and agreement that the borough leaders are now involved in the corporation are the ways in which we should seek to move forward in what is undoubtedly the biggest challenge that the capital has seen for four or five generations.
I commend the order for approval by the House.
|Division No. 11]||[11.35 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Ancram, Michael||Knight, Mrs Jill|
|Bendall, Vivian||Lang, Ian|
|Benyon, Thomas (A'don)||Lee, John|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Bright, Graham||MacGregor, John|
|Brinton, Tim||McNair-Wilson, M.(N'bury)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Major, John|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Mates, Michael|
|Budgen, Nick||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Moate, Roger|
|Chapman, Sydney||Murphy, Christopher|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Myles, David|
|Cope, John||Neale, Gerrard|
|Costain, Sir Albert||Nelson, Anthony|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Neubert, Michael|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Newton, Tony|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Normanton, Tom|
|Dover, Denshore||Onslow, Cranley|
|Durant, Tony||Osborn, John|
|Eggar, Tim||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Elliott, Sir William||Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Fairgrieve, Sir Russell||Parris, Matthew|
|Faith, Mrs Sheila||Pollock, Alexander|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Forman, Nigel||Raison, Timothy|
|Fox, Marcus||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Goodhew, Victor||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Gow, Ian||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Hamilton, Hon A.||Speller, Tony|
|Hawkins, Paul||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Steen, Anthony|
|Hicks, Robert||Stevens, Martin|
|Stradling, Thomas, J.||Watson, John|
|Thompson, Donald||Wellbeloved, James|
|Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)||Wheeler, John|
|van Straubenzee, Sir W.||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Waddington, David||Mr. Selwyn Gummer and Mr. Alastair Goodlad.|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Mikardo, Ian|
|Canavan, Dennis||Parry, Robert|
|Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Robertson, George|
|Dixon, Donald||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Flannery, Martin||Skinner, Dennis|
|George, Bruce||Spearing, Nigel|
|Leighton, Ronald||Tellers for the Noes: Miss Jo|
|Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW)||Richardson and Mr. Bob Cryer.|
|Mc Taggart, Robert|