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Orders of the Day — Royal Docks

– in the House of Commons at 2:07 pm on 21st October 1994.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Conway.]

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South 2:35 pm, 21st October 1994

I sought this Adjournment debate to discuss the redevelopment of the royal docks because they are symptomatic and symbolic of what is happening not only in east London but in London as a whole, and also of some Government policies.

I am glad to see the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment in his place. This is perhaps the first occasion since he took office on which we may formally exchange opinions. The hon. Gentleman and I come from opposite political traditions, but my thesis is that there is room for constructive conciliation in respect of the royal docks. At present, there is little sign from the Government or their agents—welcome though some of their actions have been—of the common ground that I seek.

The royal docks are part of the former and existing geographical Thames corridor, which is now to be called the gateway. In fact, there are several gateways on the Thames between Tilbury and the tower of London, but the royal docks are to be pre-eminent among them because they are available for redevelopment. That is not, I hasten to add, because they are derelict—far from it. Features already exist there.

The docks themselves comprise an area of open water equivalent to 200 acres and an area of land larger than Hyde park and Kensington gardens combined. They are of local and national importance and could fulfil an important strategic function. They already fulfil an important function in respect of water sports. There is potential for an Olympic running track—the docks have one nearly that length already—and for opportunities for young people. Wandsworth had a water recreation centre, and there is one in east London too. Unfortunately, however, the permanence and placing of that unique recreation facility has not yet been decided. That illustrates the ambiguity of the policies for this important area.

The London Docklands development corporation is thought to have a duty in regeneration but it relates to the physical framework. There is nothing in the relevant legislation—I tried unsuccessfully to include such provision—for the regeneration of the communities as such. The community in and around the royal docks is part of the London borough of Newham and, like other docklands, tends socially to be north-south away from the river.

I will concentrate on the needs of Newham in respect of the royal docks, not excluding their regional significance. In that respect, I view the attitudes of the LDDC and the Government rather as one might view the central character in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde". The good Dr. Jekyll—the' London Docklands development corporation—distributes benefits and provides facilities and improvements where they are needed and where the Government do not give the money. Everyone says, "Thank you very much", although it is taxpayers' money anyway. Then along comes Mr. Hyde. Communications between the two are blocked. Dr. Jekyll does not know of the damage that Mr. Hyde is doing and Mr. Hyde cannot be educated by the good Dr. Jekyll. I wish to concentrate on the need for reconciliation in such disparate matters.

The Newham community is statistically one of the most deprived. In reality I do not think it is, because the people are vigorous, hard working and full of initiative, as examination results at the new sixth-form college demonstrate. The ethnic—if I can use that word—population makes up more than 60 per cent. of the community. Newham's standard spending assessment is down by £20 million and I am sure that other boroughs are not so badly placed. Perhaps the Government will do something about it in the near future. The borough has to spend more than £10 million on the homeless, which is a statutory duty and we have many homeless people from other boroughs because homes are relatively cheap for such boroughs to rent in Newham. We have 47,000 refugees. Refugees are a national problem and there are many different refugee communities in Newham, which make quite a call on our social services.

There are also areas of great community stability and continuing close kinship networks in the south of the borough, especially around the dockland area—the traditional areas of London too often shown in television programmes and the rest. Such communities exist around the dockland areas as they do in the adjacent Isle of Dogs.

The huge and as yet undeveloped area under discussion must be placed in that context. There have been great developments. I estimate that between £500 million and £800 million has been spent on roads between great open spaces by the LDDC and the Government. Aspects that are perhaps more important, however, have been less developed. We have just heard that reconstruction of the Connaught rail tunnel, which was to cost £3 million only, has been postponed. Of course, we have the airport, but it is, quite properly, a strategic provision and is not for local people. Transport is therefore important. The Jubilee line is coming, which is a good thing. It was a developer's railway and was not initially for local people, but there will be a station at Canning town.

The LDDC has been helpful with education. We have better primary schools because of the facilities that it has provided—all 12 of them are better and some are new—and it has also provided a health clinic, but only because it has been filling gaps in what should have been a Government programme. We hope to have some secondary schools there as well, but that has nothing to do with the LDDC as it is another issue.

My late hon. Friend Ron Leighton, who was a Member for Newham, demonstrated that local east London training facilities were not fulfilling the needs of a rising generation, and my concerns for the future are built on that generation.

A large royal docks university college or institute has been proposed on the north side of the Albert dock, which covers a huge area. I think that the LDDC is backing that project, but unfortunately the funding may have to come from the single regeneration budget for London, which is not specifically an education, employment or training budget, but is part of a large new invention, which the Government have introduced somewhat controversially as it is four times oversubscribed. How can one measure the need for second-language section 11 development in one London borough—say, west London or Lambeth—against the need for technical training in east London? Even if projects in the royal docks are backed by the LDDC we must deal with that budget, which might cause some difficulties.

According to the statistics, which I think are right, at least one ward in the Canning town area has 40 per cent. male unemployment. The employment prospects of young people, especially of those who do not achieve the top examination results—and there are always some— are not great, but the greatest problem in the royal docks is housing.

In 1979, about 1,000 dwellings were constructed, mostly by the council but some by housing associations. In the early 1980s, the figure was 400. In the past few years, there has been no council building and 200 or 300 housing association vacancies or new builds. That is welcome up to a point, but some of it was for people from outside and some for people from Newham. All calculations show that, compared to the historic pattern, we are down at least 500 to 600 new builds a year for Newham's population alone. It is therefore impossible for young people—who might have been expected, as they were for generations, to move out if they have the means or to remain with their families if they have not—to avoid overcrowding and have some local connection.

I do not say that the royal docks should be covered with new housing to deal with such problems, but we must deal with the problem, which is a consequence of Government policy, of our having 7,000 fewer dwelling units, which have been sold. That policy has operated for many years and we know the reasons for it, but it means that the vacancies that would have arisen from such housing are not available to rehouse people. People who have bought their homes or whose relatives have bought their home for them, particularly if they are elderly, sell them on the private market, which is out of the reach of local people.

All those problems tend to compound each other. The difficulty is that people see other building going on. The visible proposal of the LDDC— in the form of Mr. Hyde rather than Dr. Jekyll— is a so-called urban village on the southern side of Victoria docks. It is a very high-profile and well-advertised development. It is not really a village because there will be a good many flats in blocks of up to eight storeys and the idea of having an adjacent employment area to allow people to walk to work may not work out.

Facilities are available and there is so-called mixed development, of which, at most, one dwelling in four—or more like one in five—is for social housing at rents of £50 or £60 a week, and even that will be difficult. Immediately alongside, to the north of the docks, there is a real post-war garden estate.

In addition, concern has been expressed about the inhabitants of a tower block. I cannot go into the rights of wrongs or whether the block should be demolished because it is near the path of the urban village but some residents cynically say that the developers want to get rid of the tower blocks because it will increase the value of private development nearby. That may or may not be right, but it is certainly said.

Local priorities have been inverted, which, given the needs of the area, may lead to social difficulty. Only about half a mile to the west are the West India docks and the Isle of Dogs. Roughly the same mix of public and private new housing applied in the Isle of Dogs. That was a very visible piece of social engineering. I am not saying that the LDDC wants to put up Canary Wharfs through the royal docks. I am sure that it does not. The lessons of Canary Wharf have probably already been well taken. However, the proportions are the same and I have been very outspoken in my comments. I get on very well with the chairman of the LDDC, who is an appointee of the Department, but he has taken me to task because he believes that my comments have been too strong.

Employment offers people hope and the opportunity to settle down, but an imbalance can be created if local people are denied the right to live in their own communities in the type of housing that has traditionally been available. If one adds to that people from abroad and people from different backgrounds, the homeless and the refugees to whom priority is properly given, one creates a social mix and psychological situation that is not necessarily what one would wish to see.

When the LDDC was founded, there was a hearing in the House of Lords. I cannot quote directly Lord Cross of Chelsea, who was the chairman, but I shall paraphrase. On 11 July he said that there would of course always be a need for rented accommodation, preferably houses with gardens, but that it did not look as though the Government were going to facilitate that for the moment. He said that it appeared that only private capital would be available to regenerate docklands. It was recommended that the relevant statutory instrument be passed. Lord Cross's priorities were right—they were the priorities of Dr. Jekyll.

I hope that the Government will bear in mind what has happened in east London and the views expressed by some young people who are extremists but who, in some places, feel that they have a point. I hope that the Government will reconsider the redevelopment policies for the royal docks which could benefit not only the communities of Newham but the people of London as a whole.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms , Newham North East 2:52 pm, 21st October 1994

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) for allowing me to speak. I welcome the new Minister and congratulate him on his appointment. I hope that it will not be long before we can welcome him on a visit to Newham—his predecessors have been welcomed by my hon. Friends the Members for Newham, South and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and myself.

The royal docks are the premier urban regeneration opportunity in western Europe. In concert with the international passenger station at Stratford which, I hope, will soon be given the green light, they represent the single most important opportunity to enable us to boost London's standing in the world and the prospects for what the Government now refer to as the Thames gateway to Europe, a concept that I welcome.

In 1987, I was the member of Newham council, which led the negotiations with the London Docklands development corporation that resulted in a memorandum of understanding on the redevelopment of the royal docks. As that memorandum was based on the belief that there would be three major consortium developments between then and about now, much of it has not been tested but there was a clear commitment in the memorandum that 1,500 units of affordable rented housing—mainly houses with gardens—should be provided in the redevelopment. About half of those homes have been built—real progress has been made.

There is now an excellent working relationship between the local authority and the development corporation, but I very much hope that there will be a clear commitment by the corporation and the Government that the remainder of the promised 1,500 units will be provided in the development. The local authority and the development corporation are working closely together on the arrangements for the de-designation of a substantial part of the urban regeneration area in Newham. I believe that the two authorities will soon reach an agreement about that.

The chairman of the LDDC recently identified two key projects for the redevelopment of the royal docks—the exhibition centre and the university college development, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South has already referred. I support both. It is widely agreed that there is a need for a new, major exhibition venue in London. I very much hope that the Government will stand by their view about development to the east of London and will support the location of that centre in docklands and, indeed, in the royal docks.

The university college proposal is supported, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South has already said, by the development corporation. It is obviously supported by the universities participating in the bid and it is supported by the local authority in Newham. A few months ago, I was pleased to hear the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Development say that he welcomed the proposal as well. I very much hope that the bid to the single regeneration budget, which has been submitted to take that project further forward, will be supported by the Government.

The royal docks present us with a dual challenge. It is a very important national opportunity, but the way in which the royal docks are redeveloped must also bring clear, tangible benefits to the people who live in the area. I hope that we can go forward on that basis.

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment) 2:55 pm, 21st October 1994

I thank the hon. Members for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) for their kind words of introduction. I especially thank them for the constructive aspects of their speeches this afternoon, which I have come to expect especially from the hon. Member for Newham, North-East who has worked constructively with the London Docklands development corporation. He has been able to recognise the benefits. I am a little disappointed by some of the attitudes of the hon. Member for Newham, South. He has provided me with a brief opportunity to put some of the docklands' record straight and to put some of the positive side in the 10 minutes that I have left. That will not be enough time, such are the successes. His attitude occasionally suggests that it is a case of reverse virtual reality. Perhaps I could put the matter into the context of actual reality.

The hon. Member for Newham, South perhaps conveniently forgets what the LDDC inherited in 1981. There was appallingly high local unemployment and falling employment. There were antiquated road and rail systems, deteriorating housing, inadequate community health, education and leisure facilities, derelict land and appalling buildings. The hon. Gentleman says that it was a community. It was a community that was going into a downward spiral of urban decay. It was an area of 5,500 acres which was depressing and unattractive to the existing community and a no-go area for investors and businesses. The local authorities in the area did not co-operate.

The scale of the problems, but equally the opportunities offered, were unmatched anywhere in Europe. It is abundantly clear to anybody going there today, part the way through, that the regeneration of the whole area needed and has received an imaginative, innovative, focused, single-minded and single-bodied approach. That is why the Government set up the LDDC.

The corporation's specific task was to assist and encourage the physical, economic and social regeneration of the area. It was there to create new houses of mixed tenure, jobs and businesses. It was not, and has never professed to be, the local housing, education or health authority for the docklands. Those responsibilities remained with the local authorities with which the LDDC was expected to work in partnership, as it has done. The aim was to create a stronger and more diverse economic base for the docklands, leading to self-sustaining growth and a broadly based community.

Much has been achieved to date, and there is still time to go. It has been impressive. There has been a particular benefit to the docklands community and to London as a whole. Working in partnership with the three docklands local authorities—there has been a considerable partnership there—housing associations, private developers, especially, and statutory authorities, the corporation has brought about many other achievements. I shall touch on a few.

We have reclaimed 1,469 acres of derelict land in an imaginative way which halted the previous local authority policy of filling in the docks and which ensured their retention as important leisure and heritage assets for the community and for visitors. The corporation has invested £162 million on housing for local residents, invested £91 million on training, education, industry, support and health and community programmes for the local people and provided grant support for 300 community groups—the local community. It has levered-in—an unfortunate phrase, but perhaps appropriate—something like £6 billion worth of private investment, with a further £3 billion committed in principle. It has encouraged 1,550 businesses to locate in the docklands, 52 per cent. of those being new business start-ups. It has helped change employment from 27,000 in 1981 to 55,000 and rising. Many of those jobs are for local people. It has carried out £36 million worth of environmental improvements across 40 housing estates—social housing—affecting 3,500 homes. That is for the local community.

The corporation has provided £3.7 million across 55 schools for up-to-date technology. The programme was called "computers in schools". Another point, as this is urban tree week, is that the corporation has planted 100,000 trees and 500,000 shrubs, laid 300 acres of publicly accessible open space and helped to provide a vast range of nursery facilities in and around the dock estate, for the local people. It has won 55 national and international awards for architecture and conservation. It has established an integrated network of 61 miles of new and improved roads, plus the docklands light railway extension to Beckton. It has contributed to the capital's fastest-growing bus network, as well as the development of dedicated pedestrian and cycle routes. The LDDC has not finished, but those achievements—I add to that the Government's go-ahead for the Jubilee line extension—have given an immeasurable extra boost to the regeneration, which was accepted by hon. Members.

Together with the increasingly successful London city airport, those developments have provided a docklands with a particularly comprehensive transport infrastructure, serving the needs of public transport users, car users, cyclists, business travellers, tourists and the local community. People now want to live and work in docklands businesses. Businesses want to set up and relocate there. Overseas tourists want to visit there and spend money. One in 10 tourists already do so. Together with visitors from the United Kingdom, docklands receives 1.2 million visitors a year. That means jobs for local people.

The picture is one of success. It is one of a growing, thriving business and community area. It is vastly different from that of 1981. The hon. Member for Newham, South however, seems, certainly about the urban village, to believe otherwise. He speaks of stable communities—given his superior knowledge, I must accept that. He must also accept that, just because one has a community as it is, where it is, now, which has been there for perhaps 100 years, it does not mean that we cannot do better by it. That, of course, is the key point.

In the hon. Gentleman's recent, highly emotive and vehement press release—I happen to have the privilege of a copy—he publicly called the development of the corporation's urban village as a satanic carbuncle that could fester".

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

I hear the small smiles. Not only are those dangerous words, but they are totally unjustified. We are working with the community. The hon. Gentleman talks about regeneration and mentioned, in fact, my previous hat of responsibility. Some of us have been through a different approach to regeneration from that which he is able to see.

Social housing provision is, of course, important in any regeneration, especially in areas as massive as docklands. We must appreciate the pressure on local authorities to meet their obligations and aspirations in that context. Indeed, in Beckton, the LDDC, in partnership with the London borough of Newham, has contributed more than £27 million towards the provision of 861 new housing units. The dense concentration of social housing, to the exclusion of shared ownership, private ownership and private rented accommodation, will bring us back to the same stagnant communities that we have had to deal with in regeneration, not only in that area, but in the rest of London.

The results of the policies are there to be seen. The results of the policies as tested elsewhere are there to be seen. The mixed tenure is a success. More than 75 per cent. of existing households south of the royal docks are socially rented accommodation, where there are high levels of unemployment and high levels of dependence on housing benefit. That has patently failed. It is also obvious that any new developments must avoid simply adding more of the same.

The urban village in the royal docks seeks to establish a balanced community with a mix of social housing, shared ownership, private housing and private rented housing. The London borough of Newham has been closely involved in the planning and supports it, as do the Peabody housing trust and the East London housing association. In time to come, I hope and anticipate that the more reticent Member present today, the hon. Member for Newham, North-East, will recognise the importance of the achievements and will follow us and applaud the achievements of the London Docklands development corporation.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes past Three o'clock.