I am delighted to introduce this Adjournment debate on the Thames gateway in the immediate aftermath of our announcement of a further £100 million of investment in infrastructure and community facilities in the gateway and at a time of intense media interest in the area.
A Thames gateway is not a new idea. Indeed, London owes its very existence to the Thames acting as a gateway to England. John Burns who, with Keir Hardie, was one of the first MPs to be elected on a socialist platform, termed the Thames "liquid history". As a Liberal Minister, John Burns was responsible for steering the first ever planning Act through Parliament in 1909. As the House will know, I have recently been responsible for steering the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 through Parliament, so I feel an affinity with him, even though he crossed the Floor. I hasten to reassure the House, however, that I have no intention of following that precedent. John Burns said that his planning Act aimed to secure
"the home healthy, the house beautiful, the town pleasant and the suburbs salubrious."
Those words, in the phrasing of the time, express a vision of the future. In some places, that vision was fulfilled, but in others we failed to deliver it. Today, we have a new opportunity to do so in the Thames gateway.
In the Thames gateway, there are nearly 4,000 hectares of brownfield land— 17 per cent. of the total in the region—located between London and mainland Europe. It is a massive area of market failure and relative deprivation, lying amid the buoyant economy and prosperity of the rest of the south-east. The regeneration of the gateway as a national, regional and local priority has been in plan since the early 1990s. Since then, a great deal of valuable and vital work has been done to set the stage for new development. Far-sighted decisions were taken, for example to route the channel tunnel rail link through the gateway, and create new stations at Stratford and Ebbsfleet to act as development hubs.
That has taken us a critical part of the way, but we need to do more. What was in the past desirable about the gateway is now essential. Housing growth will happen, and it is inevitable. For various reasons, including economic expansion, household growth in this country will continue at a high rate for the foreseeable future. The Government Actuary's Department estimates that household growth will average 189,000 homes a year between 2001 and 2021. Most of that growth will occur in London and the south-east, and most of it will be generated within the south-east. Indeed, the current draft of the Kent and Medway structure plan indicates that no less than 73 per cent. of household growth between 2001 and 2021 in the county arises from indigenous demographics and household growth and change. The serious question is not whether to have the growth, but how we manage it for the benefit of our communities and the environment.
We should seek to focus that growth within our existing urban areas, and that is exactly what we are doing. Within the wider south-east, London is the motor of growth, but it has the lowest housing density of any world-class city. The potential for housing growth in London is enormous, and it is already under way. In 2003, housing completions in London and south-east showed a year-on-year increase of 14 per cent.—9 per cent. in the south-east outside London and 24 per cent. in London itself. In the first six months of this year, there was a huge annual increase in completions in London of 30 per cent, and there is more to come. I am delighted that we have identified a considerable appetite for further housing development among the London boroughs. The Government office for London has recently created a London housing delivery unit, and we are already engaging with no fewer than 17 London boroughs to explore the opportunities for housing development. Much of the housing growth planned for the gateway itself will take place on the great brownfield sites of east London in the London Thames gateway. Stratford city has the potential to deliver about 20,000 homes; the Greenwich peninsula, about 10,000 homes; and Barking Reach has a maximum capacity of about 12,000 homes.
The Minister has set out the number of houses that will be built on brownfield sites, but could he say how many houses he expects to be built on greenfield sites?
I shall come on to that and, indeed, I wish to dwell on the issue. The short answer, as I shall explain, is that all the planned development in the gateway is on brownfield sites, and we expect the vast majority of housing growth in the gateway to be on recycled land.
Following the question asked by Richard Ottaway, is not the point that we know where the brownfield sites are? Before 1997, there was no audit of brownfield sites and people did not know where they were. We have done the work, however, and have identified the sites.
My hon. Friend is quite right. Before 1997, there was but a feeble commitment by Government to development on brownfield land. This Government's record, however, is extremely impressive, and I shall give the figures in due course.
The debate about brownfield and greenfield sites also involves a debate about definitions. In a suburban constituency like mine, many local residents are surprised to learn that their gardens are deemed to be brownfield, and backland development can completely change the nature of a residential area. Will the Minister comment on that problem, which is causing great stress among some of my constituents?
I accept that that is a concern in suburban areas—indeed, it is a concern in my own constituency. Of course, the hon. Gentleman's constituency is not in the gateway, and it is the long-standing policy of this Government and our predecessor that such development is permissible. A balance about the appropriateness of such backland development, however, must be struck.
I am grateful to the Minister for his kind words. I am equally fond of him and look forward to meeting him shortly to discuss park homes. He will accept that my constituency is part of the Thames gateway and that we have an increased housing target of 4,000 new houses. Does he accept that there is no way in which we could find brownfield sites in Castle Point for all those homes? Will he confirm that to accommodate those 4,000 additional houses, it is Government policy to release greenfield sites in Castle Point?
The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to go into the detail of specific site allocations. I do not deny for a second that there is an element of greenfield release in the housing programme in the Thames gateway. I am familiar with the hon. Gentleman's constituency, having campaigned fruitlessly for his predecessor in Castle Point, and know that there are brownfield opportunities there.
Elsewhere in the gateway, we will pursue our housing growth agenda through the redevelopment of neglected town centres, extensions to existing urban settlements, and the development of derelict industrial landscapes. Nobody who has viewed the vast swathes of worked-out quarries at Ebbsfleet and Eastern Quarry can be in any doubt about the huge benefits to the environment and to existing and future communities that will result from the development of the new urban villages planned for those sites.
No reasonable person can doubt the Government's commitment to securing the maximum development on recycled sites. The latest land use change statistics published three weeks ago show that 67 per cent. of all new dwellings in England were built on brownfield sites in both 2002 and 2003. That compares favourably with the 56 per cent. that we inherited in 1997. Those statistics also show that new dwellings in England were built at an average density of 33 dwellings per hectare in 2003. That compares with 27 dwellings per hectare in 2002, and only 25 in 1997. We have even more ambitious density figures for the Thames gateway. Indeed, as I said, all planned development in the gateway is on brownfield land.
The Thames gateway represents the largest collection of brownfield land next to a capital city in Europe. The vast majority of development in the gateway can be accommodated on existing derelict land. As I indicated, densities of development will be higher than those previously tolerated, and this will guard against profligate land use. At an average density of 40 dwellings per hectare, there is more than enough brownfield land in the gateway to accommodate the housing growth targets that the Government propose. So much for the doomsday scenarios of the "concreting over the countryside" brigade, the head-in-the-sand, die-in-the-ditch opponents of all, or any, change—the green Tories, as I prefer to call them.
In the context of the demands for growth in the south-east and the need for an affordable solution to its housing needs, the gateway offers the region's key opportunity for sustainable growth—growth that will not only deliver a housing solution, but will address the underlying weaknesses of the area by providing economic and employment opportunities, environmental improvement and community renewal that will bring benefits to new and existing residents. It is this that lends it national significance.
Of course, we are determined to reduce the economic differential between north and south, and we are pursuing policies such as the northern way to address that. But choking economic growth in the south does not mean more prosperity for the north. Someone going on the dole in Dartford does not mean a job for an unemployed worker in Sunderland. It simply means more jobs for our global competitors. That is why the gateway forms the cornerstone of the sustainable communities plan launched by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister last year, and that is why we have put in place the arrangements necessary to take forward this sustainable programme.The gateway agenda is about accelerating delivery and expanding the scale of growth that can be achieved by 2016. At the same time, we will reinforce the quality and sustainability of the development that takes place, and ensure that the benefits reach the gateway community as a whole.
A further and major boost for the Thames gateway is the UK's bid to hold the 2012 Olympics in the lower Lea valley, near Stratford. As the House is aware, today is the day that we are submitting our candidature file to the International Olympic Committee. If our bid is successful, an Olympic park will be built close to the new Stratford international station to house the Olympic stadium, Olympic village, aquatics centre, velodrome and other facilities, including the administrative nerve centre for the games. A successful bid would accelerate the new homes and jobs planned for the lower Lea valley, transform the environment and provide a legacy of first-class sporting facilities. Together with the development of Stratford city, it will create a modern new quarter for London and a new metropolitan role for the area, which will help to drive regeneration for many years to come.
So what are the policies and principles in place to make the gateway happen? First, there is a gateway vision, to which all the key bodies can sign up. People say, "Where is the gateway vision?" We have a clear framework for growth that was introduced in regional planning guidance in 1995 and continues to underpin the development proposals that have evolved since then. There is the focus for growth at the western end of the gateway around Stratford and Canary Wharf, with new strategic transport links to the rest of the gateway and beyond.
The Minister mentioned planning guidance from 1995. Is it not true that the Government want to review that guidance in the next year or two?
As the hon. Gentleman surely knows, all regional planning guidance falls to be reviewed after a period of time. It is true that RPG9 is in the process of review by the regional assembly, and I dare say we shall hear more about that in due course.
The creation of a new development hub at Ebbsfleet, centred on the new channel tunnel rail link station, and the consolidation of other regional centres at Medway, Southend and Thurrock will provide the region with competitive locations for modern business services. The modernisation of the gateway's port and distribution economy—by tonnage, the ports in the gateway already collectively represent the largest in the UK—will help to ensure the future of this vital sector. The renewal of the gateway's existing town centres will provide improved local services, new housing and employment. The creation of new and improved green spaces on a strategic scale will transform the image of the area, and the creation of new sustainable settlements at locations such as Barking Reach, Greenwich peninsula and Ebbsfleet will provide new high quality housing.
The Mayor of London and the regional planning bodies for Kent and Essex endorsed this framework for growth in their recent inter-regional planning statement for the gateway, which was published in August. The statement supports the housing target of 120,000 that we put forward in the communities plan. In fact, it proposes to increase that figure by 8,000, which we heartily welcome. The statement also, for the first time, distributes this growth across the gateway to reflect the area's pattern of brownfield land.
The second principle of our approach is partnership. There is the commitment and strategic co-ordination of Government Departments, regional bodies and public agencies to deliver the policy, programmes and funding to support the gateway agenda.
I thank the Minister for his courtesy in giving way. He is well aware that Thames gateway recently provided a substantial grant to Rochford district council to allow the refurbishment of Rayleigh windmill and related developments in Rayleigh town centre. I place on record my thanks to the Minister for that decision. However, I have a question about infrastructure. All the house building that is envisaged, be it on greenfield or brownfield sites, will place severe pressure on our infrastructure in the gateway area, not least NHS infrastructure. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us tonight where the new district general hospital in Essex is to be located?
Of course, I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that decision or detail, but I can tell him that the Department of Health, which is being extremely proactive in its support for the gateway, has committed £40 million over the next two years to primary care trusts in the area. We are very pleased with that, and further funding will flow through in the conventional way. Let me acknowledge my appreciation of the hon. Gentleman's thanks for the decision about the Rayleigh windmill—a decision that was taken on entirely objective but absolutely merited grounds.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that expression of support. My feeling is that there is a broad consensus on the gateway programme. It is worth bearing in mind that the majority of the local authorities with which we are working closely on the gateway project are Conservative authorities, and we have an excellent working relationship with them. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about transport infrastructure is yes, I propose to say a few words about that in due course, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Transport, will say more, if he ever gets the chance.
In the meantime let me draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the £2.1 billion investment in the south-east that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced as a result of the multimodal study earlier this year. Furthermore, the Government are committed to a gateway investment programme of almost £900 million, much of which will be devoted to transport infrastructure. In addition, I shall say a word in due course about the forthcoming community infrastructure fund, which will be jointly administered by my Department, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Department for Transport.
On joint working, new working arrangements have been set up to allow Departments to work together to deliver the sustainable communities agenda in the gateway. The Cabinet Committee on growth areas, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, leads these arrangements, and it brings together all the key delivery Departments.
The ODPM has published a joint strategy with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on "Greening the Gateway", which calls for the Thames gateway to become a world-class model of sustainable development with the living landscape at its heart.
We are working with the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills to ensure timely forward planning for health facilities and schools. On top of mainstream funding allocations the DOH is, as I have indicated, providing an additional £40 million over the next two years to PCTs in the growth areas. We have kick-started a major programme of unique new university campus developments at Southend, Medway and the Royal docks.
I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Transport for their work to bring forward key transport infrastructure. The Thames gateway bridge, the concept for which dates back to before the middle of the last century, is now a real proposition. Hon. Members will have seen the pictures of the fantastic new channel tunnel domestic trains for which orders have now been placed. Those are massive boosts for the gateway, particularly when they are set against the competing budgetary pressures that those projects have faced. The newly established £200 million community infrastructure fund, which my Department and the DFT jointly administer, will provide additional grants to support transport infrastructure up to 2008 in the four growth areas, including the Thames gateway.
In addition, we are working closely with the Environment Agency to ensure that sustainable flood risk management is incorporated into gateway developments. My Department is represented on the Environment Agency's Thames estuary 2100 project to address flood protection into the next century. I should add that the gateway already has a higher standard of flood protection than most other parts of the country.
The Housing Corporation, English Partnerships, the regional development agencies and the learning and skills councils have all established internal structures that provide a policy focus on the gateway. The learning and skills councils have recently launched their Thames gateway skills audit to ensure that we get the right people with the right skills in the right places. I am also pleased to report that we will shortly re-establish, by popular demand, an expanded Thames gateway strategic partnership to co-ordinate progress at the strategic level.
The third ingredient in our gateway strategy is local delivery capacity. The gateway may be a strategic idea, but it will actually happen locally. The different locations in the gateway each have their own bespoke issues, opportunities, and agendas, and the quality of local planning and delivery will ultimately determine the success of the project and secure the quality and sustainability that we seek.
It is critical that we have organisations in place with the capacity to define local priorities, to develop the necessary local programmes and, fundamentally, to integrate both the growth strategy with other local programmes and new communities with the old. We have established new bodies in each of the major development areas of the gateway to take responsibility for those tasks.
In two cases, Thurrock and east London, where the task is particularly challenging, we have established urban development corporations with the support of the local authorities involved. The boards of both urban development corporations are now in place and senior executive staff are being recruited. Those bodies are identifying the key priorities for their areas and the critical actions necessary to resolve them, and they will draw together existing public and private plans to deliver an effective local investment programme.
At the same time, we have created a new gateway delivery office—not in Whitehall, but in the gateway itself—which will take charge of the ODPM gateway funding programme, and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister formally launched the new office last week. The gateway delivery office will contain a proactive and accessible team, which will work closely with local partners to deliver an effective programme, sort out problems, monitor progress and achieve results.
The fourth strand of the Government's approach to the gateway lies in the planning and resourcing of investment to deliver the timely provision of infrastructure and to attract private investment to create the more liveable environment and more viable locations for business that we seek—that task is big, but manageable. Mainstream programmes are also in place, and I have already mentioned the transport programme and the new universities. Much of the expenditure required, particularly for social infrastructure such as health facilities, hospitals and schools, will be drawn down from national budgets in the conventional way.
Those costs are not unique to the gateway, but reflect the planned increase in population forecast in the gateway. The critical issue is not funding, but effective planning and management. However, additional Government investment will be required in certain critical areas. The ODPM has allocated a substantial new gateway budget to address those areas and other priorities, which represents an £850 million commitment to the area for the first five years of the programme.
In consultation with local partners, £475 million has been allocated to date to early opportunities and immediate priorities. Last week, £100 million of that funding was announced for new projects ranging from major site preparation in Kent Thameside to local community, business and training facilities in areas of relative deprivation in Sheerness, Poplar and Barking.
The private sector is the other critical area of resource. The private utility companies clearly have a direct role to play and private finance will additionally play an important part in funding new transport and other social infrastructure, using mechanisms that are now well established.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am conscious that I may be straining the patience of the House. [Hon. Members: "No!"] I am sure that hon. Members are eager for me to move on to the fifth and final principle that informs our approach, so I shall hurry along to it.
The private sector is already very active across some of the key development areas in the gateway. It is already investing massive resources in planning and site preparation: Stratford city, Isle of Dogs, Silvertown quays, Ebbsfleet, north-east Gravesend, Dartford Park and Barking Reach are all either on site or at an advanced planning stage, and those are just the big projects. We have established a developer forum to meet regularly with developers to identify and tackle key barriers to delivery.
The fifth principle of the gateway strategy lies in securing the key policy goals to achieve sustainable objectives, which involves quality and imagination of design and construction and the reuse of brownfield land. We have taken steps nationally to promote higher densities and better design. For example, English Partnerships has already used urban design codes at Greenwich Millennium village.
The Government have also made a commitment to developing a sustainable buildings code to establish higher standards for energy and water efficiency, waste and use of materials. The Thames gateway will be the focus for demonstration schemes to test sustainable construction methods, supply chains and economic viability. The gateway will rightly be in the vanguard of new design and construction standards.
It goes without saying that the gateway is a big project. It will require time, resources, imagination and a lot of effort to realise, but it offers enormous rewards. It is currently fashionable to say how complicated the scheme is. Yes, the project can look complicated from the outside, and we recognise that we must present the gateway in a way that existing businesses and residents and potential new investors can understand.
Most importantly, local people, both those who currently live in the gateway and those who will move into the area, will need to see the benefits. On Tuesday of last week, I went on a whistle-stop tour of the gateway to coincide with our announcement of a further £100 million tranche of investment in infrastructure, and I saw for myself the progress in creating sustainable communities.
My hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick and I visited Poplar to celebrate our investment of £4 million in the A12 junctions project, which will, for the first time, link hitherto isolated housing estates, such as the Teviot estate, to the new employment, retail and leisure opportunities of the Leaside regeneration.
I visited Basildon to celebrate, with the Basildon Renaissance Partnership, our investment of £100,000 in the feasibility study for the proposed Basildon centre for sporting excellence, which, if successful, will provide first-class opportunities for sports development, recreational sport and preventive health care, and will offer a key training location for the 2012 Olympics in London. That comes on top of nearly £30 million of investment by my Department in housing and regeneration projects in Basildon.
I also visited Swanscombe in the constituency of my hon. Friend Dr. Stoate for further celebrations, this time of our £1 million investment in road and environmental improvements, not least the refurbishment of community halls in a locality that sometimes feared that it would not benefit from planned housing developments in the Dartford area.
In Swanscombe, in Basildon and in Poplar, there was a recognition of the opportunities for a better quality of life arising out of the Thames gateway project, and an enthusiasm for the Government's determination that both existing and future communities will benefit from the gateway scheme. The Thames gateway is positive, exciting and it is definitely now on the move.
I welcome this debate on the Thames gateway. I am pleased to see so many hon. Members from that area both behind me and on the Government Benches. [Hon. Members: "Not behind you."] I do not think that the area is over-represented by Conservatives yet, but perhaps by the end of next year things will change. [Interruption.] I am a modest person.
There is an all-party consensus on this issue. If the commitment to communities is to mean anything, it must be a commitment that all of us sign up to. A long-term investment is necessary to turn many communities around, and one hopes that it will continue when Governments change.
Much of what the Government have done has built on the work of previous Governments, under both Baroness Thatcher and John Major, and Lord Heseltine provided much of the vision that started the process. If we look at what happened in docklands, we see that there are some useful lessons on how to approach extending development to the Thames gateway.
In most of the post-war years, very little was done in some of these communities. There is now a great deal more hope about what politicians with sensible policies can bring to many communities. London is a success story.
My hon. Friend speaks of post-war success. If I had made a third intervention on the Minister, I would have reminded him that there was an urban development corporation for docklands. If the Thames gateway were made into an urban development corporation with powers, Ministers would be even more certain about the proposal. Does my hon. Friend have a view on that?
I understand that there is consultation about whether to create a corporation for some of the area, but the concern is that the corporation would take in three regions: the eastern region, the southern region and London. A good deal of co-ordination will be required if that is to be successful. I see no reason why that should not happen, as long as there is the clear vision that the Minister mentioned.
Planning policy guidance 9A needs to be updated. As Mr. Davey said, it is nearly 10 years old. Some things have certainly changed over the past 10 years, so I suspect that an update is necessary. From what I can see from the information, there is already a commitment to update it after the south-east plan has been updated.
London is a successful city. It is a city of contrasts. As with other wealthy communities, in and around London there have always been areas of great deprivation. Any sensible politician will want to do what they can to improve the conditions of people in that area. People in parts of the east end and the Thames gateway suffer from poor health and education and higher unemployment than perhaps other areas of the capital. Generally speaking, that is why we welcome the approach that has been taken. As the Minister set out, it is no small undertaking. There may be substantial differences between Opposition Members and Labour Members on the sustainable communities plan in its entirety, particularly on building on green fields in some of our shire counties, but the Thames gateway is one aspect of the plan where there is much common ground.
If we can make the Thames gateway a success, we can mitigate a lot of the urban migration that is putting pressure on some of our shires, where there is great opposition to development. If we make it a success, I do not think that we will necessarily need to build the number of houses to which the Government seem to be committed.
May I characterise the hon. Gentleman's position as being that the Conservatives are happy to build houses in areas where they are not represented, but that they do not want to build houses in any of their own areas?
The Government and the Opposition agreed that it is best to build on brownfield sites. There are many opportunities in the Thames gateway. It would be a pity if we did not look at those opportunities before we took decisions that meant that we had to build on greenfield sites.
Would the hon. Gentleman comment on the plan of Mr. Redwood to build a new city called Thames Reach south of Swanscombe and Greenhithe in the middle of the green belt in my constituency? He envisages a major city with many thousands of houses— more than the number currently agreed. I wonder whether that is now Tory party policy and whether the hon. Gentleman agrees with the right hon. Gentleman.
It is not policy. The key issue is that the sensible thing for any politician to do is to look first at urban areas where there are brownfield sites and opportunities. Otherwise, businesses and investment will be driven towards greenfield sites, which, as we all know, are cheaper to develop than many brownfield sites. With this development—120,000 new homes, 180,000 jobs, 80,000 hectares, 40 miles by 20 miles—we are talking about a major concern. If it is a success, it will be a major area of growth and building for the next 20 to 30 years.
What needs to be done to make it a success? We need to set more targets, so that we can measure how we are getting on. Up-front investment is the key. If there is confidence among the financial institutions, they will invest because they will see the long-term ability to make profit from those areas. The Government have talked about levering in £2 billion of investment. We all know that the area will develop and grow only if private sector funds, pension funds and other major financial institutions feel that it will be profitable and take an interest in those areas.
The key difficulty is transport and infrastructure. We all know that there is a shopping list of transport projects, some of which are coming to fruition, some of which are planned. We have heard about the channel tunnel rail link, which we think will be finished by 2007; the Greenwich waterfront and east London transit scheme; the east London line extension; the docklands light railway extension to City airport by 2005 and further extensions. The proposal for the Thames gateway bridge at the moment is for a private finance initiative scheme with a toll to link both sides of the estuary, which will open lots of opportunities. Substantial road improvements are also proposed. The Government have so far committed about £600 million for these schemes. It is important to get the transport right. In docklands, there was growth but the extension of the underground was delayed. Transport should come first if we are to lever in investment for housing and development.
There is concern that there has already been some backtracking on certain schemes. Transport for London's scheme for linking Barking Reach and Barking town centre is now proposed to be a bus route rather than a transit scheme. The rail passenger committee for southern England says that the poor rail network in the region could cripple development.
The Minister did not mention Crossrail. The City of London and many hon. Members have long felt that Crossrail, with its Stratford link, is essential to the development of the area, but we are also aware that it is a remarkably expensive scheme. Whenever Crossrail has briefed me, it has said that most of the track is there, but it just needs to link up this area and that area. As a Transport Minister is to wind up the debate, perhaps he can enlighten us a little more about progress on Crossrail and how it could affect investment in the area.
Infrastructure is key, but as the region covers not only London but parts of Essex and Kent, it needs to be fairly distributed between the urban and non-urban areas. Most of the schemes that I have seen so far tend to concentrate on the London bit rather than on Essex or Kent. My hon. Friend Bob Spink has tabled several parliamentary questions about services in Essex. Those communities must get the investment if they are expected to take additional housing and development. If development is to be forced in, the investment must come first. The siting of hospitals, for example, is a key issue.
The Mayor and the regional planning bodies of both the south and the east believe that there is substantially more capacity to build in the area if sufficient investment is made. As many as 300,000 houses have been mentioned; again, investment is the key. The Campaign to Protect Rural England, which, along with some of the Labour Members present today, is not all that keen on development in rural areas, has also cottoned on to the fact that one could lift some of the levels and targets in the Thames gateway. The investment has to be up front.
When the housing is built, it is important that the communities are as self-contained as possible, with health, education, culture, media and open spaces all provided for. The Minister mentioned that in his speech. It is important that all the facilities be included in planning guidance. It is important also to be able to get in and out of the Thames gateway, as one suspects many people will need to do for employment purposes. It is also important to minimise the number of people who have to move around.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned media in passing. I trespass on his speech to say that if the BBC listens to the debate or reads his speech it should take cognisance of the fact that there is no Thames gateway television or radio. In Tilbury, on the north bank, I get Kent BBC television, and the area does not get London services. The media must take account of what is demonstrably a new area. The BBC in particular is way behind, but commercial television is not really meeting the challenge either.
That is a good point. Although we may disagree about regional identities, TV station identities certainly inform the way in which people think about their region. I am in the Meridian area, and Meridian claims to serve people not too far from the hon. Gentleman's region, so the service stretches all the way from Dorset to the Thames gateway. Media can certainly define an area very successfully.
The Minister said clearly that most of the identified sites for development were brownfield, but the majority of the area is greenfield, and there is green belt within it. It is important to tease out the priorities for development. I know that the CPRE is concerned about the temptation to go for some of the greenfield sites in Essex and Kent before investing in some of the more expensive redevelopment sites in London. Given that the Government have on occasions encroached on green belt, we need a clear statement on how they feel about the piece of green belt on this side of London.
The Minister spoke a great deal about density levels but gave no specific commitment. Figures of 90 to 100 per hectare have been mentioned, and perhaps the Minister who winds up can be more specific about what level the Government consider appropriate. In previous developments, shortcuts have sometimes been taken, so it is important to have high-quality as well as high-density development.
The Environment Agency and others have estimated that perhaps £4 billion will have to be spent on flood defences in the area. The Environment Agency issues maps, and PPG25 should inform planning authorities, but it is clearly a matter for concern. If there is a flood on the site in 20 years' time, when many houses have been built, people will ask how we could let the development go ahead without proper flood prevention measures. The time to consider the issue is now, not after the houses have been built.
My hon. Friend will be aware that flooding is an emotive issue in Essex, going all the way back to the great flood of 1953—the terrible events of that night are not lost on us in the county even today. That being the case, it is a great pity that the Government decided to abolish the Essex local flood defence committee, which had a tremendous track record. Does he agree that safety must be paramount and the Government must be more careful about the flooding implications of the proposed developments?
Of course. The Minister will have heard what my hon. Friend said, and indeed he mentioned flooding in his speech. Of course we must take sensible measures to ensure that any development is safe.
I am sure that neither the hon. Gentleman nor Mr. Francois is in the business of scaremongering. The Thames is protected to a level of one in 1,000 years, and that will remain the case up to 2030. In the meantime, much work is being done, led by the Environment Agency, to put in place appropriate defences for the future beyond that year. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: PPG25 informs every aspect from regional to local planning decisions in terms of flood risk and assessment. Every ODPM and local vehicle delivery project is also subject to rigorous flood risk assessment, and we are using the opportunity of the greening of the gateway to think creatively about sustainable flood defences. I want to establish it absolutely on the record that the Government are seized of the issue and every possible measure is being taken to increase the already high levels of flood defence in the Thames gateway.
I thank the Minister for his assurance that Conservative Members are not scaremongering. It is obviously sensible to think before building lots of houses.
I, too, am grateful for what the Minister has said. As my hon. Friend will know, there has been a lively debate on these issues between the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but the Minister has given us some reassurance. I hope that he will continue to bear the issues in mind as development proceeds.
My hon. Friend has made his own point.
The Minister mentioned skills. There is concern about whether there are enough skills to deal with this level of development, especially in regard to the built environment. The way in which development is going means that there are already shortages of planning officers, which is why planning appeals sometimes take so long. I was pleased to learn that the Minister had announced a skills audit by the Learning and Skills Council. It would be a pity if people affected by unemployment above the national average could not take advantage of the growth and inward investment that will result from this project.
Other anxieties have been expressed. For instance, there is the possibility of people building up land banks on brownfield sites in order to sit on rising land values. There are also general environmental worries. There is, for example, a substantial water shortage; indeed, all the public utilities need to undertake major investment. Given the degree of development involved, we should ask whether we should try to improve environmental standards in some of the homes. In Australia, there are double flushes on lavatories to conserve water.
I will not detain the House further, because many Members with local interests want to speak. There is considerable common ground, and we have a great opportunity. Investment must be made at the outset to give confidence to the private sector; we need design of a decent quality; and we need to involve people in the area, because much of the development will change its geography considerably. If it is all done properly, however, I think we can offset some of the pressures affecting greenfield sites.
I welcome the debate, and look forward to hearing other speeches.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in such an important debate.
The people of Dartford are extremely proud of their heritage, which they see as one of the engine rooms of the Kent economy. Dartford has been home to many great engineers and thinkers of bygone ages. Hiram Maxim, who made such a contribution to powered flight, lived there. Trevithick did much of his engineering work there. Burroughs, Wellcome, one of the first and most important drugs companies in the world, set up shop in Dartford and has done extremely well. Dartford is also reported to be the site of the first-ever commercially successful paper mill. It has a long and proud heritage. We recognise, however, that we have moved into a post-industrial age, and that businesses that have long outlived their usefulness need to be regenerated. Dartford needs new jobs, new investment, better and more modern housing and a cleaner environment if it is to be an exciting area of which we can be proud in future.
That is all very well and good and the people of Dartford are certainly onside, but development must take place in a measured way. We must ensure that the area can sustain so much investment, and we must pay careful attention to detail in terms of infrastructure. The area must be enhanced rather than being damaged further.
Mr. Redwood, the new shadow Secretary of State for deregulation, has called for the creation of a new city to be called Thames Reach, with its heart in the Swanscombe and Greenhithe areas. He wants to see thousands of extra houses built in Kent Thameside, in addition to the proposed brownfield developments at Eastern Quarry, Swanscombe peninsula and Ebbsfleet, to meet the housing needs of the rest of the south-east. He has said:
"there is a large area suitable for development bounded by the settlements of Northfleet and Greenhithe along the river banks, with Swanscombe, Bean and Darenth to the south . . . The idea is to add to the development projects already identified and up and running for both Kent Thameside and the Swale and Medway Districts. We need a new city centre to the south of the planned Swanscombe and Greenhithe developments, with better community facilities alongside more housing to the south of the current planned developments."
The right hon. Gentleman's proposal amounts to nothing less than the concreting over of north Kent, with large swathes of green belt and farmland in Dartford bulldozed to make way for new housing. It will destroy the character and integrity of existing communities such as Swanscombe and Greenhithe, which every effort is being made to preserve. It will effectively swallow up the communities of Bean, Darenth, Betsham and Southfleet, pleasant Kent villages that currently enjoy the countryside and the rolling green fields that surround them. It undermines the claims of local Tories that their party is committed to the defence of the green belt and the countryside. Moreover, it demonstrates that the Tories want to use parts of north Kent to meet all the south-east's future house-building needs, thus ensuring that their own heartland areas are not affected.
Even if this madcap scheme could somehow be brought to fruition, I seriously doubt that the local infrastructure could begin to cope with so much strain on its limited resources. A recent report by the planning committee of the South East regional assembly questions whether even the projected housing growth in the Thames gateway is sustainable, given the limitations of our water supply and sewage treatment network and the fact that one of the lowest levels of annual rainfall in the country is found in the south-east, and north Kent in particular.
The Environment Agency has pointed out that per capita water consumption has risen by between 3 per cent. and 5 per cent. in the last 10 years, and that 80 per cent. of water in Kent comes from groundwater. The level of rainfall received by the south-east is the lowest among UK regions: it is only about 740 mm a year. All that will obviously put a huge strain on existing supply, and Kent county council estimates that an additional £70 million will be needed in Kent Thameside in the next few years to speed up utility connections, flood defences and land reclamation. We are already seeing signs that the infrastructure needs to be upgraded significantly even to deal with the planned development, let alone another entire city.
What about the effect on air quality? Dartford borough council has set up an air quality management area around the A282 tunnel approach road to mitigate the impact of traffic emissions. Traffic emissions in the area 72 per cent. above the Government's nitrogen dioxide objective, and 54 per cent. above the PM2—that refers to particulate matter—objective. Through traffic along the A282 accounts for at least 25 per cent. of emissions in the area.
As traffic levels in Kent Thameside increase over the next 20 years, air quality in Dartford could easily deteriorate further. Additional air quality management areas are already being planned at the Bean interchange, St. Clements way, East Hill and Park road, the Brent-Watling street junction and Lowfield street. Dartford council is at least doing its bit to monitor air quality, but we must ensure that an appropriate standard is maintained. Additional funds to promote more sustainable local transport solutions are urgently needed.
One obvious source of income is the Dartford river crossing. Each year it generates £55 million in income. Only about £1 million of that is earmarked for local transport uses in Kent Thameside. I believe that its share must be increased, as a matter of urgency.
I believe that there is currently a £60 million surplus from the operation of the Dartford crossing. It lies in the coffers unspent. Legislation has stated that the money should be spent on local infrastructure improvements. Will the hon. Gentleman accept this offer from me? I will back his being given, say, 25 per cent. of that—£15 million—for his local road improvements if he will back my being given £15 million to help build Canvey's third road.
That is an intriguing idea. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will be my agent and I will be his agent in this deal. Certainly, the hon. Gentleman is right that we need to ensure that a good chunk of the money is put into a local transport infrastructure that mitigates the effects of increased traffic and air pollution generated by the extra traffic that we see.
Even with improvements to public transport and with a rail freight network, additional capacity needs to be built into the road network in Kent Thameside. Urgent consideration needs to be given to upgrading the A2/B255 Bean interchange. The junction currently serves the Bluewater regional shopping centre, Greenhithe village and the A206, which runs to the Dartford river crossings. It is also due to serve the Eastern Quarry development, a 740-acre development that will contain about 7,250 new houses.
The route management study, which has been recently published by the Highways Agency, has acknowledged that the junction must be improved. Dartford borough council and Kent county council have also recognised the importance of this work. However, despite this there is little prospect of the necessary funding being forthcoming in the next few years.
Another factor is pressure on school places. There is a desperate need for the expansion of secondary school places in Dartford. Currently, there is no wide ability county boys' school for children living in most of the north, west and east of Dartford. Many 11-year-olds are now faced with a half-hour train journey just to get to school, which I believe is not acceptable. Kent LEA is proposing to increase the number of secondary places in the area over the next few years but it has no plans to build a new county boys' school in Dartford, where the need is greatest.
What about higher education? The Government's original planning guidance for Kent Thameside—RPG9a—which was published in 1994, highlighted the importance of creating a higher education facility in Kent Thameside as a means of raising the skills profile of the area and helping to encourage the growth of spin-off companies requiring higher levels of skill in north Kent. RPG9a envisaged the development of a 5,000-student campus and also a London science park, supported by GlaxoSmithKline, the borough council and the university of Greenwich. However, neither of these projects came to fruition. In fact, the university of Greenwich has now closed its remaining Dartford campus. North West Kent college is now the only post-18 education provider in Kent Thameside.
The Government's recent skills audit report found that the number of people with skills in the Thames gateway is 20 per cent. below the national average. It warned that unless the problem was addressed, businesses could be forced to move elsewhere. The report says that 112,000 of the 194,000 new jobs that will be created by 2016 in Thames gateway will need applicants with A-level and degree level qualifications. Compared with the rest of London and other parts of the UK, Thames gateway has a significant skills gap, particularly among local residents.
At present, most Kent Thameside residents with higher skills are forced to commute to London. Almost 100,000—that is, 12 per cent. of the Kent and Medway work force—commute to London. The percentage is as high as 38 for those who commute from Dartford. About 15,900 people commute from Dartford to London. We need to reverse this trend if Kent Thameside is to be genuinely sustainable.
We must give urgent consideration to the rebuilding of Greenhithe and Dartford stations to increase capacity. Furthermore, the damaging proposals of the Strategic Rail Authority to reduce service levels at the Greenhithe, Stone crossing and Swanscombe must be rejected and reversed. The existing Kent line is already running well over capacity and the plans that have been put forward, when the CTRL phase 2 is open, are significantly to cut back services on the north Kent line. That will have a damaging effect on my local area and it is something that must be examined carefully.
Greenhithe station is at the heart of Kent Thameside and passenger levels at this station are projected to rise considerably in the next five to 10 years, as the housing developments at Ingress Park—900 homes—Eastern Quarry—7,250 homes—Stone Castle—500 homes—and Greenhithe waterfront—950 homes—get underway and are completed.
Dartford station, despite being the busiest station in north Kent, is housed in a 40-year-old building and does not have the platform capacity to meet the level of services that use it at present, let alone in the future. Consideration must be given to increasing the capacity at London Bridge and renewing the north Kent network's antiquated signalling system. It is woefully inadequate to meet future needs. It currently takes between 45 and 55 minutes for trains to travel to London from Dartford owing to the inadequacies of the current network. This must be put right.
I asked the mayor of Swanscombe and Greenhithe town council, Councillor Brian Fitzpatrick, who is a senior traffic engineer, to give his thoughts on how he thought the new development would affect the areas of Swanscombe and Greenhithe. He certainly came up with some interesting ideas. He stated that a lack of attention to detail and to local knowledge pervades many of the applications submitted for planning at the moment. Knowledge of the existing situation and the needs and aspirations of the in situ community must be a firm component of all applications, but at the moment it is not given adequate consideration. He believes that true integration can be achieved only if we address fully the needs and wishes of the existing settled community with the needs of an incoming community.
The good news is that Brian Fitzpatrick accepts that there are good and sensible reasons why there should be new communities in Kent Thameside, but unless we get the planning issues right we will come unstuck. That will cause divisions in the local community rather than encouraging integration, which is what we so desperately need.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with interest. He is talking about many contemporary problems. He knows, however, that the gateway is for the future. Does he support the gateway proposals, and will they resolve some of the issues that he is raising?
That is an extremely good question. The answer is that I entirely support the gateway proposals, but they will work only if we pay particular attention to the issues that I am raising, which I am sure that other hon. Members will raise. I see that Mr. Hayes is nodding. I am sure that he agrees.
Kent Thameside and the Thames gateway development is a marvellous opportunity to regenerate the whole of the south-east, but it will work only if we get the infrastructure right before we go ahead with the development. The greatest mistake that we could make would be to press on with development with already overstretched existing capacity, which in many areas is already at breaking point. That would lead to more damage. There are huge opportunities that can be realised if only we get the development right. It is all a matter of attention to detail. The people of Dartford are behind the development, but whenever I talk to them on the doorstep they say that that is provided we can improve the road network, provided that we can improve the rail network, provided that we can get enough school places for our youngsters, and provided that we have enough health care facilities to meet the needs of the future. We are all in agreement, but the development must be done in the right way.
The people of Swanscombe and Greenhithe want careful co-ordination of what is proposed for the future with what we have now. Again, if we get that right, they will be totally on side with this type of development. The point made by Councillor Fitzpatrick is that no one from Swanscombe and Greenhithe is on the delivery board. No one from the town council in Swanscombe is able to participate in these planning issues. Councillor Fitzpatrick thinks that that is also a mistake. The people of Swanscombe and Greenhithe are asking that it is ensured that there is integration with existing and planned new communities and also that Swanscombe and Greenhithe residents are not disadvantaged by the scale and pace of developments surrounding them.
These people are asking for a few quite simple things. They want the inclusion of the local community in discussions about the size, location and required infrastructure of the planned development. They are asking that more resources be given to Dartford borough council to enable it better to represent its residents. They are asking also for another look at the Kent traffic model to ensure that it is run more often and kept up to date with existing traffic movements. Further, they are asking for targets for air quality that are enforceable to ensure that we do not damage our environment. In addition, they are asking for a close look at the numbers and situations of new developments to ensure that they are sustainable in terms of bus transport and air quality. I do not think that these requests are unreasonable.
If we get these things right, we will all be happy with what we see. If we get them wrong, we will live to regret that. I believe that by proper attention to detail, proper integration of what local people want and proper working with local councils and development boards, we can achieve the aim of us all, which is a bright future that includes the regeneration of old worked-out sites. That is a proud future for the whole of the Thames gateway area.
Dr. Stoate has done the House a service. He has made the "yes but" speech. When we listened to Mr. Syms and the Minister, there was a danger that we were getting consensus and hearing that everything was all right. That was particularly so when the Minister was sketching the Nirvana that was growing up in the east of London. I almost felt that the House was going to sing "Jerusalem", given the way in which the Minister was lauding the progress and the prospects.
That is not to say that the Minister was not right to say that there were some exciting opportunities. The hon. Member for Dartford was right to mention the excitement around the east of London and in the various communities in Kent and Essex. There are real prospects for solving some long-term problems, such as unemployment or the need for economic regeneration and affordable housing. Many potential prizes are there to be gained, but it is the House's job and duty to question Ministers to ensure that they are getting it right. Otherwise, the opportunity could be wasted and there are already a number of signs that the Government have not learned the lessons from the past and are not listening carefully enough to those who will be affected. When the Minister for Transport replies to the debate, I hope that he will answer some of the questions that will be posed.
Regeneration on this sort of scale can present real problems. We saw with the new towns of the past that much hope and excitement was generated by the prospect of new projects, but the optimistic scenario was frequently not fulfilled. Three-quarters of the English new towns are among the most deprived 50 per cent. of local authorities. All but two are more deprived than the counties in which they reside. Many of them never grew as planned. Skelmersdale was supposed to have a population of 80,000 but never made it beyond 40,000; Corby was planned for 100,000 but never made it beyond 50,000. Much of the hope in those new projects was never delivered, and I hope that the Minister will reassure the House that the Government have learned from problems of the past when expectations were raised but never met.
There are many and huge difficulties in building the Thames gateway. I shall deal with the problem of flood plains in more detail later. Contaminated land is another problem, which makes the project quite expensive. The lack of transport infrastructure for the initial stages is another difficulty. There will be real problems; it will not be easy, and the Government should recognise that. The vision and planning will have to be that much more effective. I want to ask several specific questions about the problems. Some may arise because we are at the initial stages of the process and others because Government Departments are making mistakes, but the House must have some of these points answered.
The first problem that emerges from reading some of the background documents is the number of organisations involved. The Minister responsible for the Thames gateway said that his second principle was to have a partnership approach, but can we have a response in tonight's reply or a written response at a later date, setting out the full list of organisations involved? We need to know the number of quangos, the number of Government Departments, the number of all other public sector bodies and public-private partnerships involved. I have to say that it gets pretty complicated when one tries to work out who is doing what, who is leading the project and who is accountable for what. We need accountability because huge amounts of money are being spent.
I do not know whether the Minister has seen September's "Regeneration and Renewal", which includes a wonderful map of all the organisations involved. The Minister puts his eye to the ceiling at the sight of it. Eighteen local authorities are listed in the web, followed by a wonderful list of bodies, including the Thames estuary partnership, English Partnerships, the Environment Agency, the sustainable communities taskforce, English Heritage, Transport for London, East of England Development Agency, South East of England Development Agency, the Greater London Authority, London Development Agency, Thames gateway London partnership, green giro network, architecture and urbanism unit, Thurrock UDC, London Thames gateway UDC, heart of Thames gateway, Thames gateway South Essex, Thames gateway Kent partnership, Kent county council, British Waterways, London First, Gateway to London, Invest Thames Gateway, Thames Gateway strategic executive—and no doubt many others. I have not finished, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I think that I have made my point.
To return to my earlier intervention on my hon. Friend Mr. Syms, the corporation will cover all of this within one overall body. The great success of Lord Heseltine's docklands was the establishment of the London Docklands development corporation. Does that not provide a sensible solution to the hon. Gentleman's problem, meeting the point that he is putting to us?
I am not sure that that corporation was the great achievement that the hon. Gentleman assumes. There were many problems with the experience, particularly when local communities were not consulted and their interests were overridden. Some of the development was not as sustainable as we want to see for the Thames gateway. I am not in favour of having one all-embracing body. It is important to ensure that accountability structures are in place.
As the Minister knows, we debated these issues in connection with statutory instruments for setting up the Thurrock urban development corporation. The Liberal Democrats were concerned with the lack of accountability in the structure. I should add—Andrew Mackinlay may want to join the debate on this point—that party control of Thurrock council changed recently. However, after the change, the Labour councillors appointed to the UDC did not change. The newly elected Conservative councillors did not assume the local authority places on the board. That is why we raised questions of accountability when we debated the statutory instrument, but that point did not come out. We were given assurances that the UDCs would be more accountable, but that does not appear to have happened when the recently elected councillors failed to take up their places.
Accountability issues are important, but from the map of the conglomeration of quangos and other bodies such as public-private partnerships that I read out, it is clear that accountability has not been created. On the contrary, it has created confusion and Ministers must explain how that confusion will be cleared up. We have heard about directorates on the Thames gateway within the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister; we have heard about a Cabinet Committee; we have heard about a new office—until hearing the Minister's speech, I knew nothing about it—being launched somewhere in the Thames gateway earlier last week. It is just not clear exactly who is in control and where the lines of accountability lie. I hope that the Minister will clarify that for the House—[Interruption.]
Ministers on the Treasury Bench may complain among themselves about what I am saying, but I am not the only one saying it. Many other people working in the Thames gateway area are also complaining. Let me provide some quotes to illustrate the point. Sandra Hunt, the director of the Thames gateway-based consultancy, Regenfirst, said:
"There are basically too many players".
"The Government's going out of its way to try to get everybody on board . . . and I think it's going too far."
Others make the very same point. To be fair, some believe that the Government are getting it right in some parts of the Thames gateway. The leader of Medway council in Kent—
Yes, Rodney Chambers—Rod to his mates, presumably—believed that in his area the Government were following a democratic model and he was pleasantly surprised that the local authority was given the powers to go ahead and deliver it, with accountability to the people. That is the sort of model that many in the House would prefer. I hope that Ministers can get through this alphabet soup that the Government have created in the Thames gateway and that there will be clearer lines of accountability and fewer organisations in respect of this important project.
Related to the number of organisations is the cost. A plethora of bodies means a plethora of chief executives and a whole range of people wanting jobs and coming in with their different lackeys. The Government talk positively about the Thurrock urban development corporation, but it has a chief executive, director of resources, director of planning and strategy, director of delivery and director of marketing and communications. How many similar sorts of positions will apply to the partnerships that I listed with concerns in the Thames gateway? When he replies to the debate, can the Minister for Transport tell us how many chief executives there will be in all the bodies dealing with the Thames gateway? If not, will he write to us with the answer and include information on the collective salary involved?
The hon. Gentleman is in danger of ruining a good point about the plethora of organisations. It is important that we have posts for the Thurrock urban development corporation, which is the rocket motor for that area's regeneration. We want the positions appointed and under way. The hon. Gentleman should not knock that aspect, but otherwise, he makes a valid point about the plethora of quangos and other organisations and the bewilderment that comes from it.
The hon. Gentleman is right to pull me up on that. I am not saying that those posts are the wrong ones for that particular organisation. The point is that if they are mirrored in all the organisations I have listed, huge amounts of money will be spent paying the same people to do the same things in the same area. That is both bewildering and a total waste of money. I hope that the Minister can give us some assurances on the costs of those organisations. How many heads of marketing will there be for the Thames gateway? We need to know.
Transport is the other issue that has come up, and the Minister who will reply to the debate at least has some responsibility for that. It seems to most people that transport is the absolute key. If the state sector can do anything to unlock the potential in the east of London, it has to be in its provision of a public transport network. I am sure that the Government will say they are doing an awful lot, talking about everything from the extension of the Docklands light railway to the east London line extension to the plans for Crossrail and so on. At the moment, though, none of us is clear whether some of the bigger projects are actually going to happen. There is lots of talk about them, but when the Secretary of State for Transport made a statement on Crossrail, there was not a clear commitment on the cash that would enable us to know that it will happen.
I say that not as a party political point but to ask what the best use of public money is. Spending on public transport infrastructure is probably the most effective use of public money to unlock potential. If a lot of money was channelled that way, we could save a great deal on other aspects of the projects. Will the Minister say a little about the key role for transport?
One project on the drawing board and ready to go could improve some road links in the south of Essex and create jobs, and that is the Shell Haven port and distribution park development. The planning application has been on Ministers' desks for some time. Because of the sensitivity of the proposal, the Minister may not wish to comment directly, and nor do I expect him to, but a lot of people across the House support that application and look to the Government to give it the go-ahead. To those of us who have had even limited involvement, it seems to have dealt sensitively with the community environmental issues, and it promises a huge amount for early delivery on jobs, economic regeneration and transport links.
The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that I contributed at the public inquiry on Shell Haven port, both at the start and the end, giving more than 25 pages of evidence. The port will bring real benefits to south Essex, but there are also a number of serious disadvantages, and it will certainly bring no benefit whatever to Castle Point, unless Canvey is put in so that we have access to those jobs.
I am sure that Ministers will have heard that, but my point is that there is huge support for the proposal. If Ministers can give an early and positive reply, it would be welcome.
Let me turn to the environmental challenges in the gateway and how the Government are responding to them. The Government are right to focus their attention on the gateway because brownfield developments there could ensure that land is successfully reused. They also have to ratchet up construction standards so that materials are used in a sustainable way and to make sure that the buildings are designed so that they are efficient in terms of energy use, water use and all the other things coming from advisory groups.
There is continuing concern about the flood plain and about how the Government are tackling that issue. I have asked questions about this, particularly in trying to get information about the maps. I was told in an answer on
May I dispel the possibility of scaremongering on flooding and the flood plain? The fact is that something in the order of 17 London boroughs lie within the flood plain. Some £85 billion of property assets are located within the flood plain, but it is protected. Provided the flood plain is protected, which is the Government's commitment, practice and intention, there is not a significant problem. The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong to conjure the expression "flood plain" out of the firmament and imagine that that is in itself a threat. It is not, and he is doing wrong in even ventilating the possibility of a threat arising from the existing flood plain in its own right.
That is an extraordinary statement from the Minister, containing the idea that Members of Parliament should not ask questions about some of the key risks. It is not just hon. Members who are doing so. Peter Dower, chair of the Association of British Insurers Thames gateway working group, said in a press release issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister:
"Insurers remain committed to offering as wide a range of insurance solutions as possible to home-owners and businesses. As the increasing demand for new homes will inevitably involve some developments in areas of higher flood risk, it is important that flood risk management is designed into these developments to maintain insurability."
His colleague, the policy officer Sebastian Catovsky, quoted recently in "Regeneration and Renewal" said:
"Big development sites such as Barking Reach, Thamesmead, Greenwich peninsula are all very low-lying and, even if well protected, could have problems."
I am quoting insurance professionals who will have to provide policies for those homes. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may say that they have a vested interest, and that may well be so, but it is for this House to ask Ministers questions to make sure that the work is being done.
I am more than happy to accept the Government's and the Minister's assurances, but I must ask a further question. The Minister will know that the Thames barrage will need to be updated by 2030, and he may have the exact date in his brief. That updating may even require a completely new barrage to be built, according to some analysts. That would be an important investment. We are talking about £4 billion or £5 billion, and the project will be critical to many of the developments that we are talking about tonight. I am not making this point to scaremonger or to try to suggest that it will blow away all the potential. I hope that the problems, issues and risks can be managed properly so that we can develop brownfield land. It is in the interests of everybody, including my constituents, that we do that. We must be reassured by Ministers, however, that serious risks are being properly considered.
I want to raise a few more specific issues to ask whether the Government have thought about them in their overall strategy, particularly relating to the people who will live in the homes in the Thames gateway. One thing that concerned me about the Barker report was that it was very much a top-down analysis of housing demand. It did not analyse the types of people concerned—the age groups or the family distribution and organisation involved, such as one-parent families or families with two or three children—and therefore did not analyse the type of homes that will be needed. Can the Minister assure us that the demographic needs are being considered in the plans being developed? For example, will there be any developments for older, retired people in the Thames gateway?
We have heard about other aspects of the infrastructure such as health, education and transport. Are there any proposals for prisons, for example? From the Minister's reaction, he does not appear to think so, but all such aspects need to be considered.
Some transport issues, especially the river crossings, do not appear to be linked to the environmental and public transport needs of the communities. For example, a huge debate has arisen over the Thames gateway bridge. It clearly has to have a road link, but will the bridge also be able to take trams or pedestrians? What are the plans for guaranteed bus lanes? If we could have some assurances on those aspects of the bridge, many people would have their fears assuaged.
As other colleagues have mentioned, the developments are a real opportunity. We hope that the Government will get it right and we want to help them to do so. I hope that Ministers will take my remarks in that light.
In congratulating the Government on their vision for the Thames gateway, I wish first to focus on the meaning of Thames gateway regeneration for the London borough of Redbridge, which lies along on the border of London and Essex, and the importance of local authorities in providing leadership when building tomorrow's communities.
To many people outside Redbridge, the borough is a leafy suburb of London. To some in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, Redbridge is known only as "the place you park your car when you go to London". However, our borough contains a diversity of urban, suburban and rural communities, a diversity of faiths and races, and also some of the richest and poorest areas of the country.
Redbridge has seen enormous changes in the past decade. Some two and a half years ago, the local council launched an ambitious vision for the future of Ilford, "Progressive Ilford", to fulfil local demand for homes, jobs and services for a generation. I worked out that when it was completed I would be 85, so I hope to be still around when it all comes to fruition. I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, in his previous capacity as a Minister in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, was able to attend that event with me. However, the launch of that regeneration plan coincided with a change of political control in Redbridge, which has led to a disturbing shift in the council's regeneration priorities.
The first apparent shift by the new Tory council was to deprioritise public consultation. Dialogue with the public did take place, but it rarely did so in a form that gave consultees the impression their concerns had been heeded. I should like to take the Gants Hill area as an example. Gants Hill is situated on the border between my constituency and Ilford, South at the heart of Redbridge. It has a Central line tube station; a crossing of the A12, the Woodford avenue, which links to the north circular road; and Cranbrook road, a major local route.
Gants Hill has been in need of regeneration since the late 1960s. However, for two years, the Tory council tried to force through a plan that would have flattened dozens of homes to make way for a supermarket, despite four other supermarkets being within a mile of the site, and in the face of massive public opposition. The council also proposed to close the much loved and architecturally significant Gants Hill library, regardless once again of public opposition and the desperate need in the area for better community facilities. The library and its car park have been designated by the council for commercial or leisure use.
In the last four years, Gants Hill residents association has complained to me about the neglect of the Woodford avenue area. Mustafa Redif, the manager of Serene's fish and chip shop on the Woodford avenue, told me recently that he felt that his corner of Gants Hill had been overlooked when it came to regeneration—a view shared by other residents in Gants Hill's "forgotten quarters". [Interruption.] I am sure that my hon. Friends are thinking of other forgotten quarters in their constituencies, especially if they have Conservative councils.
Perhaps our most well known landmark was the Odeon cinema on the A12 at Gants Hill. It has now been demolished for the construction of over 200 high-rise flats, which has taken from our community part of its identity and fuelled the demonisation of young people who have little to do in the area. A similar story is told by residents of Barkingside, who are threatened with the loss of Fullwell Cross library, which serves as a cultural landmark in the community, to be replaced with blocks of flats.
Those travesties of regeneration stem from a difference in principle. When under Labour control, Redbridge's plans for the future were based on the needs of local people, but now, young people in my constituency are priced out of the local housing market, forcing them out of the communities in which they grew up. Everyone can see the slow erosion of community life in our area, but still the Tories fight tooth and nail to minimise any allocations for affordable housing on major developments,
As populations grow, there is increasing need for community centres, libraries, youth clubs and other facilities, but the Tories' regeneration plans have lost coherence. The attitude of the Tory council has led to a general and understandable public distrust of regeneration, which undermines the potential benefits.
The next decision the council has to make, a week today, is whether to allow a horse racing track, which is bitterly opposed by hundreds of local residents—including me—with a grandstand, bars and restaurants to be built on green belt land on Fairlop plain in my constituency. I am urging local Tory councillors to listen to the voices of the people whom we represent.
I also wish to raise the issue of Crossrail, because I have the honour of chairing the all-party parliamentary group on the issue, which counts 100 MPs and peers as members. In the spring we hope to see a hybrid Bill before Parliament to empower the financing and construction of Crossrail. I cannot overstate how important it is for us to take the opportunity to make the fullest success of Crossrail to contribute to regeneration in the Thames gateway.
The plans for the gateway could realise up to 30 per cent. of London's required new homes, including provision for affordable housing, which is very important to my constituents, and the creation of job opportunities. That will help London to accommodate the predicted increase in population of 700,000 people over the next 10 years, without encroaching on greenfield sites or the green belt. The Thames Gateway London Partnership has highlighted the insufficiency of rail networks and interchanges connecting key town centres and development sites. As with other areas of London, Crossrail will provide rapid, frequent and convenient access for business and leisure travellers from the Thames gateway areas to the City, central London and Heathrow.
Crossrail will provide a freedom of movement for people that will give businesses greater access to the labour force; it will give people the opportunity to look further afield for jobs that will recognise and develop their potential; and it will ensure hundreds of thousands of people will be able to get to and from work each day and enjoy the capital's leisure opportunities by night. In that latter group, I include my daughters, who are in their 20s. In fact, to me, Crossrail represents opportunity for my constituents, for Londoners and for much of the south-east. It will also play an essential role in securing London's future as a financial and international business centre vital to the UK economy and with benefits for the whole country. For residents in my constituency, it will mean a practical alternative to being crammed into overcrowded carriages on the Central line, which operates at capacity no longer just during rush hour but throughout the day and evening.
East London contains some of the poorest communities in Britain, yet a lack of infrastructure inhibits opportunity for the people living in those communities. I have lived in the east of London for almost all my life and I feel very strongly that the time has come for my birthplace, my living space and the people I represent to benefit from this Labour Government's commitment to this huge investment in the Thames gateway programme.
It is a pleasure to follow Linda Perham. She spoke eloquently, and made a number of important and good points about her constituency. I am deeply proud of my constituency, as she is of hers. Castle Point is a wonderful and beautiful town, which nestles seductively on the Thames estuary. It boasts the wonderful and historic Hadleigh castle, St. James's church in Hadleigh, St. Peter's church in Thundersley and Benfleet church, which was built on the site of the battle of Benfleet, in which we defeated the Vikings about 1,110 years ago. On Canvey Island we also have the Dutch cottages, and a wonderful, tight-knit and caring community.
The Thames gateway project can do much for my constituency; it offers much promise. However, like Dr. Stoate, I am concerned to get the detail right, particularly on infrastructure. If we do not get that right, the Thames gateway could be a burden on my constituents. The gateway will bring regeneration and jobs, although as I have said before and will continue to say until the House is sick of my saying it and delivers Canvey's third road, without that third road there will be no jobs in Castle Point from the Thames gateway. However, the gateway could deliver jobs.
I am delighted with the Olympic bid, which involves the gateway area. Winning that bid would be a great thing for this country. I cannot understand why the whole country is not backing that bid and Lord Coe, who is pushing it. It could deliver much for south Essex and my constituency. There are many new opportunities to come from the Thames gateway project: in leisure, in sport, through protecting and enhancing our heritage, through jobs and improved housing, and, as the hon. Member for Ilford, North said, through more social and cheaper housing so that our young people can get on the housing ladder and we can house teachers, nurses and people in low-paid occupations.
The Thames gateway could enhance my constituents' lifestyle and quality of life in many ways. The Minister for Housing and Planning, who has just left, is an excellent man, as is the Minister of State, Department for Transport, who has taken over. I am sure that he will pick up some of these points when he sums up. However, the Ministers have a very tough job in selling the gateway to my constituents. Local people and the local press do not simply accept without question the soft soap and the hard sell on the number of houses, which is the nub of the matter for us.
We need some additional housing, but the question is where it should go. Should it be on the green belt? My constituents feel that it should not. How many houses should we have? My constituents feel that 4,000 additional houses, which the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is trying to foist on us, represent a totally unsustainable level, which could not possibly be built without consuming parts of the green belt in my constituency.
My constituents also feel—and this is one of the key differences between the Conservatives' and the Government's policy on planning—that the best people to make decisions on numbers of houses, where they go and on green belt protection are local people, who are democratically accountable to their community. They know best. My constituents are completely bewildered—that seems to be the word of the night—that the decisions are taken away from them and given to what I suppose is a quango. Certainly, my constituents do not know who the people in Go East and the regional planning authority are, and they cannot vote them out if they disagree with their decisions. Such people simply seem to be placemen—yes men—intended to deliver whatever number the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister comes up with and seeks to force on us.
We do not accept the claim made by the Minister for Housing and Planning in his opening remarks that housing growth at levels that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister seeks to force on the south-east is "inevitable"—that was the word that he used. There is no inevitability about it at all. There is regeneration in the north of England, and some communities there want more housing. Our communities do not. We should trust those local communities.
If only that were so; it simply is not so. There is an assumption that there will be a major influx of population into the south-east, at a time when the north is starting to regenerate and great cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle are striving forward. Why should we seek to take their people away from them?
Will my hon. Friend recommend the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report to Jonathan Shaw? That makes it clear that the principal pressure on housing demand does not come from within communities but from all kinds of other factors such as migration from the north of England and other demand-side factors.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification.
I move from housing to a headline that I doubt anyone here will have seen. It says "Not a single penny", and refers to the £23 million regeneration handout from the Thames gateway project in south Essex this week. Many people benefited from that; we have already heard that my hon. Friend Mr. Francois got some work done on his local windmill. Basildon benefited and Southend benefited. There are many projects that benefited. I am sure that Thurrock benefited, because Andrew Mackinlay is so assiduous that he would have made sure of that. Sadly, Castle Point did not get a penny of that money.
Indeed, Mary Spence, the chief executive, is quoted in the same local paper—the Evening Echo of
"This additional money has got to be spent by March 31 next year and there just aren't any projects in Castle Point which are suitable."
I think that I have already mentioned one or two.
I find the offer of the money a little offensive—analogous to someone throwing coloured beads at the natives while stealing their land, in the hope of making them compliant. We are given £23 million for a bit of a windmill improvement here and a little project there, and we are all supposed to say, "Thank you so much," tug our forelocks and go home happy that the Thames gateway is fantastic, and doing good things locally. That is what the £23 million is intended for.
Yet at the same time people are trying to force 123,000 houses on south Essex—on the south-east—which is totally unsustainable. Some of those houses will have to go on the green belt.
I intervene only to point out that the hon. Gentleman cannot say that the figure will be 125,000 for south Essex and then in the next breath say that it will be the south-east. Which is it? Is he suggesting that there will be 125,000 houses for south Essex or for the south-east? We have to be careful about these figures. In fact, as I understand it, the figure for Castle Point is 2,500, not 4,000.
I accept the Minister's correction. I meant to say the south-east, not south Essex, so I apologise to the House for that. I tried to correct myself immediately, as the record will show, but the Minister made two errors. First, he said 125,000, whereas I said 123,000; and secondly, he said that there would not be 4,000 additional houses for Castle Point. If not, will he confirm that the lower figure will be the one imposed on Castle Point, because we would love that? I am sorry to have to say that my understanding is that it will be the higher figure—4,000—for Castle Point.
On housing, the gateway is a Trojan horse. It brings a massive increase in building but offers no improvement in infrastructure. Canvey Island really needs new access, but there will be none. The East of England Development Agency will be spending a few million pounds on developing new industrial sites in a new industrial park on Canvey Island, yet there are empty sites all over the island. If only that money were spent on a road, we would not have to spend any more money on developing industrial sites on Canvey Island. The private sector would take over and do it for us; the development would be organic, driven by people. What we need on Canvey Island is an additional access road—nothing less. We need no further development at all until we have that infrastructure.
Our roads are already overburdened with congestion, yet there are plans to build in the green belt, which would feed on to the A13 in Hadleigh and Thundersley, yet there is no means of improving the road in those areas. It goes through a densely built-up area, so there is no solution for the already wholly unacceptable congestion, yet only two weeks ago a proposal was made to build 310 more houses in that green belt. My constituents are full up with housing and fed up with congestion. In fact, one of them, Eric Fenwick, rang me this morning to say, "Dr. Spink, when you're writing your election address, use the slogan, 'Full up and fed up' because that describes how the residents of Castle Point feel."
Our public services are tremendously overstretched. Our schools are full. Our hospitals still have massive waiting lists. Our doctors' surgeries are full. People cannot book into a dentist locally. We do not have sufficient leisure and sporting facilities locally. Our kids have nothing to do, so they hang about on the streets, sometimes—not always—making a nuisance of themselves, although I stress that Castle Point kids are basically fantastic and deserve more facilities from us. We should not be dragging in more kids, without such facilities. I hope the Government are taking note and that the Minister will receive a note from his officials about the 4,000 houses in Castle Point and give us the very good news that he has decided to reduce that number. Does he accept that a major new development of hundreds of houses feeding on to already congested roads is nonsense, and will he pull that development, because of the highways issues, pending improvements to the infrastructure?
The Thames estuary has internationally important wildlife sites, not least in and around Castle Point, which include a vast area of the Thames, going past Southend, West as far as Rochford and Southend, East. I do not get many votes in the wildlife areas of my constituency, but they are important and I treasure them and want to protect them. Such sites are especially important for birds and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has carefully and wisely lobbied for their protection.
We need to enhance our existing nature reserves, but we also need to ensure that the, sometimes conflicting, leisure uses of the Thames are also enhanced, developed and protected. People and their leisure activities are just as important as wildlife. We have to balance those two conflicting aims and I hope that the Minister will be able to do so.
We need to ensure that the new flood storage does not damage wildlife sites. The overreaction of the Minister for Housing and Planning whenever the flood plain was mentioned frightened me to death. What is in his mind? What caused him to overreact in that, shall I say, bewildering manner? Perhaps we will find out.
We need to minimise the production of waste in the area and to find better and more sustainable ways of dealing with it. Waste management is a major issue, especially at the Pitsea tip, and questions about incineration in Essex keep raising their heads.
If we get the infrastructure issues right, the Thames gateway could be of great benefit for the people of the south-east and, indeed, south Essex.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the Environment Agency is about to publish flood plain maps which will give a much more accurate idea of the precise boundaries of flooding, according to certain risks. The Minister referred to one in 1,000, but it is no good if that one in a 1,000 years happens to be when one's house is being built—but that is another matter. Could it be that the Minister is sensitive about those maps because he will have much greater difficulty finding spaces for those houses than he originally thought?
I think my hon. Friend may be on to something. The one in 1,000 design standard may have been consistent with conditions 10 or 20 years ago, but recently we have seen massive climate change and all the models have been rapidly adjusted. I am pretty sure that the one in 1,000 standard no longer applies for the Thames estuary. The Government were wrong to abolish the Essex flood defence committee and I am grateful to my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench for confirming that they will reinstate the committee when we win the next election. I am delighted that my hon. Friend Mr. Hayes reminded me about making those points.
I do not want to be a dismal Jimmy, however. I do not want to suggest that the Thames gateway is all bad—it is not. It offers much promise, but to secure that promise we need to get the infrastructure in and reduce the number of houses being forced on us by the Government, which will destroy our green belt.
This is both an interesting and rather unusual debate, because there has been less of the party politics and synthetic anger that are a feature of the Chamber and that diminish its effectiveness. Members on both sides of the House have made points of great validity, and it would be prudent for the Government to reflect on them.
Mr. Davey mentioned the plethora of organisations involved in the Thames gateway. People in public life and potential developers are bewildered and cannot understand who is responsible for what, so it would be sensible for the Government to take that on board.
We must address some of the points made by the hon. Members for Poole (Mr. Syms) and for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway). I hope I do them no injustice nor cause them embarrassment when I say that they broadly supported the thrust of the Government's strategy of regenerating the part of England that we are discussing.
There has been criticism of the bodies involved. Large parts of the Thames gateway strategy are not included in urban development corporations—I am fortunate in that one is dedicated to Thurrock. The Thames gateway is not in one English region, which is a mistake. Thurrock is in the eastern region, but we have no relationship with a region that is largely run from Cambridge and goes right up to Norfolk and Norwich. The maps of the English regions are wholly artificial. I remember that, when the London Government Act 1963 was passed, the boundaries of Greater London were fixed at 2 o'clock in the morning during a debate in Committee in the House of Lords, almost by accident, depending on who could be present at the time.
Things have moved on. I would liken the shape of the Thames gateway to an Osram light bulb laying on its side: it includes not only Greater London, as we know it, but goes down both sides of the Thames. That is the reality of the London region. People commute into London; Londoners have moved eastwards; and the region includes London's river and London's motorway, albeit largely outside the Greater London authority's area. Those issues need to be addressed if we are to manage the area—London, the Thames and its gateway—in the long term, and in my view it should come under just one English region, which would have some coherence.
We are now presented with an exciting opportunity not only to create new homes and environments, but to do away with some of the derelict, contaminated land throughout the area. My constituency contains a large amount of brown, derelict land that has been exploited during the past century without restoration. That land can now be restored and commerce and residences built, contributing not only to the economy but to the good quality of life of the people who live to the east of London. So I am excited by those possibilities and the new opportunities for innovative design in the building and urban planning there.
I very much welcome the moneys that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has made available to the Thurrock development corporation—some £330-odd million—and I hope that the Deputy Prime Minister will use his good offices to ensure that the other public sector partners, Ministries, Departments and agencies redirect their spending programmes to the Thurrock development corporation as well as the development corporation that covers the London boroughs and throughout the Thames corridor.
There is an anomaly, in respect of which Bob Spink raised legitimate concerns, because the absence of an urban development corporation will disadvantage his area. The beauty of the urban development corporation is that it allows true planning to take place. It not only deals with residential development, but ensures that the transport infrastructure, schools and national health service provision grow and are paid for, while new, good quality environments and residential properties are created. Hitherto, that has not happened in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Castle Point.
The vehicle for true comprehensive planning must be an urban development corporation. That was the thrust of what the hon. Member for Croydon, South, who is no longer in his place, was saying, and he was talking common sense when he referred to the experience of the London docklands 20 years ago. My hon. Friend Mr. Beard and I agree that the responsibility for developing the docklands fell between a number of local authorities, all of which were well motivated, but there was no single body to drive through any plan. Only when such a single body was created did we see what we now know as the docklands. Of course, there might be some warts and deficiencies, but, overall, the docklands are a massive success commercially, environmentally and in terms of regeneration.
The hon. Gentleman argues for the UDC in his area by linking it with the docklands experience in London, but surely that UDC is more or less, if not totally, coterminous with a local authority. Is he not worried at all about the UDC's accountability?
We must be sensitive about that. The local authority discharges a multiplicity of functions very well, but the essence of the urban development corporation is that it is focused on creating a new environment, attracting funds and marshalling funds and land—it has one purpose—but all that fails to happen when such things are vested with a local authority.
The thrust of my speech is that all the areas that make up the Thames gateway should be covered by urban development corporations and that there needs to be some overall, strategic planning by one English region. I accepted the hon. Gentleman's valid point that an awful lot of other intermediate bodies could be either culled or rationalised, so I would not start from this point if I were the Minister, but the Government have made a very sensible start.
On the hon. Gentleman's point about Thurrock, of course I believe in local democracy, but, after all, the local authority will monitor the urban development corporation's work and it appoints some representatives. That is not a matter for me—I took the point that he made earlier—and I am fairly comfortable with the new arrangements. In any event, I also recognise that the urban development corporation can badger other departments in a way that local authorities cannot. For example, I regret to say that Thurrock has some of the lowest general practitioner provision in England, not just in the region. I told Health Ministers in the Chamber a few weeks ago—I do so again to my hon. Friend on the Front Bench now—that they and the urban development corporation must get those other agencies to ensure not only the necessary GP provision to meet people's existing demands, but the necessary growth as the urban development corporation is extended and developed. That cannot be done adequately by a traditional local authority.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman intervened because I want to take this opportunity to emphasise the deficiency in respect of GPs. I understand that, in England, the average is 52 GPs per 100,000 people. My borough, Thurrock, currently has 43 GPs per 100,000 people. Moreover, we have a large number of single practitioners, which is not the most efficient way to deliver health care. So there is much work to be done, and I hope that the Minister with responsibility for London will join me in taking an initiative to bring together the Department of Health, the primary care trust and other agencies to discover whether we can address those deficiencies, perhaps by channelling some funds to put us on the starting grid by creating GP provision that is appropriate to our area.
The Highways Agency must urgently address the lack of capacity at junction 30 of the M25 and on adjacent stretches of the A13. The problem must be dealt with in the interests not just of Thurrock but of the whole Thames gateway, because that junction and those stretches are increasingly becoming bottlenecks. In passing, may I therefore express my regret and frustration that, when there is a major hiatus on the M25, a statement is never made in the House of Commons? However, when there is a comparable hiatus on the rail network, a statement is made. That partly reflects the failure of Ministers to make a statement, but also the disinterest and wrong priorities of the press and media.
Although it took place some distance from the Thames gateway over the weekend, a major incident on the M25 frustrated an awful lot of people in the region. A similar incident occurred near junction 30 a few months ago, and given the cost, losses and frustration caused to commerce and people travelling on the M25, we should consider big hold-ups and closures on the M25 much more seriously than we do at present. That raises the question of whether we should have a dedicated traffic police for the M25 rather than relying on the different constabularies of Kent, Essex and the Met, who do not communicate adequately with each other about the quadrants for which they have responsibility. I hope that such a suggestion will be taken on board.
I know that colleagues might later refer to crossings over the Thames, but I must point out that I oppose the continued tolling of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge between Dartford and Thurrock. It was wrong to abrogate the statute of Parliament that said that tolling should cease once the bridge had been paid for. I resent that on behalf of my constituents in Thurrock and south Essex and of people in north Kent. The charges collected are not returned to our areas. The motorists who use the bridge to go from south Essex to work in Kent and vice versa have an additional £10 a week tax on them to pay for the wider highways network. That is simply not fair unless there is tolling around the whole M25 and elsewhere. This issue should be addressed with some urgency.
Reference might be made later to the desire for a Thames bridge to the west of Thurrock. That is a prudent proposition, but I am surprised that the Government have not addressed the need for a crossing to the east of Thurrock. The QEII bridge and one that might be created in the London boroughs to the west would merely act as bottlenecks or funnels that would not meet the needs of the north of England or help with access to the channel ports. We need to examine a proposal for a further crossing to the east that could be situated either in the vicinity of my borough of Thurrock or in the area represented by the hon. Member for Castle Point.
I remember attending a meeting with the hon. Gentleman soon after we were elected to the House at which it was made quite clear that if he wanted an additional access road to Canvey Island in his constituency, it would have to be part of a wider river crossing. I am not suggesting that the crossing should be sited there but, tantalisingly, he might consider the possibility that an additional road to Canvey Island should be incorporated in a highway across the Thames that gave access to the ports in Kent. Such a highway would be useful for the wider economy and our Thames gateway region.
The need for c2c's London to Tilbury and Southend line to be upgraded with some dispatch is also a matter of urgency in south Essex. It was a run-down line and, to be fair, it has received considerable investment. However, it does not have sufficient capacity to meet the existing needs of the Thames gateway.
The channel tunnel rail link goes under the Thames and, like a bootlace, comes out of the ground near the QEII bridge in my constituency. I think that we should revisit the prospect of having a station on that line in West Thurrock or Purfleet. I realise that there is the proposal for a station at Stratford, but it is common sense to examine the suggestion for a station in my constituency. A number of trains for Paris and Brussels could stop there each day, and that would also provide useful extra capacity for people in north Kent and my constituency who want to go to London.
There is a lot to be said for my hon. Friend's suggestion. I draw attention to the fact that he implicitly referred to the fact that the Greater London authority and the Mayor are the driving force for such a proposal. However, this issue is extraterritorial to my constituency; we are not in Greater London and I am not advocating that we necessarily should be in the GLA area. However, I am saying that the boundary of Greater London makes no sense. We should be included in the considerations for the extension of the docklands light railway.
As well as capitalising on the new channel tunnel rail route that comes through my constituency and that of my hon. Friend, we need to upgrade the c2c line and address the problems of the level crossings in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend Angela Smith, who shares my frustration at the number of crossings in our area. They cut off communities and create problems for emergency vehicles. That issue needs to be addressed urgently because if the decision goes in favour of the development of the port at Shell Haven, even greater burdens will be imposed on the limited resources of the c2c rail line. That will impose greater frustration on the residents who have to wait many minutes to get across the level crossings when they travel to East Tilbury and other areas along the line.
My area also lacks an office market even though it has great potential. We have some of the lowest ratios of public sector jobs to employment in the entire country. If the Lyons review is to take civil servants out of London—my constituency is not in London—it is sensible and reasonable for me to invite Her Majesty's Government to consider moving some civil service jobs from the centre of London and into south Essex, which, at the Government's choice, is part of the eastern region. That would help to encourage the growth of skills training and would be useful in dealing with the shortages of skills, which is one of the great problems faced in our project for the Thames gateway.
It is intended that Thurrock's contribution towards meeting the housing needs of our part of England during the lifetime of the urban development corporation will be roughly 18,500 new houses. I remind my constituents who express concern about that that they must understand that we are talking about not only houses, but schools, hospital and general practitioner provision and transport links, as I have tried to describe in my speech. I also tell them that my right hon. Friend Minister for Housing and Planning has reassured me informally, as he did in the House today, that the whole strategy is especially geared towards bringing contaminated derelict land and brownfield land back into use, and that the Government stand by their commitment to the green belt.
A private enterprise company that goes under the name of Thamesgate has produced an ambitious and innovative proposal, which will presumably become a planning application in several months. It proposes to develop some 18,000 houses in the vicinity of East Tilbury in my constituency. It has tried to sound out local politicians, members of the local authority and other people in public life, such as clergymen. We have made it clear that the green belt is precious and that we do not think that there is a case to build on it unless and until brownfield sites have been exhausted and contaminated land has been restored. That must be our message to the company.
When the Minister makes his winding-up speech I hope that he will reaffirm the Government's commitment to safeguarding the green belt jealously, because that would give a great deal of reassurance to my constituents, especially those in East Tilbury. The proposal has caused them anxiety and they assume that it is a done deal to which politicians and the Government have agreed. There is in fact not even a planning application existing. A private enterprise company merely has a legitimate desire to find out whether it could float such a proposition.
I share the hon. Gentleman's passionately articulated desire to protect green space, especially his area's green belt. I reassure him that there is no likelihood that brownfield land will be exhausted. Brownfield land is a stream, not a reservoir, and as land use changes more brownfield development opportunities emerge. I am confident that when a Conservative Government are soon elected, we will be able to support the bold case that he makes on behalf of local people.
My constituents certainly need new homes before there is next a Conservative Government. I am worried about the nice people who visit my surgery to express concern rightly about the housing needs of their sons and daughters. I sometimes ask them whether they bought their council houses, and many did—good luck to them, because if I had been a council tenant, I am sure that I would have bought my house too. Such people, however, must realise that we need a way of supplying additional housing units, especially those that may be rented or bought at low cost. Such houses do not fall like manna from heaven each night to appear on the grass each morning. We need to use our energies to find out how we can build houses at low cost to meet such demand, yet still protect and enhance our environment. Politicians and the public must address that challenge and be reminded of it.
The impact on Thurrock of the reduction of housing stock due to council house sales is such that it is becoming more difficult to meet the housing needs of people on modest pay. Such housing provision must be available if we are to have the skills to achieve the wonderful project of regenerating the Thames gateway. I hope that the Minister will find a moment to reassure people throughout the region, and especially my constituents in East Tilbury who would be affected by the private company's proposal, that the Government stand by their commitment to protect and enhance the green belt.
I declare an interest as a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and I shall make a few comments in that capacity.
I am delighted to follow Andrew Mackinlay. I agree with him passionately on two points and disagree with him passionately on one. He said that he wanted to move Thurrock into one regional area. Coming from Gloucestershire, which is on the edge of four regional areas, I have a huge amount of sympathy with him in that quest. Bearing in mind the Government's horrendous defeat in the north-east referendum, I hope that Ministers will reconsider their decision not to have new boundaries for regional areas, so that we can address some of the anomalies. The hon. Gentleman is the Member for Thurrock and I am not, but it seems to me that Thurrock fits better in the London region than it does in the eastern region, which I know quite a lot about.
Thames gateway, which is the largest and most ambitious single regeneration project in this country, was launched with great fanfare by the Deputy Prime Minister on
The point was made that London will grow by more than 700,000 people in the next 10 years. The gateway project will last for 13 years. One can assume that in the time in which it is to take place, London will have grown by almost 1 million people. The project envisages the building of 120,000 houses. That presages the possibility of at least 250,000 newly housed people. However, Transport for London has estimated that only 35,000 to 55,000 jobs will be created. This is the most important thing that Ministers should listen to—[Interruption.] I wish the Minister would listen instead of talking to his colleague, because this is an important point.
If 250,000 people live in the new houses in the Thames gateway and there are jobs for only 55,000 of them, and as every piece of literature and study that I have seen on the project is predicated on the basis that the Thames gateway will have transport links within 45 minutes of central London, it is inevitable that a large number of those newly housed people will have to commute back into jobs in central London. Commuting into and from central London every morning and evening is pretty much hell for thousands, if not millions, of people. If we are not going to put in the transport infrastructure at least at the same time as, but preferably ahead of, some of the new houses, we will be in great trouble.
I also think that the Government are not taking a proper strategic approach, which is surprising given that the Prime Minister is taking a lead on the matter in his Cabinet committee Misc 22. We also know from the Minister that the Deputy Prime Minister is setting up a new quango. I regret that I was not in the Chamber to hear about that and apologise for being late, but I was at another meeting. If we are not careful, the project will have too many chiefs and not enough doers.
We need to take a strategic approach to see where new jobs will be created in the next 13 to 20 years. Which industries will be successful in that time? The Government have not done that strategic thinking properly, and they need to do it. We need to see what new industries we could create in the east of London and what new jobs would follow from that. It will be a quagmire if we create all those new houses and there are no jobs in that area. It is environmentally unsustainable—the great buzz words of our time—and we need people to have jobs near their houses. That is the biggest single thing that the Government need to think about.
The transport infrastructure to make the project work is enormous. The Minister of State, Department for Transport is on the Treasury Bench. I hope that he can give us some answers. What is the future of Crossrail? Who will pay for it? What is the time scale? What about the three estimated new Thames crossings, one of which is a bridge? What about the docklands light railway extension, which has already been mentioned? What about rail upgrades to areas such as Stansted and Tilbury? We need to know something about those developments to the transport infrastructure, as vast sums of money will be required to upgrade systems and fund new projects. Where is all the money coming from, and what is the time scale for construction?
My hon. Friend has made some excellent points and has highlighted an issue of serious concern. The c2c line from Shoeburyness to Fenchurch Street station is already at over-capacity. People stand on trains on that line every day, as they cannot find a seat. How will we increase capacity on that line for people who already live in the area, let alone for those who will take up all the new jobs and houses that we are going to create?
My hon. Friend has made an excellent intervention and anticipates what I am about to say. He makes a very good point about transport, but the same principle applies to schools, hospitals, health centres and every other public service. It is no good building all those houses if we do not consider how we will provide public services in the area. With a general election looming, the Government must clarify the development criteria that they expect in the next five to 10 years. Will they follow Kate Barker's proposal for a development land tax? How will section 106 and the social housing requirement work? Unless developers have a settled environment in which to work, the position will be very difficult.
The concept of urban development corporations was implemented successfully by the last Conservative Government in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. They made UDCs work by levering in money from the private sector and adopting a bidding approach. The present Government must be measured not by inputs but by outputs—it is not about how much money they spend but about how effectively they spend it for the country. They need to think carefully about how they will lever in all that money. How will they organise or assemble large enough packages of land, possibly through compulsory purchase, which has been successful in some UDC areas?
I do not wish to be too political, but the Minister for Housing and Planning must do a little better. Some of his answers to parliamentary questions, particularly those asked by my hon. Friend Bob Spink, lack the detail or strategic thinking that I have been talking about. On
"The information . . . is not held centrally, and could be provided only at disproportionate cost."—[Hansard, 21 October 2004; Vol. 425, c. 861W.]
If that is the usual level of detail that characterises thinking on the Thames gateway, the Minister must do much better, or the project will not get off the ground. Exactly the same answer was given in relation to leisure centres on
Before concluding, I should like to deal with some of the details that have been mentioned this evening. I have spoken about the transport infrastructure, but we need to consider carefully where all those houses will go. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point that the Minister was incredibly sensitive about flooding. We must all be completely open about the problem of the flood plain and where we should build houses, because it would be monstrous to build houses that have any chance of being flooded whatsoever. Recently, there was a controversial planning application in Fairford in my constituency. It was nonsense—the local council turned down the application because the houses were likely to flood, but the Minister's inspector came along and said, "No, you can build the houses there, as they are not likely to flood and we have a proper flood attenuation scheme in place." The Minister said tonight that there is only a one in a thousand chance of houses flooding in the Thames barrier area, but we all know that climate change is making matters much more unpredictable. We all know that in large areas of housing, with large areas of tarmac and concrete where rainwater can run off quickly, the risk of flooding is much greater. We will want to study the Environment Agency flood maps with great care and in great detail to see where the houses are to be built. The Government are working hard with the insurance industry. I am glad to hear that, because the insurance industry will not want to insure houses that have any chance of flooding. Perhaps that will be our safeguard.
I should like to speak about design and density. Density may not be the universal theme of the gateway. There may be different densities in different parts. I have seen the detailed gateway plan and the Olympic bid plan. What is envisaged in those plans is first class. I hope the Government are successful in their Olympic bid. There is no stronger champion of it than I. The plan is excellent. It regenerates the lower Lea area, it will provide 3,000 social houses that will be left in the Olympic village after the games, and the plan will provide new green areas and water features. I went down to the Thames gateway offices in East London university to see the model for the gateway plan, and that plan is excellent too.
We must, however, concentrate carefully on design and density. There is nothing wrong with dense housing per se. After all, look at Kensington, where there are some 80 houses to the hectare. Nobody would say that Kensington was excessively dense, but in other areas—for example, in my rural areas—80 houses to the hectare would be far too many. There needs to be a harmonious mixture of medium-rise dense housing and less dense housing.
We are becoming more and more knowledgeable about the design of housing—for example, how we insulate houses properly so that they are heat efficient, and how we make them last longer. It is a monstrosity that pre-cast reinforced concrete houses that were built in the 1960s are being pulled down. We should be designing houses with a longer life than 40 years. It is perfectly possible to do it, and to design decent houses so that people on any level of income can live in comfort and in warmth. That should be our aim in building new houses.
Many other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, so to sum up, the Thames gateway project is the most exciting regeneration project that the country has ever faced. There are huge opportunities to ensure that London and hence the United Kingdom becomes one of the foremost places going forward in the 21st century. Let us for goodness' sake build well and make sure that jobs are near the places where people will live. I wish the Government every success.
Harold Wilson once made a famous speech at a public meeting in my constituency. He asked, "Why do I say that the Royal Navy is vital to the future of Britain?", and someone heckled him from the back and said, "Because you're in Chatham."
The Chatham dockyard was our heart and it is our proud history. In 1984—20 years ago now—it closed and thousands of people lost their jobs. Unemployment rose to almost 20 per cent. That was in the "Garden of England". People sometimes take the view that the county is prosperous, but we have had our difficult times. It was painful, but unemployment is now at a record low—about 3 per cent. The dockyard is once again breathing healthily. Once again it is the centre of employment, and of businesses, homes, schools and, most recently, a university. More than £20 million of Government money has been invested in the area.
This evening, hon. Members have discussed what will happen in the Thames gateway, but if they came to Medway, they would see that experience and that investment happening today. The university of Greenwich and the university of Kent are working alongside our further education college, and we have recently received money for a construction training centre to provide vital skills to build the gateway. Hon. Members have discussed people moving into the area, but we want jobs and opportunities for the existing communities.
Some £23 million has been invested in the development of brownfield sites. There has been some doubt whether the Government will put in the cash to ensure that land is decontaminated, but that is happening in the Medway towns. The idea of the Rochester/Chatham riverside development has been around since a Labour council entered office in 1991. My namesake, Councillor John Shaw, pioneered the Rochester/Chatham riverside, for which we have obtained £23 million. At one time, we had that aspiration and the Government supported our ideas, but their pocket was empty and so was ours; but thanks to this Government, we have got £23 million.
We are in good shape to meet the challenges of the Thames gateway, but like so many communities, we have our shopping list, too—some things are in the trolley, but we want a few extras. As many hon. Members have said, the challenge of getting the Thames gateway right means that not everyone will get everything they want. However, transport is a common theme flowing throughout the debate, and a consensus exists among MPs who represent constituencies within the Thames gateway that we must get the transport right.
I want to point to things that are already happening, such as private sector investment. Arriva, the main bus operator in Medway, has delivered £10 million of new buses around the Medway towns, because it recognises that the Medway towns are a growth area and that it can get more people on to its buses if it provides a regular, reliable and quality bus for passengers, which it is doing. The number of passengers on those fantastic new vehicles, which were commissioned a few months ago, is growing.
We welcome the news about the channel tunnel rail link, which is one of the greatest engineering projects. I remember being in this House in 1998, when the project was seemingly doomed as a consequence of poor financial planning by the Conservative party. People forget that situation, but my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who is a great man, saved the project.
In Kent, we have had the pain of the channel tunnel rail link, and now we want some of the gain, which means a domestic service. I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has ordered new bullet trains that will speed through the county—importantly, those trains will also stop in the county and in the Medway towns. We welcome that £200 million investment, and the trains will come on stream in 2009.
The channel tunnel rail link will be finished by 2007. I wonder whether my hon. Friend Paul Clark, who is currently taking notes, will tell us—his interest is as great as mine—whether the operator that gets the new integrated Kent transport franchise can use Eurostars. Some Eurostars are currently mothballed—can we use them during that two-year period?
It is 40 years since the Kent railway timetable was last reorganised. We await the new timetable, which will include the channel tunnel rail link domestic service. We do not want reduced services in 2006 and a three-year wait for replacement services. As the Thames gateway evolves, we must continually review and revise our train infrastructure and the timetable, which we must adapt according to people's work patterns. It is important that we do not have to wait another 40 years or so. I would like some answers on that.
I will skip through the next part of my speech. Many of the things that I was going to say have already been said, so I shall I do not delay the House any longer than I need to. I am sure that that will be popular.
For a dynamic area like the Thames gateway, we need continually to review our transport policies. When we look back 15 or 20 years from now, the question will be: did we enhance the communities and the lives of the people who already live there? Economic regeneration is vital but so is social regeneration.
Many of my constituents read the grand plans. They can see some of the things happening, but those do not necessarily touch them in their everyday lives. There is still too much litter around. There are too many alleyways and Victorian terraces that are full of rubbish. It is seemingly difficult to remove the rubbish, because the houses are in the private sector.
Are we getting it right in terms of the regeneration grants? Stamp duty reduction, for example, is a regenerator for the poorest wards in our communities, but where the scheme is situated in Medway is not where the poorest housing is. Those communities are stable. The scheme is run on a ward basis. It should not be, because wards can sometimes be skewed—they can contain a very poor area and a wealthy area alongside it, so we do not necessarily get the targeting of the resources that we want.
The scheme should be run on a polling district basis or on a street basis. There are concerns that some streets of inner Chatham, the inner city of the Medway towns, which I represent, are at tipping point. Too many houses are in multiple occupation. That will not encourage people to remain living there—it will encourage flight. There needs to be greater joined-up thinking between Departments in providing incentives for people to remain in the area, to get good deals—cheaper deals perhaps—and to take advantage of the grants that are already available.
There have been references to many community projects from hon. Members. I want to mention one—the All Saints neighbourhood project. That has been led by some commendable people living and working in the community around central Chatham. They have been involved with the clean-ups and getting the local community involved in the things they see when they step outside their front door: community projects, after school clubs, and improving play areas. Those are not the grand things, but they are important aspects of regeneration which the existing communities should feel part of. The grand plans are all very well but let us fix things that concern people in their daily lives. That is my greatest fear.
My hon. Friend the Minister is aware that my constituency crosses the boundary of the Thames gateway. I make this point for the communities that neighbour the gateway. The northern part of Tonbridge and Malling borough council is in my constituency. It is engaged with the Thames gateway process and is pleased to be able to do that. It is principally a green belt borough. It has land deposits but it cannot be an overspill site for the Thames gateway. If there are difficulties in achieving the housing on brownfield sites in the Thames gateway, the borough cannot be an overspill site. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister would like to refer to that in his winding-up speech.
Things in the Medway towns are already happening, and I have great faith that we will continue to deliver. All of us have a shopping list. It is only right that we stand here, occasionally poke the Minister in the ribs and remind him that there are some concerns as well as excitement, which many of us feel. I wish him and all his colleagues well in delivering a promising and bright future for my constituents.
Let me say at the outset how much I welcome the regeneration of the Thames gateway area and the opportunities that it offers to my constituents. Those of us who value debate in the House as an opportunity to put our points across will inevitably focus on areas of concern or areas in which we seek change, and I appeal to Ministers to take our remarks in that context rather than thinking that we are being negative about the prospects that the development offers our communities.
For too long, the east of London has been the poor relation in terms of economic development and opportunity. In the latter part of the last century we had enormous decline in the region, with the docks running down and a loss of industry. In the north of my borough, around Woolwich, 250,000 jobs disappeared in a generation from the Royal Arsenal—an incredible number of jobs to lose in one area. People who do not know the area may not realise that around Woolwich there are some of the most deprived communities to be found anywhere in the country. The regeneration of the Thames gateway will bring enormous change to their lives and to the vitality of the economy in east London, and it is well overdue.
On the day on which we have formally submitted our bid to host the Olympics, let me mention in passing the enormous opportunities that that brings to the area. I wish it every success.
When the regeneration is completed, it is intended to create about 180,000 jobs, as well as about 120,000 homes. Much of the land to be regenerated is in public ownership, and that offers us an opportunity to achieve a great deal more social housing than is currently contemplated. Every week, my surgery is full of families who have three generations living in the same house. Young people, now with children of their own, have grown up in houses built by Labour Governments and Labour local authorities, and they look to Labour now to provide the opportunities for them and their families that their parents had before them.
The process that we currently go through to develop social housing is invariably that we sell the local authority property to the private developer and then seek to negotiate back a proportion for social housing under section 106. I know from my discussions with housing associations that they would like to take on the management role for the development of some sites, so that they manage the whole project from beginning to end. They will sell some of the housing, so that we get mixed tenure: we are not talking about building huge council estates as we did in the past. We want to create balanced communities, achieving more from the value of the land to allow us to build more social housing.
We need partnership with social landlords to maximise social housing. I am not advocating social housing exclusively for local people. That has been a disaster in the past and would not help the regeneration of the Thames gateway and bring in the diversity of people that we need to participate in the local economy and industry and to provide public services. We need much more affordable housing than I fear we will get if we are to accommodate existing residents who want to rent property that they can afford, and those who will make the gateway regeneration a success if they move into the area.
Several Members have mentioned the obvious public services, such as health services and schools. Even the fire service was mentioned. A number of other public services do not spring to mind in the context of planning gain, however. I am thinking of supported housing units for people with learning disabilities, and further-education colleges. FE colleges need a great deal of capital. There will be an enormous demand for training in the area, and I think the negotiations should take that into account. My hon. Friend the Minister will probably say that all those issues have been taken on board, but I fear that they are lost in talk of health centres, schools and the like. They slipped off the shopping list when we are telling private developers what we want.
Much has been said about transport, but I want to say more about it. There is a plan to bring the docklands light railway to Woolwich in the north of my borough. As I have told my hon. Friend the Minister on several occasions, a swathe of south-east London is not served by the underground. We rely heavily on trains, as buses are still not considered an option for long-distance travel to and from central London. Bringing the DLR to Woolwich will enhance a major hub in south-east London. It benefits from several bus services and from rail services, but—in the medium term, at least—it will have the DLR as well.
According to the current plans to take Crossrail south of the river, it will bypass Woolwich. That will deprive people south of Greenwich and beyond of an essential link. The ability to use other forms of transport to reach a hub in the north of the borough could transform the way in which people reach their jobs each day, and could play a major part in relieving pressure on roads that are already much too congested. The lack of a Crossrail station will make it virtually impossible for large chunks of the population of south-east London to benefit from easy access to services.
An enormous amount of money is being invested in the Thames gateway bridge. My hon. Friend the Minister will say that the problems cannot be solved simply by diverting funds from the bridge—a road link—to Crossrail, but it is important to emphasise the importance of public-transport links.
For more than two decades Greenwich council undertook some surveys into poverty in south-east London, particularly in Greenwich. The results of the surveys highlighted that those who were socially excluded did not have access to a car. The argument that the regeneration of the Thames gateway and the opportunities for people who do not have a car are predicated on the development of a road does not stack up given the evidence that we have found in the past.
The argument was turned on its head when the congestion charge was introduced. It was said that people who did not have access to a car could not be disfranchised by the congestion charge. It is not possible to have it both ways. Either these people are in need of public transport links or they are not. We are planning to put an enormous amount of investment into the road. We are talking of the largest bridge to span the Thames in the London area. It will have two lanes for traffic and one lane for buses. Those of us who are more cynical than others could point to the fact that with bus lanes it is necessary only to change the colour of the tarmac to produce a three-lane motorway in each direction.
We shall see an increase in the amount of traffic on already congested roads on the south side of the river. In my opinion, the community in this part of south-east London will be divided in the long term. The people concerned will experience what everyone else experiences when they live near a bridge. When the bridges in west London were closed for repair, people argued that they should remain closed. They and their communities cherished the relief that the closures brought to them as a result of reduced traffic congestion. That will result in people saying, "We want relief from the traffic", and I believe that that will lead to them saying that they want a relief road. That will lead to the resurrection of the east London river crossing route, which has been the subject of so much controversy in south-east London.
The issue should be taken before a public inquiry. There is no evidence to support the economic contribution that it is claimed that the Thames gateway bridge will bring about through the creation of jobs. In his submission on the bridge, Professor Whitelegg said that there was little evidence about the types of jobs that would be created by the bridge. The assertion that it would create 48,000 jobs has now been omitted from the Mayor of London's transport strategy. The figures of Halcrow, the consultants, show little evidence of the role that the Thames gateway bridge will play in the creation of jobs. The economic case is thin.
There are environmental issues that need to be addressed and that can only be done by means of a public inquiry. That is essential if the bridge project is to go ahead. In terms of transport infrastructure development, it is so important that we place an emphasis on public transport. That is what will bring about access to jobs and opportunities for local people.
The House has heard a great deal this evening with which I agree. The potential of the area for housing, for business and for the development of new jobs is there to be seen. The conditions in the area at present are not right to attract these new developments.
There has been a sequence of four or five studies going back 25 years, all of which have shown that the economic and social development of east London is inhibited and limited by the division of the area by the Thames. That is illustrated by the very few opportunities that exist to cross the Thames along the 15 miles to the east of Tower bridge compared with the vast number of opportunities that there are to do so in the 15 miles to the west, with the huge difference in the economic opportunities that exist there.
That, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is the true significance of the Thames gateway bridge. It will bridge the problem and it will mean that my constituents in Bexleyheath and Crayford, for example, will be able to look right through London for job opportunities, whereas their ambit is curtailed at present to 180o. The same applies to businesses coming into the area. Presently, businesses are trapped in an area that is badly served by road transport, albeit alleviated to an extent by the Thames road improvement in my area. Generally, it is a difficult area to get out of, which inhibits the ability to exploit the full market of the whole of Greater London. That is the true significance of the Thames bridge.
It also has a local role for London and for east London, in particular. Public transport provision will help to alleviate some of the potential traffic. As my hon. Friend Clive Efford suggested, there is some local anxiety about the project being essentially the old east London river crossing in a new guise, but it is not really that at all. The old east London river crossing was meant as a strategic route right through London, taking traffic from the rest of Britain and bringing it down to the Channel ports. This bridge is already designed as a local means of crossing the river.
Some anxiety remains in my constituency, particularly in the Brampton road area, about the possibility that the extra traffic generated will mean more traffic on the roads jeopardising the environment. I plead with Ministers to ensure that no penny pinching will take place in respect of minimising any environmental consequences of the bridge, which will play such a vital role for the development of east London. The minority who may suffer from increased traffic should not be caused to suffer when the benefits to the vast majority of the population are so large. We can afford generosity and sensitivity in dealing with their problems.
The other major project that will open up the potential of the area is, as my hon. Friend Linda Perham mentioned several times, Crossrail. It is particularly important to my constituents that it goes along the present alignment into south-east London from Canary Wharf, through the royal group of docks, on to Abbey Wood and then to Ebbsfleet. That alignment will take it through some of the largest areas for potential development anywhere in London: on the south bank of the Thames in north Greenwich and north Bexley. It will provide a link from the presently fairly isolated area of south London to Heathrow on the one side and to Ebbsfleet and the channel tunnel rail link on the other. The result will not be enhanced employment alone; it will enhance the whole quality of employment available in that area of London and make a very major contribution to regeneration.
I believe that there is some anxiety in the City and Canary Wharf, which now draws many employees from west London, that that will not continue to happen, as the growth of the financial services industry in the area continues. They will increasingly need to pull people in from east London generally, south-east and north-east London. That need will be catered for by Crossrail on the planned two alignments. As well as underpinning development in south-east London, Crossrail could also underpin the potential growth of the biggest financial services centre in the whole of the European Union. As it grows, it could become the dominant force in the EU.
If we are to achieve the potential for housing and businesses, the Thames bridge project and Crossrail must have definite timetables with enough finance behind them to give the private investor confidence that things will happen. If we have that, the private investment can come either before or alongside those developments. If, however, as has happened too often in the past, these become "this year, next year, some time, never" projects, the private sector will not have the confidence to bring investment in soon enough for us to gain real advantage. My plea is that Ministers ensure to the maximum extent possible that we have timetables for both the Thames bridge and Crossrail that are believable and that mean that private and public development go hand in hand.
Finally, the provision for Crossrail will come before the House in a Bill to prepare the ground. Can we ensure that the branch to Ebbsfleet from Canary Wharf is included in that as an integral part of the Crossrail project?
There has been a lot of cross-party agreement tonight, so I hope that I will not add a note of disagreement at the end of the debate. I want to raise a few issues about local buy-in to the whole regeneration process across the Thames gateway, and I hope that that will be taken in the spirit intended. Before that, I should say that I welcome the debate, which has allowed us to take stock of where the Thames gateway discussions have got to. It has been a good debate.
My points relate specifically to my constituency and the sheer rate of change in the debate over the past few years. I entered into this discussion before I was elected to Parliament, when I worked in Downing street, because of economic transformations in the UK car industry. After BMW pulled the plug out of Rover in the west midlands, the next one on the runway would have been the Ford Dagenham plant. We got involved to manage the process of economic transformation and change, and that quickly got me involved in a series of economic and social relationships above and beyond the Ford Dagenham estate, to do with the work of the Thames Gateway London partnership and what was happening in terms of the single regeneration budget project at the heart of the Thames gateway.
What we decided during those difficult transformations in 1999–2000 is beginning to come on stream now. For example, in collaboration with the Mayor's office, the London Development Agency and the Department of Trade and Industry, we agreed to set up the Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence, which was opened last year by the Prime Minister on the Ford estate in my constituency. That is altering the life chances of local people in enabling them to take qualifications up to the most advanced postgraduate level in engineering and manufacturing, and that is much to be welcomed.
At the same time, we agreed a package to build a new Ford engine plant on the Dagenham estate, which the Prime Minister also opened last year. We are in discussions to increase capacity at the plant over the coming period to ensure that we have an enduring legacy of diesel technology and engine manufacture in Dagenham.
What was the SRB project around the heart of the Thames gateway has been transferred or consolidated into the London Riverside regeneration company. I should declare an interest as an LDA nominee on the board of that company and as an LDA nominee as a director on the CEME project.
All that is to be welcomed, and those are secure building blocks, which were developed during 1999–2000. Since then, there has been a massive intensification of the debate and policy developments around it. We have to ask why that has occurred. Obviously, we have had the Mayor of London's spatial economic development plan as well as strategies by which he can manage economic change and population movements in London by pushing the centre of gravity of policy making eastwards. That has come alongside the strategies of local boroughs, which have been in development for a number of years, to try to confront local issues of poverty and deprivation. At the same time, we have had the Government's national prioritisation of the Thames gateway, arising partly because the housing crisis in the south-east acts as a brake on broader patterns of economic change across other regions of the British economy. We have to put the brakes on interest rates because of that, meaning that growth is constrained elsewhere in the economy, irrespective of economic context in different regions. Secondly, as we saw in the review of our prospective entry into the euro, the housing market in the south-east constrains entry because of the possible effect that a reduced pan-European interest level would have in reigniting growth in the south-east. That would in turn have an effect on other regions in the UK.
Therefore, we have come a long way since I first got involved in 1999–2000 and the Government should be commended for the rigour with which they have approached the issue, the thinking behind some of the policy prescriptions and for turning it into a national priority, with its own Cabinet sub-committee. However, the various objectives of different levels of government with regard to the Thames gateway throw up different priorities and create tensions in the debate. The first concern is the structures and institutions involved. The number of institutions working in parallel on aspects of regeneration has already been pointed out—for example, the LDA, the boroughs, local regeneration partnerships, English Partnerships and the new London Thames Gateway Development Corporation. That all shows the commitment to regeneration, but we need a clear delineation of responsibilities, otherwise, we could create confusion, hesitation and fragmentation.
We should not concentrate all developments and priorities within certain sectors of the Thames gateway. That concern is felt in the London riverside area, in terms of the Olympic bid and the possible reprioritisation of projects towards the eastern area, at the expense of developments to the west within the urban development corporation boundaries. Transport infrastructure is also critical. I flag up the issue of the Thames gateway bridge, but I welcome the commitments that the Government have made, which my hon. Friend Mr. Beard mentioned.
All these aspects of the issue are welcome, but there is a brittleness about some of the decision making. My real concern is local community buy-in to the overall gateway strategy. As I said earlier, Dagenham sits at the geographical centre of the Thames gateway. It covers much of the London riverside part of the gateway and has a massive amount of brownfield land. Across the London riverside area, excluding Barking town centre, we anticipate some 20,000 new homes over the next 10 to 15 years. It is also one of the smallest boroughs in London and has a great strategic location.
Notwithstanding the future developments, change is already occurring at an astonishing rate. It is estimated that the population has increased by some 20,000 since 2001. That is partly because we have the lowest-cost housing market in Greater London. As house prices have risen, aspiring members of the property-owning democracy have gravitated towards the area, so that we have increased demand for housing in the borough. At the same time, the effect of the right-to-buy policy has meant a greater supply of private housing stock than previously. People are also ahead of the curve in terms of the Government's strategy for east London and are gravitating towards the Thames gateway because they foresee the future economic developments in the area.
Cumulatively, those elements are transforming the local community day by day. However, that is occurring even before we trigger the changes anticipated under the gateway proposals. That transformation is colliding with the long-term legacy of poverty, deprivation and underinvestment in public services in the locality. That is the crux of the issue of regeneration in Dagenham. A fundamental tension exists between our historic economic and social legacy, current changes that are transforming our community and the radical changes that are envisaged in the future. On top of all that, we have the toxic politics of race, operating within the context of limited resources, great need and rapid change, both now and in the future.
Consider, for example, some of the basic characteristics of the community. It is the lowest-wage economy in Greater London. Adult numeracy is the lowest in the country and adult literacy the fourth lowest, and the number of people with higher education qualifications is the lowest in the country. Heart and lung disease, infant mortality and life expectancy are among the worst in the capital.
Yes, we are seeing incremental change: some of the schools are the fastest improving not only in the capital but in the country, and new integrated health centres are being built across the borough. The new hospital at Oldchurch will, I hope, open in the next 18 months. That is all incrementally positive change—but it operates in the context of population expansion that places even greater tension and pressure on local public services.
Take, for example, health funding. We have an acknowledged serious under-capitation. Despite a recent generous settlement, we will be 10.7 per cent. under capitation in three years' time—one of only four primary care trusts nationally to be in that situation. That amounts to a year-on-year shortfall of £24 million a year in PCT funding, with no defined commitment to sorting it out.
That is before we even begin to consider the additional pressures arising from our own current population growth, let alone future population growth. Even on the basis of out-of-date population statistics, the discretionary Thames gateway funding for health is small beer in the context of that structural health funding problem. For example, this year we received some £700,000 to deal with the population changes, which is not a lot, given the £24 million annual shortfall.
My point is simple: we do not have enough resources to deal with our historic problems, let alone current and future changes. How does that manifest itself? Change is always difficult for people, and it is more difficult when resources are severely limited. For people to feel comfortable, they have to have confidence in change, and feel that it will benefit them and their families. At the moment there are not enough secure footings on the ground in terms of public service delivery for people to feel confident in the broader patterns of economic transformation.
Housing is another example. There are about 6,000 people on our waiting list in the borough. Historically, here more than almost anywhere else in the country, the local community has relied on the principle of council housing to deliver socialised housing provision. Yet last year, because of changes in the make-up of local authority social housing grant, the authority lost about £12 million on a couple of key sites, and had to establish its own partnerships with a developer so that it could maintain control of nominations to the social housing dwellings.
That has engendered real concerns about the ability to provide local homes for local people in the context of both current changes in the community and future housing developments with limited nominations for local people. Again, the lack of a base camp of confidence to deal with current problems undermines the confidence in future changes. The local population therefore feel threatened and concerned, and that rich brew of legacy versus current changes within the community, let alone future changes, manifests itself today in far-right activity. Two months ago, the British National party secured its first council seat for 11 years in the capital, in the constituency next to mine, and in the same borough. That development did not fall out of the sky; it is a manifestation of the tensions over resources in the context of changing communities and long-term historic need.
I have raised those points to illustrate some of the possible tensions surrounding future regeneration in the Thames gateway. In our community, the stakes are high. The jury is out on local buy-in to the whole gateway agenda. We must do more to build confidence in the community, and that must be translated into resources. Regeneration must be built on fairness that takes local people with the process of change. If it is not, the phrase "sustainable communities" will seem as a complete and utter misnomer.
I am confident about the agenda for change, but I do not underestimate some of the difficulties attached to it. For my community, the whole question of the Thames gateway can go in one of two ways. It could continue the previously repeated process by which people feel threatened and hostile because something is being done to them rather than with them, with the corresponding angry resentment that can be articulated in extreme forms. Alternatively, it could be a rewarding and liberating process of material, economic and social change that takes people with it and genuinely builds new sustainable communities. I am extremely confident that the Thames gateway agenda will take the latter route rather than the former, but I do not underestimate the difficulties attached to the process of change.
I draw the attention of the House to my interests in the Register, although they are not terribly relevant to tonight's deliberations. I also apologise for not being in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate—a fact that I had anticipated and of which I informed both, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and Members on the Treasury Bench.
This has been a good debate, but it is a tragic irony that the sustainable communities plan is neither sustainable nor really about communities. Conservatives believe it inappropriate to target development on areas where development pressure is already greatest. What does it really say about regeneration to put extra resources, build extra houses and create extra jobs in a corner of Britain that is already the most prosperous? What does that say about job creation for people in areas where unemployment is still a blight?
The Thames gateway, though, is different, qualitatively and quantitatively, from the rest of the sustainable communities plan. It is different because the development is largely on brownfield land and thus implicitly regenerative; different, too, because of its location. Our fundamental doubts about the Government's strategy and our doubts about the sustainability of their communities plan are not all reflected in our views about the Thames gateway project.
I remind the House that we are not alone in doubting the suitability and viability of the Government's programme for housing development. My hon. Friend Bob Spink highlighted the severe concerns of his constituents about housing numbers, but it is not only them—important though they are. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Select Committee described the impact of the Government's housing programme on the environment as potentially "unsustainable". The Committee said:
"The impact of developing so many homes in the South East, one of the most densely populated regions in Europe, has not been fully assessed . . . The additional homes could place excessive demands on the environment, leading to the loss of green-field sites and excessive pressure on the water supply and other natural resources . . . The Government . . . has yet to estimate the costs of providing the transport links, health care, education and all the other facilities which new neighbourhoods require."
The Committee has delivered its verdict on the Government; it is not a happy one for the Minister who will reply to the debate.
In a series of speeches, we have heard real questions about several aspects of the development. We have heard questions about environmental issues, infrastructure issues and project management. I shall deal with them in turn, beginning with the environmental concerns.
There are issues about water resources that have yet to be properly answered. We know that water resources in the south of England—in the capital, in Kent and Essex—are already under pressure and the Minister must give us firm answers to the relevant questions. There are issues about developments on the flood plain. I take the view of the Minister for Housing and Planning that flood risk needs to be assessed in terms of flood record. As I represent the fens in Lincolnshire, I understand that one cannot say that simply because an area is at risk, irrespective of its record of flooding and its existing defences, one should not build there. If that were the case, my constituency would not exist and that would be a monstrous thing, as the whole House will agree. The Minister is right: record and risk need to be balanced but, nevertheless, Mr. Davey put some important questions about that matter and we need more than the dismissive answer he was given.
There are also issues about the effect of the development on air quality. I should like to hear answers on that subject in the Minister's summing up, as well as on the issues raised by Andrew Mackinlay about biodiversity, wildlife and green spaces. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point also talked about the impact of the development on the quality of life. Those issues, too, deserve an answer and I know that the Minister is well equipped to deal with them all in considerable detail in the time available.
Perhaps even more fundamental than those environmental concerns are the concerns about infrastructure that have been debated at some length during our deliberations. Linda Perham, in a telling phrase, said that the lack of infrastructural investment inhibits opportunity. She said that was especially damaging to the interests of her poorer constituents. She is right.
Dr. Stoate said— I use his words—that pressing on without dealing with the infrastructural challenges would be the greatest mistake. Other hon. Members have questioned the issues associated with a balance between jobs and transport. I particularly highlight the contribution made by my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown, who always speaks with great authority on these matters. He gave us the figures, and they were stark: 240,000 extra people and 55,000 extra jobs; that involves a large number of people travelling, and they need high quality transport infrastructure to do so efficiently, at their comfort and with appropriate ease. Yet there are still enormous gaps in the information that the Government have made available to us.
My hon. Friend has touched on the most important thing in the debate: it is not just a question of all those people travelling, but where they travel to. The Government have not identified what are the industries and businesses of the future—the next 10 to 20 years—to which those people will travel, but we hope that we can create those businesses on their doorsteps and make them environmentally sustainable.
We hope that we can do so, but until the Government come up with persuasive answers to the important questions that have been asked by hon. Members on both sides of the House tonight, we cannot be certain. It would not be appropriate to proceed, as the hon. Member for Dartford said, unless we are reasonably certain about these fundamental matters.
The Government have been repeatedly asked to articulate how the infrastructure provision for the communities plan projects, particularly the Thames gateway, will be funded. The ODPM has stated that the finances for the Thames gateway development corporation have not been fully determined and that part of the funding will come from the £446 million allocated for regeneration from the last Government spending review. Not only is that explanation inadequate, but so is the funding.
The Library pack prepared for the debate includes extracts from the Thames gateway regional spending plan, but I do not know whether any hon. Member noticed that there are no figures in that spending plan. The conclusion says:
"The Thames gateway London partnership will be in a position to comment more fully on its proposed framework for area-based schemes once Transport for London issues further clarification on the timing and content of revised Guidance."
The project faces massive funding problems, and there are massive doubts about the effectiveness of the infrastructure. We have heard from a variety of Members about the need for Crossrail, but the Government have yet to provide clear answers on that either.
There are conflicting views about the bridge. I heard what Mr. Beard said about the paucity of provision on the east side of London. I was born in south-east London, at Woolwich, as generations of my family have been, so I can speak with some authority about the Thames, and I was pleased to grow up in Eltham. I was delighted that Clive Efford contributed to the debate. He is right to say that such things are difficult and create limited opportunities for people travelling to work and leisure and for all kinds of other purposes, but I have doubts about the bridge because independent analysis, which he mentioned, has questioned whether the project is appropriate and whether it will deliver what it was once said that it might. Again, that requires Government clarification and comment. We cannot be left in the dark any longer about those matters.
The issue of project management has been raised. It is often said that too many cooks spoil the broth, and plenty of cooks are involved in this project, are they not? The number of organisations, the lack of accountability and the range of conflicting agendas have been mentioned by many hon. Members.
People are not mere units and homes are not just buildings. This project must be about building real communities, not soulless sprawling estates of houses that have little to offer beyond ubiquity. We must look beyond utility to grace and beauty; each home should be in keeping with its neighbour, and each settlement should be in tune with the prevailing landscape—ergonomically, ecologically and environmentally sustainable. Real communities are mixed communities: jobs and leisure, shops and open spaces, churches, schools, clubs and pubs—all the little platoons with their individual intricacies, courtesies and civilities that together make up civilised life.
A number of key questions remain. Will the Minister in summing up clarify the infrastructural shortfalls? Will he consider ways to address them by using public funds to trigger private investment? It has been estimated that we need 55 primary schools, 10 secondary schools, nine leisure centres and six playing fields, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold and by inference by the hon. Members for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) and for Thurrock. Will the Minister also deal with the fundamental issue of transport?
Will the Minister commit to determining the extent of this development by using environmental, ecological and infrastructural criteria? That means air, water, biodiversity, flooding, but also "liveability" to use a term that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has used. Will it be a good place to live?
Will the Minister look again at the shortfall in the skills necessary to deliver the project that was identified by the chairman of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment? He said that the project could not be sustained on the basis of inadequate skills and pointed out:
"There are simply not enough people with the right skills to do the job. This is the biggest single barrier to the achievement of the Communities Plan."
Will the Minister rethink what sustainability really means? That means reviewing RPG9A and redesignating sufficient land that is currently earmarked for employment for residential purposes. It means understanding that living communities are mixed and diverse communities. They make demands on active citizens and pay them back in the currency of the joy of shared identity and pride.
Will the Minister raise the bar in respect of design? All that we build should add to what is there. Appropriate standards in design, density, access to amenities, layout and green spaces will engender a sense of place, distinctiveness and deliver an aesthetic feel-good factor.
We plant trees for those born later, and we build houses for them too. This is an opportunity to be grasped or an enormous mistake to be made. Beyond party, this Government have an opportunity and this House has a duty to make the right decisions. If we do not, those born later will not forgive us.
This has been a thoughtful and reflective debate, for which I am grateful. Clearly, I cannot answer in 13 minutes all the questions that were asked, but I shall begin by saying a few words by way of introduction.
The contribution of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman was interesting. He clearly swallowed the lexicography of the sustainable communities plan and regurgitated it at his leisure. I can cheerfully say that we are heading in precisely the direction that he outlined on all the major points that he mentioned. I shall come to some of them in detail later.
I welcome what I thought was an offer to treat the issue in a cross-party or non-party basis. In my year as a Minister responsible for housing regeneration in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and subsequently as a Transport Minister, I have taken the firm view that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get this right. It is a massive undertaking and one of the problems in the debate is that we have confused two to three-year horizons with 15, 20 or 30-year horizons. If the task is undertaken properly, it will take a generation and more to see it through to completion.
I fully endorse the hon. Gentleman's comments about the durability and sustainability of the project. I am grateful, in the main—I know that there are local concerns, and I will come to them—that people have eschewed the notion that the gateway, which he referred to in the context of the wider sustainable communities plan, is all about concreting over every blade of grass between here and Southend and Manston airport in Kent and that, if we are not concreting it over, we will face serious difficulties with flooding. I shall come to the serious concerns about flooding later, but I am grateful to the House that the debate has not taken place in the stunted playground context in which serious debates about planning regeneration often take place.
The Government have taken on board real local concerns. We are serious about sustainability and infrastructure investment in the broadest context. I entirely accepted what hon. Members said about health, education and other forms of social infrastructure being equally as important as transport, which is my specific responsibility. I also accept that biodiversity, the green dimension, liveability and quality of life are equally important. The charge that such issues are being ignored is not well made.
I heartily supported what I thought was—in the end—the endorsement of my hon. Friend Dr. Stoate for the entire project. He said that it would be a mistake to press on without appropriate infrastructure, and I think that everyone in the Chamber is with my hon. Friend on that—perhaps Mr. Redwood would not agree, but we will leave him to one side on his own planet.
It is not appropriate to cite Eastern Quarry as a problem. I have said publicly while sitting next to a leading representative of the company that it is inappropriate for a land security developer to spend more than a year faffing with its traffic assumptions without sharing them with other public bodies that have the right to know how a specific development would fit with the rest of the transport infrastructure. We are not making mistakes in that regard. The situation is still one of drip-feeding, so we need to go beyond that.
I tell Mr. Davey and others who raised the matter that I am sad in that I still read "Regeneration and Renewal" and avidly wait for my copy each week. I thought that the specific article about myriad organisations was simplistic to the point of being fatuous and that it let down the publication. We are trying slowly in some cases, although faster in others, to get all assorted organisations and public bodies—elected and otherwise—in each and every area together so that we can start to sing with a united voice. That is difficult, but standing on the outside and talking at length about the complexity and difficulty of the task of bringing many bodies together is fatuous and adds nothing to the debate.
It is appropriate for the Highways Agency to deal with the major strategic roads in this country, but it is equally appropriate for it to sit down and talk to Dartford, Medway, and other delivery bodies. It is appropriate for Basildon to lead Basildon's renaissance and contribution to regeneration in the gateway, but it is also appropriate for Essex county council, English Partnerships, the train operators and others to have a voice. The trick is drawing all bodies together to focus on what is needed in a specific area and to determine how that fits with the wider strategic concerns of south Essex, north Kent or the whole gateway. It is easy to sit on the sidelines saying, "Oh look, there's 14 organisations." The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton read a good number of them out, but although that is a clever little fourth-form debating point, it adds nothing to the substance of the debate. If complexities and overlaying contributions still exist, they must be busted through. That is exactly what is happening in Thurrock and Basildon, and with Renaissance Southend and others. We have started from the premise that it is usually more appropriate, especially in south Essex and north Kent, for localities to choose their delivery mechanisms and to bring together all those involved.
Richard Ottaway, who is not in the Chamber, seemed to suggest that the easy answer was to apply a fully-blown London Docklands development corporation from Southend and the north Kent coast all the way back to the Isle of Dogs. He said that the LDDC was such a wonderful example of how to move forward on these issues that we should simply recreate it. As the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton suggested, the LDDC was a complete disaster in its early days. It did not recognise the concept of community buy-in to which my hon. Friend Jon Cruddas referred or the notion that communities existed. We think that urban development corporations are appropriate for east London, despite some concerns that were raised, and for Thurrock, when they are contiguous with borough boundaries. Other delivery mechanisms are appropriate elsewhere, but there should not be a LDDC incarnate in any shape or form.
The concerns expressed about flood plains and flooding are genuine. New planning policy guidance note 25 goes far further than anything in the past. At each and every step, there will be, as we said, a flood risk assessment of the plans submitted by every delivery body and of the plans and applications from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. There has been engagement with the Environment Agency from day one on the series of issues relating to flooding. The problem is not new, but, as my right hon. Friend the Minister suggested, the area is well protected in terms of flood alleviation and much better protected than most of the country. However, that does not mean that we are complacent because we have to keep on the case.
My right hon. Friend spoke of the criteria and the drift—let me say that and no more—towards scaremongering. Some 17 London boroughs would be under water or in serious difficulty were it not for the Thames barrier and flood alleviation measures. I take the point that those should be kept under review, and they are.
Some of the general points about transport have merit if we are looking across a 20 to 30-year horizon. I firmly believe—I have always said this and have got into trouble with colleagues from Essex and Kent for doing so—that although there can be significant development in north Kent, Basildon and some of the other urban parts of Essex, the key success to the gateway on the initial five to seven-year horizon is at the London end.
I apologise, but I do not have time to give way.
To suggest that the transport infrastructure planned for London is insufficient is abject nonsense. It is going in the right direction. Of course more should be done, but if we include the schedules suggested by the Transport for London business plan, the best part of £1 billion will be invested in transport infrastructure over the next three years throughout the gateway. That is not money for plans, working parties or fancy offices for the myriad organisations mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton, but money for real projects.
On the Thames gateway bridge and the DLR North Woolwich, the London end needs to be redeveloped alongside developments elsewhere. The redevelopment of the London end will contribute nearly half the houses in the gateway, but we would commit a significant mistake in public policy terms if, because of an historical anomaly, south London were left out. So we need the DLR to go under the Thames to Woolwich Arsenal and the Thames gateway bridge for local traffic.
Much has been done in all matters raised. Hon. Members will forgive me if I do not go near the topic of Shell Haven. I am the planning Minister involved in that and cannot talk about the application in any way, shape or form because I will determine the decision in the near future. In terms of jobs, we do not want to recreate the mistakes of the past by having linear commuter dormitory towns, with people flooding back into London, as Mr. Clifton-Brown said. Of course we need jobs in the area in the right place for the right people.
The learning and skills councils are jointly considering the skills audit and the skills deficiencies. Colleagues in other Departments are working with us in the ODPM and the Department for Transport to ensure that all aspects of the infrastructure develop alongside the assorted communities so that we grasp the potential in the gateway. We should stop talking about it. The shift of London's economic focus to the east and away from the west has been talked about incessantly for probably hundreds of years—it certainly predates the 1930s. We have the infrastructure investment plans necessary for the next wave of gateway investment. Of course, more needs to be done in the 20 to 30-year vista. However, across the piece, we are going in the right direction regarding infrastructure. Mistakes will be made along the way, but if a cross-party consensus can be forged, we have an historic, national and, I venture to say, international opportunity to put the UK on the map—
It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.