Orders of the Day — Crossrail Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:53 pm on 19th July 2005.

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Photo of Jon Cruddas Jon Cruddas Labour, Dagenham 6:53 pm, 19th July 2005

I echo the support for the Bill offered by my right hon. Friend Mr. Raynsford, who spoke about economic development in the east of London. A durable Thames Gateway requires integrated transport links that offer access to town centres and job generation sites. Crossrail is to be welcomed as it will develop a rail spine for the London Thames Gateway, providing fast-track links between London's three central grid districts of Canary wharf, the City and the west end. Crossrail is needed to help manage the huge population movements into and within the boundaries of the capital. I shall focus primarily on that important element in my contribution. However, concerns about the present route and its impact on local communities deserve to be discussed and the very nature of the hybrid Bill will allow those detailed concerns to be considered. It is to be hoped that compromises can be found to accommodate affected residents, including those whom I represent.

Let us consider Crossrail in terms of population movements into London. London's population stands at about 7.3 million, just short of the combined population of Rome, Paris, Vienna and Brussels. As far as I can ascertain, it is the only major European capital that is growing. The Mayor of London's plan estimates a further population growth of about 800,000 by 2016. That is about an extra 17,000 people net per year. London is seen increasingly as a world city, with about 50 separate national and ethnic communities scattered across it and about 300 languages spoken.

According to figures provided by the Office for National Statistics for the period 1992–2003, annual inflows of international migrants into the capital more than doubled from under 100,000 to about 200,000. At the same time we can assume that many of the recently estimated stock of illegal workers are resident in the capital. We do not know whether the latest survey estimate of about 570,000 such individuals includes independants. We can assume that London retains a disproportionate number of those currently within the asylum application process—for example, a high proportion of the 280,000 individual failed asylum seekers, as estimated by the ONS. These figures do not appear to include dependants. In short, the dynamic at work in terms of population flows into the capital is extraordinary, but it remains unquantifiable in terms of the real levels of immigration and economic activity. It can be said, however, that the figure of 7.3 million is likely to be a severe underestimate.

Against that backdrop we can consider population movements within London. The extraordinary movement of people into the city requires a suitable public policy response in respect of public services and resource distribution. Yet we must assume that the baseline for public policy making severely understates the number of people living in the city. Rapid immigration has occurred alongside dramatic inflation in property prices, which has pushed immigrant groups, both legal and illegal, into the poorest parts of the capital and those areas with the lowest-cost housing.

My constituency sits at the centre of the Thames Gateway. It covers much of the London riverside area—that is part of the gateway—and has a massive amount of brownfield land. It has the lowest-cost housing market in Greater London. There is a growing private housing market through the consequential effects of the right-to-buy policy. Across the London riverside area, and excluding Barking town centre, we anticipate building about 20,000 new homes over the next 10 to 15 years. Population growth estimates range up to about a 60,000 population increase in the small borough over the next 10 years.

Before that development, the population was already increasing dramatically through the dynamic internal population movement within the capital. The trend decline in the borough's population has dramatically reversed over the past few years. There are some estimates that the population has increased by anything up to 20,000 since 2001. This in turn is likely to lead to an underestimate of population movements locally in terms of both illegal migrants and those within the asylum system. Those facts are useful in terms of considering some of the macro-economic London-wide considerations in the Crossrail debate.

The only way in which we can manage population movements into the capital is to seek to rebalance the city and open up the east side. The economic centre of gravity must move to the east as we, in effect, tilt the capital. That is why the Thames Gateway debate is so important. The interest in it has been reinforced over the past couple of years by the strategy of national Government who have established the Thames Gateway as a national priority, with its own dedicated Cabinet Sub-Committee, MISC 22. That policy is obviously conditioned by the housing crisis in the south-east.