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New Clause 21 — Tax

Part of Road Safety – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 18th May 2011.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats 2:30 pm, 18th May 2011

I shall not help the House to hold a seminar on London in the ’70s and ’80s, which would actually be very interesting. The hon. Gentleman is nevertheless right. Local authorities did not get on with development. There were frozen developments, including one in the Royal Docks and some in my constituency, after the closure of the London docks in the upper pool in places like Bermondsey, and their move down to Tilbury. That is why the Government intervened, and I understand why they did so. It was necessary to get something moving. Whatever else we say about it, the LDDC certainly did that. Its legacy has, in general terms, been very benign. The regeneration has been hugely successful. Southwark is as prosperous as it is, and the business rates that are collected in Southwark are as high as they are, because of the regeneration along the riverside from London bridge down to the end of my constituency at the other side of the Greenland dock, on the border with Deptford.

To pursue the housing and jobs theme, it is clear that there are huge opportunities for employment-regenerative activities in inner-London boroughs if the conditions— meaning rate relief, sites and so on—are right. I visited the Tower Bridge Business Centre in my constituency just the other day, which is on the site of the old Peek Frean’s factory in Bermondsey. That hugely successful, privately owned enterprise provides a nursery and units of various sizes for people as they grow their businesses. It is one of a set of businesses run by the same company around Greater London, where it does all its business. It has very innovative ideas. There is no shortage of individuals, small firms and others that want to come in to take over the spaces that were previously occupied by larger businesses. The large wholesale warehouses and distribution centres, for example, are not in London any more, and we no longer need storage centres because we store on micro-files rather than in paper files.

The opportunity for London to continue as a place of employment still exists, and not just in the financial industries of the City. London has fantastic creative industries, small engineering enterprises and so on, and we must make the most of these opportunities.

There is a huge need to ensure that we continue to build homes at prices that our constituents can afford. The other day, I met some representatives of the G15 group of London housing associations, which owns the largest number of properties in London; it is known to all London Members. The G15 is concerned about how the financial picture and envelope will permit them to develop. I undertook to the G15 that I would seek to convene a meeting in June to try to sort out what appears at the moment to be a set of policies that is not yet fully connected. Invited are the Housing and Local Government Minister, who has agreed to attend; Lord Freud, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; colleagues from throughout London from all parties; the Mayor, who has shown an interest; local councillors representing the 33 local authorities;, and the housing world. How do we deliver more affordable homes, particularly the larger homes with three or four bedrooms for families, and deliver on the Government’s general approach to welfare without making it impossible for people to stay in the sorts of homes that we want them to be in? I hope we can join up that remaining part of the policy, and I welcome the advice of the hon. Member for Lewisham East, who has experience of the matter. I will work with her colleagues and Conservative colleagues, and I am sure that we can make further progress. I also welcome the fact that the Mayor is taking a direct interest.

The proposals in this group are about further transfers of power to the Mayor. As a veteran of both the legislation to the abolish the Greater London council, which I opposed, and the legislation to set up the Greater London authority, which I supported, I believe that more powers should be given to London government from central Government. Indeed, the difficulties that the Government have run into on other policies—for example, on the NHS—could have been less had they accepted our advice. I and my hon. Friends argued and voted for amendments on transferring strategic health powers to London government, for example, because it is better to get rid of unaccountable quangos and regional bodies and to replace them with accountable regional bodies.