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Infrastructure

Part of Opposition Day — [17th( )Allotted Day] — Horsemeat – in the House of Commons at 5:46 pm on 12th February 2013.

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Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich 5:46 pm, 12th February 2013

Unlike the Minister, my speech is time-limited, and I have now given way twice. I cannot do so again, so I hope he will bear with me.

I want to take the Minister to task once more—I might give way to him again at that point, as this is a new subject—over the national infrastructure plan. The Government’s amendment to the motion is based on the absurd proposition that the national infrastructure plan is entirely the product of the current Government and that no such plan existed under the previous Government. He will know very well that Infrastructure UK was set up by the previous Government, and that all the preparatory work for the national infrastructure plan was done under that Government. That is why his Government were able to publish the national infrastructure plan in October 2010. If he thinks about it, he will realise that it would have been completely impossible to put together and publish the plan within four months or so of his party coming into government.

The national infrastructure plan was a bipartisan achievement, and I hope that we can continue this debate in a more mature spirit, and recognise that cross-party agreement is essential if we are to get the real infrastructure investment that we need and if we are to do this properly without the kind of problems that we have encountered too often in the past as a result of the failings of all Governments of all complexions.

I should also like to focus on the ambivalence that exists in relation to whether housing constitutes infrastructure. The national infrastructure plan does not define housing as infrastructure, but the Government have made provision in their Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Act 2012 for £10 billion of support for investment in housing schemes. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s view on whether infrastructure should be defined so as to embrace housing and, if so, how quickly he thinks housing might benefit from that Act.

Last summer, Lord Sassoon, who was then the responsible Minister, talked about £40 billion-worth of schemes that were shovel ready—all ready to go—in the autumn. We are now well past the autumn and to the best of my knowledge not a single housing scheme has been given the go-ahead. Indeed, we have got to the point only of defining the criteria by which schemes may be assessed. This does not look like speedy progress. I would welcome some clarity from the Minister on when he expects that financial support mechanism to have any impact in the housing sector, which is facing a terrible problem of undersupply.

I personally believe that it is impossible to consider infrastructure without including housing, because accommodation is needed for people just as much they need the roads or rail for access, the power supply and all the other things essential for economic development. I would therefore include provision for housing within infrastructure development. I would do so particularly at the moment because the output of housing is appalling. In the last 12 months, only 98,000 housing starts were made. I put it to the Minister, who was critical of the previous Government’s failure in this respect, that if he goes back to 2007—the last year before the recession hit—we started 185,000 homes. If his Government get anywhere near the level of output of the previous Government, they will be doing very well. They are not there at the moment; they need to go very much further and rather faster than they have. I hope they will think about how this scheme can be used to stimulate housing development.

The one other area I want to touch on is aviation. The Minister was interestingly coy about aviation. We know perfectly well—we are constantly reminded of it, not least by the Mayor of London, who I believe is of the same party as the right hon. Gentleman—that there is a chronic problem of undercapacity for aviation in London and the south-east, and an urgent need for new investment. There are and will be differences about where we believe this increase in capacity should be located. I believe that the Thames estuary is the right location and I have advocated that for a long time—I am with the Mayor on that. Other people believe that Heathrow should be expanded, while others believe Stansted is the right location. But no one who has looked at this seriously believes that we do not need to expand capacity. What have the Government done? Kicked it into touch until after the next general election. That is simply not an adequate response. I put it to the Minister that the Government will have to be more serious and should approach this issue on a more cross-party basis if we really are to get progress in infrastructure investment, which is essential to us.