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Mr. Mandelson: The hon. Gentleman--perhaps inadvertently--puts his finger on a thorny issue. The problem for members of Sinn Fein as they would present it, if they had taken up their seats here and were to respond to him directly, is that, whereas the Good Friday agreement was signed 18 months and more ago, the Executive and the institutions came into effect only last December. Therefore, they think that the time frame has become somewhat concertina-ed. It is a matter for them to make the case on their own behalf--I am certainly not going to do so for them--but it is not unreasonable to take that into account even though it does not provide an excuse for the inaction that we have seen.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): When is an understanding and an agreement not an understanding and an agreement, and when are procrastination and good faith not procrastination and good faith? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it appears to be when we are talking about decommissioning? Does he accept that there can be no lasting, certain peace in Northern Ireland without the decommissioning of the huge arsenal of terrorist weapons? Will he now lay down a firm timetable for such decommissioning? We have been talking about it for three years.

Mr. Mandelson: The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the nature of my responsibilities and those of General de

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Chastelain and his colleagues on the decommissioning body. It is their job, not mine, to do what he has described, and they are trying their best to achieve it.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Will the Secretary of State give the reasons for the Disqualifications Bill? Will he deny that it was based on a secret agreement with Sinn Fein-IRA?

Mr. Mandelson: The reasons for the Disqualifications Bill remain the same as described by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, and no, they were not the subject of any deal made with any organisation.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): I am most grateful to you, Madam Speaker, for your forbearance on this occasion.

In order that the people of Northern Ireland and the Members of the House can make a complete, fair and balanced judgment, will the Secretary of State undertake to publish the de Chastelain report before the House rises tomorrow afternoon?

Mr. Mandelson: I have nothing to add to the answers that I have already given on four occasions during the course of the statement.

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Thames Gateway

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

8.21 pm

Mrs. Christine Butler (Castle Point): Previously called the East Thames corridor, the Thames gateway begins in east London, and extends from Stratford and Greenwich to Tilbury in Essex and Sittingbourne and Sheerness in Kent.

Tonight, I shall argue that the Thames gateway should be further extended to include areas north of the river, just as at present it includes areas along the Kent coast to the south. That view is supported by the Essex chamber of commerce, and it is a major plank of the south-east Essex economic strategy document. Essex county council and the Essex economic partnership are strong supporters of that proposal, as is the East of England development agency, and the south-east regional planning committee, which is better known as Serplan.

The panel report following the public examination of the regional planning guidance for the south-east was a huge disappointment not only for its suggestion that the south-east should have 1 million more dwellings, but for its recommendation that the Thames gateway should not be further extended into Essex.

In December, Castle Point council informed the Government office for the east of England that the panel report did not reflect an adequate understanding of the economic problems of south-east Essex, and that further consideration should be given to those matters in a review of the Thames gateway planning guidance.

The council also expressed its concerns about the unco-ordinated approach to the transport infrastructure generally and the lack of attention to the problem of south Essex in particular. It went on to say that the panel report did not reflect a sustainable approach to the development of the region, and was likely to result in increased pressure on existing resources.

The south-east regional planning statement justified the extension of the gateway. South Essex has direct links to London and the existing gateway, with major industrial and service agencies linked to those of London. While it traditionally provides a large part of London's work force, a more sustainable strategy needs to be developed.

The north Thames area provides the nearest resort, tourism and leisure facilities outside London for the local Essex and visiting London population. It has direct transport links by road and rail to the existing gateway and London. They also link to the M25 and London Southend airport. The LTS rail route forms part of the trans-European network, and that reflects the area's appeal as the gateway to the continent. That is further supported by port facilities. The area also has pockets of deprivation that compare to those in the existing gateway south of the Thames.

Inclusion in the gateway would bring opportunities for sustainable economic development by reducing traffic demand on major routes into, and out of, London. It would reduce competition for jobs in London and the existing gateway. It could provide local people with better accessibility to local jobs, improve transport links by air, rail and water, and increase the range of economic development, including port and river facilities.

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That sets in context the plea that I make for Castle Point and, in particular, Canvey Island. For the life of me, I never understood why Canvey Island was ignored when the Thames gateway regeneration project first emerged. After all, it is an island strategically placed in the gateway to London, surrounded by the Thames and within the Port of London authority.

Almost 2,000 years ago, in the first century, the Romans spotted its advantages, as did the Viking invaders about 800 years later. The Vikings were defeated in 893 by King Alfred's army in the battle of Benfleet. When the Dutch settled on Canvey, they turned what had been rather a deserted place into farmland and established a small but thriving community. They drained the land, built a church and set about defending the island from the power of the sea.

Successive settlers did not change the essentially rural landscape that much until the 20th century. During the industrial revolution, Canvey escaped unscathed. No Dickensian horrors of urban living can be traced on Canvey, although visitors will find a plaque on the wall of the Lobster Smack noting that this remote spot was the inspiration for scenes from "Great Expectations". Even when the railways came and a new station was built at Benfleet, visitors from London seeking the joys of Canvey would have to cross Benfleet creek by the stepping stones.

Today, Canvey Island is a very different place. The strong sea defences established after the 1953 floods and the added security that they brought began to draw a much greater interest in the place from developers. Housebuilding started to accelerate. However, those intent on making a good profit from real estate were not the only ones to have their eye on the commercial potential of Canvey Island. This interest may have come late to Canvey but, when it did, it was rapid and merciless to the growing community of islanders, and Canvey was not prepared.

Canvey again was seen to occupy a strategic location on the Thames. It was recognised as a good place to store oil, a good place for an oil refinery and an ideal location to import all sorts of high-bulk commodities, from coal to crushed rock, to feed the rapacious jaws of London and its hinterland. The competing interests between a rapidly rising population and new industrial development was never properly resolved. There was no comprehensive plan to care for Canvey and Canvey suffered.

How could a small island be expected to cope with all those competing pressures? Well, it could not. Thank goodness Essex county council stepped in during the early 1990s to back islanders against the plans of Peter de Savory to build a massive 4,500 more houses on the last remaining expanse of ancient grazing land on the western part of Canvey.

My involvement with the island began at the time of the public inquiry into the proposal and, despite all the lobbying that was going on at the time by various politicians, the Secretary of State made the right decision and refused the application. However, Canvey's future was still uncertain. Development, taking no account of the needs of the population or a long-term, sustainable future for Canvey, still remains a threat.

Very soon, the planning committee will have to consider an application for the storage and auction of accident-damaged cars on a 30-acre site at the bottom of

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Haven road. That is a big area. Many of the cars will become scrap. The application comes from HBC, which trades from Charfleets industrial estate. Should the project go ahead, the result could be an expansion of a land use that is prejudicial to the best interests of the island. Canvey does not need more scrap cars on this scale. The scheme will offer virtually no employment. Instead, it will worsen traffic conditions, in particular making the lives of the people living in and around Haven road a misery. It will create an enormous ugly scar on the flat landscape of Canvey. Who would want to be near that?

Canvey needs to attract the kind of things that its people need and want, such as good, clean jobs, better amenity and improved road access. I firmly believe that Canvey is not big enough to accommodate dirty, untidy industry and almost 40,000 people. We need to implement a new 21st century vision for Canvey, putting the blight of the last half of the 20th century in the history books.

Part of this speech, which outlines my apprehension for the future of Canvey, was printed in one of our local newspapers recently, and it seems to have touched a raw nerve on the part of one Terry Holding, principal director of HBC Group. He responded in a disgraceful and shameful manner.

Yesterday, my office received several telephone calls from concerned constituents who had been the unfortunate recipients of a malicious and defamatory letter about their Member of Parliament, written by that man. He is the same person who was rejected at the ballot box when he stood as a Conservative candidate in the local elections less than a year ago. I cannot allow myself to be intimidated by such an approach, and nor could any Member of Parliament. I will continue to represent the interests of Castle Point and my constituents.

With reference to Mr. Holding's allegations, and to set the record straight, I have never said that I had secured a company to build and run a marina at Holehaven on Canvey, but I have pushed the idea that a marina could be the key to unlocking the problems that we are experiencing in attracting the right kind of investment on development land around Safeway.

Properly and sympathetically designed, that could help to regenerate the land on which the former Occidental oil refinery once stood. It could attract projects for environmental regeneration, protected open space, conservation and amenity, promoting the attractiveness of the area. Plans for a high-quality business park would therefore be far more likely to go ahead.

It is of paramount importance that a better image--as well as reality--should be created for Canvey. For the land south of Northwick road, that will require a great deal of hard work, commitment and imagination. We must be brave enough to challenge old expectations and welcome new thinking. We must believe that, in the end, our aspirations can be realised. We can overcome the legacy of past carelessness, but we need help.

Castle Point is one of the riparian authorities included in the new Thames Estuary partnership. The partnership is a neutral body set up to promote integrated policies for the whole of the Thames estuary. It is looking at matters such as improving air quality, enhancing bio-diversity, sustainable commercial use, managing fisheries, flood defences, cultural resources, landscape character, and waste and water management. It aims to act as a catalyst to co-ordinate sustainable activities through London to the lower reaches of the Thames.

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I have just read the partnership's strategy document, "Today's Estuary Tomorrow" and I applaud the way in which it has been drawn up. It gives a significant lead to the way in which we should be thinking about the Thames estuary. It would be an anomaly if the Thames gateway planning guidance did not extend to all the Thames estuary authorities, including the north side of the Thames. And it would be a great shame if, to steal a phrase, Canvey Island were left out and forgotten.

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