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Mr. Brake: And the ROSCOs?

Mr. St. Aubyn: We could enter into a lengthy debate about the previous Government's transport policy. My purpose, however, is to remind the House that the Opposition's detailed and well-thought-out motion urges the Deputy Prime Minister


In Guildford, that aspect of the policies pursued by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is of the greatest concern.

I shall speak on two issues: the density of housing development on brownfield sites, on which subject I am happy to remind the House of my declaration in the Register of Members' Interests, which is available to all who wish to see it; and the seismic change that will happen in patterns of transport use as a result of the new technologies and new ways of doing things that we debated last week and shall debate again in times to come.

The Housebuilders Federation believes that it will be necessary to build 1.5 million homes in the south-east alone over the next 15 years or so. That would be the equivalent of building a town the size of Guildford in the south-east every six months. Advisers to the Government have been allowed to perpetrate and promote that staggering threat at the expense of constituents and of people in both north and south.

Mr. Patrick Hall: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. St. Aubyn: I should like to develop my theme first.

At the same time as we in the south are being threatened with the devastation of our green fields, we read that housing developments are being knocked down

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and erased by housing associations in northern cities in order to create some value in the remaining housing stock. This is no social trend, but a mass migration from the north to the south of our country because of the woeful imbalance in the economic policies pursued by the new Government. That migration lies at the heart of the threat to our green fields.

We must consider the density of developments. We have all heard horror stories about high-rise developments in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. We all know of the alienation felt by those who lived on those estates. I represented a part of Paddington that had its fair share of high-rise blocks when I was a local councillor, and I can testify to the poor design of some projects.

We also know that high-rise building has been successful in some parts of the United Kingdom and in other parts of the world. Naturally, it appeals to some single households, of which, we are told, there will be many more in the decades to come. In London's docklands, or in New York or many other places, high-rise developments integrate the living requirements of residents with their need for services, shopping and transport. The key to increasing brownfield development in both south and north is to find imaginative ways by which the density of development can be increased.

The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) was my representative on the Greater London council when I was a councillor in Paddington. Indeed, his election had a dramatic effect on our share of the vote, which shot up a year later when Londoners realised what they had voted for. God forbid that they should vote for him again, but the Livingstone effect would undoubtedly work to our advantage once more. None the less, the hon. Gentleman made the valid point that bond finance is an alternative to outright sale of the tube or other transport assets to private finance.

When I went to the United States with the members of the Select Committee on Education and Employment, I was invited by Brett Schundler, the republican mayor of Jersey City, to visit a bond-funded project. Bonds are not a left-wing measure; they are successfully used by right-wing Governments. In Jersey City, the imaginative use of bond finance rescued that city from financial disaster and has regenerated it, under the guidance of the first Republican mayor for 60 years, who is now in his third full term of office.

I mention that example as our objection to bond finance for the tube is because we need the dynamism, imagination and innovation that the private sector can bring to the difficult problem of transport in London, as it is attempting to do for the problems with our trains and buses elsewhere. Indeed, no one objects to the fact that our buses and trains are built by the private sector. In my constituency, the excellent firm, Dennis buses, has been at the forefront of new developments in bus design.

In a rather tasteless contribution--there was one valid point--the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington complained about the poor quality of public transport. If people's perceptions of public transport are that it is so down market, those who might use it will refuse to do so. There are new designs for coaches and buses; for example, Dennis buses has designed a bus that kneels at the kerb so that those who are disabled, or who are

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carrying shopping or wheeling children in buggies,can more easily get into the bus. Such conscious developments to benefit the users of public transport will promote the idea of its use to a wider market.

In my constituency, a consultancy has developed monorail plans for hundreds of towns and cities. The advantage of modern monorail systems--if they can be successfully introduced--is that the cost of the infrastructure is much lower than that of traditional rail systems. The payback and the cost are among the major attractions of monorail. Furthermore, it has been proved that the modern image and visibility of the monorail attracts more users to such services.

E-commerce also has an effect on transport. In Guildford, our local Tesco allows people to order their weekly shopping on the web and the goods are delivered to their door. That is a return to the local grocery shop concept that was so prevalent decades ago. That type of innovation will reduce traffic. If one van makes deliveries throughout a housing estate, that is much more efficient and requires less road use than if everyone on the estate drove to the local supermarket. We can project to a time when those out-of-town superstores will simply become warehouses and delivery points from which the essentials of daily living can be delivered to the residents of our towns and cities.

We have to consider what will happen to town centres. They are, of course, attractive places in which to live. The social aspects--the shops, cafes, places to browse for a book--are attractive; we can look forward to the revival of our town centres and inner cities as meeting points. In the process, we shall see a reversal of the trend to the countryside on which the predictions for increased housing in the south-east have been founded.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my hon. Friend agree that there are hundreds of thousands of small market towns where, at 5 o'clock, everybody disappears because nobody lives above the shops? If we could encourage people back to live in those town centres, there would be less need for commuting and less traffic congestion. The situation would be greatly improved. Does he have any ideas as to how we might develop such a system?

Mr. St. Aubyn: I am interested in my hon. Friend's comments. I am sure that the same is true in the Cotswolds as it is in Surrey. We need to encourage more people to live in our town and city centres. That is partly an issue of security. With proper systems of closed circuit television and effective policing, we can ensure people's safety in such areas, and that will make them attractive places in which to live.

Above all, we need sound transport links. I shall mention a final example. Recently, the frequency of the service from Guildford to London was increased from three to four fast trains an hour. Our connections with the centre of London are a valuable component in persuading more people to live in the centre of Guildford.

The examples that I have mentioned do not form one strategic transport policy. They are the result of a range of policies implemented by a range of bodies in the private as well as the public sector. They recognisethat diverse opportunities exist and that no single Department--and, I am afraid, certainly not this Deputy Prime Minister--can understand what is going on and can

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direct what should happen to transport from the top down. That is a doomed policy and we must move away from it as soon as possible.

8.45 pm

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): This debate has been quite fascinating, with a few unfascinating gaps in it from time to time. When I came to the Chamber this afternoon, I thought that there would be, from what I have read in the media, an onslaught on the Deputy Prime Minister and that he would be challenged by the Opposition. There was nothing of the sort.

My heart went out to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who is clearly not well. His constituency neighbours mine, and we often come into contact with each other. I am sorry that he is not feeling well, and I know that his constituents will be, too. He is a very effective constituency Member of Parliament.

I had hoped to hear something positive and constructive from the right hon. Gentleman. Conservative Members say that they have a different view from the Government's on how transport should be dealt with and they say that the Government are doing it all wrong. What would they do? We did not hear anything about that. They are on the road to nowhere.

It is very difficult to hold a debate with Conservative Members. They did not offer anything. They merely said, "Don't do it that way." However, I do not think that even they would suggest that we do nothing and not bother about the problems of increasing congestion on the roads, increasing pollution and an increasing incidence of childhood asthma.

In my constituency, there is much commuting out to London by train and much commuting in from several places in the area, and almost all of that is by car. That gives us a congestion problem only at the morning peak hour. Several solutions and strategies have been suggested, but there is not just one answer to the problems of congestion and pollution. We cannot say, "Do this: bring in congestion charging and workplace parking charging and everything will be fine." It will not be; we need a series of strategies.

If we face congestion problems only at the morning peak hour, that is when we need to take measures. For the rest of the day, we do not need to restrict people's choice. At present, people have too little choice about how they make their journeys. I would like my constituents to be able sometimes to drive into central London, but that is impossible. They go by train, because that is their only choice. Sometimes, I would like them to be able to drive to the theatre or wherever, but they cannot do that either. I would like people to be able to take the bus most of the time, but sometimes to be able to drive if they have heavy things to carry. People do not have that choice.

The Conservative party describes itself as the party of individual freedom and choice, but its policies over 18 years took that choice away. It does not matter whether people have a car or whether they like to drive a car, choices are limited if they are stuck in traffic or cannot make the journeys that they want to make, at the time and with the convenience they want.

I should like to ask one thing of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, if some of our towns and cities are to have congestion charging. My local authority

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is bidding for pilot status for that scheme, and I commend it for doing so, because it has shown that it wants to take serious action rather than just wringing its hands and blaming the Government. I should like local authorities that are prepared to take that action to be supported.

One way to resolve the problem of the necessity to have visible improvements in public transport before people use their cars less is to set up partnerships between local authorities and other bodies, possibly in the private sector. I hope that the Deputy Prime Minister will give some thought to supporting local authorities that are willing to take the necessary action.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to speak today.


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