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The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): I am delighted to introduce this Adjournment debate on the Thames gateway in the immediate aftermath of our announcement of a further £100 million of investment in infrastructure and community facilities in the gateway and at a time of intense media interest in the area.
A Thames gateway is not a new idea. Indeed, London owes its very existence to the Thames acting as a gateway to England. John Burns who, with Keir Hardie, was one of the first MPs to be elected on a socialist platform, termed the Thames "liquid history". As a Liberal Minister, John Burns was responsible for steering the first ever planning Act through Parliament in 1909. As the House will know, I have recently been responsible for steering the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 through Parliament, so I feel an affinity with him, even though he crossed the Floor. I hasten to reassure the House, however, that I have no intention of following that precedent. John Burns said that his planning Act aimed to secure
Those words, in the phrasing of the time, express a vision of the future. In some places, that vision was fulfilled, but in others we failed to deliver it. Today, we have a new opportunity to do so in the Thames gateway.
In the Thames gateway, there are nearly 4,000 hectares of brownfield land 17 per cent. of the total in the regionlocated between London and mainland Europe. It is a massive area of market failure and relative deprivation, lying amid the buoyant economy and prosperity of the rest of the south-east. The regeneration of the gateway as a national, regional and local priority has been in plan since the early 1990s. Since then, a great deal of valuable and vital work has been done to set the stage for new development. Far-sighted decisions were taken, for example to route the channel tunnel rail link through the gateway, and create new stations at Stratford and Ebbsfleet to act as development hubs.
That has taken us a critical part of the way, but we need to do more. What was in the past desirable about the gateway is now essential. Housing growth will happen, and it is inevitable. For various reasons, including economic expansion, household growth in this country will continue at a high rate for the foreseeable future. The Government Actuary's Department estimates that household growth will average 189,000 homes a year between 2001 and 2021. Most of that growth will occur in London and the south-east, and most of it will be generated within the south-east. Indeed, the current draft of the Kent and Medway structure plan indicates that no less than 73 per cent. of household growth between 2001 and 2021 in the county arises from indigenous demographics and household growth and change. The serious question is not whether to have the growth, but how we manage it for the benefit of our communities and the environment.
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We should seek to focus that growth within our existing urban areas, and that is exactly what we are doing. Within the wider south-east, London is the motor of growth, but it has the lowest housing density of any world-class city. The potential for housing growth in London is enormous, and it is already under way. In 2003, housing completions in London and south-east showed a year-on-year increase of 14 per cent.9 per cent. in the south-east outside London and 24 per cent. in London itself. In the first six months of this year, there was a huge annual increase in completions in London of 30 per cent, and there is more to come. I am delighted that we have identified a considerable appetite for further housing development among the London boroughs. The Government office for London has recently created a London housing delivery unit, and we are already engaging with no fewer than 17 London boroughs to explore the opportunities for housing development. Much of the housing growth planned for the gateway itself will take place on the great brownfield sites of east London in the London Thames gateway. Stratford city has the potential to deliver about 20,000 homes; the Greenwich peninsula, about 10,000 homes; and Barking Reach has a maximum capacity of about 12,000 homes.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): The Minister has set out the number of houses that will be built on brownfield sites, but could he say how many houses he expects to be built on greenfield sites?
Keith Hill: I shall come on to that and, indeed, I wish to dwell on the issue. The short answer, as I shall explain, is that all the planned development in the gateway is on brownfield sites, and we expect the vast majority of housing growth in the gateway to be on recycled land.
Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford) (Lab): Following the question asked by the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway), is not the point that we know where the brownfield sites are? Before 1997, there was no audit of brownfield sites and people did not know where they were. We have done the work, however, and have identified the sites.
Keith Hill: My hon. Friend is quite right. Before 1997, there was but a feeble commitment by Government to development on brownfield land. This Government's record, however, is extremely impressive, and I shall give the figures in due course.
The debate about brownfield and greenfield sites also involves a debate about definitions. In a suburban constituency like mine, many local residents are surprised to learn that their gardens are deemed to be brownfield, and backland development can completely change the nature of a residential area. Will the Minister comment on that problem, which is causing great stress among some of my constituents?
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Keith Hill: I accept that that is a concern in suburban areasindeed, it is a concern in my own constituency. Of course, the hon. Gentleman's constituency is not in the gateway, and it is the long-standing policy of this Government and our predecessor that such development is permissible. A balance about the appropriateness of such backland development, however, must be struck.
Bob Spink: I am grateful to the Minister for his kind words. I am equally fond of him and look forward to meeting him shortly to discuss park homes. He will accept that my constituency is part of the Thames gateway and that we have an increased housing target of 4,000 new houses. Does he accept that there is no way in which we could find brownfield sites in Castle Point for all those homes? Will he confirm that to accommodate those 4,000 additional houses, it is Government policy to release greenfield sites in Castle Point?
Keith Hill: The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to go into the detail of specific site allocations. I do not deny for a second that there is an element of greenfield release in the housing programme in the Thames gateway. I am familiar with the hon. Gentleman's constituency, having campaigned fruitlessly for his predecessor in Castle Point, and know that there are brownfield opportunities there.
Elsewhere in the gateway, we will pursue our housing growth agenda through the redevelopment of neglected town centres, extensions to existing urban settlements, and the development of derelict industrial landscapes. Nobody who has viewed the vast swathes of worked-out quarries at Ebbsfleet and Eastern Quarry can be in any doubt about the huge benefits to the environment and to existing and future communities that will result from the development of the new urban villages planned for those sites.
No reasonable person can doubt the Government's commitment to securing the maximum development on recycled sites. The latest land use change statistics published three weeks ago show that 67 per cent. of all new dwellings in England were built on brownfield sites in both 2002 and 2003. That compares favourably with the 56 per cent. that we inherited in 1997. Those statistics also show that new dwellings in England were built at an average density of 33 dwellings per hectare in 2003. That compares with 27 dwellings per hectare in 2002, and only 25 in 1997. We have even more ambitious density figures for the Thames gateway. Indeed, as I said, all planned development in the gateway is on brownfield land.
The Thames gateway represents the largest collection of brownfield land next to a capital city in Europe. The vast majority of development in the gateway can be accommodated on existing derelict land. As I indicated, densities of development will be higher than those previously tolerated, and this will guard against profligate land use. At an average density of
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40 dwellings per hectare, there is more than enough brownfield land in the gateway to accommodate the housing growth targets that the Government propose. So much for the doomsday scenarios of the "concreting over the countryside" brigade, the head-in-the-sand, die-in-the-ditch opponents of all, or any, changethe green Tories, as I prefer to call them.
In the context of the demands for growth in the south-east and the need for an affordable solution to its housing needs, the gateway offers the region's key opportunity for sustainable growthgrowth that will not only deliver a housing solution, but will address the underlying weaknesses of the area by providing economic and employment opportunities, environmental improvement and community renewal that will bring benefits to new and existing residents. It is this that lends it national significance.
Of course, we are determined to reduce the economic differential between north and south, and we are pursuing policies such as the northern way to address that. But choking economic growth in the south does not mean more prosperity for the north. Someone going on the dole in Dartford does not mean a job for an unemployed worker in Sunderland. It simply means more jobs for our global competitors. That is why the gateway forms the cornerstone of the sustainable communities plan launched by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister last year, and that is why we have put in place the arrangements necessary to take forward this sustainable programme.The gateway agenda is about accelerating delivery and expanding the scale of growth that can be achieved by 2016. At the same time, we will reinforce the quality and sustainability of the development that takes place, and ensure that the benefits reach the gateway community as a whole.
A further and major boost for the Thames gateway is the UK's bid to hold the 2012 Olympics in the lower Lea valley, near Stratford. As the House is aware, today is the day that we are submitting our candidature file to the International Olympic Committee. If our bid is successful, an Olympic park will be built close to the new Stratford international station to house the Olympic stadium, Olympic village, aquatics centre, velodrome and other facilities, including the administrative nerve centre for the games. A successful bid would accelerate the new homes and jobs planned for the lower Lea valley, transform the environment and provide a legacy of first-class sporting facilities. Together with the development of Stratford city, it will create a modern new quarter for London and a new metropolitan role for the area, which will help to drive regeneration for many years to come.
So what are the policies and principles in place to make the gateway happen? First, there is a gateway vision, to which all the key bodies can sign up. People say, "Where is the gateway vision?" We have a clear framework for growth that was introduced in regional planning guidance in 1995 and continues to underpin the development proposals that have evolved since then. There is the focus for growth at the western end of the
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gateway around Stratford and Canary Wharf, with new strategic transport links to the rest of the gateway and beyond.
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