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Mr. Edward Davey: The Minister mentioned planning guidance from 1995. Is it not true that the Government want to review that guidance in the next year or two?

Keith Hill: As the hon. Gentleman surely knows, all regional planning guidance falls to be reviewed after a period of time. It is true that RPG9 is in the process of review by the regional assembly, and I dare say we shall hear more about that in due course.

The creation of a new development hub at Ebbsfleet, centred on the new channel tunnel rail link station, and the consolidation of other regional centres at Medway, Southend and Thurrock will provide the region with competitive locations for modern business services. The modernisation of the gateway's port and distribution economy—by tonnage, the ports in the gateway already collectively represent the largest in the UK—will help to ensure the future of this vital sector. The renewal of the gateway's existing town centres will provide improved local services, new housing and employment. The creation of new and improved green spaces on a strategic scale will transform the image of the area, and the creation of new sustainable settlements at locations such as Barking Reach, Greenwich peninsula and Ebbsfleet will provide new high quality housing.

The Mayor of London and the regional planning bodies for Kent and Essex endorsed this framework for growth in their recent inter-regional planning statement for the gateway, which was published in August. The statement supports the housing target of 120,000 that we put forward in the communities plan. In fact, it proposes to increase that figure by 8,000, which we heartily welcome. The statement also, for the first time, distributes this growth across the gateway to reflect the area's pattern of brownfield land.

The second principle of our approach is partnership. There is the commitment and strategic co-ordination of Government Departments, regional bodies and public agencies to deliver the policy, programmes and funding to support the gateway agenda.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): I thank the Minister for his courtesy in giving way. He is well aware that Thames gateway recently provided a substantial grant to Rochford district council to allow the refurbishment of Rayleigh windmill and related developments in Rayleigh town centre. I place on record my thanks to the Minister for that decision. However, I have a question about infrastructure. All the house building that is envisaged, be it on greenfield or brownfield sites, will place severe pressure on our infrastructure in the gateway area, not least NHS infrastructure. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us tonight where the new district general hospital in Essex is to be located?

Keith Hill: Of course, I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that decision or detail, but I can tell him that the Department of Health, which is being extremely proactive in its support for the gateway, has committed £40 million over the next two years to primary care
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trusts in the area. We are very pleased with that, and further funding will flow through in the conventional way. Let me acknowledge my appreciation of the hon. Gentleman's thanks for the decision about the Rayleigh windmill—a decision that was taken on entirely objective but absolutely merited grounds.

Richard Ottaway: On infrastructure—

Keith Hill: On infrastructure, I am reluctant to detain the House for too long, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Richard Ottaway: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), he spoke about the NHS. The key to development of the gateway is transport. Will he set out the transport proposals to deal with plans with which, by and large, I agree?

Keith Hill: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that expression of support. My feeling is that there is a broad consensus on the gateway programme. It is worth bearing in mind that the majority of the local authorities with which we are working closely on the gateway project are Conservative authorities, and we have an excellent working relationship with them. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about transport infrastructure is yes, I propose to say a few words about that in due course, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Transport, will say more, if he ever gets the chance.

In the meantime let me draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the £2.1 billion investment in the south-east that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced as a result of the multimodal study earlier this year. Furthermore, the Government are committed to a gateway investment programme of almost £900 million, much of which will be devoted to transport infrastructure. In addition, I shall say a word in due course about the forthcoming community infrastructure fund, which will be jointly administered by my Department, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Department for Transport.

On joint working, new working arrangements have been set up to allow Departments to work together to deliver the sustainable communities agenda in the gateway. The Cabinet Committee on growth areas, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, leads these arrangements, and it brings together all the key delivery Departments.

The ODPM has published a joint strategy with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on "Greening the Gateway", which calls for the Thames gateway to become a world-class model of sustainable development with the living landscape at its heart.

We are working with the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills to ensure timely forward planning for health facilities and schools. On top of mainstream funding allocations the DOH is, as I have indicated, providing an additional £40 million over the next two years to PCTs in the growth areas. We have kick-started a major programme of unique new university campus developments at Southend, Medway and the Royal docks.
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I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Transport for their work to bring forward key transport infrastructure. The Thames gateway bridge, the concept for which dates back to before the middle of the last century, is now a real proposition. Hon. Members will have seen the pictures of the fantastic new channel tunnel domestic trains for which orders have now been placed. Those are massive boosts for the gateway, particularly when they are set against the competing budgetary pressures that those projects have faced. The newly established £200 million community infrastructure fund, which my Department and the DFT jointly administer, will provide additional grants to support transport infrastructure up to 2008 in the four growth areas, including the Thames gateway.

In addition, we are working closely with the Environment Agency to ensure that sustainable flood risk management is incorporated into gateway developments. My Department is represented on the Environment Agency's Thames estuary 2100 project to address flood protection into the next century. I should add that the gateway already has a higher standard of flood protection than most other parts of the country.

The Housing Corporation, English Partnerships, the regional development agencies and the learning and skills councils have all established internal structures that provide a policy focus on the gateway. The learning and skills councils have recently launched their Thames gateway skills audit to ensure that we get the right people with the right skills in the right places. I am also pleased to report that we will shortly re-establish, by popular demand, an expanded Thames gateway strategic partnership to co-ordinate progress at the strategic level.

The third ingredient in our gateway strategy is local delivery capacity. The gateway may be a strategic idea, but it will actually happen locally. The different locations in the gateway each have their own bespoke issues, opportunities, and agendas, and the quality of local planning and delivery will ultimately determine the success of the project and secure the quality and sustainability that we seek.

It is critical that we have organisations in place with the capacity to define local priorities, to develop the necessary local programmes and, fundamentally, to integrate both the growth strategy with other local programmes and new communities with the old. We have established new bodies in each of the major development areas of the gateway to take responsibility for those tasks.

In two cases, Thurrock and east London, where the task is particularly challenging, we have established urban development corporations with the support of the local authorities involved. The boards of both urban development corporations are now in place and senior executive staff are being recruited. Those bodies are identifying the key priorities for their areas and the critical actions necessary to resolve them, and they will draw together existing public and private plans to deliver an effective local investment programme.
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At the same time, we have created a new gateway delivery office—not in Whitehall, but in the gateway itself—which will take charge of the ODPM gateway funding programme, and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister formally launched the new office last week. The gateway delivery office will contain a proactive and accessible team, which will work closely with local partners to deliver an effective programme, sort out problems, monitor progress and achieve results.

The fourth strand of the Government's approach to the gateway lies in the planning and resourcing of investment to deliver the timely provision of infrastructure and to attract private investment to create the more liveable environment and more viable locations for business that we seek—that task is big, but manageable. Mainstream programmes are also in place, and I have already mentioned the transport programme and the new universities. Much of the expenditure required, particularly for social infrastructure such as health facilities, hospitals and schools, will be drawn down from national budgets in the conventional way.

Those costs are not unique to the gateway, but reflect the planned increase in population forecast in the gateway. The critical issue is not funding, but effective planning and management. However, additional Government investment will be required in certain critical areas. The ODPM has allocated a substantial new gateway budget to address those areas and other priorities, which represents an £850 million commitment to the area for the first five years of the programme.

In consultation with local partners, £475 million has been allocated to date to early opportunities and immediate priorities. Last week, £100 million of that funding was announced for new projects ranging from major site preparation in Kent Thameside to local community, business and training facilities in areas of relative deprivation in Sheerness, Poplar and Barking.

The private sector is the other critical area of resource. The private utility companies clearly have a direct role to play and private finance will additionally play an important part in funding new transport and other social infrastructure, using mechanisms that are now well established.

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