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Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): The hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) has done the House a service. He has made the "yes but" speech. When we listened to the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) and the Minister, there was a danger that we were getting consensus and hearing that everything was all right. That was particularly so when the Minister was sketching the Nirvana that was growing up in the east of London. I almost felt that the House was going to sing "Jerusalem", given the way in which the Minister was lauding the progress and the prospects.
That is not to say that the Minister was not right to say that there were some exciting opportunities. The hon. Member for Dartford was right to mention the excitement around the east of London and in the various communities in Kent and Essex. There are real prospects for solving some long-term problems, such as unemployment or the need for economic regeneration and affordable housing. Many potential prizes are there to be gained, but it is the House's job and duty to question Ministers to ensure that they are getting it right. Otherwise, the opportunity could be wasted and there are already a number of signs that the Government have not learned the lessons from the past and are not listening carefully enough to those who will be affected. When the Minister for Transport replies to the debate, I hope that he will answer some of the questions that will be posed.
Regeneration on this sort of scale can present real problems. We saw with the new towns of the past that much hope and excitement was generated by the prospect of new projects, but the optimistic scenario was frequently not fulfilled. Three-quarters of the English new towns are among the most deprived 50 per cent. of local authorities. All but two are more deprived than the counties in which they reside. Many of them never grew as planned. Skelmersdale was supposed to have a population of 80,000 but never made it beyond 40,000; Corby was planned for 100,000 but never made it beyond 50,000. Much of the hope in those new projects was never delivered, and I hope that the Minister will reassure the House that the Government have learned from problems of the past when expectations were raised but never met.
There are many and huge difficulties in building the Thames gateway. I shall deal with the problem of flood plains in more detail later. Contaminated land is another problem, which makes the project quite expensive. The lack of transport infrastructure for the initial stages is another difficulty. There will be real problems; it will not be easy, and the Government should recognise that. The vision and planning will have to be that much more effective. I want to ask several specific questions about the problems. Some may arise because we are at the initial stages of the process and others because Government Departments are making mistakes, but the House must have some of these points answered.
The first problem that emerges from reading some of the background documents is the number of organisations involved. The Minister responsible for the Thames gateway said that his second principle was to have a partnership approach, but can we have a response in tonight's reply or a written response at a later date, setting out the full list of organisations
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involved? We need to know the number of quangos, the number of Government Departments, the number of all other public sector bodies and public-private partnerships involved. I have to say that it gets pretty complicated when one tries to work out who is doing what, who is leading the project and who is accountable for what. We need accountability because huge amounts of money are being spent.
I do not know whether the Minister has seen September's "Regeneration and Renewal", which includes a wonderful map of all the organisations involved. The Minister puts his eye to the ceiling at the sight of it. Eighteen local authorities are listed in the web, followed by a wonderful list of bodies, including the Thames estuary partnership, English Partnerships, the Environment Agency, the sustainable communities taskforce, English Heritage, Transport for London, East of England Development Agency, South East of England Development Agency, the Greater London Authority, London Development Agency, Thames gateway London partnership, green giro network, architecture and urbanism unit, Thurrock UDC, London Thames gateway UDC, heart of Thames gateway, Thames gateway South Essex, Thames gateway Kent partnership, Kent county council, British Waterways, London First, Gateway to London, Invest Thames Gateway, Thames Gateway strategic executiveand no doubt many others. I have not finished, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I think that I have made my point.
Richard Ottaway: To return to my earlier intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), the corporation will cover all of this within one overall body. The great success of Lord Heseltine's docklands was the establishment of the London Docklands development corporation. Does that not provide a sensible solution to the hon. Gentleman's problem, meeting the point that he is putting to us?
Mr. Davey: I am not sure that that corporation was the great achievement that the hon. Gentleman assumes. There were many problems with the experience, particularly when local communities were not consulted and their interests were overridden. Some of the development was not as sustainable as we want to see for the Thames gateway. I am not in favour of having one all-embracing body. It is important to ensure that accountability structures are in place.
As the Minister knows, we debated these issues in connection with statutory instruments for setting up the Thurrock urban development corporation. The Liberal Democrats were concerned with the lack of accountability in the structure. I should addthe hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) may want to join the debate on this pointthat party control of Thurrock council changed recently. However, after the change, the Labour councillors appointed to the UDC did not change. The newly elected Conservative councillors did not assume the local authority places on the board. That is why we raised questions of accountability when we debated the statutory instrument, but that point did not come out. We were given assurances that the UDCs would be more accountable, but that does not appear to have happened when the recently elected councillors failed to take up their places.
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Accountability issues are important, but from the map of the conglomeration of quangos and other bodies such as public-private partnerships that I read out, it is clear that accountability has not been created. On the contrary, it has created confusion and Ministers must explain how that confusion will be cleared up. We have heard about directorates on the Thames gateway within the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister; we have heard about a Cabinet Committee; we have heard about a new officeuntil hearing the Minister's speech, I knew nothing about itbeing launched somewhere in the Thames gateway earlier last week. It is just not clear exactly who is in control and where the lines of accountability lie. I hope that the Minister will clarify that for the House[Interruption.]
Ministers on the Treasury Bench may complain among themselves about what I am saying, but I am not the only one saying it. Many other people working in the Thames gateway area are also complaining. Let me provide some quotes to illustrate the point. Sandra Hunt, the director of the Thames gateway-based consultancy, Regenfirst, said:
Mr. Davey: Yes, Rodney ChambersRod to his mates, presumablybelieved that in his area the Government were following a democratic model and he was pleasantly surprised that the local authority was given the powers to go ahead and deliver it, with accountability to the people. That is the sort of model that many in the House would prefer. I hope that Ministers can get through this alphabet soup that the Government have created in the Thames gateway and that there will be clearer lines of accountability and fewer organisations in respect of this important project.
Related to the number of organisations is the cost. A plethora of bodies means a plethora of chief executives and a whole range of people wanting jobs and coming in with their different lackeys. The Government talk positively about the Thurrock urban development corporation, but it has a chief executive, director of resources, director of planning and strategy, director of delivery and director of marketing and communications. How many similar sorts of positions will apply to the partnerships that I listed with concerns in the Thames gateway? When he replies to the debate, can the Minister for Transport tell us how many chief executives there will be in all the bodies dealing with the Thames gateway? If not, will he write to us with the answer and include information on the collective salary involved?
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