|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Andrew Mackinlay: The hon. Gentleman is in danger of ruining a good point about the plethora of organisations. It is important that we have posts for the Thurrock urban development corporation, which is the rocket motor for that area's regeneration. We want the positions appointed and under way. The hon. Gentleman should not knock that aspect, but otherwise, he makes a valid point about the plethora of quangos and other organisations and the bewilderment that comes from it.
Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman is right to pull me up on that. I am not saying that those posts are the wrong ones for that particular organisation. The point is that if they are mirrored in all the organisations I have listed, huge amounts of money will be spent paying the same people to do the same things in the same area. That is both bewildering and a total waste of money. I hope that the Minister can give us some assurances on the costs of those organisations. How many heads of marketing will there be for the Thames gateway? We need to know.
Transport is the other issue that has come up, and the Minister who will reply to the debate at least has some responsibility for that. It seems to most people that transport is the absolute key. If the state sector can do anything to unlock the potential in the east of London, it has to be in its provision of a public transport network. I am sure that the Government will say they are doing an awful lot, talking about everything from the extension of the Docklands light railway to the east London line extension to the plans for Crossrail and so on. At the moment, though, none of us is clear whether some of the bigger projects are actually going to happen. There is lots of talk about them, but when the Secretary of State for Transport made a statement on Crossrail, there was not a clear commitment on the cash that would enable us to know that it will happen.
I say that not as a party political point but to ask what the best use of public money is. Spending on public transport infrastructure is probably the most effective use of public money to unlock potential. If a lot of money was channelled that way, we could save a great deal on other aspects of the projects. Will the Minister say a little about the key role for transport?
One project on the drawing board and ready to go could improve some road links in the south of Essex and create jobs, and that is the Shell Haven port and distribution park development. The planning application has been on Ministers' desks for some time. Because of the sensitivity of the proposal, the Minister may not wish to comment directly, and nor do I expect him to, but a lot of people across the House support that application and look to the Government to give it the go-ahead. To those of us who have had even limited involvement, it seems to have dealt sensitively with the community environmental issues, and it promises a huge amount for early delivery on jobs, economic regeneration and transport links.
The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that I contributed at the public inquiry on Shell Haven port, both at the start and the end, giving more than 25 pages of evidence. The port will bring real benefits to south Essex, but there are also a number of serious
15 Nov 2004 : Column 1096
disadvantages, and it will certainly bring no benefit whatever to Castle Point, unless Canvey is put in so that we have access to those jobs.
Let me turn to the environmental challenges in the gateway and how the Government are responding to them. The Government are right to focus their attention on the gateway because brownfield developments there could ensure that land is successfully reused. They also have to ratchet up construction standards so that materials are used in a sustainable way and to make sure that the buildings are designed so that they are efficient in terms of energy use, water use and all the other things coming from advisory groups.
There is continuing concern about the flood plain and about how the Government are tackling that issue. I have asked questions about this, particularly in trying to get information about the maps. I was told in an answer on 20 May 2004 that maps are provided to local planning authorities every three months and updated as new information comes on board. The Minister said that there is a lot of certainty and stability, but in fact there are many changes in the analysis of the flood plain in the Thames gateway. This is not a minor point; some 11 of the 14 designated growth areas in the Thames gateway are in the flood plain. It is pretty essential that we get this right. I hope that the Minister is right, and I know that the Department and others are spending a lot of time on the matter. He has given assurances that none of the developments will go ahead unless and until there has been a flood risk assessment.
Keith Hill: May I dispel the possibility of scaremongering on flooding and the flood plain? The fact is that something in the order of 17 London boroughs lie within the flood plain. Some £85 billion of property assets are located within the flood plain, but it is protected. Provided the flood plain is protected, which is the Government's commitment, practice and intention, there is not a significant problem. The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong to conjure the expression "flood plain" out of the firmament and imagine that that is in itself a threat. It is not, and he is doing wrong in even ventilating the possibility of a threat arising from the existing flood plain in its own right.
Mr. Davey: That is an extraordinary statement from the Minister, containing the idea that Members of Parliament should not ask questions about some of the key risks. It is not just hon. Members who are doing so. Peter Dower, chair of the Association of British Insurers Thames gateway working group, said in a press release issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister:
"Insurers remain committed to offering as wide a range of insurance solutions as possible to home-owners and businesses. As the increasing demand for new homes will inevitably involve some developments in areas of higher flood risk, it is important that flood risk management is designed into these developments to maintain insurability."
I am quoting insurance professionals who will have to provide policies for those homes. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may say that they have a vested interest, and that may well be so, but it is for this House to ask Ministers questions to make sure that the work is being done.
I am more than happy to accept the Government's and the Minister's assurances, but I must ask a further question. The Minister will know that the Thames barrage will need to be updated by 2030, and he may have the exact date in his brief. That updating may even require a completely new barrage to be built, according to some analysts. That would be an important investment. We are talking about £4 billion or £5 billion, and the project will be critical to many of the developments that we are talking about tonight. I am not making this point to scaremonger or to try to suggest that it will blow away all the potential. I hope that the problems, issues and risks can be managed properly so that we can develop brownfield land. It is in the interests of everybody, including my constituents, that we do that. We must be reassured by Ministers, however, that serious risks are being properly considered.
I want to raise a few more specific issues to ask whether the Government have thought about them in their overall strategy, particularly relating to the people who will live in the homes in the Thames gateway. One thing that concerned me about the Barker report was that it was very much a top-down analysis of housing demand. It did not analyse the types of people concernedthe age groups or the family distribution and organisation involved, such as one-parent families or families with two or three childrenand therefore did not analyse the type of homes that will be needed. Can the Minister assure us that the demographic needs are being considered in the plans being developed? For example, will there be any developments for older, retired people in the Thames gateway?
We have heard about other aspects of the infrastructure such as health, education and transport. Are there any proposals for prisons, for example? From the Minister's reaction, he does not appear to think so, but all such aspects need to be considered.
Some transport issues, especially the river crossings, do not appear to be linked to the environmental and public transport needs of the communities. For example, a huge debate has arisen over the Thames gateway bridge. It clearly has to have a road link, but will the bridge also be able to take trams or pedestrians? What are the plans for guaranteed bus lanes? If we could have some assurances on those aspects of the bridge, many people would have their fears assuaged.
As other colleagues have mentioned, the developments are a real opportunity. We hope that the Government will get it right and we want to help them to do so. I hope that Ministers will take my remarks in that light.
15 Nov 2004 : Column 1098
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|