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Linda Perham (Ilford, North) (Lab): In congratulating the Government on their vision for the Thames gateway, I wish first to focus on the meaning of Thames gateway regeneration for the London borough of Redbridge, which lies along on the border of London and Essex, and the importance of local authorities in providing leadership when building tomorrow's communities.

To many people outside Redbridge, the borough is a leafy suburb of London. To some in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, Redbridge is known only as "the place you park your car when you go to London". However, our borough contains a diversity of urban, suburban and rural communities, a diversity of faiths and races, and also some of the richest and poorest areas of the country.

Redbridge has seen enormous changes in the past decade. Some two and a half years ago, the local council launched an ambitious vision for the future of Ilford, "Progressive Ilford", to fulfil local demand for homes, jobs and services for a generation. I worked out that when it was completed I would be 85, so I hope to be still around when it all comes to fruition. I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, in his previous capacity as a Minister in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, was able to attend that event with me. However, the launch of that regeneration plan coincided with a change of political control in Redbridge, which has led to a disturbing shift in the council's regeneration priorities.

The first apparent shift by the new Tory council was to deprioritise public consultation. Dialogue with the public did take place, but it rarely did so in a form that gave consultees the impression their concerns had been heeded. I should like to take the Gants Hill area as an example. Gants Hill is situated on the border between my constituency and Ilford, South at the heart of Redbridge. It has a Central line tube station; a crossing of the A12, the Woodford avenue, which links to the north circular road; and Cranbrook road, a major local route.

Gants Hill has been in need of regeneration since the late 1960s. However, for two years, the Tory council tried to force through a plan that would have flattened dozens of homes to make way for a supermarket, despite four other supermarkets being within a mile of the site, and in the face of massive public opposition. The council also proposed to close the much loved and architecturally significant Gants Hill library, regardless once again of public opposition and the desperate need in the area for better community facilities. The library and its car park have been designated by the council for commercial or leisure use.

In the last four years, Gants Hill residents association has complained to me about the neglect of the Woodford avenue area. Mustafa Redif, the manager of Serene's fish and chip shop on the Woodford avenue, told me recently that he felt that his corner of Gants Hill had been overlooked when it came to regeneration—a view shared by other residents in Gants Hill's "forgotten quarters". [Interruption.] I am sure that my hon. Friends are thinking of other forgotten quarters in their constituencies, especially if they have Conservative councils.
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Perhaps our most well known landmark was the Odeon cinema on the A12 at Gants Hill. It has now been demolished for the construction of over 200 high-rise flats, which has taken from our community part of its identity and fuelled the demonisation of young people who have little to do in the area. A similar story is told by residents of Barkingside, who are threatened with the loss of Fullwell Cross library, which serves as a cultural landmark in the community, to be replaced with blocks of flats.

Those travesties of regeneration stem from a difference in principle. When under Labour control, Redbridge's plans for the future were based on the needs of local people, but now, young people in my constituency are priced out of the local housing market, forcing them out of the communities in which they grew up. Everyone can see the slow erosion of community life in our area, but still the Tories fight tooth and nail to minimise any allocations for affordable housing on major developments,

As populations grow, there is increasing need for community centres, libraries, youth clubs and other facilities, but the Tories' regeneration plans have lost coherence. The attitude of the Tory council has led to a general and understandable public distrust of regeneration, which undermines the potential benefits.

The next decision the council has to make, a week today, is whether to allow a horse racing track, which is bitterly opposed by hundreds of local residents—including me—with a grandstand, bars and restaurants to be built on green belt land on Fairlop plain in my constituency. I am urging local Tory councillors to listen to the voices of the people whom we represent.

I also wish to raise the issue of Crossrail, because I have the honour of chairing the all-party parliamentary group on the issue, which counts 100 MPs and peers as members. In the spring we hope to see a hybrid Bill before Parliament to empower the financing and construction of Crossrail. I cannot overstate how important it is for us to take the opportunity to make the fullest success of Crossrail to contribute to regeneration in the Thames gateway.

The plans for the gateway could realise up to 30 per cent. of London's required new homes, including provision for affordable housing, which is very important to my constituents, and the creation of job opportunities. That will help London to accommodate the predicted increase in population of 700,000 people over the next 10 years, without encroaching on greenfield sites or the green belt. The Thames Gateway London Partnership has highlighted the insufficiency of rail networks and interchanges connecting key town centres and development sites. As with other areas of London, Crossrail will provide rapid, frequent and convenient access for business and leisure travellers from the Thames gateway areas to the City, central London and Heathrow.

Crossrail will provide a freedom of movement for people that will give businesses greater access to the labour force; it will give people the opportunity to look further afield for jobs that will recognise and develop their potential; and it will ensure hundreds of thousands of people will be able to get to and from work each day
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and enjoy the capital's leisure opportunities by night. In that latter group, I include my daughters, who are in their 20s. In fact, to me, Crossrail represents opportunity for my constituents, for Londoners and for much of the south-east. It will also play an essential role in securing London's future as a financial and international business centre vital to the UK economy and with benefits for the whole country. For residents in my constituency, it will mean a practical alternative to being crammed into overcrowded carriages on the Central line, which operates at capacity no longer just during rush hour but throughout the day and evening.

East London contains some of the poorest communities in Britain, yet a lack of infrastructure inhibits opportunity for the people living in those communities. I have lived in the east of London for almost all my life and I feel very strongly that the time has come for my birthplace, my living space and the people I represent to benefit from this Labour Government's commitment to this huge investment in the Thames gateway programme.

7.50 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham). She spoke eloquently, and made a number of important and good points about her constituency. I am deeply proud of my constituency, as she is of hers. Castle Point is a wonderful and beautiful town, which nestles seductively on the Thames estuary. It boasts the wonderful and historic Hadleigh castle, St. James's church in Hadleigh, St. Peter's church in Thundersley and Benfleet church, which was built on the site of the battle of Benfleet, in which we defeated the Vikings about 1,110 years ago. On Canvey Island we also have the Dutch cottages, and a wonderful, tight-knit and caring community.

The Thames gateway project can do much for my constituency; it offers much promise. However, like the hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate), I am concerned to get the detail right, particularly on infrastructure. If we do not get that right, the Thames gateway could be a burden on my constituents. The gateway will bring regeneration and jobs, although as I have said before and will continue to say until the House is sick of my saying it and delivers Canvey's third road, without that third road there will be no jobs in Castle Point from the Thames gateway. However, the gateway could deliver jobs.

I am delighted with the Olympic bid, which involves the gateway area. Winning that bid would be a great thing for this country. I cannot understand why the whole country is not backing that bid and Lord Coe, who is pushing it. It could deliver much for south Essex and my constituency. There are many new opportunities to come from the Thames gateway project: in leisure, in sport, through protecting and enhancing our heritage, through jobs and improved housing, and, as the hon. Member for Ilford, North said, through more social and cheaper housing so that our young people can get on the housing ladder and we can house teachers, nurses and people in low-paid occupations.

The Thames gateway could enhance my constituents' lifestyle and quality of life in many ways. The Minister for Housing and Planning, who has just left, is an
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excellent man, as is the Minister of State, Department for Transport, who has taken over. I am sure that he will pick up some of these points when he sums up. However, the Ministers have a very tough job in selling the gateway to my constituents. Local people and the local press do not simply accept without question the soft soap and the hard sell on the number of houses, which is the nub of the matter for us.

We need some additional housing, but the question is where it should go. Should it be on the green belt? My constituents feel that it should not. How many houses should we have? My constituents feel that 4,000 additional houses, which the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is trying to foist on us, represent a totally unsustainable level, which could not possibly be built without consuming parts of the green belt in my constituency.

My constituents also feel—and this is one of the key differences between the Conservatives' and the Government's policy on planning—that the best people to make decisions on numbers of houses, where they go and on green belt protection are local people, who are democratically accountable to their community. They know best. My constituents are completely bewildered—that seems to be the word of the night—that the decisions are taken away from them and given to what I suppose is a quango. Certainly, my constituents do not know who the people in Go East and the regional planning authority are, and they cannot vote them out if they disagree with their decisions. Such people simply seem to be placemen—yes men—intended to deliver whatever number the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister comes up with and seeks to force on us.

We do not accept the claim made by the Minister for Housing and Planning in his opening remarks that housing growth at levels that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister seeks to force on the south-east is "inevitable"—that was the word that he used. There is no inevitability about it at all. There is regeneration in the north of England, and some communities there want more housing. Our communities do not. We should trust those local communities.

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