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Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): This is both an interesting and rather unusual debate, because there has been less of the party politics and synthetic anger that are a feature of the Chamber and that diminish its effectiveness. Members on both sides of the House have made points of great validity, and it would be prudent for the Government to reflect on them.
The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) mentioned the plethora of organisations involved in the Thames gateway. People in public life and potential developers are bewildered and cannot understand who is responsible for what, so it would be sensible for the Government to take that on board.
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We must address some of the points made by the hon. Members for Poole (Mr. Syms) and for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway). I hope I do them no injustice nor cause them embarrassment when I say that they broadly supported the thrust of the Government's strategy of regenerating the part of England that we are discussing.
There has been criticism of the bodies involved. Large parts of the Thames gateway strategy are not included in urban development corporationsI am fortunate in that one is dedicated to Thurrock. The Thames gateway is not in one English region, which is a mistake. Thurrock is in the eastern region, but we have no relationship with a region that is largely run from Cambridge and goes right up to Norfolk and Norwich. The maps of the English regions are wholly artificial. I remember that, when the London Government Act 1963 was passed, the boundaries of Greater London were fixed at 2 o'clock in the morning during a debate in Committee in the House of Lords, almost by accident, depending on who could be present at the time.
Things have moved on. I would liken the shape of the Thames gateway to an Osram light bulb laying on its side: it includes not only Greater London, as we know it, but goes down both sides of the Thames. That is the reality of the London region. People commute into London; Londoners have moved eastwards; and the region includes London's river and London's motorway, albeit largely outside the Greater London authority's area. Those issues need to be addressed if we are to manage the areaLondon, the Thames and its gatewayin the long term, and in my view it should come under just one English region, which would have some coherence.
We are now presented with an exciting opportunity not only to create new homes and environments, but to do away with some of the derelict, contaminated land throughout the area. My constituency contains a large amount of brown, derelict land that has been exploited during the past century without restoration. That land can now be restored and commerce and residences built, contributing not only to the economy but to the good quality of life of the people who live to the east of London. So I am excited by those possibilities and the new opportunities for innovative design in the building and urban planning there.
I very much welcome the moneys that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has made available to the Thurrock development corporationsome £330-odd millionand I hope that the Deputy Prime Minister will use his good offices to ensure that the other public sector partners, Ministries, Departments and agencies redirect their spending programmes to the Thurrock development corporation as well as the development corporation that covers the London boroughs and throughout the Thames corridor.
There is an anomaly, in respect of which the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) raised legitimate concerns, because the absence of an urban development corporation will disadvantage his area. The beauty of the urban development corporation is that it allows true planning to take place. It not only deals with residential development, but ensures that the transport infrastructure, schools and national health service provision grow and are paid for, while new, good quality environments and residential properties are
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created. Hitherto, that has not happened in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Castle Point.
The vehicle for true comprehensive planning must be an urban development corporation. That was the thrust of what the hon. Member for Croydon, South, who is no longer in his place, was saying, and he was talking common sense when he referred to the experience of the London docklands 20 years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard) and I agree that the responsibility for developing the docklands fell between a number of local authorities, all of which were well motivated, but there was no single body to drive through any plan. Only when such a single body was created did we see what we now know as the docklands. Of course, there might be some warts and deficiencies, but, overall, the docklands are a massive success commercially, environmentally and in terms of regeneration.
Mr. Edward Davey: The hon. Gentleman argues for the UDC in his area by linking it with the docklands experience in London, but surely that UDC is more or less, if not totally, coterminous with a local authority. Is he not worried at all about the UDC's accountability?
Andrew Mackinlay: We must be sensitive about that. The local authority discharges a multiplicity of functions very well, but the essence of the urban development corporation is that it is focused on creating a new environment, attracting funds and marshalling funds and landit has one purposebut all that fails to happen when such things are vested with a local authority.
The thrust of my speech is that all the areas that make up the Thames gateway should be covered by urban development corporations and that there needs to be some overall, strategic planning by one English region. I accepted the hon. Gentleman's valid point that an awful lot of other intermediate bodies could be either culled or rationalised, so I would not start from this point if I were the Minister, but the Government have made a very sensible start.
On the hon. Gentleman's point about Thurrock, of course I believe in local democracy, but, after all, the local authority will monitor the urban development corporation's work and it appoints some representatives. That is not a matter for meI took the point that he made earlierand I am fairly comfortable with the new arrangements. In any event, I also recognise that the urban development corporation can badger other departments in a way that local authorities cannot. For example, I regret to say that Thurrock has some of the lowest general practitioner provision in England, not just in the region. I told Health Ministers in the Chamber a few weeks agoI do so again to my hon. Friend on the Front Bench nowthat they and the urban development corporation must get those other agencies to ensure not only the necessary GP provision to meet people's existing demands, but the necessary growth as the urban development corporation is extended and developed. That cannot be done adequately by a traditional local authority.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman intervened because I want to take this opportunity to emphasise the deficiency in respect of GPs. I understand that, in
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England, the average is 52 GPs per 100,000 people. My borough, Thurrock, currently has 43 GPs per 100,000 people. Moreover, we have a large number of single practitioners, which is not the most efficient way to deliver health care. So there is much work to be done, and I hope that the Minister with responsibility for London will join me in taking an initiative to bring together the Department of Health, the primary care trust and other agencies to discover whether we can address those deficiencies, perhaps by channelling some funds to put us on the starting grid by creating GP provision that is appropriate to our area.
The Highways Agency must urgently address the lack of capacity at junction 30 of the M25 and on adjacent stretches of the A13. The problem must be dealt with in the interests not just of Thurrock but of the whole Thames gateway, because that junction and those stretches are increasingly becoming bottlenecks. In passing, may I therefore express my regret and frustration that, when there is a major hiatus on the M25, a statement is never made in the House of Commons? However, when there is a comparable hiatus on the rail network, a statement is made. That partly reflects the failure of Ministers to make a statement, but also the disinterest and wrong priorities of the press and media.
Although it took place some distance from the Thames gateway over the weekend, a major incident on the M25 frustrated an awful lot of people in the region. A similar incident occurred near junction 30 a few months ago, and given the cost, losses and frustration caused to commerce and people travelling on the M25, we should consider big hold-ups and closures on the M25 much more seriously than we do at present. That raises the question of whether we should have a dedicated traffic police for the M25 rather than relying on the different constabularies of Kent, Essex and the Met, who do not communicate adequately with each other about the quadrants for which they have responsibility. I hope that such a suggestion will be taken on board.
I know that colleagues might later refer to crossings over the Thames, but I must point out that I oppose the continued tolling of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge between Dartford and Thurrock. It was wrong to abrogate the statute of Parliament that said that tolling should cease once the bridge had been paid for. I resent that on behalf of my constituents in Thurrock and south Essex and of people in north Kent. The charges collected are not returned to our areas. The motorists who use the bridge to go from south Essex to work in Kent and vice versa have an additional £10 a week tax on them to pay for the wider highways network. That is simply not fair unless there is tolling around the whole M25 and elsewhere. This issue should be addressed with some urgency.
Reference might be made later to the desire for a Thames bridge to the west of Thurrock. That is a prudent proposition, but I am surprised that the Government have not addressed the need for a crossing to the east of Thurrock. The QEII bridge and one that might be created in the London boroughs to the west would merely act as bottlenecks or funnels that would not meet the needs of the north of England or help with
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access to the channel ports. We need to examine a proposal for a further crossing to the east that could be situated either in the vicinity of my borough of Thurrock or in the area represented by the hon. Member for Castle Point.
I remember attending a meeting with the hon. Gentleman soon after we were elected to the House at which it was made quite clear that if he wanted an additional access road to Canvey Island in his constituency, it would have to be part of a wider river crossing. I am not suggesting that the crossing should be sited there but, tantalisingly, he might consider the possibility that an additional road to Canvey Island should be incorporated in a highway across the Thames that gave access to the ports in Kent. Such a highway would be useful for the wider economy and our Thames gateway region.
The need for c2c's London to Tilbury and Southend line to be upgraded with some dispatch is also a matter of urgency in south Essex. It was a run-down line and, to be fair, it has received considerable investment. However, it does not have sufficient capacity to meet the existing needs of the Thames gateway.
The channel tunnel rail link goes under the Thames and, like a bootlace, comes out of the ground near the QEII bridge in my constituency. I think that we should revisit the prospect of having a station on that line in West Thurrock or Purfleet. I realise that there is the proposal for a station at Stratford, but it is common sense to examine the suggestion for a station in my constituency. A number of trains for Paris and Brussels could stop there each day, and that would also provide useful extra capacity for people in north Kent and my constituency who want to go to London.
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