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Bob Spink: My hon. Friend has made some excellent points and has highlighted an issue of serious concern. The c2c line from Shoeburyness to Fenchurch Street station is already at over-capacity. People stand on trains on that line every day, as they cannot find a seat. How will we increase capacity on that line for people who already live in the area, let alone for those who will take up all the new jobs and houses that we are going to create?
Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend has made an excellent intervention and anticipates what I am about to say. He makes a very good point about transport, but the same principle applies to schools, hospitals, health centres and every other public service. It is no good building all those houses if we do not consider how we will provide public services in the area. With a general election looming, the Government must clarify the development criteria that they expect in the next five to 10 years. Will they follow Kate Barker's proposal for a development land tax? How will section 106 and the social housing requirement work? Unless developers have a settled environment in which to work, the position will be very difficult.
The concept of urban development corporations was implemented successfully by the last Conservative Government in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. They made UDCs work by levering in money from the private sector and adopting a bidding approach. The present Government must be measured not by inputs but by outputsit is not about how much money they spend but about how effectively they spend it for the country. They need to think carefully about how they will lever in all that money. How will they organise or assemble large enough packages of land, possibly through compulsory purchase, which has been successful in some UDC areas?
I do not wish to be too political, but the Minister for Housing and Planning must do a little better. Some of his answers to parliamentary questions, particularly those asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), lack the detail or strategic thinking that I have been talking about. On 21 October 2004, my hon. Friend asked at column 861W how many fire stations and how many firemen and women will be required in the Thames gateway between 2003 and 2016a fairly simple question, one would have thought. [Interruption.] I am going to read out the answer, which I shall quote verbatim from Hansard:
If that is the usual level of detail that characterises thinking on the Thames gateway, the Minister must do much better, or the project will not get off the ground. Exactly the same answer was given in relation to leisure centres on 18 October 2004 at column 465W. Such matters of detail need to be thought through a little better.
Before concluding, I should like to deal with some of the details that have been mentioned this evening. I have spoken about the transport infrastructure, but we need
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to consider carefully where all those houses will go. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point that the Minister was incredibly sensitive about flooding. We must all be completely open about the problem of the flood plain and where we should build houses, because it would be monstrous to build houses that have any chance of being flooded whatsoever. Recently, there was a controversial planning application in Fairford in my constituency. It was nonsensethe local council turned down the application because the houses were likely to flood, but the Minister's inspector came along and said, "No, you can build the houses there, as they are not likely to flood and we have a proper flood attenuation scheme in place." The Minister said tonight that there is only a one in a thousand chance of houses flooding in the Thames barrier area, but we all know that climate change is making matters much more unpredictable. We all know that in large areas of housing, with large areas of tarmac and concrete where rainwater can run off quickly, the risk of flooding is much greater. We will want to study the Environment Agency flood maps with great care and in great detail to see where the houses are to be built. The Government are working hard with the insurance industry. I am glad to hear that, because the insurance industry will not want to insure houses that have any chance of flooding. Perhaps that will be our safeguard.
I should like to speak about design and density. Density may not be the universal theme of the gateway. There may be different densities in different parts. I have seen the detailed gateway plan and the Olympic bid plan. What is envisaged in those plans is first class. I hope the Government are successful in their Olympic bid. There is no stronger champion of it than I. The plan is excellent. It regenerates the lower Lea area, it will provide 3,000 social houses that will be left in the Olympic village after the games, and the plan will provide new green areas and water features. I went down to the Thames gateway offices in East London university to see the model for the gateway plan, and that plan is excellent too.
We must, however, concentrate carefully on design and density. There is nothing wrong with dense housing per se. After all, look at Kensington, where there are some 80 houses to the hectare. Nobody would say that Kensington was excessively dense, but in other areasfor example, in my rural areas80 houses to the hectare would be far too many. There needs to be a harmonious mixture of medium-rise dense housing and less dense housing.
We are becoming more and more knowledgeable about the design of housingfor example, how we insulate houses properly so that they are heat efficient, and how we make them last longer. It is a monstrosity that pre-cast reinforced concrete houses that were built in the 1960s are being pulled down. We should be designing houses with a longer life than 40 years. It is perfectly possible to do it, and to design decent houses so that people on any level of income can live in comfort and in warmth. That should be our aim in building new houses.
Many other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, so to sum up, the Thames gateway project is the most exciting regeneration project that the country has ever faced. There are huge opportunities to ensure that London and hence the United Kingdom becomes
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one of the foremost places going forward in the 21st century. Let us for goodness' sake build well and make sure that jobs are near the places where people will live. I wish the Government every success.
Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford) (Lab): Harold Wilson once made a famous speech at a public meeting in my constituency. He asked, "Why do I say that the Royal Navy is vital to the future of Britain?", and someone heckled him from the back and said, "Because you're in Chatham."
The Chatham dockyard was our heart and it is our proud history. In 198420 years ago nowit closed and thousands of people lost their jobs. Unemployment rose to almost 20 per cent. That was in the "Garden of England". People sometimes take the view that the county is prosperous, but we have had our difficult times. It was painful, but unemployment is now at a record lowabout 3 per cent. The dockyard is once again breathing healthily. Once again it is the centre of employment, and of businesses, homes, schools and, most recently, a university. More than £20 million of Government money has been invested in the area.
This evening, hon. Members have discussed what will happen in the Thames gateway, but if they came to Medway, they would see that experience and that investment happening today. The university of Greenwich and the university of Kent are working alongside our further education college, and we have recently received money for a construction training centre to provide vital skills to build the gateway. Hon. Members have discussed people moving into the area, but we want jobs and opportunities for the existing communities.
Some £23 million has been invested in the development of brownfield sites. There has been some doubt whether the Government will put in the cash to ensure that land is decontaminated, but that is happening in the Medway towns. The idea of the Rochester/Chatham riverside development has been around since a Labour council entered office in 1991. My namesake, Councillor John Shaw, pioneered the Rochester/Chatham riverside, for which we have obtained £23 million. At one time, we had that aspiration and the Government supported our ideas, but their pocket was empty and so was ours; but thanks to this Government, we have got £23 million.
We are in good shape to meet the challenges of the Thames gateway, but like so many communities, we have our shopping list, toosome things are in the trolley, but we want a few extras. As many hon. Members have said, the challenge of getting the Thames gateway right means that not everyone will get everything they want. However, transport is a common theme flowing throughout the debate, and a consensus exists among MPs who represent constituencies within the Thames gateway that we must get the transport right.
I want to point to things that are already happening, such as private sector investment. Arriva, the main bus operator in Medway, has delivered £10 million of new buses around the Medway towns, because it recognises that the Medway towns are a growth area and that it can get more people on to its buses if it provides a regular,
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reliable and quality bus for passengers, which it is doing. The number of passengers on those fantastic new vehicles, which were commissioned a few months ago, is growing.
We welcome the news about the channel tunnel rail link, which is one of the greatest engineering projects. I remember being in this House in 1998, when the project was seemingly doomed as a consequence of poor financial planning by the Conservative party. People forget that situation, but my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who is a great man, saved the project.
In Kent, we have had the pain of the channel tunnel rail link, and now we want some of the gain, which means a domestic service. I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has ordered new bullet trains that will speed through the countyimportantly, those trains will also stop in the county and in the Medway towns. We welcome that £200 million investment, and the trains will come on stream in 2009.
The channel tunnel rail link will be finished by 2007. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Paul Clark), who is currently taking notes, will tell ushis interest is as great as minewhether the operator that gets the new integrated Kent transport franchise can use Eurostars. Some Eurostars are currently mothballedcan we use them during that two-year period?
It is 40 years since the Kent railway timetable was last reorganised. We await the new timetable, which will include the channel tunnel rail link domestic service. We do not want reduced services in 2006 and a three-year wait for replacement services. As the Thames gateway evolves, we must continually review and revise our train infrastructure and the timetable, which we must adapt according to people's work patterns. It is important that we do not have to wait another 40 years or so. I would like some answers on that.
I will skip through the next part of my speech. Many of the things that I was going to say have already been said, so I shall I do not delay the House any longer than I need to. I am sure that that will be popular.
For a dynamic area like the Thames gateway, we need continually to review our transport policies. When we look back 15 or 20 years from now, the question will be: did we enhance the communities and the lives of the people who already live there? Economic regeneration is vital but so is social regeneration.
Many of my constituents read the grand plans. They can see some of the things happening, but those do not necessarily touch them in their everyday lives. There is still too much litter around. There are too many alleyways and Victorian terraces that are full of rubbish. It is seemingly difficult to remove the rubbish, because the houses are in the private sector.
Are we getting it right in terms of the regeneration grants? Stamp duty reduction, for example, is a regenerator for the poorest wards in our communities, but where the scheme is situated in Medway is not where the poorest housing is. Those communities are stable. The scheme is run on a ward basis. It should not be,
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because wards can sometimes be skewedthey can contain a very poor area and a wealthy area alongside it, so we do not necessarily get the targeting of the resources that we want.
The scheme should be run on a polling district basis or on a street basis. There are concerns that some streets of inner Chatham, the inner city of the Medway towns, which I represent, are at tipping point. Too many houses are in multiple occupation. That will not encourage people to remain living thereit will encourage flight. There needs to be greater joined-up thinking between Departments in providing incentives for people to remain in the area, to get good dealscheaper deals perhapsand to take advantage of the grants that are already available.
There have been references to many community projects from hon. Members. I want to mention onethe All Saints neighbourhood project. That has been led by some commendable people living and working in the community around central Chatham. They have been involved with the clean-ups and getting the local community involved in the things they see when they step outside their front door: community projects, after school clubs, and improving play areas. Those are not the grand things, but they are important aspects of regeneration which the existing communities should feel part of. The grand plans are all very well but let us fix things that concern people in their daily lives. That is my greatest fear.
My hon. Friend the Minister is aware that my constituency crosses the boundary of the Thames gateway. I make this point for the communities that neighbour the gateway. The northern part of Tonbridge and Malling borough council is in my constituency. It is engaged with the Thames gateway process and is pleased to be able to do that. It is principally a green belt borough. It has land deposits but it cannot be an overspill site for the Thames gateway. If there are difficulties in achieving the housing on brownfield sites in the Thames gateway, the borough cannot be an overspill site. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister would like to refer to that in his winding-up speech.
Things in the Medway towns are already happening, and I have great faith that we will continue to deliver. All of us have a shopping list. It is only right that we stand here, occasionally poke the Minister in the ribs and remind him that there are some concerns as well as excitement, which many of us feel. I wish him and all his colleagues well in delivering a promising and bright future for my constituents.
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