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Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Let me say at the outset how much I welcome the regeneration of the Thames gateway area and the opportunities that it offers to my constituents. Those of us who value debate in the House as an opportunity to put our points across will inevitably focus on areas of concern or areas in which we seek change, and I appeal to Ministers to take our remarks in that context rather than thinking that we are being negative about the prospects that the development offers our communities.
For too long, the east of London has been the poor relation in terms of economic development and opportunity. In the latter part of the last century we had
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enormous decline in the region, with the docks running down and a loss of industry. In the north of my borough, around Woolwich, 250,000 jobs disappeared in a generation from the Royal Arsenalan incredible number of jobs to lose in one area. People who do not know the area may not realise that around Woolwich there are some of the most deprived communities to be found anywhere in the country. The regeneration of the Thames gateway will bring enormous change to their lives and to the vitality of the economy in east London, and it is well overdue.
When the regeneration is completed, it is intended to create about 180,000 jobs, as well as about 120,000 homes. Much of the land to be regenerated is in public ownership, and that offers us an opportunity to achieve a great deal more social housing than is currently contemplated. Every week, my surgery is full of families who have three generations living in the same house. Young people, now with children of their own, have grown up in houses built by Labour Governments and Labour local authorities, and they look to Labour now to provide the opportunities for them and their families that their parents had before them.
The process that we currently go through to develop social housing is invariably that we sell the local authority property to the private developer and then seek to negotiate back a proportion for social housing under section 106. I know from my discussions with housing associations that they would like to take on the management role for the development of some sites, so that they manage the whole project from beginning to end. They will sell some of the housing, so that we get mixed tenure: we are not talking about building huge council estates as we did in the past. We want to create balanced communities, achieving more from the value of the land to allow us to build more social housing.
We need partnership with social landlords to maximise social housing. I am not advocating social housing exclusively for local people. That has been a disaster in the past and would not help the regeneration of the Thames gateway and bring in the diversity of people that we need to participate in the local economy and industry and to provide public services. We need much more affordable housing than I fear we will get if we are to accommodate existing residents who want to rent property that they can afford, and those who will make the gateway regeneration a success if they move into the area.
Several Members have mentioned the obvious public services, such as health services and schools. Even the fire service was mentioned. A number of other public services do not spring to mind in the context of planning gain, however. I am thinking of supported housing units for people with learning disabilities, and further-education colleges. FE colleges need a great deal of capital. There will be an enormous demand for training in the area, and I think the negotiations should take that into account. My hon. Friend the Minister will probably say that all those issues have been taken on board, but I fear that they are lost in talk of health centres, schools and the like. They slipped off the shopping list when we are telling private developers what we want.
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Much has been said about transport, but I want to say more about it. There is a plan to bring the docklands light railway to Woolwich in the north of my borough. As I have told my hon. Friend the Minister on several occasions, a swathe of south-east London is not served by the underground. We rely heavily on trains, as buses are still not considered an option for long-distance travel to and from central London. Bringing the DLR to Woolwich will enhance a major hub in south-east London. It benefits from several bus services and from rail services, butin the medium term, at leastit will have the DLR as well.
According to the current plans to take Crossrail south of the river, it will bypass Woolwich. That will deprive people south of Greenwich and beyond of an essential link. The ability to use other forms of transport to reach a hub in the north of the borough could transform the way in which people reach their jobs each day, and could play a major part in relieving pressure on roads that are already much too congested. The lack of a Crossrail station will make it virtually impossible for large chunks of the population of south-east London to benefit from easy access to services.
An enormous amount of money is being invested in the Thames gateway bridge. My hon. Friend the Minister will say that the problems cannot be solved simply by diverting funds from the bridgea road linkto Crossrail, but it is important to emphasise the importance of public-transport links.
For more than two decades Greenwich council undertook some surveys into poverty in south-east London, particularly in Greenwich. The results of the surveys highlighted that those who were socially excluded did not have access to a car. The argument that the regeneration of the Thames gateway and the opportunities for people who do not have a car are predicated on the development of a road does not stack up given the evidence that we have found in the past.
The argument was turned on its head when the congestion charge was introduced. It was said that people who did not have access to a car could not be disfranchised by the congestion charge. It is not possible to have it both ways. Either these people are in need of public transport links or they are not. We are planning to put an enormous amount of investment into the road. We are talking of the largest bridge to span the Thames in the London area. It will have two lanes for traffic and one lane for buses. Those of us who are more cynical than others could point to the fact that with bus lanes it is necessary only to change the colour of the tarmac to produce a three-lane motorway in each direction.
We shall see an increase in the amount of traffic on already congested roads on the south side of the river. In my opinion, the community in this part of south-east London will be divided in the long term. The people concerned will experience what everyone else experiences when they live near a bridge. When the bridges in west London were closed for repair, people argued that they should remain closed. They and their communities cherished the relief that the closures brought to them as a result of reduced traffic congestion. That will result in people saying, "We want relief from the traffic", and I believe that that will lead to them saying that they want a relief road. That will lead to the
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resurrection of the east London river crossing route, which has been the subject of so much controversy in south-east London.
The issue should be taken before a public inquiry. There is no evidence to support the economic contribution that it is claimed that the Thames gateway bridge will bring about through the creation of jobs. In his submission on the bridge, Professor Whitelegg said that there was little evidence about the types of jobs that would be created by the bridge. The assertion that it would create 48,000 jobs has now been omitted from the Mayor of London's transport strategy. The figures of Halcrow, the consultants, show little evidence of the role that the Thames gateway bridge will play in the creation of jobs. The economic case is thin.
There are environmental issues that need to be addressed and that can only be done by means of a public inquiry. That is essential if the bridge project is to go ahead. In terms of transport infrastructure development, it is so important that we place an emphasis on public transport. That is what will bring about access to jobs and opportunities for local people.
Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Lab): The House has heard a great deal this evening with which I agree. The potential of the area for housing, for business and for the development of new jobs is there to be seen. The conditions in the area at present are not right to attract these new developments.
There has been a sequence of four or five studies going back 25 years, all of which have shown that the economic and social development of east London is inhibited and limited by the division of the area by the Thames. That is illustrated by the very few opportunities that exist to cross the Thames along the 15 miles to the east of Tower bridge compared with the vast number of opportunities that there are to do so in the 15 miles to the west, with the huge difference in the economic opportunities that exist there.
That, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is the true significance of the Thames gateway bridge. It will bridge the problem and it will mean that my constituents in Bexleyheath and Crayford, for example, will be able to look right through London for job opportunities, whereas their ambit is curtailed at present to 180o. The same applies to businesses coming into the area. Presently, businesses are trapped in an area that is badly served by road transport, albeit alleviated to an extent by the Thames road improvement in my area. Generally, it is a difficult area to get out of, which inhibits the ability to exploit the full market of the whole of Greater London. That is the true significance of the Thames bridge.
It also has a local role for London and for east London, in particular. Public transport provision will help to alleviate some of the potential traffic. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) suggested, there is some local anxiety about the project being essentially the old east London river crossing in a new guise, but it is not really that at all. The old east London river crossing was meant as a strategic route right through London, taking traffic from the rest of Britain and bringing it down to the Channel ports. This bridge is already designed as a local means of crossing the river.
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Some anxiety remains in my constituency, particularly in the Brampton road area, about the possibility that the extra traffic generated will mean more traffic on the roads jeopardising the environment. I plead with Ministers to ensure that no penny pinching will take place in respect of minimising any environmental consequences of the bridge, which will play such a vital role for the development of east London. The minority who may suffer from increased traffic should not be caused to suffer when the benefits to the vast majority of the population are so large. We can afford generosity and sensitivity in dealing with their problems.
The other major project that will open up the potential of the area is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) mentioned several times, Crossrail. It is particularly important to my constituents that it goes along the present alignment into south-east London from Canary Wharf, through the royal group of docks, on to Abbey Wood and then to Ebbsfleet. That alignment will take it through some of the largest areas for potential development anywhere in London: on the south bank of the Thames in north Greenwich and north Bexley. It will provide a link from the presently fairly isolated area of south London to Heathrow on the one side and to Ebbsfleet and the channel tunnel rail link on the other. The result will not be enhanced employment alone; it will enhance the whole quality of employment available in that area of London and make a very major contribution to regeneration.
I believe that there is some anxiety in the City and Canary Wharf, which now draws many employees from west London, that that will not continue to happen, as the growth of the financial services industry in the area continues. They will increasingly need to pull people in from east London generally, south-east and north-east London. That need will be catered for by Crossrail on the planned two alignments. As well as underpinning development in south-east London, Crossrail could also underpin the potential growth of the biggest financial services centre in the whole of the European Union. As it grows, it could become the dominant force in the EU.
If we are to achieve the potential for housing and businesses, the Thames bridge project and Crossrail must have definite timetables with enough finance behind them to give the private investor confidence that things will happen. If we have that, the private investment can come either before or alongside those developments. If, however, as has happened too often in the past, these become "this year, next year, some time, never" projects, the private sector will not have the confidence to bring investment in soon enough for us to gain real advantage. My plea is that Ministers ensure to the maximum extent possible that we have timetables for both the Thames bridge and Crossrail that are believable and that mean that private and public development go hand in hand.
Finally, the provision for Crossrail will come before the House in a Bill to prepare the ground. Can we ensure that the branch to Ebbsfleet from Canary Wharf is included in that as an integral part of the Crossrail project?
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