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Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): I draw the attention of the House to my interests in the Register, although they are not terribly relevant to tonight's deliberations. I also apologise for not being in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate—a fact that I had anticipated and of which I informed both, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and Members on the Treasury Bench.

This has been a good debate, but it is a tragic irony that the sustainable communities plan is neither sustainable nor really about communities. Conservatives believe it inappropriate to target development on areas where development pressure is
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already greatest. What does it really say about regeneration to put extra resources, build extra houses and create extra jobs in a corner of Britain that is already the most prosperous? What does that say about job creation for people in areas where unemployment is still a blight?

The Thames gateway, though, is different, qualitatively and quantitatively, from the rest of the sustainable communities plan. It is different because the development is largely on brownfield land and thus implicitly regenerative; different, too, because of its location. Our fundamental doubts about the Government's strategy and our doubts about the sustainability of their communities plan are not all reflected in our views about the Thames gateway project.

I remind the House that we are not alone in doubting the suitability and viability of the Government's programme for housing development. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) highlighted the severe concerns of his constituents about housing numbers, but it is not only them—important though they are. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Select Committee described the impact of the Government's housing programme on the environment as potentially "unsustainable". The Committee said:

The Committee has delivered its verdict on the Government; it is not a happy one for the Minister who will reply to the debate.

In a series of speeches, we have heard real questions about several aspects of the development. We have heard questions about environmental issues, infrastructure issues and project management. I shall deal with them in turn, beginning with the environmental concerns.

There are issues about water resources that have yet to be properly answered. We know that water resources in the south of England—in the capital, in Kent and Essex—are already under pressure and the Minister must give us firm answers to the relevant questions. There are issues about developments on the flood plain. I take the view of the Minister for Housing and Planning that flood risk needs to be assessed in terms of flood record. As I represent the fens in Lincolnshire, I understand that one cannot say that simply because an area is at risk, irrespective of its record of flooding and its existing defences, one should not build there. If that were the case, my constituency would not exist and that would be a monstrous thing, as the whole House will agree. The Minister is right: record and risk need to be balanced but, nevertheless, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) put some important questions about that matter and we need more than the dismissive answer he was given.

There are also issues about the effect of the development on air quality. I should like to hear answers on that subject in the Minister's summing up, as well as on the issues raised by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) about biodiversity, wildlife and
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green spaces. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point also talked about the impact of the development on the quality of life. Those issues, too, deserve an answer and I know that the Minister is well equipped to deal with them all in considerable detail in the time available.

Perhaps even more fundamental than those environmental concerns are the concerns about infrastructure that have been debated at some length during our deliberations. The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham), in a telling phrase, said that the lack of infrastructural investment inhibits opportunity. She said that was especially damaging to the interests of her poorer constituents. She is right.

The hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) said— I use his words—that pressing on without dealing with the infrastructural challenges would be the greatest mistake. Other hon. Members have questioned the issues associated with a balance between jobs and transport. I particularly highlight the contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who always speaks with great authority on these matters. He gave us the figures, and they were stark: 240,000 extra people and 55,000 extra jobs; that involves a large number of people travelling, and they need high quality transport infrastructure to do so efficiently, at their comfort and with appropriate ease. Yet there are still enormous gaps in the information that the Government have made available to us.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend has touched on the most important thing in the debate: it is not just a question of all those people travelling, but where they travel to. The Government have not identified what are the industries and businesses of the future—the next 10 to 20 years—to which those people will travel, but we hope that we can create those businesses on their doorsteps and make them environmentally sustainable.

Mr. Hayes: We hope that we can do so, but until the Government come up with persuasive answers to the important questions that have been asked by hon. Members on both sides of the House tonight, we cannot be certain. It would not be appropriate to proceed, as the hon. Member for Dartford said, unless we are reasonably certain about these fundamental matters.

The Government have been repeatedly asked to articulate how the infrastructure provision for the communities plan projects, particularly the Thames gateway, will be funded. The ODPM has stated that the finances for the Thames gateway development corporation have not been fully determined and that part of the funding will come from the £446 million allocated for regeneration from the last Government spending review. Not only is that explanation inadequate, but so is the funding.

The Library pack prepared for the debate includes extracts from the Thames gateway regional spending plan, but I do not know whether any hon. Member noticed that there are no figures in that spending plan. The conclusion says:

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The project faces massive funding problems, and there are massive doubts about the effectiveness of the infrastructure. We have heard from a variety of Members about the need for Crossrail, but the Government have yet to provide clear answers on that either.

There are conflicting views about the bridge. I heard what the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard) said about the paucity of provision on the east side of London. I was born in south-east London, at Woolwich, as generations of my family have been, so I can speak with some authority about the Thames, and I was pleased to grow up in Eltham. I was delighted that the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) contributed to the debate. He is right to say that such things are difficult and create limited opportunities for people travelling to work and leisure and for all kinds of other purposes, but I have doubts about the bridge because independent analysis, which he mentioned, has questioned whether the project is appropriate and whether it will deliver what it was once said that it might. Again, that requires Government clarification and comment. We cannot be left in the dark any longer about those matters.

The issue of project management has been raised. It is often said that too many cooks spoil the broth, and plenty of cooks are involved in this project, are they not? The number of organisations, the lack of accountability and the range of conflicting agendas have been mentioned by many hon. Members.

People are not mere units and homes are not just buildings. This project must be about building real communities, not soulless sprawling estates of houses that have little to offer beyond ubiquity. We must look beyond utility to grace and beauty; each home should be in keeping with its neighbour, and each settlement should be in tune with the prevailing landscape—ergonomically, ecologically and environmentally sustainable. Real communities are mixed communities: jobs and leisure, shops and open spaces, churches, schools, clubs and pubs—all the little platoons with their individual intricacies, courtesies and civilities that together make up civilised life.

A number of key questions remain. Will the Minister in summing up clarify the infrastructural shortfalls? Will he consider ways to address them by using public funds to trigger private investment? It has been estimated that we need 55 primary schools, 10 secondary schools, nine leisure centres and six playing fields, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold and by inference by the hon. Members for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) and for Thurrock. Will the Minister also deal with the fundamental issue of transport?

Will the Minister commit to determining the extent of this development by using environmental, ecological and infrastructural criteria? That means air, water, biodiversity, flooding, but also "liveability" to use a term that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has used. Will it be a good place to live?

Will the Minister look again at the shortfall in the skills necessary to deliver the project that was identified by the chairman of the Commission for Architecture
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and the Built Environment? He said that the project could not be sustained on the basis of inadequate skills and pointed out:

Will the Minister rethink what sustainability really means? That means reviewing RPG9A and redesignating sufficient land that is currently earmarked for employment for residential purposes. It means understanding that living communities are mixed and diverse communities. They make demands on active citizens and pay them back in the currency of the joy of shared identity and pride.

Will the Minister raise the bar in respect of design? All that we build should add to what is there. Appropriate standards in design, density, access to amenities, layout and green spaces will engender a sense of place, distinctiveness and deliver an aesthetic feel-good factor.

We plant trees for those born later, and we build houses for them too. This is an opportunity to be grasped or an enormous mistake to be made. Beyond party, this Government have an opportunity and this House has a duty to make the right decisions. If we do not, those born later will not forgive us.

9.46 pm

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