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The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): This has been a thoughtful and reflective debate, for which I am grateful. Clearly, I cannot answer in 13 minutes all the questions that were asked, but I shall begin by saying a few words by way of introduction.
The contribution of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman was interesting. He clearly swallowed the lexicography of the sustainable communities plan and regurgitated it at his leisure. I can cheerfully say that we are heading in precisely the direction that he outlined on all the major points that he mentioned. I shall come to some of them in detail later.
I welcome what I thought was an offer to treat the issue in a cross-party or non-party basis. In my year as a Minister responsible for housing regeneration in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and subsequently as a Transport Minister, I have taken the firm view that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get this right. It is a massive undertaking and one of the problems in the debate is that we have confused two to three-year horizons with 15, 20 or 30-year horizons. If the task is undertaken properly, it will take a generation and more to see it through to completion.
I fully endorse the hon. Gentleman's comments about the durability and sustainability of the project. I am grateful, in the mainI know that there are local concerns, and I will come to themthat people have eschewed the notion that the gateway, which he referred to in the context of the wider sustainable communities plan, is all about concreting over every blade of grass between here and Southend and Manston airport in Kent and that, if we are not concreting it over, we will face serious difficulties with flooding. I shall come to the serious concerns about flooding later, but I am grateful to the House that the debate has not taken place in the stunted playground context in which serious debates about planning regeneration often take place.
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The Government have taken on board real local concerns. We are serious about sustainability and infrastructure investment in the broadest context. I entirely accepted what hon. Members said about health, education and other forms of social infrastructure being equally as important as transport, which is my specific responsibility. I also accept that biodiversity, the green dimension, liveability and quality of life are equally important. The charge that such issues are being ignored is not well made.
I heartily supported what I thought wasin the endthe endorsement of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) for the entire project. He said that it would be a mistake to press on without appropriate infrastructure, and I think that everyone in the Chamber is with my hon. Friend on thatperhaps the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) would not agree, but we will leave him to one side on his own planet.
It is not appropriate to cite Eastern Quarry as a problem. I have said publicly while sitting next to a leading representative of the company that it is inappropriate for a land security developer to spend more than a year faffing with its traffic assumptions without sharing them with other public bodies that have the right to know how a specific development would fit with the rest of the transport infrastructure. We are not making mistakes in that regard. The situation is still one of drip-feeding, so we need to go beyond that.
I tell the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and others who raised the matter that I am sad in that I still read "Regeneration and Renewal" and avidly wait for my copy each week. I thought that the specific article about myriad organisations was simplistic to the point of being fatuous and that it let down the publication. We are trying slowly in some cases, although faster in others, to get all assorted organisations and public bodieselected and otherwisein each and every area together so that we can start to sing with a united voice. That is difficult, but standing on the outside and talking at length about the complexity and difficulty of the task of bringing many bodies together is fatuous and adds nothing to the debate.
It is appropriate for the Highways Agency to deal with the major strategic roads in this country, but it is equally appropriate for it to sit down and talk to Dartford, Medway, and other delivery bodies. It is appropriate for Basildon to lead Basildon's renaissance and contribution to regeneration in the gateway, but it is also appropriate for Essex county council, English Partnerships, the train operators and others to have a voice. The trick is drawing all bodies together to focus on what is needed in a specific area and to determine how that fits with the wider strategic concerns of south Essex, north Kent or the whole gateway. It is easy to sit on the sidelines saying, "Oh look, there's 14 organisations." The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton read a good number of them out, but although that is a clever little fourth-form debating point, it adds nothing to the substance of the debate. If complexities and overlaying contributions still exist, they must be busted through. That is exactly what is happening in Thurrock and Basildon, and with Renaissance Southend and others. We have started from the premise that it is usually more appropriate, especially in south
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Essex and north Kent, for localities to choose their delivery mechanisms and to bring together all those involved.
The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway), who is not in the Chamber, seemed to suggest that the easy answer was to apply a fully-blown London Docklands development corporation from Southend and the north Kent coast all the way back to the Isle of Dogs. He said that the LDDC was such a wonderful example of how to move forward on these issues that we should simply recreate it. As the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton suggested, the LDDC was a complete disaster in its early days. It did not recognise the concept of community buy-in to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) referred or the notion that communities existed. We think that urban development corporations are appropriate for east London, despite some concerns that were raised, and for Thurrock, when they are contiguous with borough boundaries. Other delivery mechanisms are appropriate elsewhere, but there should not be a LDDC incarnate in any shape or form.
The concerns expressed about flood plains and flooding are genuine. New planning policy guidance note 25 goes far further than anything in the past. At each and every step, there will be, as we said, a flood risk assessment of the plans submitted by every delivery body and of the plans and applications from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. There has been engagement with the Environment Agency from day one on the series of issues relating to flooding. The problem is not new, but, as my right hon. Friend the Minister suggested, the area is well protected in terms of flood alleviation and much better protected than most of the country. However, that does not mean that we are complacent because we have to keep on the case.
My right hon. Friend spoke of the criteria and the driftlet me say that and no moretowards scaremongering. Some 17 London boroughs would be under water or in serious difficulty were it not for the Thames barrier and flood alleviation measures. I take the point that those should be kept under review, and they are.
Some of the general points about transport have merit if we are looking across a 20 to 30-year horizon. I firmly believeI have always said this and have got into trouble with colleagues from Essex and Kent for doing sothat although there can be significant development in north Kent, Basildon and some of the other urban parts of Essex, the key success to the gateway on the initial five to seven-year horizon is at the London end.
To suggest that the transport infrastructure planned for London is insufficient is abject nonsense. It is going in the right direction. Of course more should be done, but if we include the schedules suggested by the Transport for London business plan, the best part of £1 billion will be invested in transport infrastructure over the next three years throughout the gateway. That is not money for plans, working parties or fancy offices for the myriad organisations mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton, but money for real projects.
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On the Thames gateway bridge and the DLR North Woolwich, the London end needs to be redeveloped alongside developments elsewhere. The redevelopment of the London end will contribute nearly half the houses in the gateway, but we would commit a significant mistake in public policy terms if, because of an historical anomaly, south London were left out. So we need the DLR to go under the Thames to Woolwich Arsenal and the Thames gateway bridge for local traffic.
Much has been done in all matters raised. Hon. Members will forgive me if I do not go near the topic of Shell Haven. I am the planning Minister involved in that and cannot talk about the application in any way, shape or form because I will determine the decision in the near future. In terms of jobs, we do not want to recreate the mistakes of the past by having linear commuter dormitory towns, with people flooding back into London, as the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said. Of course we need jobs in the area in the right place for the right people.
The learning and skills councils are jointly considering the skills audit and the skills deficiencies. Colleagues in other Departments are working with us in the ODPM and the Department for Transport to ensure that all aspects of the infrastructure develop alongside the assorted communities so that we grasp the potential in the gateway. We should stop talking about it. The shift of London's economic focus to the east and away from the west has been talked about incessantly for probably hundreds of yearsit certainly predates the 1930s. We have the infrastructure investment plans necessary for the next wave of gateway investment. Of course, more needs to be done in the 20 to 30-year vista. However, across the piece, we are going in the right direction regarding infrastructure. Mistakes will be made along the way, but if a cross-party consensus can
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be forged, we have an historic, national and, I venture to say, international opportunity to put the UK on the map
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