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2 Feb 2005 : Column 267WH—continued

Structure Plan (Kent and Medway)

11 am

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): Thank you for granting me an opportunity to discuss the Kent and Medway structure plan, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a wholly good thing for a county such as Kent—I include Medway—to take stock and to reflect on the needs and aspirations of its people. If we do not have the chance to dream, and to dream big, and to back those dreams with more detailed plans, we are the lesser for it.

I shall be interested to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister how the plan was initially conceived. I know of no public meetings, no bus that went up and down the county, and no polls that were taken, but a plan has come from somewhere. It seems that the plan was started back to front: to have an aspiration or some idea of where the county should be in 2021, the people of Kent should have been talked to.

Kent and Medway together are the largest local authority area in the country, with a turnover of billions of pounds. It has not been possible to find out the gross domestic product of the county, so may I suggest to the Minister that GDP figures be produced for each county, district and, where possible, constituency? Such figures would help the people of Kent to understand better what we have and, as important, what we need, especially when we are discussing the future needs of the county through the structure plan.

We know a great deal about poverty indices and which wards in Kent suffer from neglect. Kent had a necklace of poverty around its coast for much of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, but thankfully, under the Labour Government's stewardship, there are signs of green shoots everywhere, not least in my constituency, where the Government are investing more than £300 million. That investment includes £44 million for the northern distributor road in Sittingbourne, £21 million for the Rushenden link road, which we hope will happen soon, and between £40 million and £60 million for the new secondary schools for the Isle of Sheppey. We have already had a £13 million new community hospital and our new £100 million bridge is being built as we speak. Sadly, all that may be at risk, as the Tories have announced the closure of the Thames gateway should they win the next election. In that event, my constituency and many others in Kent would be returned to boom-and-bust economic policies and poverty and deprivation would rear their ugly heads once more.

For Kent and Medway to be the best in Britain is no longer enough. The Kent and Medway structure plan needs to have at its core an understanding of the impact of globalisation, as India and China threaten Europe and America's economic hegemony over the coming two decades. The plan needs to demonstrate a better understanding of the impact that formula 1 high-speed broadband will have on our communities. I am not sure that the plan understands either of those profound changes.

In 2002, as the founder of the Oxford internet institute I was invited to lecture in north Sweden, in a region called Lulea. It is not possible to go much further north before reaching the Arctic circle, yet Sony Ericsson has
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its 3G research centre at Lulea university of technology. In 2004, I visited Helsinki to meet the owners of M-real, which owns UK Paper in my constituency, but I took time out, thanks to the UK ambassador to Finland, Matthew Kirk, to visit Nokia and to spend some time with the mayor of Helsinki. Like Singapore, Helsinki is a smart city—completely online and completely broadband, some of it wireless—and it is incredible to consider that the whole country is too. Finland has a population of 5 million and is incredibly mountainous, but it is online and broadband. That broadband was paid for by the regional development agency. It is not just any kind of broadband—not the 512 k on offer from BT, but 2G and 4G. It is more formula 1 than model T.

Interestingly, as a result of such provision, the north Baltic area, including Sweden, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania, has the fastest-growing GDP in the whole of Europe. Landlocked, cold and distant by 20th-century standards, it is smart and already connected by 21st-century standards. A history of the 20th century written in the mid-1970s would have failed to include venture capital, the personal computer, the mobile phone and wireless and broadband. The Kent and Medway structure plan must have those values underlying the activities; it does not.

If we were debating this issue in February 2021—when I will be 72—what could we say about Kent and Medway and the place that we bequeathed to our children and their children? Our duty would have been to provide enough added-value employment opportunities in a greener environment, with new housing that we could be proud of and an infrastructure to match. Only aspects of that are available today in Kent and Medway. We do not have enough added-value or smart employment opportunities, we have been slow on a green audit, few of our housing estates have any architectural value or merit, and our infrastructure, especially our road and rail investments, needs more attention.

The greatest centres of added value are to be found in California, mainly in the bay area. Those centres in San Francisco, San José, silicon valley and Oakland gave birth to the modern economy. They had at their core two great universities—the university of California at Berkeley and Stanford university, the private university founded by Leland Stanford. Those institutions have embraced globalisation and they have as the heart of their being the biosciences and technological industries that make for smarter communities. The Kent and Medway structure plan needs to have biosciences and technology as the added value for our children's sake.

The Kent and Medway structure plan has no vision or understanding of where we need to be as a county. The largest local authority in the country has no world-class university and no plans to create one, or to bring one in from outside, or to initiate a franchising arrangement with an Oxford or a Cambridge—or a Stanford or a Berkeley, for that matter. How can we have such low expectations?

The Kent and Medway structure plan needs to be re-thought. It lacks vision, and the county continues to fail to attract world-class businesses. It is shameful that the whole computer industry passed us by. Motorola chose Swindon, Slough and Basingstoke. Microsoft and Oracle opted for Reading. Apple and Cisco Systems
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homed in on Stockley park. Hewlett Packard—now HP—made a base in Bristol. Intel also settled at Swindon. Not one chose Kent, which is worrying, especially as both Microsoft and Intel continually feature in the top five companies in the world. One of the fallouts from that failure is that Kent has still not made inroads into establishing a venture capital base.

In the 1960s, the Robbins report on higher education highlighted the need for new universities. Out of that came the new university of Kent at Canterbury. Since its establishment, it has welcomed the Open university, Christ Church university college, Canterbury, and more recently the university of Greenwich, which used to be Woolwich polytechnic. I know that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) has always wanted a university for Medway, and he has now realised part of his dream.

Kent and Greenwich universities have been working together to find common ground. The science of computing has spawned spectacular successes where a university has developed a spin-out science park. Surrey was the first to do so. Surprisingly, Cambridge and Oxford were relatively slow to come to the dancefloor, but their respective parks now make a substantial contribution to the UK's GDP. They have drawn their success from the example of the Ivy league universities in America, especially Stanford, which spawned Hewlett Packard, Yahoo and, more recently, Google.

Into this mix, in 1998 and 1999 the Labour Government introduced the regional development agencies. The South East England Development Agency—SEEDA—ignored the science park phenomenon, and chose instead to create small hubs or clusters. Perhaps it is too early to judge their success, but I believe that it was a mistake not to link them directly to our universities. Science parks have become the vogue, and in all cases they are attached to universities. Leeds university, Leicester university, Bristol university and Bath university announced science, technology or innovation parks in 2001. Liverpool university and Liverpool John Moores university followed suit last year—interestingly, funded by the local RDA—as did London and, more recently, Nottingham and Nottingham Trent, which all announced science parks.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a science enthusiast and has increased science research funding substantially in the Budget. At the same time, he has ensured that our investment and share option tax breaks are better than those of California. The UK has the fourth-largest GDP in the world; California used to have the fifth, although it has slipped recently. That is why it is important that we follow the California model.

According to the league tables of the The Times guide to universities—notwithstanding the usual reservation about league tables—Kent is placed 44th in the UK and Greenwich 94th. Kent has disappointed in comparison with other 60s universities: Warwick is fifth, York is seventh, Bath is 11th, Loughborough is 24th and Essex is 27th. However, we have a newcomer in Kent: Imperial college at Wye. Imperial is ranked third overall, after Cambridge and Oxford, and first in technology and science, although it is only a university college of London university. Imperial is hampered by its location in Kensington and it cannot develop a science park
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except at Ashford. I was the only MP who attended the Kent and Medway discussions on science parks in September. Kent county council said that there was no intention to develop a science park at Ashford— you couldn't make it up. Kent needs a world-class university, and Imperial is the only game in town.

The two major science companies in Kent are Pfizers at Sandwich and Abbott's at Queenborough. We should be working with those two American companies to create an equivalent of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Ashford and a collegiate university system for Kent based on the university of California model that would enable university colleges to be sited at Ramsgate and Margate, Dover and Folkestone, Maidstone, Sittingbourne, Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge, and Dartford along with those already established at Canterbury, Medway and Greenwich. Imperial would, over a 20-year period, subsume both Kent and Greenwich.

Does the Kent and Medway structure plan have those two companies at the forefront of the bioscience and technology plans for our grandchildren? It does not. Instead the plan has identified four small science centres, none of which will be world class or an integral part of a university. One was called the Sittingbourne research centre until a name change last year. Now called the Kent science park, it is owned by the LaSalle pension fund on behalf of Mars and it wants to double its footprint. It wants to build an additional 10,000 homes on top of the 10,000 announced last week by the Government, and it wants a southern ring road to a new motorway junction of the M2. However, according to an anonymous phone call that I received last Friday, it will allegedly enrich two landowners to the tune of £80 million.

Can the Minister confirm that if that wretched scheme were to see the light of day the Government would introduce a substantial windfall tax on gains from farming land that is given planning permission for housing? In that way the cost of housing would be reduced, which would greatly help our younger families and our key workers who are frozen out of the property market in Kent. Above all else it is clear that the Kent and Medway structure plan has no real understanding of the place of biosciences and technology. If the plan is adopted our children and their children will be the poorer.

Let me add a few comments about the housing needs for Kent and the lack of detailed infrastructure modelling, although Kent county council's "Kent—What Price Growth?" is more than a stab in the right direction. I have raised the matter continually over the past eight years and even proposed a ten-minute Bill on the subject. Incidentally, I wonder when the Government will respond to Kent county council's request for £9.6 billion worth of infrastructure over the next 30 years.

Wherever I look in my constituency, the new build housing has not had any section 106 gains. At Warden Bay we were promised a primary school; it never happened. Guess what? We were promised another on the Meads estate at Bobbing; it never happened either. Now I learn that the large Thistle Hill estate being built on the Isle of Sheppey will not after all have a primary school. Three different developers have reached a section 106 agreement with Kent county council, but
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have walked away smiling. They have lined their shareholders' pockets, but they have not improved the quality of life of my constituents.

My constituency needs quality housing of every sort. We are desperate for housing estates in the great 19th century traditions of New Earswick and Port Sunlight, not the appallingly designed new rabbit hutch estates that currently adorn the north Kent coast. We need at least 3,000 houses for our young couples, our older people and our key workers. As Sittingbourne and Sheppey's economic base grows, we will need more housing to attract businesses.

The structure plan is weak on how we build, side by side, both the hardware of the infrastructure and the software, by which I mean our people. We will have a shortage of water in the next five years. Without wind power from the Thames, Kent will not have enough power. Where do we get more carpenters, builders and painters from? Where is the skills audit in the plan and where are the plans to build co-operation between our secondary schools and our further education colleges? I could say more, but I know that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway wishes to add something and so I will stop there.

11.13 am

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): I understand your semaphore perfectly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will indeed be brief, as we want to hear from the Minister on this important topic. I congratulate my good and hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) on securing the debate, which he opened with a characteristically articulate and informed speech. He has been an outstanding Member of Parliament for Sittingbourne and Sheppey. He was rewarded by a massive increase in his vote in 2001. I do not suggest that those who did not receive massive increases in their vote are not outstanding Members of Parliament, but some of us take rather longer to mature than others.

The debate gives me the opportunity to indulge in the rare, unalloyed, indeed practically unendurable, pleasure of congratulating the Government in very large measure on what they have achieved in terms of structure within my constituency during the last eight years. When I first became the Member of Parliament for Medway I was asked what I expected from my stewardship. After a certain amount of thought I replied that two things seemed to be needed more than any other to change the structural basis of the Medway towns. The first was a university: ours is the largest conurbation in Europe without its own university. The second was the development of the Rochester and Chatham riverside—a massive area of post-industrial dereliction caused by the death of the dockyard 17 years ago. I am delighted to say that although neither has been completed, both developments are now inevitable, due in no small measure to the Government's intervention.

Some £15 million has been given towards a new university based in the Medway towns—an outstanding contribution, which has made that development possible. Within 10 years we will have 10,000 students, which will change and revolutionise the intellectual and employment face of the towns in that part of Kent. Some £26 million has been granted by the Government to underpin the development of the Rochester riverside
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on a site for which the expression "brownfield site" might have been newly minted. That, too, will transform my constituency. There is no word for gratitude in politics, but there is a word for achievement, and that is a considerable achievement, on which I congratulate the Government.

I share my hon. Friend's reservations about the present structure plan. In my own constituency, I am concerned about the silence that radiates around development within the precious green areas that we have and that we must maintain. When I first arrived in my constituency, it had the most unenviable reputation—possibly in the country, and certainly in the south-east—for overdevelopment. That was probably linked to the fact that many of its councillors at the time were either developers or were linked to the development world. As a result, the Medway towns suffer in no small measure from a serious absence of green space, both within the towns and outside them. I hope that the Minister will take that into account when he responds to our points on structure and infrastructure in the Medway towns. I hope that he will say that the time has come to call a halt to development within and outside the towns.

It is an unhappy fact that the threats to the green space in my constituency come from the council, which is now resurrected not quite in its old aegis but in something like it. Names such as Watts Meadow and Copperfields will mean little to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but they mean a great deal to my constituents. Those areas are currently threatened by a council that is remorselessly and recklessly selling off its own green space within the Medway towns as part of what it perceives to be a structural plan which is, in fact, no plan at all.

I say this to the Minister and I hope that he will take it on board. The Hoo peninsula, which is part of my constituency, is a rare and wonderful green space, which I enjoy as much as any of my constituents. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I know your predilections and activities, would also enjoy it very much were you able to visit. If you ever manage to visit my constituency, I should be delighted to introduce you to it.

We have fought battles over that land—for example, we successfully fought off incinerators. There is much talk now about development on the Hoo peninsula but, as far as I know, that is wholly false. There is nothing in any plan that I have seen—certainly not in one derived from the Government—that threatens development on the Hoo peninsula over and above the local plan that was agreed many years ago. I hope that that will continue to be the case, but I serve notice now, not simply on the Government and on local government, but on the developers who for many years have looked upon that area of Kent with salivation, that any attempt to concrete over or build on that wonderful and wild area will be resisted in precisely the same way in which my constituents and I made common cause to resist Cliffe airport, now of unblessed memory.

There is much on which to congratulate the Government. There has been a great deal of expenditure, partly leveraged from Government by my colleagues in the Medway towns and myself. Sometimes it has been said, rather unkindly, that the more unpopular one becomes with one's Government, the more money they give for development in one's own constituency. I do not
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recommend that as a way of obtaining money from the Government, but it can be argued and might be true in my case.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey for allowing me to make this short contribution. I congratulate my hon. Friend again on obtaining a debate on one of the most important issues facing the south-east.

11.20 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Phil Hope) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) on securing this debate on the Kent and Medway structure plan. He is well known as a keen advocate of his constituency and for bringing issues such as these to the attention of the House.

Given events that may or may not happen in a couple of months' time, I am not surprised by the unusual display of gratitude, recognition and loyalty to the Government by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). The Government must be congratulated on delivering benefits to the hard-working families of Medway, and indeed Sittingbourne and Sheppey, despite events elsewhere.

My hon. Friend mentioned some specific cases. He will appreciate that I cannot comment on the merits of individual planning cases because of the Secretary of State's appellate responsibilities. If he will forgive me, I will therefore concentrate on the broader planning issues.

As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, Kent county council, in partnership with Medway unitary authority, is preparing a new structure plan to cover the period 2001 to 2021, which has been the subject of an examination in public held by an independent panel. I understand that the two strategic planning authorities are still awaiting the panel's report. The authorities decided to continue with a new structure plan, although it will be superseded by the new south-east plan when that is adopted in 2007. In the meantime, local planning authorities in Kent will have to have regard to the structure plan, once it is adopted and until the south-east plan is in place, in preparing their local development frameworks.

My hon. Friend opened his remarks by voicing some concerns about consultation. Let me emphasise that the Kent and Medway structure plan was published as a deposit plan in September 2003. That was preceded by extensive pre-deposit consultation, including the publication in March 2002 of a consultation document entitled "Mapping out the future: Kent and Medway Structure Plan—Future Policy Directions", which was accompanied by publicity and public meetings in every district and borough. All the Kent Members of Parliament were consulted directly at this stage and on the deposit plan in 2003. The "Future Policy Directions" document specifically referred to the development of innovation hubs and clusters and the important links between higher education and research, about which my hon. Friend spoke so eloquently. A number of locations
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were discussed in this regard, including the Sittingbourne research centre, now the Kent science park. I shall come back to that later.

My hon. Friend mentioned issues relating to infrastructure, water and so on. It is important to put on the record one point about water. During the consultation, Kent and Medway councils received no representations from the Environment Agency about any insurmountable constraints to development in Swale from a water supply perspective. Evidence to the examination in public confirmed that view, conditional on Kent and Medway structure plan quantities not being exceeded. Decisions by the councils arising from the panel report should be subject to similar consultation processes.

On the need for homes for younger people, older people and key workers in the area, I am aware that the proposed housing numbers in the structure plan for the county as a whole show no significant increase over the previous plan, although there are two growth areas in the county. Indeed, representatives of the Government office for the south-east pointed that out to the examination in public in September last year and argued for higher numbers, in line with the Government's commitment to address the severe housing shortage in the south-east. We await the outcome of that examination in public. The panel is due to report early this year. I regret that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on the details of the plan in advance of the report.

The next formal steps in progressing the Kent and Medway structure plan will take place when Kent and Medway councils consider the panel recommendations and propose modifications arising from those recommendations. The proposed modifications will, in turn, be subject to public consultation. Kent and Medway hope to adopt the plan by the end of 2005. I believe that my hon. Friend has made the representations that he spoke about this morning directly to the process. When the modifications are proposed, he will get another bite at the cherry and will be able to re-emphasise his concerns if the modifications do not address them.

There is also a statutory planning process to determine what the revised regional and sub-regional growth levels should be. At this stage, the South East England regional assembly is responsible for examining alternative spatial options as part of the preparation of the new south-east plan, which will include housing figures for districts in Kent. The regional assembly launched a public consultation on the matter on 24 January. I cannot comment at this stage, because my comments would pre-empt the outcome of the consultation and the public inquiry that will follow.

My hon. Friend rightly raised concerns about the infrastructure that will support development. Swale Forward is the local partnership that ensures that the area's infrastructure priorities are delivered effectively. It is co-ordinating a £26 million programme that is supported by the sustainable communities fund. Swale Forward endeavours to ensure that the aims and objectives of its policies and programmes make the appropriate links with other relevant strategies, such as Swale's infrastructure needs, the Swale local plan, the Kent and Medway structure plan and the regional economic strategy.
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It is the role of Swale Forward to assess the infrastructure needs of the borough in delivering the required growth and regeneration. It is primarily the responsibility of Swale borough council to ensure, through the local plan and other strategies and plans, that sufficient infrastructure is provided to support agreed levels of housing growth. I am glad that my hon. Friend has put on record some of those developments. Two road schemes are under way—the second Swale crossing and the Sittingbourne northern relief road. Funding from section 106 agreements will support provision of other infrastructure requirements, such as health and education facilities and community needs. It is good to see that a new secondary school has been allocated for Sittingbourne, as well as the secondary school for Sheppey. A new community hospital has also been allocated.

I share my hon. Friend's concerns about the Conservatives' decision to abolish the Thames gateway. That decision will have a massive effect in removing the opportunities for infrastructure development. My hon. Friend is right to point that out. Many of us were taken aback at the Opposition's decision to adopt that policy, which makes no sense. That decision does not fit easily with the simultaneous call of the Conservatives on Kent county council for £9.6 billion of infrastructure regeneration cash. It seems to me that the local and the national are not working easily together.

My hon. Friend mentioned issues around gains from developing land. I emphasise that, in her recent review of housing supply, Kate Barker recommended that section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, as amended, which provided for planning gain contributions relating to increased development value resulting directly from the grant of planning permission, be reviewed to provide more certainty and simplicity. I confirm that the Government are considering the option of a planning gain supplement that would, if introduced, address some of the issues that my hon. Friend raised. That debate is under way and I am grateful for his contribution. We will draw it to the attention of relevant Ministers.

My hon. Friend raised a number of key points about the importance of the university development and the way that the structure plan creates the conditions for attracting bioscience and technology investment. I cannot comment on the plan because of my position in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I draw his attention to parts of the plan that refer specifically to that development, not least to Pfizer, which is one of the companies that he mentioned. The plan identifies Pfizer as a company that may grow and respond to some of the concerns that my hon. Friend raised. However, it is up to us to see what the panel says and consider whether the modifications and developments provide solutions to the problems that he is concerned about.

While I understand my hon. Friend's concerns about the make-up of the Kent science park, and the issues that he raised about the highway network, I point out that both Kent county council and Swale borough council support the expansion of that site as a science park.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended until Two o'clock.

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