I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) on his maiden speech. I pay tribute to the work done for my constituency by my Labour predecessor, Mrs. Linda Perham, who held Ilford, North from 1997 to 2005. I also mention Vivian Bendall, who was Mrs. Perham's predecessor and who held the seat as a Conservative Member for 19 years. Both of my predecessors worked tirelessly for local people, and I wish Mrs. Perham every success in the future, although that does not include success in Ilford, North.
It is a huge privilege to be elected by the people of Ilford, North and an even greater honour to represent the areas in which I have lived for most of my life. I will work hard to match the efforts of previous MPs and to serve the interests of my constituents. Some of my predecessors are hard acts to follow. Part of my constituency was previously included in the Wanstead and Woodford seat, which was represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire
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(Mr. Arbuthnot) and before that by Lord Jenkin of Roding. Looking further back, that part of the seat was also represented by Sir Winston Churchill, an act that it is impossible to follow.
My constituency is composed of eight local government wards in the London borough of Redbridge in east London. Ilford, North borders the county of Essex, and it runs from Woodford Bridge and Roding in the west, through Clayhall, Fullwell and Barkingside and on to Aldborough, Fairlop and Hainault in the east. If hon. Members ever need to find my constituency, it covers most of the stations on the eastern end of the Central line.
Ilford, North is home to many licensed London black cab drivers. The M11 runs through the constituency and the A12 provides its southern boundary. It is an area from which large numbers of commuters come and through which a larger number of commuters pass, which is why projects such as Crossrail and the docklands light railway extension are vital for the area.
Ours is a diverse community made up of many different cultures and religions, and we all get along very well. I believe that we are a beacon for others to follow, and my constituency is renowned for the harmonious relationships among the people who live there.
I want to recognise the enormous value of the work undertaken by the voluntary sector in Ilford, North. Without their substantial efforts, our community would be a much poorer place, because they make a massive contribution to the quality of life of so many people. I must mention four organisations in particular, although that is not to the detriment of other organisations in the area. First, the Hainault youth action group gives hope to young people and keeps them off the streets. With its help, we have built a skate park and a cycle track, which are situated away from residential areas and which do not result in antisocial behaviour. Secondly, the Open Door project in Barkingside allows young people to visit a place where they can drop in and have a good time after school, which, again, keeps them off the streets. Thirdly, the Chahad drugs line is a centre that is open to the whole community to try to stop the blight of drugs. Finally, Redbridge victim support, which I am honoured to be part of, helps victims of crime.
Redbridge has an enviable reputation for the quality of its education service with successful schools that continue to attract large numbers of pupils from across and, indeed, outside the borough. I have the privilege of serving as chairman of governors at Clore Tikva school, and I know and recognise the immense value to a child of a first-class education.
I had the honour and the privilege to serve as cabinet member for regeneration and the community on Redbridge council from 2002 to 2005I must admit that I did not mind relinquishing that position to enter this House. In that role, I learned the importance of listening to the views of local people and taking those views on board in setting out plans and making decisions. As Ilford, North's MP, I pledge to continue to listen to all residents' views.
During the recent general election campaign, I promised my constituents that I would hold regular open forums open to all local residents to discuss important issues that impact on Ilford, North. Two
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weeks ago, more than 150 people attended a regeneration forum, which is a sure sign that people remain interested and involved in local issues.
There are many explanations why turnout at elections is so low. My view is that we, as politicians, must give people a reason to trust us. When we make a promise, we should do all in our power to ensure that we deliver on it. We can get people to re-connect with political processes, and we must get people to re-connect with political processes.
During the election I had many visitors, including Lord Tebbit, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and his dog Spike. I want to stop a rumour here and nowSpike did not eat any of my opponents' supporters.
More than two years ago, I was selected as the prospective parliamentary candidate for Ilford, North. In that time, we produced many leaflets and local questionnaires seeking the views of and input from residents. Local people raised many issues that concern them, and crime, the health service, the congestion charge, tube fares and high taxes came up again and again, but one issue made the top three anxieties in every survey.
It may seem odd that a Member of Parliament who represents a suburban east London constituency wants to join a debate on rural affairs. Aldborough ward in Ilford, North contains farms, although I must confess that there are only two of them. However, my constituency is blessed with a number of open green spaces. Roding and Bridge wards have the Roding valley park; there is Hainault Forest country pack and Fairlop plane; Fullwell is backed by Claybury forest; and even Barkingside and Clayhall have their parks and playing fields, while the streets have a tree-lined aspect. Ilford, North has a fundamental link to many rural constituencies and to almost all urban ones. The issue that was raised most frequently by my constituents over the past two years is the threat posed to our open spaces by current planning laws.
In recent years, a great deal of new building and redevelopment has taken place in my constituency. Some of it has been sympathetically finished, reflects the character of the local area and matches the desires and needs of local people. I single out for particular praise the sensitive conversion of the old Claybury hospital buildings, which has turned them into desirable modern apartments and ensured that the magnificent buildings continue to be used, and the Newbury Central development, which includes a number of affordable homes.
Areas of green belt land and other open spaces have been built on, and blocks of flats are being shoehorned into small spaces. There are plans, which are currently with the Deputy Prime Minister, to build an all-weather racecourse with a colossal stand. My predecessor and I opposed that racecourse, which is the last thing that Ilford, North needs.
I do not want to stop progress, and we cannot stop making provision for people's changing needs, but a lot more power should be given to local views when planning permission is sought. I feel very strongly about
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the way in which local democracy is trampled on by current planning laws. Where is the justice in local wishes being overturned by inspectors, except in extremely rare cases of overriding national interest? Local authorities must be given powers to control their own destiny. They must be given powers to ban mobile phone masts in heavily residential areas. Local councillors are constantly blamed for decisions that are beyond their control, and councils can have costs awarded against them when locally welcomed decisions are overturned on appeal.
Implementing planning reforms would be a real step towards local democracy. We must take care of the future needs of our residents but also encourage development on brownfield sites, not on our green fields. However, we must have a definition of "brownfield" that does not include existing perfectly habitable homes and their gardens. All too often, family homes are demolished and replaced by huge blocks of flats that end up occupying the whole site. As that practice continues it destroys the local character of the area. Furthermore, these high-density developments put an undesirable and detrimental strain on the local infrastructure such as transport, hospitals and schools. The only way forward is radically to alter the balance in planning decisions. Far more weight needs to be given to the views of local residents and the decisions of local councillors on planning matters, as those people know the local area better than a visiting inspector. Planning authorities and builders must work together with community groups to ensure that we build quality homes that people can afford to live in.
Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you again for allowing me to make my maiden speech in this debate. I thank the people of Ilford, North for having faith in me in electing me, and I promise that I will not let them down.