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The House of Commons Commission plays an important part in the life of this House and those who serve on it have a considerable responsibility. The motion before us is designed to fill the Back-Bench place on the Commission left by the retirement of the former Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, now Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope. I pay tribute to him for the sterling work that he did as spokesman for the Commission in the last two Parliaments, as well as for his distinguished chairmanship of the Work and Pensions Committee.
I have no doubt that the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) will also serve with diligence and integrity on the Commission. He brings useful experience, not least from his previous working life in communications and marketing. I commend the motion to the House.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): I join the Leader of the House in paying tribute to Lord Kirkwood for the work he did as a Member of this Chamber. We all have our party political divisions, but I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that Lord Kirkwood had a distinguished career in this place. He will be a hard act to follow on the House of Commons Commission. I am surprised that no Liberal Democrat Member has seen fit to join us in paying tribute to him.
If I were minded to follow the precedent set by one of my predecessors, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), we should be at
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the start of a 90-minute debate. Happily, I am not of that mindset[Interruption.] Ah, we have a Liberal Democrat. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) has just entered the Chamber. He missed the tributes paid to Sir Archy Kirkwood from both sides of the House, so I repeat that, notwithstanding party political differences, he had a distinguished career in this place. I am certain that those words will be echoed in a moment. We are grateful to him for his work on behalf of the House.
I am delighted about the motion. The record of service of the predecessors of my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) is of exemplary value to the House and I am sure that he will continue in that tradition. I am happy to support the motion.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I had not intended to speak in the debate, but I wanted to say that Sir Archy Kirkwoodsoon to be ennobledas a former member of the Commission with whom I served for many years, rendered huge and signal service to the House through his work there. I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has given him full praise but the work of the Commission is mostly unsung. Sir Archy did sterling work and the House of Commons and all of us are better for it.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): It has been a great privilege to represent the Plymouth, Sutton constituency for the past eight years and to have been elected for a third term to represent a city with such a challenging and exciting agenda.
When I was elected in 1997, the city had the poorest ward in England as measured by the 1995 index of local conditions. Since then, there has been considerable progress and investment in public services, notably in the Peninsula medical school, whose first undergraduates are now completing their third year of study. Plymouth university and the Tamar science park go from strength to strength, and the community of Devonport, as well as investing across the board in all our public services with the help of its new deal programme, is making progress in the regeneration of its built environment and developing capacity among its residents to enable them to play a part in the regeneration of their community and to improve their skills and move into employment.
On the other side of the city centre, the east end renewal project has done much to improve the quality of housing in the Prince Rock, Cattedown and Coxside communities. For so long blighted by a road traffic plan and with possible compulsory purchase hanging over their heads, people in the area are now moving to establish a healthy living centre and a new focus to their community around the Astor park.
The city centre itself is beginning to benefit from the early fruits of the business improvement district, and the P&O development on Drake Circus is beginning to take shape. To quote the leader of the city council, Tudor Evans:
"There is a buzz about Plymouth at the momentand it is not just the hum of machinery on building sites. People stop each other in the street to talk about the changes they see around them. They are no longer on the sidelines and their interest in their own city has been revived."
Plymouth is one of six places to take part in the city growth strategy programme and we have identified where our strengths lie: in marine and health sciences, advanced engineering and the cultural industries. On the deficit side, we have too many people with low skills and businesses find that skills are scarce. Much of our transport and other infrastructure needs attention. Although we have more confidence, ambition and a definite vision and sense of direction, we still need recognition of our comparatively weak position, and a son or daughter of our objective 2 regional aid funding if our city is to act as the engine driver for the Devon and Cornwall sub-region in a region that has the greatest disparities of any in the United Kingdom.
With our plans for growth and affordable housing, Plymouth is well placed to help to achieve our manifesto commitments of another 1 million home owners and affordable housing. Indeed, Plymouth cannot only cope with extra homes and people, but would positively gain from them because they would help to create a critical mass that would make the running of services and the operation of markets more viable.
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Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that, after a period of some economic difficulty, Plymouth is now poised for the economic growth implicit in her comments? However, we have a northern way and a Thames gateway, so would it not be appropriate for the Government to consider establishing a Plymouth pathway to ensure that housing funding meets Plymouth's needs and aspirations?
Linda Gilroy: That is well worth considering. Indeed, I think that the South West of England Regional Development Agency has some such plan for the region as a whole but, given the disparities that we have at the Cornwall, Plymouth and Devon end of the region, something that would help focus on whether the RDA is paying sufficient attention to addressing those disparities would be valuable.
If we are truly to build on the inspiration that has been offered to us, there are implications for everything from public transport to waste management, from realising the potential of all our young people and ensuring that their skills can contribute to this exciting development at all stages of life to ensuring that we have sufficient housing as well as support and leisure opportunities for older people. "Ideas for Change" sets out the council's ambitious programme for reinvigorating the education offer from pre-school years to post-16 skills in a way that complements the further and higher education offer in the city. We will need to capture the imagination and support of central Government to help us make that programme happen and it is very important that it does happen, not just in its own right to meet education objectives but because it is the key to knitting together the whole city in a way that makes the citizens of Efford, Eggbuckland, Estover, Keyham, St. Budeaux and Honicknowle continue to feel that they matter as part of this great enterprise too.
Growing capacity at a pace that ensures our infrastructure development matches general development will need careful thought, understanding and commitment. Plymouth is going through a very exciting period in its history. The scale of regeneration taking place is second only to the post-war reconstruction period that followed the destruction of large parts of the city centre in world war two. That gave rise to the opportunity for a radical new plan for Plymouth prepared under the leadership of Patrick Abercrombie and published in 1944.
During the intervening period, Plymouth may not always have realised that vision, often being on the threshold of significant new development just as boom turned to bust in the economic cycles that prevailed in the 1970s and 1980s. As the city moved into the 1990s, it was in a period of decline and its confidence was low. A number of economic and social factors contributed to this: a decline in the defence sector, vulnerability in manufacturing industry, low levels of entrepreneurship, high unemployment, an inability to attract private sector investment and a lack of critical mass in large private sector companies to support indigenous growth, low incomes and low skills, and areas of extreme disadvantage including, on the 1995 index of local conditions, St. Peter's ward, which had the unenviable label of being the poorest ward in England.
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We now stand, however, on the brink of the greatest challenges since the war with the bold and exciting new vision developed by David Mackay for the centre of the citya vision that represents a step change of pace, intensity and quality of development in the city and that lays out a plan for reconnecting the city centre links with the waterfront and surrounding areas. "A Vision for Plymouth" has been prepared for Plymouth's local strategic partnership by MBM Arquitectes and AZ Urban Studio under the lead of architect, David Mackay. He and his team have an international reputation and are probably best known for master planning the Olympic village and port in Barcelona, reshaping that city too to make the most of its waterfront. David's listening and democratic approach has captured, for many, a 21st-century forward-looking vision for Plymouth that draws on the essence of the city and uses that to inform and shape the future.
In developing the vision, David set about discovering what works for Plymouth and what is holding it back. What he produced tries to challenge perceptions and raise ambitions. It invites citizens to engage and aspire. It looks at opportunities for long-term growth. It aims to promote the interconnection of the city's different communities and neighbourhoods, and provides the framework for a stronger, improved image of the city. It is already inspiring physical changes to the city and now, led by the Evening Herald, plans for launching a branding project later this year to help us to promote Plymouth's fresh image are well advanced.
There are now many major opportunities in Plymouth to deliver accelerated growth as part of a quality agenda in line with the Government's sustainable communities plan and to tackle intra-regional disparities. Plymouth's city centre has a footprint the size of Manchester, but a population of only one third of that city's centre, or perhaps even less. The vision proposes that a greater intensification and density of mixed-use development should be introduced to include new residential, leisure and cultural evening uses. It outlines the scope for shared attractive spaces, including the new square in Armada way that the Deputy Prime Minister saw on his most recent visit, quality landmark buildings and improved public transport interchanges. The vision also proposes an area dedicated to cultural facilities and creative industries, which would incorporate the university, museum, library and other cultural activities.
Sutton harbour is the main tourist area of Plymouth and also a working harbour with a thriving fishing industry. The vision proposes extending regeneration to the east side of Sutton harbour and towards the Hoe, with a mix of commercial and residential developments. The Hoe, of course, is Plymouth's promenade, with spectacular views across Plymouth sound, and it is one of the most impressive natural harbours in the world. The vision proposes new and refurbished visitor attractions with piers and walkways along the foreshore and water transport links from the Hoe to Sutton harbour, Millbay and beyond.
To the west side of the city lies Millbay, which has been identified as one of the greatest opportunities for transformation. The vision proposes a major mixed commercial and residential scheme, a new boulevard to link the area to the city centre, a centre for marine science and research and a new cruise terminal.
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A tremendous amount has been achieved. The vision principles have been adopted by the city council and a design panel established that is based on Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment good practice and chaired by Dave Mackay. The Plymouth regeneration forum has been set up. A new public square at Armada way has been completed and a new mixed-use, 19-storey development has been approved for the city centre. A £170 million covered shopping mall is being developed by P&O Properties. A city centre company has been formed to create a business improvement district, and a partnership among the city council, English Cities Fund, South West of England Regional Development Agency and English Partnerships has been established for the regeneration of Millbay.
Plymouth has unique potential not only for the south-west, but arguably nationally and internationally. We certainly aim to be the prime city for accelerated growth in the far south-west, with the potential to raise population from its present figure of 241,000 to 300,000 by 2026. We believe that the plan for the built environment can accommodate some 33,000 new dwellings by 2026, including 4,200 affordable homes by 2016. We aim to continue our almost unrivalled achievement of establishing 90 per cent. of that on brownfield sites. Alongside the plan for economic regeneration, we believe that that can significantly reduce intra-regional disparities.
By continuing to invest in city growth strategy sectors to create new jobs, some 17,000 new jobs can be accommodated on 220 hectares of new employment land. We are doing much to achieve this on our own, but as a city with objective 2 status which is on the edge of a county with objective 1 status, we will need continuing support from central Government beyond the regional aid funding period.
I have five things to ask of my hon. Friend. First, I hope that his response shows that he understands our city's potential. Plymouth is the second city of the regionthe engine driving the far south-west economy. With his colleagues in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, I hope that he helps us to achieve the recognition we need from the regional development agency, the Government office for the south-west and other Departments, so that we realise that potential as fully as possible. It is essential to the Government's agenda of driving up economic performance that they address those regional disparities as well as build sustainable communities.
With the sciences emphasised in the city growth strategy, we aim fully to realise the potential of the sector and achieve the recognition that Bristol has achieved in gaining science city status. We are already beating a path to the Treasury, with some meetings planned in the forthcoming months, to engage its interest and understanding of our potential and to find out how it might help us to achieve that status. I hope that my hon. Friend helps us to secure the attention of colleagues with responsibility for transport, environment, education, defence, health, and culture, media and sportindeed, colleagues in almost every Department.
Secondly, I hope that my hon. Friend will advise us on how we can ensure that current and imminent reviews of local government finance and the formula associated
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with it take account of the needs of authorities with fast-growing populations, which Plymouth is certainly going to have.
Thirdly, given the growth scenario, I hope that my hon. Friend will take a particular interest in how we might best present our case to the Government to secure a part of future waves of decentralisation of civil service jobs under the Lyons report, for which his Department has overall responsibility.
Fourthly, with the average house price in Plymouth at £133,294 and average earnings of £17,605, average house prices are 7.6 times average earnings, and we need to explore ways of working with the Government and housing associations, such as the Tamar, Sanctuary and Devon and Cornwall associations, to develop appropriate models of affordable housing. As a Co-operative Member of Parliament, I am particularly keen to see the development of housing that is owned and controlled by the community through community land trusts and mutual home ownership, such as the models proposed by CDS Co-operatives and the co-operative movement. I hope that my hon. Friend shares my view that those models, which are designed to give an equity stakea foot on the bottom of the ladderin housing ownership, are much more cost effective because the transactional costs are lower. I hope that he and his colleagues in the ODPM will continue discussions with CDS to explore fully those models.
Fifthly and finally, Plymouth would welcome the opportunity to show my hon. Friend what I have attempted to do justice to in this short debate. I hope that he will consider coming to see what is happening and meet some of the people who are involved in bringing that regeneration about. He will certainly be assured of a very warm welcome.
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