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Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford) (Lab): My hon. Friend is absolutely right that regenerating these potent industrial areas is absolutely crucial. Will she also ensure that we give adequate attention to job creation, because the south-east needs not more dormitory villages, but sustainable communities? Jobs should go with housing and one must not be developed without the
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other; otherwise we get a huge imbalance that creates more commuters and adds to the already great pressure on infrastructure.

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is exactly right. However, I want to talk about the area's economic potential before I discuss housing, because too often people talk about the Thames Gateway simply in the context of housing. I think that the Thames Gateway's economic regeneration potential is the most exciting thing about the region, because such regeneration will make it possible to develop housing in the Thames Gateway for the next generation. The area has remarkable economic potential for the creation of new jobs and investment. It is to the east of a fantastic capital city. Its economic potential, owing to its low-cost brownfield land and good access to the capital city, is something into which we have not yet tapped, so we need to do more. The Olympics will obviously present us with a great opportunity and I shall mention that later in my speech.

The Thames Gateway has nearly 4,000 hectares of brownfield land—about 17 per cent. of the south-east's total—located between London and mainland Europe. The fact that it has been undeveloped for so long is partly because of the area's industrial tradition and also a huge example of market failure, given its location. The decision to route the channel tunnel rail link through the Gateway is critical, as is the creation of new stations at Stratford and Ebbsfleet. That will provide economic opportunities, providing links not only to the capital city, but to Europe.

As I said, the economic potential is immense. We need to work with the three regional development agencies that cover the Thames Gateway. The area that was the industrial powerhouse of London and the southern counties can be so again if developed in the right way. It is a great area to invest in—close to the heart of London and the increasingly accessible markets of continental Europe. Earlier this year, the Prime Minister and Deputy Minister launched "Sustainable Communities: Delivering the Thames Gateway", a strategic vision for the programme, showing what we have achieved so far and the vision for the future. We need to remember that much of the Gateway is part of the city and therefore presents great opportunities for regenerating the east of the capital as well as the towns and communities that stretch out of London along the Gateway.

Already, over £1 billion has gone into transport infrastructure in the Thames Gateway to unlock the growth potential and support the communities, including the new high-speed domestic services for the channel tunnel rail link, which will operate from 2009, a new bus transit system for north Kent, and improvements to the public transport network in east London. We have also created a new £200 million community infrastructure fund specifically for the delivery of transport infrastructure in the growth areas, and we will be making announcements on the allocations from that fund by the end of the year.

We should not underestimate the importance of skills. When we talk about infrastructure we always think of transport; in fact, the skills and education
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infrastructure, the support for people in the Thames Gateway, is perhaps most critical for investment and economic growth. That is why we are expanding three new universities, at East London, Medway and Southend, to increase access to learning and to raise skills throughout the area, and new university facilities and buildings are being used by students at the unique multiversity campus at Chatham Maritime. We are working to upskill the local market and create more choice and a different range of jobs in the area.

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): I totally agree with the Minister about the need for skills. Will she comment on the vocational training required for the development of the Thames Gateway? Many skilled technicians, planners, architects and builders will be needed to fulfil that vision. What will be done to ensure that local people have the ability to take advantage of that?

Yvette Cooper: There is a general issue about skills in the Thames Gateway, as the area has relatively low skill levels compared with the wider region, so there is a need to increase investment and raise skills and qualifications. The hon. Gentleman is right, though, to say that there is a specific issue about the kinds of skills, qualifications and expertise needed to regenerate a wide area such as this. That is why we asked the Egan review to consider the skills needed to support sustainable communities. One of its conclusions was that there is a need to provide a mix of skills, rather than having people working only within their own professional sphere.

We set up the Academy for Sustainable Communities, which has its headquarters in Leeds. Its role is to start to develop the skills, qualifications and courses that may be needed in different parts of the country, thereby supporting the skill development that will be needed in the Thames Gateway. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about that, as he is obviously interested.

There is also a need for investment in the health infrastructure, and we have been working closely with the Department of Health, which last year announced a £60 million funding package for the growth areas. There will be a change to revenue funding methods in order to support growth. We are working with the Department to support new developments and facilities throughout the Gateway, such as hospital expansion in Lewisham and developments in Newham.

We should not underestimate the importance of improving the local environment to support the development of local communities and investment from businesses. The reality is that businesses will not invest where the work force do not want to live. The quality of design and of green spaces is a fundamental part of the regeneration of the Thames Gateway. That is why we have committed over £26 million to environmental projects to protect and enhance 53 hectares of green space—an area about the same size as the urban area of Greater Manchester. We want to develop that for future generations throughout the Gateway to enjoy.

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): My borough, Bexley, is quite a green borough, and I find what the Minister says very interesting. I endorse her remarks about the environment, but is she
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not concerned that the Thames Gateway bridge, which will be built in our area, will negate some of the worthy measures she is describing?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman knows that as the Thames Gateway bridge has to be the subject of a planning inquiry I cannot comment on it. We have been clear from the beginning that the programme has to strike the right balance between supporting green spaces and developing the critical infrastructure needed for the development of the area.

I want to say a little more about the housing growth needed for the Thames Gateway. My view is that housing growth is possible because of the economic opportunities in the area. This needs to be an economically driven and regeneration-driven programme, but it must also deliver the new homes needed for the next generation. We should be clear about the housing need that we face, particularly in London and the south-east. Over the past 30 years there has been a 30 per cent. increase in the number of households but a 50 per cent. drop in the level of new building. That is unsustainable. That is why, as the Kate Barker report made clear, we have seen a long-term increase in house prices, which are significantly higher than in other countries. We are simply not building enough homes for the next generation.

That will have serious consequences for the aspirations and opportunities of the next generation of people who want to own their own homes. If we carry on at the current building rates, over the next 20 years the number of 30-year-old couples able to afford their own home will drop from over 50 per cent. today to under 30 per cent. That is unsustainable, and it is not fair to say to future generations that they cannot have the opportunities that their parents and grandparents had—unless their parents and grandparents are able to give them the money, or they are able to inherit it—to climb the first step on the property ladder. The case for building new homes is as much about inequality as it is about aspirations; it is as much about making sure that future generations have a fair chance to get their foot on the property ladder, rather than being dependent on their parents and grandparents.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Has my hon. Friend seen the Shelter report "Building hope: the case for more homes now", which draws attention to the number of families, particularly children, in temporary accommodation? Across London, 73,000 children are in temporary accommodation. That highlights the need for affordable rented accommodation. The Government intend to halve the number of children in temporary accommodation by 2010. How many of those children will by then be in homes that their parents have been able to buy and how many will be in rented accommodation?

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