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Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right to say that the Shelter report highlights the serious housing pressures that we face, many of which relate to people who need rented accommodation. What we will increasingly see if we do not build enough homes is not just greater pressure for first-time buyers, who will not be able to afford a home if they do not have family help, but ever-lengthening social housing waiting lists. We have made it clear that many of the new homes that we build need
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to be affordable, so there should be a significant increase in social housing. We also need to support more shared equity housing, so that people are able to buy a share of their own home even if they cannot afford to buy it outright. That will support a mix of communities with people on different incomes throughout the country.

Shelter has made it clear that we need to build more homes to do so. Many people have campaigned strongly against the building of new homes, but such opponents must accept what that means for the next generation not just of people who need social housing but of first-time buyers. They are denying future generations the opportunities that their parents and grandparents enjoyed, which is unfair.

The Thames Gateway provides the housing market with a huge opportunity to build new homes that people want to live in. The new communities must not be dormitory towns, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) has said, but should be environmentally sustainable communities of well designed homes. We are tightening up building regulation standards and we will shortly publish a code on sustainable building to improve the environmental sustainability of new homes. There has been a great deal of support from MPs for the economic regeneration of the Thames Gateway and the building of new homes for the next generation, as they recognise the opportunity provided by economic growth alongside housing growth. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Paul Clark), who worked hard to establish the Thames Gateway parliamentary group, which many Members have joined, with the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), who will reply to this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham is a strong advocate for his constituency, particularly in the area of skills development.

The Opposition have an opportunity to clarify their position on the Thames Gateway. In January, the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) said that a Conservative Government would scrap plans for the Thames Gateway. The Conservatives then prevaricated, and a few months later they said that they might support the Thames Gateway but not other growth areas. We believe that they ought to show strong support for the Thames Gateway, and they have an opportunity to do so in this debate. Do they support the best opportunity in generations to revive and regenerate a fantastic area to the east of the capital? Do they support the best opportunity for a generation to build new homes for our children, or is their message to people in the Thames Gateway that they would simply abandon them again? Is their message to first-time buyers considering the Thames Gateway that they do not want to help them and do not want them living there? To be fair, although the Conservatives have recently refused to trust their party's future to other members of his generation, Lord Heseltine was one of the first politicians to see the opportunities for the Thames Gateway. I hope that they return to his vision for its future and support economic and housing regeneration in the area.

Investment is clearly required. The £6 billion committed across the Government to key infrastructure and transport, health, education, skills and environmental protection is critical. Over £500 million has been
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committed by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to a range of projects that support growth and improve the quality of life for existing and new residents.

James Brokenshire: Do the figures that the Minister gave for investment take account of inflationary pressures? It is recognised that the Olympics and the Thames Gateway development itself will create inflationary pressures in building and the cost of getting things done.

Yvette Cooper: We should not simply accept that new building pushes up costs. That has been a mistake too often in the past, but we should do what we can to bring down costs, which is why the Deputy Prime Minister launched a competition to design a house for £60,000. Everyone said that it could not be done, but there has been a great deal of interest, and many organisations, companies and registered social landlords have shown that it is a possible to build a well designed house at an affordable price. We should therefore do more to bring construction costs down.

There is already a great deal of investment in the Thames Gateway, but additional investment will be required for the Olympics infrastructure. Far more public investment has gone into that area to the east of London than ever before. It is a great opportunity, and we should make the most of it.

James Brokenshire: With all the inevitable construction for the Olympics and the development of the Thames Gateway, there will be a general pressure in east London and Essex on building costs, which will have an impact on services provided by local authorities and other public authorities. Careful reflection should therefore be given to the knock-on effects.

Yvette Cooper: If the hon. Gentleman is saying that we need to do something to address capacity, I agree, which is why we set up the Academy for Sustainable Communities. We also need to challenge the market, because as more land supply is made available we must ensure that the house building and construction industries deliver. They should not simply use it as an excuse to push up costs in particular areas. We need to expand the market and increase the capacity of those industries to deliver change.

The Olympics will provide a huge opportunity. The Evening Standard reported that house prices have gone up around Stratford as people want to live in east London because of the Olympics. Many developments might have taken place anyway in east London and the Thames Gateway, but the Olympics will provide a fantastic opportunity to champion investment. Part of the success of the bid was due to the fact that long-term plans were in place for the regeneration of the entire sub-region—it was simply not a one-off bid for a project in 2012. Linking the Olympics to the Thames Gateway provides us with a great opportunity.

Different arrangements are in place to deliver the project which acknowledges the different character of areas ranging from inner-city communities in London to small Medway towns. In last year's debate on the Thames
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Gateway hon. Members raised the nature of the delivery arrangements and the fact that various organisations and partnerships across the Thames Gateway work in different ways. Although we respect the diversity of the Thames Gateway area, delivery arrangements must be effective. We are working to ensure that that is the case and that we have the right leadership in place across the area to deliver change. We recently set up the Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation, and there are other arrangements in other areas.

There are clearly considerable challenges in developing the sub-region, but there are also huge rewards. Growth and job opportunities will be important for young people growing up in the Thames Gateway, but new housing, and the need to meet people's aspirations and provide opportunities for the local community are also significant. We have the chance of a huge renaissance in east London and areas to the east of the city over the next 10 years. This is an exciting opportunity for those communities, who need to lead with their own vision, celebrating the area's culture and traditions and seizing the opportunities for the future. This is a great opportunity for all of us, and we must make the most of it together. I hope, too, that it is a vision that has the support of the House.

12.49 pm

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): I am not sure that I have an interest, but I draw the attention of the House to my declaration in the Register of Members' Interests. I am the director of the family building and property company.

I welcome the debate today. The last time we debated the subject was 15 November 2004. If this is a precedent for an annual debate on such an important subject, it is a good one. Much will happen in that part of London over the next 15 or 20 years. Contributions to the debate from local Members and those from adjacent areas are important so that on issues of public policy and planning, Members of Parliament have an input at the beginning of the development.

We may not agree on everything, but there is probably more common ground on the Thames Gateway than on many other parts of the sustainable communities plan. We have concerns about the amount of development on green fields, but broadly we support the Thames Gateway. There is a logic to it, although towards the eastern end and the greenfield areas, it becomes more controversial. Today's debate will probably be constructive because it is in the interest of Members in all parts of the House that we get it right and have a sensible, mature public debate about this important development.

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