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Bob Spink : Does my hon. Friend agree that it would have been constructive for the Minister to deal with building in the flood plains in the Thames Gateway? She should have addressed the building of the Thames port and told us when the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister would announce a decision on the Shell Haven port development. It would also have been more constructive had she told my constituents that they could expect a new terminus rail station and a new road for Canvey to deal with the new housing and industrial development that has been forced on them.
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Mr. Syms: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I shall touch on some of the flood issues. We are lucky enough to have two Ministers present, and if the issue of flooding is raised, I am sure it can be swept up towards the end of the debate. To be fair to the Minister for Housing and Planning, there is so much to talk about in connection with the Thames Gateway that it is difficult to know what to put in and what to leave out.

As the Minister acknowledged, under both the Thatcher and the Major Governments a great deal of attention was paid to the eastern part of London. Lord Heseltine made a major contribution to public policy and vision in that regard. We know that London is a world-class city with great opportunities for development, but it is also a city of contrasts between extremely rich and extremely poor areas. The Thames Gateway offers an opportunity to develop a greatly under-used area and to provide good-quality development. There is great potential—4,000 acres of brownfield sites, which is about 17 per cent. of the total in the region.

It is important that the development is sustainable, with local communities, jobs and facilities, so that people can live their life there without having to crisscross London. The scheme will require massive co-operation between the public and private sectors, together with joined-up government to ensure that the full range of public services is provided. Unlike other parts of the sustainable communities plan, a great deal of public investment will be needed up front—the Minister mentioned a figure of £6 billion. It is sometimes difficult to identify what the Government are spending under each heading and where the money is going. When he sums up, will the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), provide a list so that we can see how the £6 billion will be spent over the next few years? That would be more helpful for the public debate than merely speaking about "billions".

As the Minister said, there are to be 120,000 new homes and 180,000 jobs in this large area, which measures 40 miles by 20 miles. It will be a major growth area for the next 20 to 30 years. Of the £6 billion, the Government have already announced £1 billion for transport infrastructure. There are some important schemes in the area. I had heard that the channel tunnel rail link was due to be finished in 2007, but the hon. Lady mentioned 2009. It is interesting how the dates tend to change at the end of infrastructure projects.

Other schemes include the Greenwich waterfront and east London transit scheme, the docklands light railway extension to City airport, and the proposals for the Thames Gateway bridge, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) mentioned and which will be the subject of an inquiry. There is an argument for improving links north and south of the Thames as transport links south of the Thames have not been the best, but I accept that there are concerns that if traffic is directed towards the south, that could put added strain on already overcrowded roads. I do not expect the Minister to comment, as a public inquiry is due.

I shall not dwell on Crossrail, which has been the subject of many debates over the years. It is an expensive project and an important one for the development of
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London. I was struck by the contribution 12 months ago from the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) who, in his usual way, mentioned the benefits to his constituency of the Jubilee line and pleaded that when Crossrail comes to fruition at some time in the future, there should be a Woolwich station. I saw the right hon. Gentleman in the lift this morning and undertook to mention it, as he has an important constituency engagement. I understand that Woolwich is the only town centre without a station, so local people are no doubt strongly in favour of a stop there when that major and very expensive infrastructure scheme is implemented.

The Mayor and the London Assembly think that the projected housing figures are on the low side and that there might be the potential for up to 300,000 houses in the gateway, so there may be rather more and rather higher density levels. That could be achieved only if the transport infrastructure is put in at the beginning of the process. We need sustainable communities in the Thames Gateway so that education, culture and open spaces are available to the local community.

The subject of skills has been raised by my hon. Friends and by the Minister. Because the eastern part of London still has unemployment blackspots, it is important that when the development takes place and a massive investment is made, we do our best to ensure that local people have the skills to participate in building up their own communities. If we do not, we may well find people from other European countries coming in under the single market to take those jobs. I welcome the Minister's comments about the schemes, but I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) about the importance of vocational training. The electrical, plumbing and building trades will be key to the development. One of the concerns is that with the preparations for the Olympics in 2012, there will be a skills shortage. The Government will have to face that challenge.

This month, the London Assembly environment committee chaired by Darren Johnson published an excellent report entitled "London under threat? Flooding risk in the Thames Gateway". The report raises a number of concerns, which the Under-Secretary might address later. I hope he does not think this is scaremongering. Last time I raised the issue a year ago, the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) presented the Government case in his usual robust fashion, but as tragedies across the world show, there are important questions to be answered.

Fragmented responsibility is one of the major concerns about flood defences. The report suggested that there was a lack of clarity about what was putting London at risk. There is a web of different agencies in the gateway, some with overlapping responsibilities. Landowners are responsible for maintaining the majority of the defences, yet in some cases it is impossible to identify the owners. The committee was told that in 5 per cent. of east London, flood defences were in poor condition, so there is much work to be done. It concluded that information on Kent and Essex is less good than that on London and the Thames Gateway—the information is patchy, and some of the flood defences are worse than that. In the debate 12 months ago, one of my hon. Friends mentioned the
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major floods of 1953, and we must do all that we can to avoid major flooding before we build thousands of houses in that area.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Do you agree that given the floods of 1953, which you have mentioned and which badly affected my constituency, funding and Government time should be spent on considering how to defend existing houses, rather than building further up the Thames Gateway in places such as Thorpe bay in my constituency, which is on a flood plain? Do you agree that that it would be better to spend resources on protecting existing accommodation, particularly in my constituency?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) will allow me a short tutorial: the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) should use the third person, not the second person—I have no involvement.

Mr. Syms: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend has made his point.

We all know that flood defences are amazingly expensive. It should not be beyond the wit of the fourth wealthiest country in the world both to protect existing home owners and to provide further sites for development.

Bob Spink: On flood defences, does my hon. Friend regret, as I do, the disbanding by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister of the Essex flood committee, which has been merged with a much wider regional body that cannot understand the needs of our local area?

Mr. Syms: That sounds like an excellent subject for an Adjournment debate.—[Laughter.] The issue will undoubtedly come up again, but I do not know a great deal about it, so I shall stay away from it.

We know that 1.25 million people in London are at some risk of flooding. If there were flooding in the Thames Gateway, the cost of the damage could amount to between £12 billion and £16 billion. The Government have set up the Thames estuary 2100 project, which is being run by the Environment Agency, to examine the matter. Some are worried whether the deadlines for that project will slip, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will reassure us in his winding-up speech that everything is on schedule and that the work is being done. Once the project has identified what must be done, the funding situation must be clarified in order to get it done.

The Minister mentioned the 2012 Olympics, which will draw a great deal of investment into that area of London.

On water resources, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which has produced an excellent little booklet on the Thames Gateway, has raised the issue of fresh water. If hundreds of thousands of homes are built in that part of London, then the issue of water resources must be addressed.

On housing quality, the CPRE is keen on high urban design quality and has suggested the introduction of quality thresholds. Some of the architectural design in
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parts of east London leaves a little to be desired, although that area of London also contains some fine civic buildings. New buildings in the area over the next 20 to 30 years must be of the highest quality—the quality of development should be good in addition to the quantity.

I welcome the Minister's comments about affordable housing. I agree that it is important for people to buy their own homes, but many people do not have that opportunity, so we must continue to provide a decent amount of affordable housing.

London is a world-class city. The east of London contains a lot of under-used resources, and provided that we make sensible provision for flood prevention and that Departments and local authorities work together to provide the services and facilities to support that development, we can provide decent homes for hundreds and thousands of people, which will provide growth and generate a great deal of wealth.

There is a lot to commend the development of the Thames Gateway, but certain questions remain, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will not only sweep up my concerns, but answer my hon. Friends' questions. I have participated in debates like this in which few hon. Members were present, so I am glad to see so many hon. Members participating today. I shall not prolong my speech, because I understand that another hon. Member wants to make a maiden speech.

1.5 pm

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