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Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): I am very pleased that we are having this debate today on a subject of considerable interest to my constituents. I intend to raise some issues that are causing concern in my area and to make some general points, but in principle I want to maintain the constructive nature of this debate.

I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mrs. Engel) on her excellent maiden speech. She spoke with—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) knows that I regularly offer praise when a good speech is made. The hon. Lady spoke with great passion, confidence and humour about her constituency and her political convictions and views. We warmly congratulate her on her contribution and look forward to many more in the coming months and years.

It is also good to follow the hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate), who is my constituency neighbour. We have many constituency issues in common, and we work together closely for the benefit of both our constituencies and boroughs.

I speak not only as someone who represents a constituency that is on the Gateway's periphery and partly involved in it, but as a borough of Bexley resident, so I have a great interest in the issue from many points of view. The Minister provided a very good wish list, made an interesting speech and gave some particularly important examples of what the project hopes to achieve. Contrary to one or two of the political comments that she made, the Opposition welcome in principle the Thames Gateway development and support the vast majority of the attempts to regenerate that part of the river, but we must examine a wide variety of the issues that she raised, such as value for money, the speed and quality of development and the associated cost. This project presents us with a great opportunity, and Conservative Members are looking to take it and to participate to the full.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), who made a very interesting and reasonable speech that highlighted the broad cross-party agreement on development of the Thames Gateway. Importantly, he pointed out that we must avoid using jargon. One or two of the Minister's points involved the use of jargon such as "regional sub-development". What we are really talking about is communities and people, and a region that needs investment and development. I really do not like the use of such jargon. What we should be talking about is how to improve an area that has suffered from underinvestment.

Only part of my constituency falls within the Gateway development, but the consequences will be felt across my borough and in neighbouring boroughs. The project has been in existence for some time—it used to be called the east Thames corridor—and when I was formerly a Member of the House I was a great supporter of such reinvestment. There is much potential for revival and regeneration. Other London areas have enjoyed such regeneration, but we to the east of the region were unfortunately unable to make a case for such development. We now have that opportunity, and we must not lose it.
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Historically, my borough of Bexley has had a lot of heavy industry. It has also suffered from structural unemployment, and still does in parts. Some of those industries have produced pollution, and there has been a lack of opportunity in parts of the riverside, so the plan to create new jobs, industries and homes, and a cleaner environment and a better riverside for Bexley is good news. Large sums are going to be spent, and we need to ask what they will be spent on and what the consequences will be of such investment for our part of the Gateway.

There are, however, real concerns. In some ways, those of us who are south of the river feel that there are two areas: the north Thames Gateway, and the south. Each area has different issues and problems, and I urge the Minister to take that point on board. We talk about one region, but the river creates two different regions, with many and varied consequences. We should ensure—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) laughs; we look forward to hearing his contribution later. We are looking at two different areas with somewhat different problems.

Historically, Bexley has had poor air quality, partly due to wind direction and partly due to geography, traffic and the polluting industries that I mentioned. We look forward to investment in new, clean industries and improved air quality. As the Minister said, better quality of life is not just about jobs, but about improved health and living conditions.

Some local issues in Bexley are a matter of concern, as some developments may not be in line with the cleaner air and prospects for better health that people want. One such development is the waste to energy incinerator. If it goes ahead, it will represent a threat to our area. We are concerned about the additional pollution that may result from it—I understand that the Minister cannot comment because the matter is subject to a public inquiry—and it has been a matter of concern for the last decade. The development of an enormous incinerator in Belvedere will have consequences in my borough and for the Thames Gateway development. Traffic will increase, in addition to the consequences of whatever pollutants emerge from the incinerator.

There is a huge amount of local opposition to the incinerator, which I wholly support. Battles over the last decade have resulted in meetings, campaigns and public inquiries. At the moment, we await the result of the latest public inquiry and we hope that the inspector will reject the plan to build the incinerator. As I say, there will be significant consequences if we do not succeed in getting good, clean industries into the area. If we go back to having polluting industries, the consequences for future homes and future development will be impaired. We certainly do not want that.

We are also concerned about transport in the area south of the river. Transport in south-east London and north-west Kent is poor—indeed, it is woefully inadequate. We do not have a docklands light railway in my constituency or borough; we have no tube and we do not have a first-class rail service; and we will not receive the benefits of Crossrail. That is why I say that the Thames Gateway is not really one but two regions.

We welcome the Olympics coming to London in 2012, which will bring investment into the Thames Gateway. My question to the Minister, however, is what will be the
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investment benefits of our Olympic success for Bexley? We know that London will have to pay more in council tax, so people in my constituency will have to pay more.

Many local people are concerned that the benefits to the borough will be little or nothing. We will all support our teams and enjoy the event when it comes, but it will be courtesy of a high price. People fear that Bexley might become a car park for people attending Olympic events or a cut-through for the extra traffic coming through Bexley to attend events either across the river or in central and west London. That demonstrates the real local concern about transport and transport infrastructure that will benefit the part of the Thames Gateway south of the river.

The Thames Gateway bridge is another important issue that is subject to a public inquiry. Quite rightly, the Minister cannot comment, but I want to put on record the fact that local Bexley residents, particularly in the north of the borough, are extremely concerned about it. The public inquiry is based at Charlton football ground and we have had two evening sessions in Bexleyheath at which local people raised real concerns about the consequences of the bridge going ahead. The proposal is to use the bridge to link Thamesmead with Newham.

We hear from Transport for London and the Mayor that the bridge is absolutely vital for the success of the Thames Gateway. Transport for London says that it is essential, the Mayor is in favour and various experts on regeneration are strongly in favour. Without a bridge, they claim, they will not receive any of the benefits, but I question that very strongly. My political hero is Harold Macmillan, who often used to say that when experts agree they are invariably wrong. All the experts agree about the bridge, and I believe that they could well be wrong.

Clive Efford : Am I correct in recalling that the hon. Gentleman supported the former east London river crossing? He wants to make a strong case against the bridge, which I have consistently opposed, so will he give the House his reasons for changing his mind?

Mr. Evennett: I have changed my mind, but the Thames Gateway bridge is quite a different prospect from the east London river crossing, to which the hon. Gentleman alludes, although he was not a Member when it was proposed. The road network structure was quite different. Many of us were looking to a cut and cover under Oxley wood, but times move on. As the hon. Gentleman knows, some of his views have changed. We now know that traffic has increased substantially and that we have not secured the rail improvements that we were promised by the hon. Gentleman and his party. We have heard at recent elections that things are going to improve, but they have not. The proposed bridge is quite a different prospect and time has moved on. This is a different project at a different time with different consequences.

On this proposal, many Conservative Members—we all know that we are having a leadership election today —are looking forward, not backwards. Unfortunately, Labour Members always want to look back, as we heard at Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday, and trot out the same details about the past. We are looking forward and working together for the benefit of people in the area.
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The quality of life issue is paramount for people living in Bexley. A six-lane freeway taking huge amounts of traffic through our borough from the A2 and the A20 will cause an environmental nightmare: pollution, noise, nuisance, safety risks and health issues. Great problems will be created in our borough with no benefits to local people. Regrettably, Bexley and Greenwich already have very congested roads. It was Greenwich council that approved plans for the bridge, but it does not affect that area in the same way as it affects Bexley. If the bridge is built, traffic will come through Bexley and there will be gridlock on our local roads. Clearly, the Thames Gateway project must deal with many problems relating to transport and traffic.

I pay tribute to some of the local people who are campaigning against the Thames Gateway bridge. Jacqui and Steve Wise have campaigned hard, as have Terry Grant and the St. Michael's residents association and Councillor Clement, leader of the Conservative group. They all support the development of the Thames Gateway as a regional regeneration project, but only if it will bring benefits to the whole area. We believe that, if the bridge goes ahead, considerable disadvantages for our local area will result.

We need more jobs, but how many new jobs will the Thames Gateway redevelopment project create south of the river? That question must be addressed. Many new jobs will be created in the north—we know that house prices are going up in Stratford on account of the Olympics and everyone is looking to invest there—but what about south of the river?

There are tremendous opportunities for development in the area. They are long overdue, and have bipartisan support. However, the consequences for south London, and for Bexley in particular, have not yet been addressed. I urge the Minister to do so.

2 pm

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