Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I begin by adding my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mrs. Engel), who made a cogent, comprehensive, confident and passionate maiden speech, which I enjoyed enormously. She is not in her place just now, but I look forward to hearing her speak again, and to her underlining her commitment to our common faithsocialism.
Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela E. Smith), who is also Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I represent the area covered by the Thurrock Thames Gateway development corporation. The borough of Thurrock has the longest river frontage of all the riparian local authorities along the Thames. It has the last large working part of the port of London, and is already a major growth area. Rightly, the Government set up a development corporation exclusively for Thurrock. I welcome that good initiative, subject to one or two points of clarification and qualification that I shall raise a little later.
I represent the only part of the Thames Gateway with a development corporation that is in the Government's eastern region. I think that the Government may have to reconsider that. With the best will in the world, I cannot accept that Thurrock has any logical relationship with
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thealbeit importantcities of Cambridgeshire and Norwich. It is inextricably part and parcel of the wider London conurbation: London's motorway goes through the borough and, as I said earlier, we share a river with the capital. My constituents commute to London. They are often Londoners who moved east, who benefited from the innovative planning of Labour pioneers in the previous century. I am thinking of the Labour dockers who ran the Tilbury urban district council, and the Labour-run London county council of the 1920s and 1930s, which built so many of the local houses.
I do not want to embarrass my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon, who also represents the area. I get on extremely well with her, and do not want to speak for her or inflict guilt on her by association. However, I am sure that she would sign up to the broad thrust of my remarks. I welcome the establishment of the local development corporation, but a number of concerns have been raised by various well regarded organisations.
For example, the Campaign to Protect Rural England has drawn attention to some anxieties about flooding. As legislators, we have to strike a balance: we do not want to scare people, but we are obliged to secure a reassurance from the Government that flooding will not be a problem months or years down the road. If that were to happen, people might ask what their public representatives had been doing. The burden is on the Government to assure us that the flood defences are sound, and that the effect of any new or additional residential or commercial development in my areaor elsewhere along the riverhas been taken fully into account.
Other hon. Members have alluded to the Gateway's environmental impact. A number of organisationsincluding the Royal Society for the Protection of Birdsconstantly remind us of our responsibilities under the directives governing birds and habitats. They point to the critically important role played by the Thames flood plain and marshes in respect of bird migration, among other things. Such matters are very important, to this and future generations.
I am very sensitive about environmental matters. The hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) raised legitimate questions about how the waste produced in his constituency would be got rid of. The same question bothers me deeply, as my area suffered exploitation throughout the 20th century at the hands of two very unwelcome industriesmineral and gravel extraction, and landfill. From the Terrace of the House, hon. Members can see barges heading for Thurrock, carrying London's waste to my constituency.
I hope that the Minister can reassure me about the destination of human and household waste resulting from growth to the east of London. Where will it go? If I have anything to do with it, it certainly is not coming to my patch. It is terrible that the landfill industry should continue to grow, and the problem of waste resulting from increased development is a pressing one.
The Minister who will reply to the debate is my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Yesterday, I asked a question about Thurrock and the Thames Gateway, which was answered by my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government. Today's debate was opened by my hon.
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Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, and I am genuinely confused: which Minister has responsibility for the Thurrock development corporation area? There is no clarity at the moment. In my area, there is some disappointment that the corporation should have been so slow to begin its work. Therefore I need to know which Minister I must turn to so as to ensure that action is taken in the future.
Although there has been significant and welcome growth in the Thurrock area in the past decade, it has been unplanned. As many hon. Members accept, residential development there is very necessary, but it is also important that there be commensurate growth in the local infrastructure. I am talking about roads and other forms of transport and communication, as well as the essential public services that must be delivered. We desperately need co-ordinated planning to ensure that there are enough hospitals, GPs and police to match the growth in residential and commercial development.
We must also make sure that schools with the appropriate capacity are built in the right places. One reason for my enthusiasm for the urban development corporation is that I believe that it can provide the planning that is so urgently needed. The lack of co-ordination in Thurrock to date means that schools are often in the wrong place. That causes parents a great deal of legitimate disappointment and frustration when they cannot get their children into schools near their homes.
It is claimed that we have joined-up Government in this country. Therefore I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Health that any reorganisation of the police command units or of the primary care trusts should maintain coterminosity with Thurrock borough council and the development corporation. If there is any dilution of that, if the police command unit that currently covers Thurrock is extended to include Brentwood and Basildon, and if the PCT area is extended too, it will greatly diminish the capacity of those, particularly in the development corporation, to be energised and enthusiastic in focusing on creating a new and exciting environment in this part of the Thames Gateway.
I have indicated that I have some reservations and am disappointed about what has happened. The development corporation was set up by Parliament some time ago but has been enormously slow in getting under way. I do not want to rake over old coals; nor am I qualified probably to make a judgment. Sometimes people blame the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and sometimes people blame Thurrock Thames Gateway development corporation. However, it has been enormously slow. Therefore I welcome the fact that, in the past few weeks, by statutory instrument, the development corporation has finally had its planning powers vested in it, and I understand that it now feels that it has the funding necessary for it to embark on its mission.
I ask the Minister to look at that matter. It has tested my patience considerably to find that, after Parliament set up the development corporation well over a year ago, there was, until recently, little to show for it. It is relevant because the development corporation was given a relatively short lifespan: seven years. I could not understand that at the time, because the West
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Northamptonshire urban development corporation, which was set up at about the same time, was given 10 years. Basically, there is little more than five years left.
It would greatly assist people like me, but more importantly, the Thurrock Thames Gateway development corporation, if the Government were to announce that its life expectancy was considerably longer. It is important that it be given more time, given that it will have to deal with land development and compulsory purchase orders, to attract the right staff to develop its mission of building the exciting area along the Thames Gateway, to collaborate with key partners and developers and to try to secure commercial development agreements and joint ventures. I hope that the Minister will draw that to the attention of his ministerial colleagues with some dispatch.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): In my experience, I have found that there is quite a variation in ability between various regional development agencies. Some are good, some are weaker. Is the hon. Gentleman finding that there is any conflict between the Thurrock development corporation and his regional development agency? If there is, does he think that the position can be improved, or do they work well in parallel?
Andrew Mackinlay: It is a timely intervention. In my notes, which I glance at from time to time, it says "plethora of bodies". That is a problem. There are so many agencies in the area with similar names. That confuses those of us who are very interested, so what bewilderment it causes to those who probably have less time to give to the matter, I do not know. It is enormously confusing.
I want the Minister to consider that matter. I say this not with levity but in all seriousness. When he leaves the debate, if he rings directory inquiries and asks for the Thames Gateway development corporation, the Thames Gateway London Partnership, or Thamesgate Regeneration, he is unlikely to get who he wants. There are so many bodies with that title. It is a problem.
I was deeply disappointed that my development corporation decided to call itself the Thurrock Thames Gateway development corporation, when there is a private consortium called Thamesgate Regeneration, which legitimately from its business point of view I oppose its propositions and ambitionsseeks to develop in the green belt in Thurrock. I am opposed to it; I cannot put that in bigger capital letters. Sometimes I wish I could paint it on people's eyelids. Nevertheless, one can understand many of my constituents thinking that Thamesgate Regeneration is the same thing as the Thurrock Thames Gateway development corporation set up by the Deputy Prime Minister.
Many people think that the Deputy Prime Minister personally is going to build 18,500 houses in the green belt, which is precious to us in Thurrock, aided and abetted by the hon. Member for Thurrock, who will carry all the bricks in a hob. It is not going to happen if I have anything to do with it, but that is what people fear and one can understand the confusion.
It is a great pity that the ODPM did not take more interest in the title of the development corporation that covers my area. As an aside, I do not know why it was
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so frightened of calling these places "new towns", a title which does have some meaning. That conveys to people a conceptwe are talking not just about houses but support services, infrastructure and transportation. The term "urban development corporation" does not convey much to people outside the chattering classes. It is history now, but it is a great pity that that was not dealt with. I want the Minister to make it clear, however, that the consortium that seeks to build in the green belt has absolutely no public endorsement. There is not even a planning application from it yet. However, I cannot over-emphasiseI am not over-egging the puddingthat people think that the two organisations, one private, the other set up by the Government, are one and the same thing and they assume therefore that we are going to breach our principle of jealously guarding the green belt.
I was therefore grateful yesterday to be called by the Speaker and to have the assurance, which is in the Official Report, that the Government stand by their commitment to the green belt. Indeed, they can do so because I understand that the agreed targets of all the various agencies, including the Conservative-controlled Thurrock borough council, is that Thurrock's contribution in terms of residential units is about 18,500 houses.
It is a fact that a third of those have already been built. Another 2,000 have planning permission. The reservoir of brownfield land and derelict landit would be a good thing if it were cleaned and regeneratedin our borough can more than meet the target of providing the 8,000-plus additional houses that need to be built. Therefore, there is in Thurrockit was reiterated by the Minister yesterday but I hope that the Minister present will do so again todaya presumption against building in the green belt because it is simply not necessary. Indeed it is desirable that brownfield land and derelict industrial land be brought back into good use, primarily, though not exclusively, for residential development. That is important.
I listened earlier to hon. Members' comments on housing. I welcome the change of mood and tone from Conservative Front Benchers about the matter. A few months ago, they were saying different things, but if we have some degree of ecumenismI cannot pronounce that but hon. Members know what I meanon the issue, that is to be welcomed. However, it is incumbent upon all politicians to address the question of how and where to meet legitimate housing need.
Sometimes I try to remind very good constituents of that. Like other hon. Members, I have lots of peoplemums, dads and grandparentscoming to my surgery deeply concerned about their loved ones, probably a family who have just had their first child, and saying, "Where are they going to live?" Often, my constituents prudently and sensibly, as I would have done, purchased their council house. Somehow, however, they do not recognise that, when a unit of the housing stock is sold, it is not replaced the following morning. Some people think that almighty God must come down every morning and replenish the housing stock in nice areas withoutit has one other great attributeinterfering with the visual or aural amenity of anyone else. We must tell people sensitively that we need new housing units.
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Such building can be on brownfield sites and derelict land that it would be useful to reclaim. People who already have homes cannot understand why their children and grandchildren cannot have homes, yet a few of them object to reasonable building proposals. We need to remind politicians, and sometimes our constituents, of the realities and facts of life.