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Michael Fabricant: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although there may be additional costs in building on brownfield sites compared with greenfield ones there are added advantages owing the regeneration of inner cities? Previously, they were depopulated and only a doughnut-like outer ring had a thriving economy.
Andrew Mackinlay: I wholly agree with that view. As I said earlier, I welcome the tone of the debate; I only wish that 600 other Members were here to listen to it. Although the House is not packed, I shall not delay it too long as I realise that other Members want to speak, but I want to make a few more points.
I welcomed the transfer from Thurrock borough council to the urban development corporation of planning powers for big developmentsresidential units of more than 50 dwellings, commercial developments of more than 2,000 sq m and developments close to the River Thames or the green beltbut I was disappointed that the corporation had no remit for design. All too often in my area, planners have paid insufficient attention to details such as facing materials and landscaping and design. We have both an opportunity and a challenge to ensure that residential and commercial buildings are at the cutting edge of attractiveness, modern design and functionality. Although that power has not been vested in the development corporation, I hope that the Minister will pump-prime through circulars and meetings, as there is an implicit obligation for both the development corporation, Thurrock borough council and other planning authorities to be sensitive and demand of developers that such things are not forgotten in their zeal to fulfil the wider mission.
Mention has been made of a Thames crossing. I do not want to trespass on the debate or disagreement that may exist in Bexley or the London borough of Greenwich. However, I am surprised that there has not been more discussion about a Thames crossing to the east of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge and the Dartford crossing, as it is so important to United Kingdom commerce. That may present difficulties to some Members, because there will always be some nimbys who will not want a new crossing. However, we must address the fact that the QEII-Dartford crossing is like a funnel, which can sometimes be blocked, not for hours but for days, at enormous cost and loss to business and commerce and to the frustration of people who are trying to get to schools or workplaces. It is madness not to address that problem.
I am sure there is much in the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but he must forgive me for not trespassing on that area. The immediate needs of
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Londonthe area covered by the Greater London authorityshould be addressed by people such as him, the GLA and the Mayor. My suggestion would not detract in any way from those discussions, but it is madness that all the business and commercial traffic from Scotland and the north of England is being funnelled through the QEII bridge and the Dartford crossing. Such crossings can be self-financing, as we know. It has always aggravated me that my constituents in south Essex and the hon. Gentleman's constituents in north Kent are paying through tolls for wider engineering works and road works to which everyone contributes. The QEII bridge has been more than paid for and in terms of revenue and funding has been enormously successful. There is no logical reason why there should not be a toll crossing to the east, probably at the eastern end of my borough, which would ensure that there is no paralysis when there is a fire or other major problem on the QEII-Dartford crossing and that commerce can continue. It would relieve pressure on the M25 and provide swifter communications to the channel ports, Medway and so on. I hope that the Government will address that matter with considerable dispatch.
I do not want to conclude my remarks without mentioning the Olympics. I remind the Minister that in Thurrock we are 20 minutes from Stratford by train, so Thurrock could be a place for some of the development opportunitiesfor example, for training and dormitoriesarising from our successful bid, and I hope that my area will be selected as an ideal location.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I have only just come into the Chamber, but will the hon. Gentleman join me in welcoming the Olympics to London and in urging the Government to ensure that our waterways are clean and pristine when we show them off to the world? In Broxbourne, we have canoeing, yet sewage is still discharged into the Lea valley river during severe cloudbursts. Will the hon. Gentleman put pressure on his colleagues on the Treasury Bench to ensure that we have a pristine London for that great event?
Andrew Mackinlay: In any event, I am sure that the Minister heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker). The Government want the games to be successful so I am sure that something will be done.
We shall not know for some days whether the BBC has taken an interest in this debate. I am considerably disappointed that the BBC in its various outlets shows a lack of interest in Thames Gateway issues. That is partly because the BBC's boundaries are somewhat confused, a problem somewhat aggravated by technological limitations, but as the BBC is currently contemplating renewal of its charter it should, through its various news outletsradio, television and local broadcastingaddress itself to such issues more than it does. There should be news-gathering, in terms of studios and
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professional staff, throughout the region; it should not merely be centred in Chelmsford and in Southendimportant as Southend is. Other parts of the Thames Gateway could and should have news-gathering facilities. The BBC should pay attention to its output, which often relates to things that happen in London that have national importance rather than things that have a regional impact, and about which people have a right to know. Some of that criticism can also be directed at independent broadcasters. The BBC has a special obligation to be more sensitive to that point.
I am pleased that I caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that I have been able to flag up the interests of Thurrock in this debate, particularly given that geographically and in terms of expectation we probably have the most to contribute to the exciting mission of developing a place for quality living and employment to the east of London.
James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): I am pleased that we have the opportunity to discuss the London Thames Gateway and the Thames Gateway generally. The House debated this issue in November last year, but there have been a number of developments since then, so it is great that we have the opportunity to revisit the matter and to put the Thames Gateway firmly at the centre of the political agenda. It is extremely important not only to the regeneration of the east of London, but, in a wider economic context, to the entire country.
My constituency is in the east of the London Thames Gateway area. I welcome the opportunity that the Thames Gateway offers to regenerate the south Havering area, not only in terms of housing but with a heavy emphasis on industry, employment opportunities and business. The key issue is to ensure that residents of east London and Essex have the ability to take advantage of those opportunities and that they are not passed to others elsewhere in the country or beyond.
It is important that local residents are actively engaged in debate on the Thames Gateway agenda and in the process involved. I recognise the need for urban development corporations, but I have some concerns that they will distance the debate from local people and hamper their ability to be involved in strategic decisions, particularly in the planning arena.
Sarah Teather: I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is a great disappointment that the role of local authorities is being marginalised. Does he agree that as elected bodies, local authorities should play a much greater part, particularly in defining the location for new housing and the kind of development that there should be? It is disappointing that the UDCs are not elected and are therefore completely unaccountable.
I welcome the hon. Lady's comments; she makes a valid point about accountability. There are concerns about allowing people to feel that they are actively engaged in the process, and I feel that that is not happening at the moment. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) highlighted the confusion caused by the proliferation of organisations. It is feared that the UDCs might talk to primary care trusts, the Local
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Government Association and all the other governing organisations, but not directly to the people. We want to ensure that the voice of local people is heard.
Various residents' groups are being set up in Rainham in my constituency. The Adamsgate action group is most concerned about overdevelopment and the future of the area. We must listen carefully to those voices, particularly given that UDCs have planning power over matters such as waste, which the hon. Member for Thurrock mentioned, and electricity generation. We are considering greater environmental treatment of waste and waste-to-energy projects, and it seems that the UDCs will be making direct decisions on such issues.
My constituency, like that of the hon. Gentleman's, has significant waste facilities. We have a landfill site and there are proposals for waste-to-energy plants. Local residents are greatly concerned about the long-term implications of those proposals. There are plans to turn the landfill site into a country park and to open up the Thames river frontage, which is fantastic and part of the Thames Gateway vision. I do not want to discover in a few years' time that that vision has been stultified or blocked because it is felt that the site is needed for waste treatment. We must take advantage of the environmental benefits that would be brought about by opening up the river frontage. Most people would probably not even realise that my constituency led down to the Thames, because there is simply not enough access. I therefore very much welcome the opportunity that the Thames Gateway will bring to give the space back to the public and allow them access to the river. I know from a recent visit to the Cleanaway landfill site that, if one can hold one's nose, the view towards the constituency of the hon. Member for Thurrock is breathtaking. The sooner that site is turned over to public open space that people can enjoy, the better.
We also have a superb resource in the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds nature reserve. People do not necessarily take full account of such resources in considering what the Thames Gateway is all about. Great emphasis is put on housing and business, to which I shall refer in due course, but the environmental aspects are also key. Once the RSPB nature reserve is open, the communities of east London and Essex will benefit tremendously, in terms not only of appreciation of the sites but of education, health and well-being, as people will be encouraged to go out, walk and make the most of the facilities. Such hidden benefits need to be considered.
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