Bob Spink : Has my hon. Friend seen the RSPB document that talks about "Greening the Gateway", protecting biodiversity and green space and improving flood risk management? Neither the RSPB nor he believes that those can be achieved by building on that green space, however, which is what the Thames Gateway plans to do in my constituency.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point about protecting resources for flood defence. We have touched on that issue more widely in terms of flood risk, and I am sure that we will return to the matter in future debates.
20 Oct 2005 : Column 1036
As well as environmental benefits, there are opportunities for leisure, and we need to examine how to use the space sympathetically. It is important that my constituency does not have just housing, housing, housing and big blocks of flats. Neither my constituents nor those of the other hon. Members affectedon both sides of the Housewould want such a vision. That relates to my initial comments about ensuring that the voices of local people are heard loud and clear. In Rainham in my constituency, there is an important opportunity to ensure that leisure is at the forefront of what is going on.
Business, and generating jobs, is a key aspect of the Thames Gateway regeneration. In my constituency, the Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence is adjacent to the Ford Dagenham plant. I note that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) is in the Chamber and I am sure that he will speak about the issue in much greater detail. It is important to note, however, that Ford has invested heavily in the Dagenham plant, and that it will build one in four diesel engines there. We cannot ignore the need for manufacturing and highly skilled jobs in the Thames Gateway if we are to give the next generation a real opportunity for work, ensuring that the British economy does not lose out to other areas in Europe and elsewhere.
"In the London Thames Gateway, progress in meeting national learning targets lags behind that of other parts of London and employers have reported particular problems when recruiting for positions requiring 'higher-level' technical and/or managerial skills. This is a self-reinforcing situation that is clearly a disincentive for employers to locate or expand in the Thames Gateway".
That is not helpful, and it is one reason why I intervened on the Minister for Housing and Planning. We must ensure that we focus on a wide range of skills, so that we can exploit the opportunities, encourage business to come to the area and make the most of the opportunities that, I hope, the Thames Gateway will present. There must be that investment in people.
We have touched on investment in infrastructure. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) mentioned the long shopping list of things that are needed to enable effective regeneration. Certainly, from a local perspective, I welcome the investment that has already taken place in my constituency to provide funding for Rainham railway station and ensure that train lengths are expanded ultimately to 12 coaches, so that we can transit people to London, but we need more than that if the proposal is to be effective locally.
We need to sort out the DLR link to Rainham and ensure that the east London transit scheme is prioritised, so that we have the transport infrastructure links to get people in and out of London and to gain access to Canary Wharf and other such areas. I met representatives from Canary Wharf only recently, and they emphasised their concern that if no transit was available from areas such as mine to Canary Wharf, the creation of jobs in that area could be inhibited. Thus the infrastructure issue is key, and transport is a central aspect of it.
20 Oct 2005 : Column 1037
As hon. Members will appreciate, such infrastructure comes at a cost. I noted the Minister's comments about the £6 billion that was announced earlier in the year. Certainly, it would be interesting to hear more detail about the timing and the commitments that have been made. I was also interested to hear those comments in the context of the Olympics, which represent a tremendous opportunity for London and all the surrounding areas. My only concern is that the Olympics will take attention away from other areas in the Thames Gateway. We cannot ignore areas such as mine if we are to harness real opportunities there.
I am concerned that money could be funnelled into the Olympics alone, which would have an adverse impact, as no regeneration would take place in my constituency and those of the hon. Members for Dagenham and for Thurrock, who are nodding. It is important that we do not lose out, that we ensure that money is not diverted just to the Olympics and that a focus is retained on the Thames Gateway.
Another aspect of the Olympics is relocation: a number of businesses in the Olympics area will need to be relocated. That needs to be thought about carefully to ensure that we achieve balanced development with a balanced master plan throughout the Thames Gateway, so that certain areas do not have low-grade uses. A strategic thought process must be applied to the relocation of those businesses, and I hope that the Minister will take that on board in his comments at the end of the debate.
The investment that is now coming into adjoining areas is important. I want to ensure that my borough of Havering is given the best chance to leverage in the opportunities that the Olympics will provide. That is why investment in infrastructure sooner rather than later is crucial in ensuring that areas such as mine can make the most of the Olympics and take advantage of them.
Much of this debate is centred on ensuring that we get the right mix and balance of housing. I am still worried that the Government's approach might be too rigid and that too much focus is put on the need for numbers of houses, rather than thinking about the impact of such housing on communities and areas. That is important on several levels, and housing density is obviously a key issue. What is appropriate for one area might not be appropriate for another, so when this matter is considered, I hope that a straight ruler line will not be drawn to say that what works in one area will work in another, with development densities being driven by that. The system needs to be more sophisticated so that we can ensure that any development is sympathetic to the areas in which it takes place.
I fear that planning policies, such as the sustainable communities plan and the London plan, and Housing Corporation funding are pushing us far too much towards one and two-bedroom flats and houses. We must take a broader view, especially when considering affordable housing. The lack of affordable housing stock with three or four bedrooms causes significant challenges. Despite my short time in the House, I already have a long list of people who have come to me for help because their one or two-bedroom flat is simply not big enough for them and their three kids. I fear that the problem is not being addressed properly or carefully.
20 Oct 2005 : Column 1038
Two fifths of the demand in the London borough of Havering is for family-sized accommodation with three or four bedrooms. The traditional Housing Corporation method of funding has unfortunately led to a tendency towards one and two-bedroom houses and flats. Although I recognise that there has been a change in housing allocations and applications for the period between 2006 and 2008 as an attempt to move away from that situation, in practice my area is still receiving applications for one or two-bedroom properties, which will not create greater flexibility to offer family housing.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) will be pleased that he is not in the Chamber as I mention the phrases "sub-regional agenda" and "sub-regional housing allocations"I apologise to him. The Housing Corporation normally gives funding on the basis that only 25 per cent. of new homes are allocated to their host borough, with the remainder allocated sub-regionally. That might be all well and good when considering the Thames Gateway area, but most people who are looking for housing want that to be in the area in which they are living. That factor must be considered.
The plans that I have seen show that large housing growth is proposed for my south Havering area, which will mean that many people who currently live outside our area will move in. There is a risk that that will create local tension and put pressure on local government finance, so the matter will need to be examined carefully if we are to achieve the social cohesion and real sense of community to which hon. Members on both sides of the House aspire.
An emphasis on housing can skew the debate, so I am pleased that several of the contributions made by hon. Members on both sides of the debate have stressed the importance of other issues and shown that we should not consider only housing. We must ensure that we do not end up with the problems that we have had in the past, certainly in my constituency. Rainham has, not to put too fine a point on it, been dumped on for far too long. It is important for the engagement process I talked about at the start of my speech that people do not feel dumped on and that this really is about regeneration and improving lives in the local community. There is a tremendous opportunity in the Thames Gateway.
In some ways I do not want to create sustainable communities; I want to create vibrant communities. I want to create a strong sense of social cohesion, with a dynamic employment market providing significant employment opportunitiesnew jobs for the next generationand places to live in of which we can all be proud. The phrase "sustainable communities" does not really encapsulate the vision that we need. That vision can be fulfilled only by making the right decisions now.
There will be tough decisions, and the Government will have to be brave to follow this through. They will need to show great determination. I hope, for my constituents and the people in the surrounding areas of east London and Essex, that the Government are up to that challenge.