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Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): Is the difficulty the fact that the tariff arrangement relates to section 106 agreements for housing developments? Would it not be better to move to a straightforward tariff on development under the current constraints?
Derek Wyatt: The trouble with section 106 agreements, certainly in my patch, is that they are never implemented. They are a bribe to tell the developers, "Hey, build us the school"or the village hall or the pubbut they actually build more houses. The problem is that section 106 agreements cannot be enforced legally. Section 106 helps the developer, not the citizen. However, the hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about having a tariff: 500 houses equal a school, a swimming pool, a village hall or whatever. Of course, as soon as a house built, people pay council tax, but they have no facilities until the last house is built and the road is adopted. They can wait four years for that to happen, which does not seem fair either. So I also have some planning anxieties.
Hon. Members have mentioned the Olympics. I chair the all-party Olympic committee. I hope that, as fast as possible, we can get all the RDAs to produce an audit of what is needed. In the south-east, we hardly have any Olympic facilities. It is a shame, but that shows the extent of the weakness of the sports infrastructure built over the past 50 years. Although we have brand-new football and rugby stadiums and cricket has improved at the top level, at the bottom level, we do not have 50 m swimming pools, athletics tracks, badminton halls or proper facilities for gymnastics, dance or many other things.
We could be smarter with schoolsI know that a White Paper is due next weekand, as the specialist sports schools develop, we could allow them to become the hub for the Olympics locally by letting them have that infrastructure so that it can be used 24 hours a day. With breakfast clubs and homework clubs coming into the mix next April, this is the time for us to be brave about how we use our schools, and develop the Olympic infrastructure across the country.
Finally, I want to commend something to my hon. Friend the Minister. We have introduced Sure Start. I can honestly say that Sure Start and the minimum wage are the two finest things that the Government have donethose are the measures that I am proudest of. Sure Start has changed people's lives in Sheerness in a way that we never expected. A couple of years ago, we asked mums and dads whether they would help with a
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newsletter, but they said that they could not because they could not read and write, and we have now got them reading and writing.
On 7 November, we will have a meeting at Sittingbourne community college in my patch because we are trying to put together a pilot for sure finish. At the moment, we are letting too many people aged 14 to 16 truant. They do not go to schoolthey do not find school a place that they like. They are excluded for whatever reason. For the reason that we have begun Sure Start, we cannot let that 20 per cent. go. I ask the Minister to look at that pilot scheme and consider whether we can seed fund a proper pilot for a sure finish scheme, so that we can start to consider those students and give them back their dignity because they have none at the moment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Jim Fitzpatrick): I thank all those hon. Members who have taken part in this very important debate, especially my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mrs. Engel), who delivered her maiden speech. I will try to respond to all the points made, which, if colleagues will forgive me, may take more than just a minute or two. I also thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, who has responsibility for the Thames Gateway, for opening the debate by presenting the case for the development and regeneration of the Thames Gateway sub-region.
I have been grateful for the opportunity to hear hon. Members on both sides of the House participating in such a well-informed debate. As the Member of Parliament for Poplar and Canning Town, it has given me particular pleasure to take part in a debate of not only national significance, but local relevance to my constituents and almost all of us gathered here today.
Hon. Members' contributions have highlighted the important work that is going on to improve the quality of life for people in London and the south-east, especially those living in the most deprived parts of our regionalong the 40-mile stretch of the Thames Gateway. I shall try to answer the questions asked and respond to the points made by hon. Members, but if I do not cover matters adequately, I will naturally write to them. I am especially glad that the breadth of the debate has allowed us to discuss the social, economic and environmental impact of the Government's policies on people's quality of life and the way in which we are trying to fulfil their basic need for the right to a decent home in the Thames Gateway.
The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), who spoke for the official Opposition, welcomed the debate. He hoped that we would have an annual opportunity for such a debate. As the former chairman of the all-party Thames Gateway group, I agreed with his proposal. Given the significance of the Gateway and the fact that this is our second such debate, I am sure that the Leader of the House will take note of the strength of feeling on that matter, although at least one hon. Member raised a concern during business questions that the debate was taking place to the exclusion of debates on other regions. I agreed strongly with what the hon. Gentleman said about jobs for local people and the training needs of the area. We will need to address and meet that challenge.
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The hon. Gentleman expressed concerns about flooding. I assumed that his description of the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) in the previous debate as robust was intended as a compliment. We take the threat of flooding seriously. However, the fact that land is part of a flood plain does not mean that there can be no building on it. Much of London is built on a flood plain, as we know, so the issue is how we can protect the new housing that we need. The new developments that we build will need to be adequately protected. All our local partnerships will need to produce strategic flood risk assessments, as will individual developments.
Our funding is going to such projects as the Rochester riverside. We are land raising and building a new river wall and river walk to create a 70-acre development platform for 2,000 homes, 900 jobs, schools and community facilities. Local planning authorities must examine flood risk when considering any individual application, which is why flood risk assessments that tell them where problems are, and whether or how they can be addressed, are important.
Bob Spink: The hon. Gentleman is one of those great avuncular Members of the House to whom I enjoy listening. Is he aware that flood risk assessments for planning applications are adding thousands of pounds to the costs experienced by people who wish to build houses? For example, although Canvey Island is protected from floods by a massive and sound sea defence, developers must add thousands of pounds on to the cost of houses due to the flood risk assessment, which is simply a waste of money.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I shall talk about the strategic placing of housing in due course. Any additional requirements on building can cause an impact, whether that is protection against flooding or other environmental risks. If the hon. Gentleman will wait, he and I can perhaps continue our dialogue when I reach the part of my speech about housing.
Questions were asked about the Thames estuary survey. It notes that the Government are well aware of people's worries about flood risk. We are engaging people with the Environment Agency through the Thames estuary study so that we can ensure that effective flood risk management is incorporated into developments in the Thames Gateway. The question of balancing out costs will be a feature of the process of deciding whether developments should proceed.
The hon. Member for Poole spoke about architecture. I thought at one point that he may have been taking a side-swipe at the dome. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) also referred to architecture, and I shall return to that in due course.
The hon. Member for Poole asked for a breakdown of the £6 billion funding. I can give him a thumbnail sketch by telling him some of the amounts that we intend to make availablemore than £1 billion for transport, £400 million for health, £850 million for the Thames Gateway budget, £41 million for the environment, £268 million for affordable housing, a similar figure for land reclamation, more than £1.5 billion for education and almost £300 million for neighbourhood revival. By my calculation, that adds up to about £5 billion. I am sure that he gets the picture.
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The hon. Gentleman referred to Crossrail and a stop at Woolwich. As he says, with champions such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) and my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham, the station has very strong advocacy, and I will turn to our assessment of the situation when I respond to my hon. Friend's remarks.
The hon. Member for Poole asked whether there were delays to the channel tunnel rail link. Our best information is that there is no delay. International services will be running from 2007, but domestic services will not begin until 2009. The rolling stock has been ordered and the development will obviously be a great improvement to transport links from that part of north Kent. I understand that people will be able to get from Ebbsfleet to King's Cross in 17 minutes. It is a major addition to the infrastructure.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire made her maiden speech and, judging by the acclamation, she made a fine debut. Her generous tribute to her predecessors, her proud description of her constituency and her passionate articulation of her beliefs clearly demonstrate that her electors have made the right choice. I am sure that I heard her use the "S" wordSkinnertwice. Her connection of North-East Derbyshire's regeneration to the Thames Gateway might have looked tenuous on paper, but she made it work very easily. She will clearly be an asset to her constituents, and all my colleagues here have said that they look forward to her future contributions.
My hon. Friend spoke about involving and equipping young people. We are trying to raise the standard of learning, the work-related skills and the employability of young people. We are increasing access to education and skills including, most excitingly, three new universities in east London, Southend and the Medway, so this is a big issue for the Thames Gateway and its development.
Yesterday, I drew attention to the ability of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) to annoy the official Opposition; today, she invoked their sympathy with her coughingso much so that the hon. Member for Poole acted as water carrier, which I thought a very gallant gesture. The hon. Lady asked a number of questions to which I will try to respond. On housing growth, I can assure her that we are not engaged in urban sprawl. Housing in the Thames Gateway will be focused on six strategic development locations in five urban renewal areas. The six locations will have a combined capacity to deliver 113,000 homes. Those sites have been chosen for their developable brownfield land, and we are focusing services and infrastructure around those areas and creating accessibility.
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