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Mr. Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): Given that this is a high-profile development and given the discussions in the House and elsewhere about climate change and the need to address it, does the Minister think there is room to look at flagship zero emission developments?
The hon. Member for Brent, East asked what was being done to speed up the introduction of the Crossrail Bill. It will be subject to the relevant procedures, but it is a complex measure that supports an ambitious and expensive scheme. I agree, however, that it is important not just to London but to the UK economy.
On the issue of our commitment to infrastructure, the Government are fully committed to the Thames Gateway, which is backed by massive investment. We have always made it clear that it is about more than housing. For example, £6 billion has been committed by the Government in the three years to 2006 to support key infrastructure in roads, public transport, health, education, skills and environmental protection. I hope that the hon. Lady acknowledges that commitment.
On the density of housing on brownfield sites, part of the development potential of the Thames Gateway is due to its reserve of brownfield land. PPG3 takes a brownfield-first approach and requires 60 per cent. of housing to be built on previously developed land. In the Thames Gateway, we have set an ambitious target of 80 per cent. of brownfield development, which is currently being exceeded. The whole area is subject to the 2005 density direction, so development must meet a minimum target of 30 dwellings a hectare. National planning policy is committed to a sequential approach to land use, protecting valuable green space as well as increasing density.
The hon. Lady asked about the equalisation of VAT on new build and renovations. Our officials have met colleagues in the Treasury to discuss that issue and options for resolving it. We continue to gather information and evidence. The Treasury accepts the adverse impact and perverse incentives arising from differential VAT, but it is mindful of the impact on revenue of any change in the regime as suggested. We are constrained to some extent by EU regulations, to which VAT is subject. There is therefore limited scope for UK action, but the matter is under close examination. The Government are evaluating the impact of the contaminated land tax clean-up credit in a study commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and by Revenue and Customs officials.
The good doctor, my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) praised local companies, but expressed concern about the planned Tesco development, which, as he acknowledged, is the subject of an inquiry, so it is inappropriate for me to comment. He asked about Government investment in the Swanscombe and Greenhithe master plan. As I have already explained, we recognise the need to engage communities. We are pleased about the combined partnership between English Partnerships, SEEDA and the local authority. A funding request has been made and will be subject to the ODPM's investment approach to the funding of new projects. Hopefully, the result will be known in time for the next financial year.
My hon. Friend asked whether the primary role of the Thames Gateway was to service London, and he was concerned about social exclusion. He will know that we want the Thames Gateway to do many things, but the creation of sustainable communities is fundamental. Some Members suggested that "sustainable communities" was too tidy a phrase. We have juggled
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with its implications, which include a community with leadership, green space, housing, health services, schools and all the basic amenities. If anyone can come up with an alternative phrase we would be interested to hear from them, but having used "sustainable communities" for some years people on the ground understand the concept. By it we mean, as I outlined, places where people want to live and work. Obviously, some people will commute into London, especially into the Canary Wharf area, which now boasts the second largest financial centre in Europebigger even than Frankfurt'sbut we expect to see economic and job growth around, for example, the Ebbsfleet channel tunnel rail link station, providing local jobs. It is this growth across the board, sponsored by public investment, that will tackle the disadvantages currently suffered by some Gateway residents. The new transport, skills, doctors surgeries, parks and universities will improve everyone's life chances.
My hon. Friend asked about dormitory towns. Another example is the Bridge development in Dartford, where 7,500 jobs have been created, as well as homes and a mini-science park. The Thames Gateway must take on the whole package. My hon. Friend asked about the creation of a new agency with planning powers, similar to the Environment Agency and the Highways Agency. It is our considered view that a new body would over-complicate the planning process and slow down our programmes of development. My hon. Friend suggested that the Highways Agency itself may be holding up some developments and employment opportunities. We do not believe that that is the case. We accept that the Highways Agency has an obligation to ensure that national trunk roads perform effectively. It is fulfilling that role and designing solutions with developers, and it has invested £250 million along the A2 west Thameside development in Ebbsfleet, Dartford and Eastern Quarry.
Finally, my hon. Friend asked about environmental targets, possibly returning to questions raised earlier. The Government are setting high standards for our green space. The 2004 publication "Greening the Gateway" sets out the Government's vision for green space and linking green space in a green grid. We have already invested £26 million in environmental projects and we are raising the bar for the energy efficiency of homes. From April 2006, the code for sustainable buildings will apply to all Government-funded buildings. Thames Gateway projects like the Greenwich millennium village received excellent ratings under the EcoHomes system.
The hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) balanced his generous words for my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire with a swipe at my hon. Friend the Minister, saying that her speech was full of jargon. Given the nature of her speech, the use of some technical language was unavoidable, and her contribution was well balanced. I hope that the House knows that my hon. Friend is very human and personable.
The hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford mentioned the divide caused by the Thames, which led me to believe initially that he was arguing in favour of a Thames bridge, but from his later comments that seemed unlikely. As the topic is the subject of a planning inquiry, I cannot comment further. The hon.
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Gentlemansingularly, I thinkquestioned the possible benefits from the Olympics, whereas many other speakers this afternoon stressed what a bonus they would be for the UK, London and the Thames Gateway in particular. There is a general belief and confidence that the games will benefit sport, culture and the economy in the whole of the UK, including his constituency. I am sure that that belief will be vindicated in due course. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham pointed out the impact that the Paralympics would have as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) asked which Minister was responsible for regeneration. It is my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning. I do not understand why there has been any confusion over that. He asked me to convey his concerns about police and health structures to our right hon. Friends the relevant Secretaries of State. I am sure my hon. Friend knows that, just by raising these matters in the Chamber, they will be informed, and he knows how to reinforce his concerns in the usual ways. I heard his criticism of directory inquiries and the difficulty in contacting the appropriate development agencies. I hope that the organisations that he mentioned will also have heard.
On waste, my hon. Friend asked about the scale of development in the Thames Gateway. With the volume of people, the number of households and the infrastructure development, more waste will be generated. The code for sustainable buildings sets out how developers should reduce construction waste, and the millennium community in Greenwich has already shown that that can be done. Local planning authorities are, of course, responsible for planning adequate provision for all sorts of waste. The issue is sensitive and my hon. Friend is right to raise it. Planning policy statement 10 clearly states that regional waste management strategies must be implemented, and we are working with local authorities to ensure that they are.
My hon. Friend correctly raised the need to protect natural habitats and wildlife, and, like him, we believe that communities benefit from a close relationship with green spaces. The Government are committed to ensuring that development is supported by green infrastructure that is accessible to all. A perfect example of that is ODPM funding for the Rainham marshes project. We have spent more than £5 million to open up a large site on the edge of London in Essex, where a brand new, high quality educational facility will be constructed.
My hon. Friend has raised the issue of schools being in the wrong places. Planning authorities are clearly required and obliged to ensure that there is a strong spatial context for development, so that facilities such as schools are sited in the most suitable locations. Because of population shifts and the ageing process, however, we all know that difficult questions sometimes arise.
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