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10.43 pm

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity tonight to present a petition on behalf of nearly 3,000 people from north-east Nottinghamshire concerning the dualling of the A46. You will be glad to hear that I shall be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the past six months, that road has accounted for just under 60 casualties. It is strangling Newark in terms of business opportunities and making sure that we cannot fully achieve the business potential that the town so desperately needs. That road needs to be dualled in order to link Newark with Lincoln and with Leicester and Nottingham in the other direction. Unless that 17-mile stretch of road is dualled in the near future, we will continue to have a disproportionate number of casualties and the town will continue not to achieve its full potential. Plans have been implemented to make sure that dualling occurs, but it now seems that those plans will be delayed indefinitely or even scrapped.

To lie upon the Table.

Children's Play Areas

10.45 pm

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I present a petition that

To lie upon the Table.
29 Mar 2006 : Column 1017

Friarswood Primary School

10.46 pm

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to present a petition on behalf of Friarswood primary school in Newcastle-under-Lyme—a wonderful school, attended by many of my friends when I was growing up in the town. It is a school that does so much for inclusion and special needs in my constituency. The petition has been signed by 2,448 parents, relatives, past pupils and local residents.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

29 Mar 2006 : Column 1018

Kent Science Park

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Dhanda.]

10.48 pm

Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): This is the third time that I have raised the issue of the Kent science park in the House. On 14 July 2004 I had an Adjournment debate on the issue, and on 2 February 2005 I had an Adjournment debate on the Kent and Medway structure plan in which I mentioned the science park. So I am extremely grateful that I have again been given the opportunity to raise the issue of the future of the Kent science park in my constituency.

In 2004 the Minister responding was my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), but he is now PPS to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The Minister who responded in 2005 is now a Minister in the Department for Education and Skills. I make no apology, therefore, for raising the issue yet again, because Ministers and indeed Departments move, sometimes more frequently than we would like. It is important that this issue remains in the in-tray at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

The Kent science park is still affectionately known locally as the Shell research centre. Shell had two research centres, and in one of its rationalisations closed the one just outside Sittingbourne in the mid-1990s. It was a blow to the town, because in many ways, it had been our postgraduate university. Many of its 900 staff could be found as leaders in our community. When it closed, part of the town died.

In due course, the research centre was bought and renamed the Sittingbourne research centre. It had the job of trying to attract small businesses of any description to the 116-acre site. There were several different owners, but gradually it attracted some science-based companies, some public sector organisations and some non-science-based companies. It has never been 100 per cent. full, and to my knowledge, is only 70 per cent. full at present. It has always had a more general business ownership than strictly science.

In the middle of 2004, Sittingbourne research centre, now owned by the De La Salle pension fund, which is part of the secretive Mars organisation, relaunched itself as the Kent science park. The new owners were smart. They persuaded my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister to join them in their relaunch, and from the outset this so-called association has made our local villagers from Bapchild, Rodmersham, Milsted, Tunstall and Bredgar assume, wrongly, that that meant that the Government had given their blessing and were working secretly with De La Salle to approve its grand expansion plans, of which more anon.

In Swale borough council's local plan for 2007–17, we have been asked by the Government to agree an additional 8,000 homes. I should add at this stage that as a result of the water shortage in Kent, I have written to my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning to ask her to put an immediate stop notice on all future build until the water shortage is resolved. It is madness for us, as the Government, to promote the notion of sustainable communities when not only do we face a water shortage, but it looks as if by 2020 we shall face a power shortage too.
29 Mar 2006 : Column 1019

We all know that the planning laws favour the developer. It is a huge sadness to me that after almost nine years we have not produced sufficient legislation to change the balance of power between the developer and the local community. In Sittingbourne and Sheppey, such is the quality of the leadership in our Tory councils at both borough and county level that almost every section 106 has failed to be taken up. There has been no new primary school at Warden Bay, no school at all at Thistle Hill in Halfway, and no additional recreational support for our great rugby clubs at Sheppey, plus no shops, pubs or village halls on the Meads estate. Moreover, what starts as 350, 500 or 750 houses in an initial plan always ends up as 550, 780 or 920. It is no surprise to me that there is sometimes a disconnection between our citizens and the political process.

Where is that more evident than with the Kent science park development? My constituents are involved in a cat and mouse chase. Kent science park cannot get enough adhesion to its ideas, so it is ducking and diving at every level. For instance, in the recent Kent and Medway structure plan—page 16, policy NK3, Swale 25—it says:

It continues:

this is the critical part—

The critical aspect of that is that if "science" is changed to a "technology and knowledge-based cluster", there does not have to be an affiliation with an academic institution. One of our bones of contention has been that there was no connection whatever to any international or national university.

Let me draw to the Minister's attention the scale of science and technology parks in the United Kingdom. I quote from the 2004–05 and 2005–06 UK science park statistics:

One can conclude from those statistics that the average science park employs around 861 people, the average number of tenants is 40, and the average floor space is 20,909 sq m. Kent science park currently has 56,000 sq m of floor space, nearly three times the national average. It wishes to create an additional 145,000 sq m of floor space, which means that it will account for approximately 17 per cent. of all the science park floor space in the United Kingdom. Kent science park is already one of the largest science parks in the country. At 116 acres, it is larger than Oxford science park at 75 acres and just a little smaller than Cambridge science park at 152 acres.
29 Mar 2006 : Column 1020

The owners of Kent science park plan to expand to more than 300 acres. The park will be required to expand its company base from 84 to approximately 375 companies. The largest employers in the park, which account for a large proportion of jobs, include Amicus Response Ltd, a housing association call centre and Galleon BBC magazine distribution centre. One can therefore get a feel of how much science is currently on the site.

At no time has De la Salle Investment Management introduced a plan to redevelop the current site of 116 acres. Unsurprisingly, neither Kent county council nor Swale borough council have demanded that. Both should be ashamed of themselves. There is substantial space on the current site for it to improve what it wants to do without developing on a greenfield site.

Science parks have become the vogue, and in all cases, they are attached to universities. Leeds university, Leicester university, Bristol university and Bath university announced science technology or innovation parks in 2001. Liverpool university and Liverpool John Moore's university followed suit in 2004. Interestingly, they are funded by the local regional development agency. London, too, followed suit. More recently, Nottingham and Nottingham Trent have also announced science parks.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a science enthusiast and has increased science research funding substantially in successive Budgets, but at university level. At the same time, he has ensured that our investment in share option tax breaks are better than those of California. According to last year's league tables in "The Times Good University Guide", notwithstanding the usual reservation about league tables, Kent was placed 44th and Greenwich was 94th. However, Kent has one newcomer, which constitutes the most stimulating part of the discussion. It is Imperial college, which is currently in Kensington, but owns Wye college near Ashford.

Imperial is ranked third in the UK, after Cambridge and Oxford, but first in technology and science. Although it is a university college of London, it recently announced its determination to become a full-blown university. Imperial is hampered by its location at Kensington, and it could not develop a science park except on its site at Wye.

I was the only Member of Parliament who attended the Kent and Medway discussions on science parks in September 2004. Kent county council said then that there was no intention to develop a science park at Ashford. However, late last year it announced a £1 billion science and technology park to be based at Wye college and run by Imperial and Kent county council.

I am not sure that one can have two science parks in Kent—one in Sittingbourne and the £1 billion science park. There is simply not enough investment or companies. If I were a young entrepreneur and I had a choice, I would choose Imperial, because of its history, rather than an independent science park.

The downgrading of the Kent science park to a technology cluster means that it will be no more than a glorified business park. The Minister should seriously consider asking the Thames gateway to downgrade the Kent science park as a flagship project, because it has been superseded by events at Imperial.
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Let me state some of the things that the Kent science park wants to do. According to its website yesterday, it wants to increase its floor space to 145,000 sq m. It wants a new £29 million motorway junction and southern relief road to connect the science park to the M2 and A2. It wants approximately 5,000 new dwellings—on top of the 8,000 that my community has already been asked to provide in the next 10 years. It wants a £3 million enhancement to the public transport system as a link to it, through the provision of additional buses and bus routes. We are not sure who will pay for that. It is prepared to put down a £5 million endowment for providing the academic campus but I believe that that, again, that is superseded by Imperial's intentions.

Kent science park wants to create a country park and a conservation park totalling 54 acres, but we already have a country and conservation park, called South Sittingbourne—a very beautiful place that houses five wonderful Saxon villages. I do not see the point of breaking up the countryside and putting it back in an artificial place, as is being suggested.

One of the reasons why Kent science park wants to do that is that the Government have provided £25 million for a northern relief road called the northern distributor road, which will give the 6,500 people who go to the Eurolink industrial estate every day fast and easy access to the estate without having to clog up the centre of Sittingbourne. Kent science park now wants to build a southern ring road to match the northern ring road. The game is this: it hopes that the Government will also pay for the southern ring road, even though there is absolutely no economic reason for it. And when we say that we are not prepared to build it because it is the responsibility not of the Highways Agency but of Kent county council, Kent science park will say, "Now we will have to build the 5,000 houses, because under section 106, that will allow the funding for the £28 million road."

We do not like the game that Kent science park is playing, because it is not representing what we feel that we need in our community. I hope that my hon. Friend understands that there is a great deal of concern about this in the five parishes—which contain 3,500 of my constituents—about the pace of this process, which goes against the feel and flavour of what we would like in our community for the next 10 years.

We have a local plan hearing after Easter, at which the future of the Kent science park will be debated, and of course I recognise that the Minister is hamstrung, because of the quasi-judicial role of his Department. I understand that he cannot comment too much on the matter tonight.

The only people who will benefit from the expansion of the Kent science park are the pensioners who benefit from the pension funds of De La Salle and Mars, the two farmers who own the land, and the consultants. After all, this will not be a science park; it will not offer added-value jobs for my community. It will be an ordinary business park, and we already have substantial business parks in the community, and substantial space left to develop for the next 10 years.

I will finish in a moment, but before I sit down, will the Minister tell me whether the De La Salle team can withdraw their plans at the local inquiry in April, May and June and appeal over the heads of the system
29 Mar 2006 : Column 1022
directly to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister? In conclusion, I can put it no better than Michael Peters did in a letter to the local paper. It was headed:

The letter reads:

published in the East Kent Gazette on 27 October—

I hope that that will be the case.

11.2 pm

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