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However, I have a huge disappointment that the Minister will be well aware of. For more than 18 months, I and Bedfordshire police—and, indeed, many other police forces throughout the country—have been trying to convince the Government that there is a very real problem with drivers who register their vehicles to addresses where the police cannot contact them. In response to my intervention on a Front-Bench colleague a few moments ago, the Minister said that the Association of Chief Police Officers told him that that was not a problem. Merely asserting that to be the case does not make it so. Officers from Thames Valley police and from the forces of Suffolk, Greater Manchester, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Essex, Nottinghamshire, Humberside,
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Derbyshire, Wiltshire, Warwickshire, Norfolk and Kent, to name but a few—those who actually have to do the job—have told Bedfordshire police that there is a very real problem. They have tried to feed that message up through ACPO. Perhaps there is a blockage in ACPO and its senior people are not listening to the officers on the ground who have to enforce the law, but there is a very real problem here.

I do not know why the Government have not moved on this matter; they have had plenty of warning. There have been two meetings at the Home Office and two at the Department for Transport, and we have had 18 months to look into this issue. In my constituency, there are horrendous examples of people driving unbelievably dangerously—speeding past cameras and jumping red lights time and again—whom the police can do nothing about. Bedfordshire police recently gave me a list of five fatalities, including that of an 18-month-old child, all of which could have been prevented if the Government had taken this issue seriously.

The Government say that the current law works properly. They did not like the amendments that I tried to put before them—we would have had before us a new clause 17 tonight—but at no time have they come forward with their own proposals, or any others, to deal with this matter.

Dr. Ladyman: I did not say that the current system is acceptable. What I said was that ACPO has given me a categorical assurance that it believes that this matter can be dealt with through policing techniques. Chief constable Med Hughes, who is the ACPO officer responsible for road policing, has told me that in his view—he believes that this is also the view of ACPO—this issue can be dealt with by different forms of policing. That is where he wants to put his efforts to start with, before we consider any further changes to legislation.

Andrew Selous: With the greatest of respect to the Minister and to the ACPO head of road policing, everything that I have been told by the officers on the ground who actually have to enforce the current law suggests that it does not work and that they simply have no options. The result is thousands of offences for which the fines are not collected, and the offences are repeated again and again; indeed, a whole morass of crime underpins this situation. Why would someone commit a crime in a vehicle other than one whose use means that they cannot be contacted? So I am afraid that I am not satisfied with the Minister’s answer.

9.58 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I just want to say a few words in strong support of the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who is my next-door neighbour, politically speaking. He is right to take a stronger line with errant drivers of the kind that he mentioned. I have always felt very strongly that we are too soft on this minority of drivers, who behave very badly and give a bad name to the millions of people who drive perfectly well and never cause an accident or an injury.


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I very much hope that the other place will bring back amendments on reducing the alcohol level for drink-driving. In the past—unusually, I suppose—I have supported the Liberal Democrats on this issue in a previous Bill. We should fall into line with other European countries and take a much more serious view of the effects of alcohol on driving. We have all no doubt had a glass of wine or beer and driven afterwards, and we all know that it does make a difference to the way that we drive, however slight. The proposed half-limits that the Europeans have will make a difference, compared with those that we currently have. The change will be incremental, but there is no question but that lives will be saved. It might be 50 or 30 lives, but they will still be lives, so it is important that we take this step. It will also help to educate us all about the necessity of being responsible when we drive. Such strict laws reinforce—

It being Ten o’clock, Mr. Speaker put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [8 March].

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

DELEGATED LEGISLATION

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),


Northern Ireland

Question agreed to.

EUROPEAN DOCUMENTS

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),


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Vehicle type Approval: Emissions Limits

Question agreed to.

Petition

Post Office Closures

10 pm

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): I wish to present a petition on behalf of the users of Cuddington post office in my constituency near Northwich. It is a great centre of their community where people can be confident that they will meet members of their community. The sub-postmaster needs to be congratulated and saluted for having very bravely withstood an armed attack on his post office just the other day, while this petition was being collected.

The petitioners declare that they

To lie upon the Table.


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Southend (Regeneration)

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

10.1 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): Regeneration was never an issue in the years that I represented Basildon because of the development corporation and the new town commission, which were entirely responsible for the vibrant economy that we all experienced then. What a contrast life is in Southend, where assistance is urgently needed with the regeneration of the wonderful seaside town, part of which I represent, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge).

Tonight I will be focusing primarily on the programmes of structural, economic and cultural development in Southend. However, the main goal underlying regeneration must be to capture and embed the town’s sense of identity. Hence the projects in the most visible and central areas of the town, including Victoria avenue, the high street and the seafront will be at the forefront of the educational, retail, office, culture and leisure initiatives planned for the future. Critical to this will be the use of the council’s land assets and a corresponding need to ensure that there is a deliverable strategy that also takes into account parking and transport needs and the sad issue of cliff slippage in Westcliff.

My own constituency of Southend, West, encompassing parts of Westcliff and all of Leigh-on-Sea, is often seen as being quite separate from the hub of Southend’s main town centre, but their fortunes are inextricably linked under Southend unitary authority, sharing the same public amenities, transport infrastructure, culture and leisure facilities, and, most importantly, a desire to see Southend thrive in the 21st century. Therefore, tonight I very much want to address some of the problems facing Southend. For instance, in the constituency that I represent of Southend, West, Leigh creek sadly needs dredging, which would take a considerable amount of money, but if it could be done it would help the cocklers and local fishermen.

There is no doubt that a major part of Southend’s revival will be its re-establishment as an attractive and vibrant seaside town for visitors and residents alike. Peter Hampson, who is a director of the British Resorts Association, has blamed transport policy for neglecting train routes to seaside resorts, noting that train fares to coastal towns are often more expensive than a flight to a European destination—we all realise that cheap flights will not continue for ever. In order to compete seriously with overseas locations, seaside towns need to offer the public more than nostalgia. As Professor John Lennon of Glasgow Caledonian university has noted:

Holidaymakers have become more sophisticated and demand more from seaside resorts.


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Southend’s early growth derived from its success as a fishing port, but that was overtaken in the late 19th century by internal tourism as rail infrastructure grew. Towards the middle of the previous century, the town diversified with local industrial and office economies. More recently, those sectors have declined in the town as commuters have made use of the two mainline stations, which connect to London. Despite the comprehensive rail network, Southend still suffers some of the worst traffic congestion in the eastern region, and public transport does not meet all needs at the moment.

Sustainable development must be the priority in the regeneration of Southend, which means continual inward investment building on the high number of business start-ups and investing in affordable housing for key workers and local people, which is controversial. Tourism has a major role in the town’s economy, and projects such as the redevelopment of Southend pier following, for the third time, a fire will be central to the town’s fortunes. That seasonal industry can thrive only in the presence of other strong local enterprises. I am delighted to say that Southend has been identified as a major regional centre in the Thames Gateway plan with an emphasis on culture and education, but we will need significant investment from outside the town if it is to fulfil that potential. Southend’s unsuccessful and perhaps controversial bid for a regional casino has been well documented. The important point is that Southend wanted a leisure complex, which would have benefited the town enormously.

In addition to attracting more people to Southend, it is essential that we continue to provide first-class public services for our constituents. For example, there was recently a successful world record attempt in my constituency for gathering together the greatest number of people aged over 100, and the ageing population has increasingly put public services in the spotlight. We are very fortunate to have Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which is reaching all its clinical targets while balancing its books, but other areas, such as social services, are currently under desperate pressure.

One problem that continues to undermine Southend borough council’s spending capacity are the woeful financial settlements awarded to it after the 2001 census, which miscalculated the town’s population by 20,000 people. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East and I had an unsatisfactory meeting with the Office for National Statistics, which was not followed by any movement, and local residents are suffering as a consequence. The Government grant to the council was reduced by £7 million, which has resulted in a 2 per cent. increase for 2006-07 compared with the national average increase of 3 per cent. That matter is a great concern for local residents.

The errors that led to the Government’s funding shortfall to Southend have needlessly damaged public services and the town’s faith in its council, which has had its hands tied on finance. Despite those setbacks, however, I am determined that the town should fulfil its place as the cultural hub of the Thames Gateway, a successful centre of learning through the expansion of the university of Essex Southend campus, a key location for transport and, importantly, accommodation during the Olympic games and a lively tourist destination that
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people from outside the area want to visit and of which local residents can be proud. Local identity has been pivotal for several regeneration success stories in the UK in terms of providing a sense of place. For instance, Newquay, Southport, Brighton and Blackpool have all established their identities very successfully.

Southend has been identified as the centre of culture and leisure in the Thames Gateway. As part of that project, the Government are looking to create 13,000 new jobs and several thousand new homes in Southend by 2021. The plan envisages that growth being achieved through employment-led regeneration to produce a more sustainable balance between housing and employment, with growth targets carefully calculated in an attempt to reduce out-commuting.

Renaissance Southend was incorporated as a private limited company on 18 March last year in response to the need for regeneration. Its objectives are to assist, promote, encourage, develop and secure regeneration in the social, physical and economic environment of Southend-on-Sea. The high street benefits from two mainline rail stations serving a large number of local stations within the immediate and adjoining urban areas. It also has good proximity to the seafront and a high number of seasonal visitors. However, although work is being undertaken to redevelop Victoria plaza, the quality of retail outlets on offer is generally not ideal for a town the size of Southend and reinforces the impression that residents generally may wish to shop elsewhere, which is very sad. In addition, despite Southend’s being reported as the “safest” place in the country to live in a crime survey earlier this year, there is a general perception that the high street is unsafe after shopping hours, which is largely exacerbated by pedestrianisation. I do not think that Southend high street has ever recovered from the loss of a major store called Keddies.

The diversity of the high street has recently been enhanced by the relocation of South-East Essex further education college. Work has also commenced on the next phase of the university of Essex campus, with a new enterprise and innovation faculty. A further phase of the university’s expansion will be the redevelopment of the Palace hotel, which is going great guns at the moment. It will be used as a conference and business training centre and is due to be completed in late 2007 through a £14 million grant from the Government’s sustainable communities fund, for which Southend residents are very grateful, and £1.5 million from the East of England Development Agency. Accommodating the further growth of the University of Essex and South-East Essex college will help to establish the centre of Southend as a cultural hub that could also include a new public and university library, and possibly even a performance and media centre. In addition, Prospects college, a privately run vocational training establishment, has already secured funding for the acquisition of a new site and is putting together funding for the construction of new premises that will significantly enhance vocational skills and training opportunities, particularly for construction-related trades.

The town is accessed by two principal east-west roads—the A127 and the A13. While the former is primarily an access route for commercial traffic to the main employment areas, it still suffers from severe
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congestion during peak hours at a number of junctions. Southend’s road network is not fit for purpose—the result of historical underfunding by all Governments. The employment-led regeneration objective of Thames Gateway South Essex will be severely constrained without investment in the arterial roads, and there is no evidence as yet that that will be forthcoming. The aforementioned budget shortfalls following the 2001 census forced Southend borough council to cease its subsidies to the two bus operators in the town, which in turn led them to axe all loss-making routes. That has been most harshly felt in the areas of Eastwood and Belfairs, and it has particularly affected senior citizens.

However, our transport problems in Southend will not be solved simply by diverting people on to public transport—commercial vehicles must be able to access businesses in the town too. The strategy for Southend’s regeneration must therefore include wide-scale plans for overhauling our road network. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East might want to mention the Ministry of Defence site in Shoebury. There are also issues regarding the Priory crescent development, which has not yet been signed off. Apart from that, there appears to be no commitment to any other major transport infrastructure for the town to support growth and regeneration.

Southend airport, which is run by Regional Airports Ltd. has planning permission for a new terminal and rail station plus a current application for an adjacent park-and-ride facility. It recently published a masterplan following the principles set out in the airports White Paper. It reflects its current business plan objective to increase passenger numbers to 1 million people per annum in the next four to five years. Of course, that is again rather controversial.

The local partners who are engaged with Renaissance Southend have worked hard to develop strategies aimed at overhauling the structural and cultural amenities in the town. Those strategies must tackle the town’s ailing tourist industry by re-establishing well-known landmarks such as Southend pier. However, as I said earlier, we cannot rely on a single modern monument and nostalgia alone. More active intervention is imperative. Local residents welcome any tangible and sensible assistance in the regeneration of Southend.

10.15 pm

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): I congratulate my colleague, neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess). I should like to make four points.

First, I reiterate my hon. Friend’s point about the 2001 census. Several meetings were held with Ministers in good faith to try to resolve the problem but it persists. Every time that the Government try to redistribute money via local government, Southend gets a poor deal. I hope that the Under-Secretary—an Essex Minister—can shed some light and perhaps even a ray of hope where other Ministers have failed to shine.


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