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Not only is there a failure to understand the demand for housing in London and elsewhere, there is also a failure to be imaginative about supply. The well known architect, Terry Farrell, has pointed out that a proper plan for dealing with some of that demand would involve significant development in the Thames Gateway. Simultaneously, that development could deal with the sort of problems that would arise from building on a floodplain, such as flooding as a result of worsening
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climate change. We could protect London and the Thames area and at the same time provide proper infrastructure for decent housing. That could be a way forward, but it is not discussed in the Government’s plans.

Justine Greening: Earlier, my hon. Friend mentioned the economic impact of immigration. He might be interested in the evidence presented to the Work and Pensions Committee yesterday by Professor Paul Gregg, an economic adviser to the Chancellor, who said that the impact of immigration on housing was not yet clear. Apparently, one of the challenges arising from the expanding work force is that the economy will have to grow at around 3 per cent. if we are tobe able to continue to provide those employment opportunities. That in turn will arouse severe inflationary pressures that the Bank of England will have to consider—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Interventions must be brief when so many hon. Members are still waiting to catch my eye.

Mr. Horam: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as she is right that it is a serious error of policy making not to analyse the connections between immigration and housing. The Government are guilty of allowing their political correctness to overtake them.

On planning—

Mr. Love: Will the hon. Gentleman give way before he moves on?

Mr. Horam: I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not mind, but I will not. We are rather short of time, as Madam Deputy Speaker has pointed out, and I have given way two or three times already.

The Bill makes it clear that the Mayor has powers in respect of planning. For example, clause 30 gives him a power of intervention in respect of a local planning authority’s local development scheme. It allows him to direct boroughs to prepare revisions to their local development schemes, and we all know what that is a recipe for: by general diktat, the Mayor will be able to overrule the well developed plans of boroughs such as Bromley.

The other curious thing about the Bill is that it gives the Mayor powers in matters where they appear unnecessary. For example, he is enjoined to look at all the health inequalities in the London area, but what on earth do we have NHS London or a strategic health authority for? That question is especially valid given the press release from NHS London dated yesterday, 11 December, that states:

That is an example of duplication—the Government are asking NHS London to do something, and then asking the Mayor to do exactly the same thing.

I believe that the Bill increases duplication, complexity, centralisation and cost. It lessens democracy and true localism. It is not the way forward for London.


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7.16 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I welcome this Bill, and the fact that it will extend the powers of the Mayor in important areas. I also welcome the fact that, for once, we are able to have a debate on London. Ever since the annual debate on policing was abolished, we have been unable to debate London fully in the way that we are doing tonight. I hope that the Government will consider allowing the House to have an annual Adjournment debate on London issues. That would be welcomed by most hon. Members present today.

Labour’s creation of the London Mayor and assembly in 2000 corrected the democratic deficit inflicted by the Conservative Government when they abolished the Greater London council in 1986. Since the restoration of city-wide government six years ago, Londoners have seen real and significant improvements to many aspects of life in the capital. The Audit Commission’s report on the GLA for last year said:

Uniquely among major cities across the world, London has seen a shift from private cars to public transport, assisted by investment and the introduction of the congestion charge. From 2008, the low-emission zone for London will cut pollution from road transport and improve air quality. The Mayor has been rightly praised for his strategies on climate change and affordable housing. The International Olympic Committee would not have awarded the 2012 Olympics to London without a city-wide government to oversee that great commitment.

The system of devolved government for London in the Greater London Authority Act 1999 has, on the whole, worked pretty well. It has enabled a strong executive Mayor to develop and implement strategies across a range of important policy areas. Some have suggested that the assembly’s inability to block mayoral policies represents a weakness, but a shared electorate does not mean a shared mandate. The Mayor is elected with an executive mandate, while the assembly is elected to scrutinise, and those roles should not be confused.

For example, if the bar for assembly amendments to the Mayor’s budget were to be lowered below the current two-thirds majority, London government could become gridlocked, with the GLA unable to set a legal budget. London government has been able to deliver, precisely because that sort of impasse is not possible.

According to the pamphlet jointly authored by the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) last month, the Conservative party is now

We might have thought, therefore, that tonight we would see the Opposition give their wholehearted support to the Bill and the proposed new powers. As usual, however, their position, especially in respect of planning, seems to be rather confused, opportunist, and downright misleading.

The case for giving the Mayor power to grant planning permission in a small, limited number of strategic cases must be obvious. At present, the Mayor
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has the power only to refuse schemes. That negative and lopsided power severely limits his negotiating position with both boroughs and developers, and hampers the delivery of needed housing, especially affordable housing and housing for rent, as we have discussed already.

In fact, over the past six years, the Mayor has directed refusal in fewer than 20 of the cases referred to him. Personally, I should have liked him to do so more often—including in my own patch, where very poor council estate regeneration schemes proposed by Tory Barnet council are going ahead. Generally, I believe that a negotiated solution has been achieved. I cannot see the Mayor using a new power to approve an application any more frequently than so far he has used the power to refuse. I agree with the comments about the need to define “strategic” clearly, but the Mayor has shown that he has behaved responsibly in the past and there is no reason to suggest that he would do otherwise in the future.

We have heard that the Liberal Democrats oppose the extension of the Mayor’s powers. Perhaps that is because of their own record and the way in which they have run authorities under their control. For example, the sort of case where the Mayor would have intervened to give approval was the St. Georges wharf scheme in then Liberal-Democrat-controlled Lambeth. The planning application was for hundreds of residential units, 40 per cent. of which were to be affordable, rising to 50 per cent. if funding from the Housing Corporation was made available. The scheme was supported by the Mayor and recommended for approval by Lambeth officers, but the Liberal Democrat council refused planning permission on the grounds that there was previous consent for a hotel.

After a public inquiry, the inspector granted permission, saying that there was a

The inspector continued:

was

and

That resulted in an award of costs against the council. That is an example of the Liberal Democrats’ grotesque waste of public money and officers’ time and of an unacceptable delay in the delivery of desperately needed housing for London.

Kate Hoey: In all honesty, I have to say that that scheme was opposed by the planning committee, including Labour members.

Mr. Dismore: The point that I make is made by my hon. Friend. The fact remains that the scheme was going to provide hundreds of homes in Lambeth. Homes are more important than a hotel. That is a strategic decision and an example of where the Mayor perhaps ought to have intervened. It illustrates the necessity of the positive planning powers that are proposed to enable the Mayor to implement the London plan. The
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unreasonable misuse of the local planning system to stymie developments of London-wide significance cannot be acceptable, particularly for the 60,000 Londoners who remain homeless. Over the last six years, the Mayor has proved that he is judicious in the use of his existing powers. The Bill will ensure that he becomes involved only in genuinely strategic issues for the benefit of London and Londoners.

I have to disagree with the Government over one area in the Bill: waste disposal. The Bill falls well short of the necessary steps to address that London-wide problem. The Government’s proposals do not deal with the fundamental challenge of the integrated and sustainable waste management that we need. The argument between a city-wide and a borough approach is not new. Twenty years ago, the Greater London council was responsible for co-ordinating and managing the disposal of London’s municipal waste. Since its abolition, London has fallen well behind many international comparator cities.

There are a surprising number of similarities between the problems that we now face in London and those confronting Londoners before the GLC. Much of the reasoning for a single London waste authority then remains relevant today. The 1960 Herbert commission, which led to the establishment of the GLC, concluded that the local authorities were

but added:

That is as true today as it was more than 40 years ago.

The GLC’s innovative approach turned the capital’s waste management service into a world leader. Within five years, the Edmonton solid waste incinerator had been planned, designed and built. Pioneering rail and river transfer stations were developed. The GLC embarked on a comprehensive plan to upgrade London’s waste management arrangements, many of which still reflected their Victorian origins. The GLC’s department of public health engineering was a centre of excellence in the planning and delivery of high quality waste management infrastructure and services. That was all ended by the Conservative Government’s abolition of the GLC.

London’s municipal waste management arrangements reflect the stagnation of the post-GLC 1985 contractual arrangements. Of the 33 London boroughs, 12 are unitary waste collection and disposal authorities. The other 21 are arranged into four joint authorities. That means that there are a total of no fewer than 16 waste disposal authorities, none of which is charged to act in London’s wider interests as a capital city. Although some boroughs perform well, others do not. Collectively, they fall well short of delivering what London needs.

In the last decade, London has slipped from being the fourth best region at recycling household waste to being the worst, failing to achieve the national recycling target of 25 per cent. in 2005. Twenty-nine of London’s waste authorities failed to achieve their statutory household recycling targets in 2003-04. There have been only 25 planning applications for waste
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management sites in London over the past five years: an average of only 0.15 per year per authority. London currently incinerates just under 20 per cent. of its waste. Despite the strongest regional policy supporting recycling and new technologies, that is set to rise to about 40 per cent. with current incineration plans. London would then account for almost half of England’s share of incineration. As London boroughs have not prioritised waste planning and management, they are highly likely not to meet the requirements of the landfill directive, risking Government fines. The GLA estimates London’s landfill allowance trading scheme liability to be £1.7 billion from 2005 to 2020.

The Corporation of London runs the London hazardous waste collection service on behalf of the boroughs. That service consists of only two vehicles for the whole of London—one collecting chemicals, the other asbestos. From the 3 million homes in London in 2005, that service collected only 10 tonnes of asbestos and 1 tonne of chemicals a month—a fraction of the estimated total. Hazardous materials in black bags inevitably end up in landfills outside London or being burned in incinerators, resulting in pollution.

It is hard to see how the cautious package of measures in the Bill addresses those serious problems. The proposed requirement for boroughs to be in “general conformity” with the Mayor’s strategy will end in court disputes between the Mayor and the boroughs. The Mayor is not permitted to be proactive in bringing forward and implementing city-wide plans for recycling, tackling climate change, minimising transport movements and realising efficiency savings. No other global city has such fragmented and divisive arrangements. Although the Mayor may write policies to tackle litter into his municipal waste management strategy, the Government have decided to exempt local authorities’ litter duties from even their weak requirements of “general conformity”. That is despite London being the worst performing region for litter, with 86 per cent. of Londoners expressing dissatisfaction—as we all know from our constituents’ complaints to us.

The proposed London waste and recycling forum may bring stakeholders together, but, with no legal powers, it is highly unlikely to put forward solutions for London. Voluntary arrangements have failed London for the past 20 years, so there is no cause for optimism that they will suddenly start to work now. The proposed London waste and recycling fund will be financed by diverting money from the boroughs’ waste and performance efficiency grant. Gershon efficiencies that could be achieved through a single waste disposal authority—estimated at £40 million—are not being realised. The Mayor’s proposal for a single waste disposal authority offers a number of benefits. It provides strong and effective leadership through a mayoral-led functional body. It would improve the commercial attractiveness of London’s waste market by reducing the number of decision makers and hurdles to clear, working with Transport for London, the London Development Agency, the energy sector and London boroughs to deliver solutions.

Waste management can make a positive contribution towards climate change. A co-ordinated approach can reduce transport movements. It could involve investment in our canals and using waste to produce biofuels and hydrogen to fuel London’s buses. However, that needs organising at a city level. It cannot be implemented by
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16 different waste disposal authorities. The need for innovation and efficient delivery has not changed significantly since the GLC’s abolition. When the Government gave the Mayor strategic responsibility for municipal waste in London through the formation of the Greater London authority, they conceded that existing arrangements were not delivering for London. It is now time for the Government to go one step further to ensure that they do.

I understand that the Government’s concern is that collection and disposal should be carried out by one authority only, because they believe that to be somehow better or more efficient. However, that argument simply does not stand up to scrutiny. Two-tier authorities in London, where collection is carried out by the borough and disposal is carried out separately by the four joint authorities, perform as well—or perhaps I should say, no worse—as borough councils that do both, in terms of recycling. Outside London, district councils collect and shire counties dispose of waste. Some of the shires and districts, with that divided relationship, are among the best performers in the country. What is important is that the waste disposal authority has adequate powers to ensure that the collection authorities deliver their waste to disposal facilities in a specified manner.

Collection is fundamentally a local issue. It is dependent mainly on how far a rubbish truck can be driven in a day. Disposal requires significant investment in facilities and planning at a city-wide level, with the ability to co-ordinate the transfer points for collection authorities. It makes clear sense to do that on a city-wide basis to minimise transport movements, to ensure that facilities and contracts of the appropriate size are delivered, and to make full use of economies of scale and efficiencies.

London’s waste governance arrangements are failing. A step change is required if we are to show that we are serious about the environmental challenges that London faces. The measures proposed in the Bill shift money from the boroughs to the Mayor, create talking shops and invite planning disputes; they do not ensure efficient, sustainable co-ordinated waste management.

As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said in 1985, in his capacity as Environment spokesperson, when discussing the proposals for post-GLC waste management:

I thus urge the Government to reconsider their position and to propose amendments to create a single waste disposal authority for London. This important matter remains to be resolved, so I hope that it will be considered in much more detail in Committee.

With that caveat, the Bill represents a major step forward for the governance of London. It provides for further devolution that builds on the previous arrangements that we put forward to meet our manifesto commitment when we were first elected. The Bill shows the Government’s commitment to London, to devolution and to ensuring that we have a proper city-wide administration. It is regrettable that Opposition parties do not intend to support the Bill wholeheartedly tonight. That shows that they care little about London and Londoners.


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