Select Committee on Public Accounts Sixty-Second Report

3  Benefiting local residents

21. The Department has set out an ambitious vision for the Thames Gateway to be a world class region with unrivalled locations for living and working. The quality of housing developments is currently below expectations, however, with only 17% of schemes in the South East assessed as 'good' or 'very good' by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. The Department is attempting to encourage better development and has established a target of 50% of Thames Gateway homes to be rated 'good' or 'very good' by 2010, but it has few direct levers. Public sector bodies are trying to raise the overall quality of developments in the Thames Gateway by investing in key sites. They hope to raise the overall level of development in the Thames Gateway so that the market will develop to a high standard as a matter of course.[22]

22. The Regional Assemblies estimate that the 160,000 new homes will bring an additional 350,000 people to the Thames Gateway. The Department has established a target of 180,000 new jobs to be created in Thames Gateway based on the amount of available land in the Thames Gateway that will be used for commercial purposes. The Department does not know how many of the new jobs will go to existing residents and how many will go to the 350,000 inward migrants. There are no processes in place to encourage the recruitment of existing residents to new jobs, although the Department is working with the Learning and Skills Council to improve the general skills levels across the Thames Gateway to make existing residents more economically competitive.[23]

23. Investment in the Thames Gateway is likely to lead to increases in land and house prices. There is a risk that local residents may be priced out of their local community if insufficient affordable housing is provided. The Department has recognised the need to increase the levels of affordable housing and this is a key requirement of planning permissions for key sites such as Barking Riverside and Ebbsfleet Valley. The Department is waiting until after the Comprehensive Spending Review to determine a Gateway-wide affordable housing plan.[24]

24. Local Authorities and other service providers will need to be provided with the resources to cope with the 22% increase in population that the new homes will create. The Department told the Committee that they were working with the Office for National Statistics to ensure local government funding better reflects projections of future population. Local Authority funding is currently allocated on the basis of current population and prior trends in population growth which do not fully take into account recent migration. The Department said that the new formula would be in place nationally from autumn 2007.

25. The Committee received a number of submissions from local Members of Parliament complaining about the Department's lack of parliamentary consultation. The Department have met the Thames Gateway parliamentary group on a six monthly basis, but this has not been sufficient for all local MPs to feel engaged with the programme. Local constituency MPs would be able to act as effective champions of the programme and help make the case across Whitehall, whilst also providing an effective route into community consultation and engagement.[25]

22   C&AG's Report, paras 1.1, 4.16, 4.18, Figure 23. The 17% figure refers to the whole of the South East including the Thames Gateway, and is considered representative of development in the Thames Gateway. Back

23   C&AG's Report, paras 2.3, 4.8; Figure 7, footnote 13; Qq 29-35 Back

24   C&AG's Report, Appendix three, para 17; Qq 107-108 Back

25   Qq 64, 84-90, 131 Back

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