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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(7) (Programme motions),

Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill [lords] (Programme)

Question agreed to.

Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill [lords] [money]

Queen’s recommendation having been signified——

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.

6 Oct 2008 : Column 104


Post Offices (Essex)

8.53 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): I rise to present a petition that represents the views of many thousands of my constituents who believe, as I do, that the Government should adopt a positive policy of supporting post offices. Post office closures hurt the whole community, but they disproportionately hurt vulnerable people, in particular the disabled, pensioners and people with young families. I warmly congratulate and thank the good and caring residents of my constituency who took the trouble to sign this petition and send it to me during the recess.

The petition states:


Planning and Development (Essex)

8.55 pm

Bob Spink: I shall be very brief, since I tabled a petition similar to this one just before the House went into recess. I received this one in August. Residents of Castle Point believe—to my mind, correctly—that public land that is used as open space by the community and has been for decades should be protected by the council, yet Castle Point council has yet again acted against the public interest and failed to protect the land in question. I congratulate each and every resident who, by signing this petition, showed that they really do care about the community in which they live and are prepared to act on its behalf.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The Petition of J Everett, the residents of Castle Point and others,

Declares that they suspect that there is a hidden agenda in respect of the public open space bounded by the Chase Thundersley on the north side, and by Runneymede Chase on the east side. They have reached this conclusion first, because a large area adjacent to the annex of the SEEVIC College has been fenced off and they challenge the legal right for this to have been done. Secondly, because Castle Point councillors have decided to no longer regularly cut the grass allowing it to become largely overgrown, and they suspect this is an attempt by councillors to deter people from using the public open space so that the land can be developed. Thirdly, because lately it appears that students of SEEVIC College have been allowed or encouraged
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to take over the area during breaks, making other users of this public open space feel like interlopers and leaving the space littered with food wrappers, drinks cans and bottles and other rubbish, adding to its dereliction.

They further believe that this land, like all public assets, belongs to the people, not to the council or the councillors, and councillors should respect that fact and keep the public fully informed of their and their officers’ discussions and intentions regarding land use and the future of all our public assets.

They therefore urge councillors to return this land to full and proper public use and to protect it in future, for many valid planning and community interest reasons, and to ensure that this matter is dealt with by councillors rather than officers given its importance to the wider community and the need to protect their valuable public open spaces.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to press all Castle Point councillors, since they have the direct responsibility for this matter, to ensure this public open space is retained for its ancient and established previous use and to immediately publish its discussions and intentions regarding land in this area and behind the Runneymede swimming pool and to be transparent in future with the public on all planning and land use matters.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.]


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Regeneration (Southend)

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

8.57 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): It might seem like only yesterday, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we had the summer Adjournment debate, but it was actually quite a long time ago and an awful lot has happened since then. I want immediately to congratulate the Minister on his elevation to membership of the Privy Council. It is an honour that is well deserved, and I wish him well with his deliberations as a Privy Councillor.

This Adjournment debate concerns the regeneration of Southend. Of course, those people who have had the delight of visiting Southend might say, “Why on earth does it need regenerating?” I say to the Minister that it certainly needs some assistance in the regeneration process that it is undergoing, but I want to thank all those who have given assistance thus far. Given the very difficult times in which we are operating, we need a great deal of assistance with our regeneration process in Southend, but saying that is in no sense to be churlish or not to thank the Government and all the agencies for their assistance thus far.

We are blessed with an excellent council in Southend, ably led by Councillor Nigel Holcroft and his deputy, Councillor John Lamb, and we have a first-class chief executive, Mr. Robert Tinlin. However, in advertising that he is a first-class chief executive, I do not want anyone to try to entice him away from Southend, because he is doing a very good job for us. The council has decided that the overarching rationale for regeneration in Southend from its perspective is to make the borough as a whole a better place to live, work and invest in, and to visit. The council, along with the various partners, is working towards that end. It has decided on a delivery plan comprising three points—an economic development and tourism strategy, a regeneration framework, and a central area master plan.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) will, with the Minister’s permission, be able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I believe that he will probably make some more detailed comments about the regeneration process. I shall not waste the House’s time tonight by going into detail about each of the partners with which Southend’s council is operating. I simply say to the Minister that it is working with a lot of partners, and in these difficult economic times we need co-ordination, because it is confusing for my hon. Friends and my constituents to work out where the help is originating. I know that the Minister will not have time tonight to respond in detail to the various points that I shall make, but I hope that he will reflect on the fact that too many agencies are involved in the delivery process. Such a situation involves some sort of bureaucracy and that will be expensive.

I shall briefly raise many points. I know only too well of the Minister’s experience as a Treasury Minister, so I say to him that one of the most important issues for the council in terms of the success of Southend’s economy is the lack of fit-for-purpose office stock and, consequently, employers are frustrated in their demands. The council believes that the Government could assist in one immediate way: by stopping the recent application of business rate
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tax on empty, redundant buildings. The effect of the tax has been the demolition of buildings that would otherwise have been partially let to small businesses. I know that he does not have a blank cheque and that this issue is a nationwide one, but if ever he has the time and opportunity to visit Southend—we would welcome a visit from him—he could see at first hand how that particular policy, despite the best of intentions, has had an adverse effect on Southend.

My hon. Friend won his seat of Rochford and Southend, East in 2005. Before that, I had been devastated by the impact of the 2001 national census. I have raised that matter on many occasions in the House and I have had meetings with councillors, officials and the people responsible for the national census. I found all the arguments unconvincing; how could it possibly have been claimed that Southend’s population had reduced by 20,000? According to that national census, Southend’s population reduced from 180,000 to 160,000, but that was simply not possible. Anyone living in Southend knows that its population has increased, but the Government have to work within their own guidelines and, as a result, we received £7 million less than would otherwise have been the case. This was a very serious issue, although I shall not bore the House by going over the arguments that I have advanced on many occasions. I simply say to the Minister that a New Local Government Network report published on 20 August bore out the council’s assertion that the population was underestimated by between 16,000 and 20,000 because of

Not one person was prosecuted for not filling in the census form. It is without doubt the case that, far from falling, the population in Southend is growing. However, we suffered financially from the national census.

On a positive note, I had the privilege of chairing the Committee on the London Olympics Bill. Of course, I had to remain impartial, but now I am free to say that I am a wholehearted supporter of the Olympic games. I was born in the east end of London, and seeing what is happening there now gives me great joy. I am determined that, in 2012, Southend will be at the heart of the Olympic games. Southend is on the London boundary. Indeed, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) would claim that his constituency is the boundary, but Southend certainly has a good claim.

I have listened carefully to what the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has said about our plans for the opening ceremony. We will not try to compete with Beijing—we do not have 2,012 people to bang drums for a start—but it is a splendid idea that the various towns in London will help to celebrate the games. My dream is that the pier in Southend, which is the longest pier in the world, will somehow be used in the opening and closing ceremonies. The pier would provide us with a unique opportunity to show the rest of the world, against the background of the wonderful River Thames, the joy that everyone feels as a result of our having the Olympic games in 2012. I will bang on and on about that, just as my former colleague who represented Bournemouth, East used to bang on about the millennium bug and computers.

6 Oct 2008 : Column 108

The British performance in the Olympic and Paralympic games was wonderful, whether one is interested in sport or not, and we should all take pride in that. I am therefore very excited by the prospect of having the games here in 2012 and I am delighted that Southend and Essex county council are working with the Government to ensure that we are involved in the celebrations. I hope that the Government will give us a little more help to promote the top-class diving facilities that we are developing at Garon park. They will include a 10 m platform, which will be the only one in the east of England, and it will be used as a practice site for Olympic divers. Southend has produced some successful Olympic divers, and this will be the best facility in the country. It will be a wonderful training site, and I hope that we can attract some of the visiting countries to use the facilities as their base.

It is also excellent news that the mountain biking events will take place at Hadleigh castle, which is just on the border of Leigh-on-Sea in my constituency. Local residents are very excited by the opportunity. It is probably too late to change, but I wish that we could have had the sailing off Southend, as well as other activities based there, such as women’s football at the new Southend football stadium, which will be ready in about 18 months. The Minister will be pushing at an open door in terms of Southend’s enthusiasm for the Olympic games. I hope that he will regard Southend as part of London, albeit on the cusp of the city.

The new swimming and diving pool in Garon park in Eastern avenue is due to be opened in 2010 and Southend council has set aside £10 million for the project. It will provide a valuable diving training site for our local athletes. The Warrior square pool will be demolished and we will have a wonderful facility at Garon park. Southend has had three Olympic divers in recent years and 20 international divers from both junior and senior squads. The council thought, as one has to specialise in some area, that that would offer a good opportunity to do so. Any help from the Government would be greatly appreciated. It will not be a 50 m Olympic pool, however, but a 33.3 m one, as my old constituency, Basildon, has the 50 m pool. I hope, given that Basildon is quite near to Southend, West, we will be able to link up there to celebrate the activities of the swimmers, too.

The need to attract international swimming teams is particularly acute following the closure of the 50 m pool at Crystal Palace. I am delighted that Garon park has been selected as a pre-games training camp and I hope that we can build on that. I am absolutely delighted that we have also been designated a Paralympic training camp for boccia, goalball, sitting volleyball, wheelchair fencing and wheelchair tennis. Southend council is working very closely with Essex county council to promote that in whatever way they possibly can.

I have already mentioned the pier. Sadly, we have not had one fire on Southend pier, nor two fires, but three fires, and that is very regrettable. I do not know whether the Minister has ever had the opportunity to visit the end of Southend pier on the train, but it is a wonderful leisure facility. Obviously, to have suffered three fires is pretty devastating and any extra assistance that we could be given to help with the regeneration of that Victorian pier would be greatly appreciated. For instance, the rotten decking urgently needs repairing and we are
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desperate for financial support. If any assistance could be given, through whatever funding, towards repairing the deck, that would be greatly appreciated.

I am very grateful for the assistance that has been given recently in improving some of our road networks, such as the A12 and other roads, but I want to make a few brief points about Priory crescent. Before my hon. Friend became the Member for Rochford and Southend, East, that became a contentious local issue. In summary, we are talking about traffic congestion in Southend. There is a very famous park called Priory crescent and it was deemed that a road widening scheme should be embarked on. Local residents became upset because that would have meant cutting down some very old trees and a number of houses would have been blighted as a result of the scheme. A number of campaigning individuals have set up a camp on site and have been there for a number of years. The argument about the scheme has gone on and on. Given that money is very tight at the moment and that widening the road would be very expensive, I would have thought that it was advisable for the Department to reflect on the project.

The Minister might not have time to say much about it this evening, but it would be helpful to say that we need to look again at that project. The scheme is expensive, but for it to have hung over local residents for so long is, to say the least, very unhelpful indeed.

The road improvement schemes that are welcome, because the Government awarded £4 million to the council to improve Southend’s roads, include the resurfacing of Kenilworth gardens in Westcliff, Chalkwell esplanade and Elm road in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East. A cycle route from Chalkwell avenue to the seafront will also be embarked upon. I am very grateful for that.

Given the Minister’s time in the Treasury, he will be aware of the reorganisation of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. In Southend, we have very few large employers, and HMRC is a very important employer in the town. The announcement that 400 jobs would be cut over the next three years, which would cause a 20 per cent. reduction in the Southend work force, is absolutely devastating. That decision seems rather bizarre, given what the different agencies that help the regeneration of Southend have said about employment prospects, and it would be a devastating blow to the local economy. I simply ask the Minister to look again at that proposal.

I will not get into arguments tonight about housing in Southend, because there is no land to build on in my constituency. It is not an issue in Southend, West; it is more of an issue for my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East. However, I want to touch on other issues very quickly, one of which is cliff slippage. Again, if the Minister does not have time to respond now, perhaps he will write to me. A few years ago, the cliffs in Southend began to slip. One of the things that we are very strong on in Southend is the parks department’s planting of the cliffs—absolutely magnificent—but unfortunately, we suffered a mile-long slippage. One of the Minister’s colleagues was helpful and responsible for allocating some money for the restoration of the cliffs, but we need more, because the cliffs have continued to slip and dealing with that has proved more expensive than we expected.

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