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24 Feb 2010 : Column 99WH—continued

I have responded to the Mayor's consultation in support of that proposal, but urged that any crossing should not be just a road crossing. It is not sufficient just to build road capacity without expanding public transport capacity. It would be folly to build just a road, without including capacity to bring the docklands
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light railway to north Greenwich. North Greenwich is developing as a transport hub and interchange for south-east London, and the natural progression for that development would be to bring the docklands light railway to north Greenwich.

I have responded to the Mayor with three specific proposals, on which I consulted many constituents. More than 700 have indicated their support for my proposals, and the number is growing. First and foremost, we need to deal with the congestion at the Blackwall tunnel by building the Silvertown link. Secondly, that Silvertown link should include a facility for the docklands light railway to come to North Greenwich station. The third point-which is probably the most important for my constituents-is that once the docklands light railway reaches North Greenwich, it would be more feasible and cost effective to bring it along the A102 and A2 to places such as Eltham, than it would be to cut a tunnel through Shooters hill from the spur at Woolwich town centre. I believe that that has been looked into, but it may have been dismissed.

Those are three specific proposals: the Silvertown link, the DLR to North Greenwich, and the DLR to Eltham. I have had some success with the proposals as they have generated discussion locally, which was part of the objective. Unfortunately, the local Tories have decided that they are opposed to the plans, which is rather short-sighted, and it has prompted the Green party to say that we should not have the DLR, but we should have the Jubilee line. I would not dismiss either, but I am happy that the debate has started.

Most significantly-joking aside-I am delighted that Greenwich council has decided to put a substantial amount of money into a feasibility study to look at the possibility of bringing the DLR to Eltham. That welcome step has a lot of support from local people. Whatever the outcome, whether it is my proposal or something else that comes out of the discussion, we cannot ignore this issue. Doing nothing is not an option.

The Department for Transport forecasts that road traffic will grow by about 32 per cent. between 2006 and 2025. London's congestion is forecast to increase by 30 per cent. However, over the same period, congestion on highways authority trunk roads is forecast to increase by 37 per cent. My constituency of Eltham is bisected by the A2 and the A20, and we will need to address the problems of congestion and pollution associated with that. For my constituency, "business as usual" is not acceptable because the developments that are taking place along the east Thames corridor and in the Kent area will exacerbate the problems that are already experienced.

Daily congestion is an environmental nightmare. However, I suggest that new technology will change the argument about the environmental and global warming potential of vehicles over the next generation, and increasingly, congestion will become the issue that we want to address because of its impact on people and businesses. Because of the environmental consequences, it is not fashionable to suggest that we build and expand our road network. However, as we see new technologies such as hydrogen cell, hybrid and electric vehicles on our roads, our attention will increasingly be drawn to dealing with the issue of congestion as the environmental impacts reduce. We must begin to plan for that situation.

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We have made mistakes in the past. It is fair to say that the previous Mayor was too anti-car and tried to design the car out of all commuter journeys to and from work. However, people desire to use their car for journeys to and from the point of embarkation on public transport, and that is what we have failed to facilitate in the past. The folly of the current Mayor is that he sees the car as an issue of human rights and freedom of choice, and he is blinkered to the inevitable impact that increasing congestion will have. If we, and the Mayor, do not start to plan to deal with these problems now, we will look with envy on the days of the relative high speed of the horse and cart.

We must accept that our road space is finite, and whether we believe that global warming is fact or fiction-and I believe that it is a fact-we will suffer the consequences of congestion. That is why I urge us to deal with the issue where the problems occur. I caution against the grand project of building huge new infrastructures such as new river crossings in new locations. Inevitably, that will create new problems and suck in more resources to deal with those problems. We need to look at the existing road network and make maximum use of the space that we have. Where we identify pinch points, such as the Blackwall tunnel, we should deal with them and try to make efficient use of our resources.

We must ask how we are going to contain growth. The figures in the Transport for London travel report of 2007 show some remarkable facts. For instance, the number of cars entering central London in 1993 was 155,000 per day. That is now down to 78,000-almost half. However, if one looks at the figures before 2002, when the congestion charge was introduced, we see that the reduction in the number of cars entering central London was greater before the congestion charge than it was after its introduction. The number went from 155,000 to 105,000 cars per day during the peak period of 7 am to 10 am between 1993 and 2002, while from 2002 to 2006, it went down to 78,000, which indicates that where public transport is available, reliable and efficient, people will make that choice, even without the stick of the congestion charge. We can achieve a modal shift.

We need to invest more in public transport and not focus so much on the necessity of charges, although they may be necessary in certain places. When the infrastructure is built, and if it is possible to impose a toll for people who are travelling long distances, I would like to see local people favoured and either not charged or charged a minimum amount. Charges for road space might be necessary, but figures show that people will make the switch if we improve our public transport network.

We have had experience of that in Greenwich, and before I conclude, I want to point out to the Minister that we need to review the way in which we assess the cost benefits of major schemes. There are three examples from Greenwich in which we have had to take on the Government of the day-including this Government over Crossrail-to get ourselves included in major infrastructure projects. First, when the docklands light railway was going to Lewisham, there was no plan to have a station at the Cutty Sark location. Greenwich town centre is the biggest tourist destination in London outside central London. Today, the idea of not having a
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DLR station at the Cutty Sark is frankly ridiculous, but that is what was planned. Thanks to the council taking on the Government and putting in its own resources, we got the station.

There was a similar story with the Jubilee line. One could not imagine having no Jubilee line station for the O2 today-I do not know how most people would have got there on the night of the millennium celebrations if we did not have the Jubilee line. Again, that is thanks to local politicians, who forced the Government of the day to accept that it was necessary to have a station at North Greenwich. As I have already said, that station is now a major transport interchange.

Similarly, there was the Crossrail row over Woolwich. The idea that the line would go under Woolwich but that there would not be a station was ridiculous. It is a major transport hub for south-east London, and we won the argument to force people to recognise the improvements. The first two of those schemes are now among the busiest stations on those networks, and it is unthinkable that we would not have had them. That highlights some flaws in how we assess the value of investing money in such schemes.

Let me make one or two suggestions. We need to think the unthinkable. We need to think about things that until now have not been considered viable or have been considered slightly off the beaten track, if hon. Members will excuse the pun. There are certain things that we need to consider. For instance, in relation to some of our urban motorway networks, we need to assess how we use the space and use motorways to provide more rapid transport networks.

One issue is guided buses or express bus routes. I have been successful in lobbying TfL to introduce the 132 bus from Eltham to North Greenwich, which is a direct bus route that goes down the motorway. The bus gets caught in traffic jams at certain times, but it has been an enormous success. It has opened up a new commuter route for people who want to travel into London via London transport systems or into the docklands. The bus route is now about 15 minutes from Eltham, whereas the previous route took 45 minutes because it was such a circuitous journey. By introducing faster transport links such as those along our urban motorways, we can encourage more people on to public transport.

Hard-shoulder running on our motorways to provide bus lanes is another issue. The M6 scheme has proved very successful at relieving congestion when the road is heavily congested. We could consider providing bus lanes on our urban motorways where appropriate. Park-and-ride schemes around our major cities are something that we have not developed, but if we really want to reduce congestion on our motorways, we, and the Mayor, should look at proposals for car parking around routes such as the M25 and for bringing people in on our motorway networks. Perhaps it would be a good use of the bendy bus to bring it along those motorways. For many years, I have advocated the use of our urban motorways as corridors to introduce light rail, hence my suggestion that we could bring the DLR to Eltham via the A102 and A2 and use the land adjacent to it or even above it for that purpose.

We need to deal with congestion on our roads and overcrowding on our trains. The expansion in capacity is essential, but building roads alone will not be the solution. We also need to expand our public transport network. The biggest cost in all this is to do nothing.

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11.21 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr. Brady. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) on securing the debate. Let me at the outset, in the short time available, place on the record my knowledge of his unstinting work on transport of all types: roads, public transport, the DLR and, indeed, as I have learned this morning, bus route 132. Those forms of transport are important to those who use them, and I recognise that increasing such options is fundamental.

My hon. Friend spoke about containing growth, but the issue is more about how we accommodate growth. I am sure that what he meant was how we deal with a vibrant city where we want to see job and leisure opportunities, and where we want visitors to our capital city to be able to move around with ease, and how we do that in a way that tackles two goals: dealing with the climate change and emissions agenda, and dealing with the congestion agenda. Both were highlighted in the Eddington and Stern reports and they are two of the critical goals for the Department for Transport in all the work that it undertakes, whether it relates to local transport, underground trains, aviation, shipping or other modes of transport.

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the responsibility for transport in London rests primarily with the Mayor, but Transport for London receives substantial sums of money in the form of a block grant from my Department to deliver transport services. I am sure that my hon. Friend is also aware that in the past nine years or so, that money has more than doubled, increasing to almost £3 billion in 2009-10. As he recognised, that investment, coupled with fare income and other resources, has helped to facilitate a number of substantial improvements. The number of journeys on the tube and on buses has therefore increased. Indeed, bus patronage has grown by almost 50 per cent. in the past 12 years. That is because of the commitment that has been made to investing in public transport. In London, 90 per cent. of the population are within 400 metres of a bus stop. That is about encouraging people to use such transport. Where there is good, reliable public transport, people will use it rather than getting in their cars, as evidenced by figures that my hon. Friend used.

South-east London is served primarily by TfL's bus and road network, the docklands light railway, local authority roads and Southeastern Trains. It will also be covered by the extended East London line, which will open shortly as part of TfL's London Overground services.

Clive Efford: I accept that all the major investments that the Minister has mentioned are in inner south-east London, but although the East London line has been called the London orbital route, unfortunately my constituency is outside its orbit.

Paul Clark: I recognise what my hon. Friend is saying but, equally, he will be aware, given his comments, that the issue is not just about south-east London, but about wider areas. There are important benefits to the provision
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and not just for people living in the immediate catchment area. It will bring people in and take people away from other forms of transport, which will then be available for his constituents to use. I am sure that they will benefit from that provision.

As a frequent user of the Blackwall tunnel, I am well aware of the problems relating to it. The Mayor, in his draft transport strategy, has talked about options and progressing

There is nothing to indicate how that would happen in terms of funding packages. As my hon. Friend will be aware, in relation to the Silverlink crossing, TfL had provided £351 million-worth of private finance initiative credits, which of course disappeared as soon as the Mayor decided that he was not going to progress. I am delighted that the debate has started, because that is exactly what needs to happen so that we solve the problem. The issue is important for local people, but it is not only important for the capital. It is also important for UK plc.

My hon. Friend may be interested to know that London is part of the work that we have been undertaking on getting congestion levels down on particular routes. Today, we have announced the latest round of awards from our congestion fund, and London has received a further £6 million, bringing the total to some £13.5 million on congestion measures over the past three years to help TfL in that process.

Let me briefly cover some of the other points that my hon. Friend raised. On rail services, he asked about the plan for 12-car trains and when that plan would be implemented. It is due to be completed by 2012. It was interesting that the hon. Members who formerly belonged to the official Opposition could not stay to hear my response. Perhaps that is because I was going to respond on the improved services that they have received because of the investment and commitment given by the present Government.

Southeastern Trains recognises that the pattern of service provided in the adverse weather was not acceptable, which is why a review is under way. The chief executives of Southeastern Trains, of Southern and of South West Trains have written to the director of operations at Network Rail to ask for an investigation of the operation of the third rail during the freezing conditions. The reason why things improved on 9 January was that, overnight temperatures were not as severe as they were between 6 and 8 January. I see my hon. Friend grinning, but let me say that a report is going to be produced. Let us examine it, then make a considered judgment on what we believe to be the case.

Time is pressing. My hon. Friend has raised a substantial number of important issues, not least the need for proper commitment from all concerned to deliver an infrastructure that meets the requirements of a capital city-

Mr. Graham Brady (in the Chair): Order.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

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Property Taxation

[John Cummings in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): I am delighted to have secured this debate on property taxation. As I shall make clear, I will not cover the whole subject as I am not qualified to do so. I shall focus on two specific aspects-second homes and holiday lets-and the problems that arise as a result of how property taxation applies to those sectors. Some may wish to comment on other aspects of property taxation, such as stamp duty or income tax, as they relate to rental income. I take this opportunity to thank Antony Seely and others working in the House of Commons Library, who have been most helpful in digging out material and information for me.

I start with an apology. If at all possible I try to avoid debates or inquiries on Treasury and taxation matters, as I find the subject deeply esoteric. Indeed, as with the present subject, I often find myself parachuted into the depths of a forest of tax regulations without a map, let alone a sat-nav. When dealing with the issue of property taxation, I find myself in an undergrowth, an impenetrable tangle of inter-related matters on domestic and residential property taxation. If I lose my way this afternoon, I appeal to the House not to be too hard on me. I know that other Members are always keen to engage in the thousands of hours of debate that take place on the Finance Bill every year, but I always avert my eyes, or make sure that I am not in the room when willing victims are selected for that particular torture.

My primary motivation in speaking on second homes is to address the question of meeting local housing needs. In my part of the world, which is shared by my hon. Friends the Members for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) and for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson)-I am pleased to see them here this afternoon-that is the biggest and most chronic of the social problems that we face. It is not as if there is a problem on the supply side. Cornwall has done as the Government said every area should do. We have been prepared to build, and not be nimbys and resist development. We have more than doubled our housing stock during the past 40 years, which has grown faster than pretty much everywhere else, yet housing problems for local people have become significantly worse.

At the macro level, I acknowledge that the Government have identified housing needs for the next 10 years, saying that it requires an extra 3 million properties by 2020. However, areas such as ours must be careful to ensure that properties that are built supply our needs rather than contribute to the still growing demand for second homes. At the micro level, surveys that I have undertaken of estate agents in west Cornwall over the last three years have shown that in any year between three and five times as many properties are sold to second home buyers as to first-time buyers. That is what estate agents have been telling me over recent years.

Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I apologise, but I will not be able to stay for the whole debate as I have another appointment.

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