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7 Dec 2010 : Column 42WH—continued

Palestinians from the west bank are routinely detained in prisons inside Israel or on the Israeli side of the separation barrier, meaning limited, if any, access for family members. The policy of holding Palestinian detainees and prisoners in Israel contravenes the Geneva convention's ban on the forcible transfer and deportation of protected civilians from the occupied territory to the territory of an occupying power. Although the Geneva convention
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allows the evacuation of populations in circumstances where the safety of the population is under immediate threat, or for imperative military considerations, the evacuation should, if possible, be to a different location in the occupied territory and be temporary until the danger subsides or the military operation ends. We call on Israel to hold court proceedings and use prison facilities for Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories and with reasonable access for lawyers and family members.

Those concerns apply to child detainees as much as they do to Palestinian adults. Under international law and Israeli civilian law, a child is recognised as anyone under the age of 18. Under Israeli military law however, it is under 16. The figures that we have show that since September 2000, over 2,500 children have been arrested. At least 256 Palestinian children are being held in Israeli prisons, including 34 children under the age of 16. As is the case with adult prisoners, child detainees are often transferred to prisons located within Israel, and Palestinian child administrative detainees are held with adult administrative detainees. In most cases, their families are not informed of their arrest. We welcomed Israel's announcement of a new juvenile court within its military judicial system. It is important that Israel has acknowledged that child detainees need to be treated differently from adults, and perhaps the consistent and persistent work of NGOs and parliamentarians is having some impact. We believe that it is even more important that that announcement now translates into changes on the ground in the treatment of minors.

We are aware of the recent reports by the Palestinian section of Defence for Children International documenting alleged abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli security forces. The Israeli human rights NGO, B'Tselem, has just produced a report detailing its investigations into the arrests of at least 81 minors in the Silwan area of occupied East Jerusalem over the past year. The Government pay tribute to those NGOs with whom we work in close co-operation on many issues. B'Tselem's concerns include arresting children at night from their home; preventing parents from being present at interrogations; allegations of violent treatment; and the detention of four minors under the age of 12-many of the issues raised by hon. Members this morning. We are urgently investigating and will take whatever action we judge to be appropriate.

I am sure hon. Members will be pleased to hear that the middle east and north Africa conflict prevention pool has recently approved funding of £12,500 for a
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project run by Defence for Children International. That project aims to defend, promote and protect the rights of Palestinian children to reduce the number directly and indirectly affected by the conflict through focused themed advocacy initiatives, in accordance with the convention on the rights of the child.

Over the years, the House has resolutely defended Israel, and Israel's right to security, and sought to understand the pressures on it. I began by putting that in context in relation to the issues raised today. That support will continue from this Government and, I have no doubt, from the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby and his colleagues. However, Israel needs to recognise, rather more often than it does, that criticism of its activities from friends-like the hon. Gentleman, I count myself as a long-standing friend of Israel-based on observation and evidence is designed to assist Israel with security and world opinion, which has slipped alarmingly over the years.

Sandra Osborne: Before the Minister concludes, will he undertake to raise these matters personally with the Israeli Prime Minister? Will the Minister take the time to visit the juvenile military court to see for himself the injustice of the situation?

Alistair Burt: I will come on to both those points at the end of my remarks, if I may. The hon. Lady is right to raise them.

We are neither naive nor blind to the tactics of those who would cause Israel harm, but not all questioning of Israel comes from ill-intentioned motives. The treatment of children within the power of a state, whatever provocations there may have been, is an objective issue on which judgments can be made and upon which international signatures are given. I believe that the Government, in being a friend of Israel, a friend of Palestine, a friend of the middle east, and a friend of justice is doing so by asking Israel to examine its practices further and make the same progress as is evident in other parts of its activity on the west bank.

I will fully consider the specific recommendations that the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock mentioned which and her all-party group made. We are urging the Israeli authorities to respond to the matters raised, and after my visit, which I hope will take place early next year, and once I have considered all the responses and recommendations, I will write to the hon. Lady, those who took part in the visit and those who have spoken in the debate.

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Rail Services (Erewash)

12.30 pm

Jessica Lee (Erewash) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your leadership and chairmanship, Mr Gale. I am grateful for this opportunity to raise in Parliament the important issue of train station provision and rail travel in my constituency. The debate will focus particularly on the need to reopen a train station in the Ilkeston area. There is a proud history in Erewash of working on the railways. For generations, many engineers, construction workers and drivers have serviced the rail lines in the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire area. Indeed, my late grandfather, who lived nearby in Nottingham, spent his entire working life as an engineer and fitter on the steam trains. In his later years, he was one of the few remaining experts on steam trains, and was able to offer advice on them well into his 90s.

There is a well-utilised train station service in Erewash. The station at Long Eaton provides regular local and national train services; indeed, the fast train to London now takes only one and a half hours. However, Long Eaton station is right in the south of the constituency, and there is a gap in provision in the north. Ilkeston is one of the largest towns in the UK without a train station. There used to be three stations in Ilkeston, but there has been no provision since Ilkeston Junction station closed in January 1967 as a result of the Dr Beeching report. The stations in Erewash were part of the Erewash valley line running from Trent junction up to Clay Cross and Chesterfield.

Any new station would in all likelihood have to attract the support of a train company running services north to Sheffield, which would also stop at Ilkeston. At the appropriate time, I will gladly make any necessary representations to train companies to highlight the benefits of stopping at Ilkeston. There is a gap in the provision of local services, and I seek progress from all the relevant authorities in making this much-needed service a reality.

Although I have been a supporter of this cause for the past three years, a campaign to reopen a train station in Ilkeston was up and running long before I was elected as the area's MP earlier this year. Indeed, local residents need to take credit for their persistence over the years. There is a hugely popular Facebook campaign, which lists many supporters. This year, the local newspaper, the Ilkeston Advertiser, also launched an excellent campaign backing the reopening of the train station, and supporters can write to the paper to express their support.

Although additional train services would in themselves assist in Erewash, the benefits to Ilkeston of a reopened train station go well beyond rail provision. Ilkeston town centre and market need as much support as possible to bring in shoppers and visitors. We have suffered the loss of a number of shops in the town in recent years, and the ability to draw people back to the area would be a real help.

From a social and economic point of view, the recent recession has had a disproportionate effect on Erewash. Residents experience relative geographical isolation from work opportunities, and that is compounded by significantly lower car ownership levels than elsewhere. Bus services are also a little limited. The decline in the manufacturing sector over the past 10 years and factory closures are also part of the background.

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A recent report produced by Experian and commissioned by the BBC provides further evidence to demonstrate that Erewash is perhaps more vulnerable than other areas to economic pressures. Out of the 324 boroughs considered, Erewash was down at No. 251, although such statistics are a reflection not on the spirit and enthusiasm of the people of Erewash, but on the history of the local economy and, therefore, its ability to withstand an economic downturn.

I turn now to the unemployment figures for September 2010. Erewash borough has the highest rates of unemployment of the districts in Derbyshire. We need support and investment in our area. A train station would be just one element in bringing about that investment, but it would be a successful element and one from which the whole community would benefit.

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I hope that my hon. Friend recognises, as I do, that a train station linking Ilkeston to Nottingham would not only relieve the congestion on the A610, but bring employment opportunities, allowing people from former coalfields in Erewash-there are similar areas in my constituency-to access employment in the city of Nottingham.

Jessica Lee: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I agree. The possibility of enjoying the benefits of employment and the ability to travel to work would be much improved. As my hon. Friend suggested, that would revitalise the whole of the east midlands up to Sherwood.

Any proposal for a train station would be backed by the local business community in Erewash. Our excellent local business group, the Erewash Partnership, certainly supports the campaign. I had better declare now that the local MP is always asked to sit on the partnership's board, and it is a real privilege and honour to do that. The partnership would assist wherever needed to help the plan come to fruition.

Turning to the approach taken by the coalition Government, I have been encouraged by the observations made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in his Budget speech in June, and by the Secretary of State for Transport, on the importance of rail travel. In his recent statement of 25 November, the Secretary of State set out the Government's plans for investment in rail infrastructure and rolling stock.

I have undertaken meetings in recent weeks and months with the borough councils and the county council in Derbyshire. I have written to the leader of Derbyshire county council, and I am encouraged by the reply that I have received. That letter, from Councillor Andrew Lewer, dated 25 November, confirms that the station proposal, the estimated cost of which is £5 million to £6 million, is one of the major transport infrastructure proposals in the local transport plan, and that it is deliverable within the time scale of the current Parliament. Further, he accepts that the plan offers good value for money.

I am further encouraged by the fact that, following my letter, the leader of the council accepts that serious discussions will take place next year and, importantly, that a bid for funding from the regional growth fund will be made in January 2011. Of course, I support that bid, which will be made through the newly formed local enterprise partnership. That is good news, and I am grateful that the county council is making the application in the short period before the January deadline.

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Having addressed the social and economic case for a station in Ilkeston and put it in its historical setting, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will agree that there is a powerful case for a station to be reopened in Erewash, particularly in the Ilkeston area. I will do all I can to support any proposals to make this project a reality.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): I congratulate my neighbour and hon. Friend on securing the debate, and I praise her long-standing commitment to this cause. As she knows, some of her constituents are likely to use Langley Mill station in my constituency. Will she join me in calling on East Midlands Trains to sort out access to the platforms there at long last? Southbound passengers arriving at Langley Mill have to go down a steep and slippery flight of steps. There is also no disabled access, and the only option for disabled people is to get a train into Nottingham and back out again so that they can use the other platform. There have been many promises over the years that the situation will be sorted out. Most recently, we were promised some sort of chairlift, and it would help rail passengers in both our constituencies if progress could be made on that.

Jessica Lee: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes a good point. Of course, there must be suitable disabled access at Langley Mill. I would similarly campaign for such access at any new station at Ilkeston, although I am sure that there would be appropriate access for those who are less able. With those remarks, I will conclude.

12.39 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gale. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee) on securing the debate. She is clearly an able advocate for her constituents. She set out with great clarity the benefits that a new station at Ilkeston or in the Ilkeston area could bring them. She has made an attractive case for taking the project forward.

I welcome the opportunity to set out the Government's view of the proposal. As we have heard from my hon. Friend this afternoon, the provision of a new station has the full support of Derbyshire county council; I understand that Nottinghamshire is also very supportive. My hon. Friend also outlined strong support in the local area, among the population and the business community. That is pivotal; the benefits of the proposed new station would accrue almost exclusively to a localised area. In such cases, the Government look for strong local support if progress to be made. It is for local authorities rather than Whitehall to determine whether a new station is the best way to meet the transport needs of the community.

I am encouraged to learn that Derbyshire county council has taken a very active role in taking this scheme forward, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash. The county council has engaged well with Network Rail and with Northern Rail, the local train operator. My understanding is that in 2009 Derbyshire commissioned a feasibility study, building on work on
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the proposal that was carried out in 1999 and 2000. That study concluded that a new station would be deliverable in practical terms and indicated that the project had the potential to yield good value for money. The study indicated that income from generated travel-passengers using the station who previously would not have travelled by train-could more than cover the on-going costs of running the station.

The study is significant. The pressing need to address the deficit that we inherited from our Labour predecessors means that we have to take more care than ever to safeguard taxpayers' money and keep spending under control. It is therefore very difficult for local rail schemes to get the green light if it is expected that they will require an additional ongoing subsidy from the taxpayer. While the studies that have been carried out do not provide us yet with a definitive answer on value for money or commercial viability, they give us some credible evidence that calls at a new station could be deliverable without an additional subsidy.

Assuming that that issue is potentially resolvable, there are three further questions that it would be useful for us to consider this afternoon. First, how could the capital costs of building a new station be funded? Secondly, is it possible to accommodate calls at the new station within existing schedules? Thirdly, will the existing and future franchisee be prepared to call at a new station?

As to the first question, it is for Derbyshire county council as the promoter of the new station to identify funding for the capital costs of building it. It would be open to the county council to prioritise the project for support from the integrated transport block. However the crisis in the public finances means that all councils face difficult choices on how they use limited capital budgets. ITB budget cuts certainly make it more difficult for that funding stream to provide the answer in this case. However, the Government have announced two new sources of money, which could be relevant to the project, and which are well worth considering.

As my hon. Friend has mentioned, one of those sources is the regional growth fund, which is expected to be worth £1.4 billion over three years and is now open for its first round of bids. I am pleased to hear that Derbyshire has been quick off the mark, and expects to be able to put in a bid soon. The fund is designed to stimulate enterprise, encourage growth and create jobs in the private sector. It can be used for investment in transport, because tackling congestion and improving connections between cities and towns to link people to job opportunities can maximise agglomeration benefits; those can be two of the best ways to boost economic growth. I was interested to hear what my hon. Friend had to say about the difficult economic climate for her constituents. No doubt those factors will be relevant in the consideration of the bid for funding from the regional growth fund. I also take on the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) and for Erewash about the economic benefit that a new station could generate in the local area.

If an RGF bid is to have a realistic chance of success, the supporters of the scheme, such as the county council, are important. My hon. Friend has worked with private sector partners in the business community; I am delighted to hear that that is what is happening. It is good to hear of support from the Erewash Partnership and others in
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the business community there. I understand that a local enterprise partnership is being set up in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. No doubt its involvement in the project will be very useful in helping to identify private sector support and, potentially, contributions.

A second potential source of support for such a project is the local sustainable transport fund. The coalition has established that fund to deliver local transport projects that stimulate growth and reduce carbon emissions. We expect the fund to contain £530 million over the CSR period-so it is a substantial amount of money-and we will provide more details shortly on how it will operate and how local authorities may be able to bid for and get access to the funding. That funding stream may be relevant and worth considering in this case. Thus there are various options, which the county council and the others who support the scheme may want to explore. I emphasise that my officials are happy to discuss those possibilities further with the county council and the promoters of the scheme.

I now move on to my second question-whether a stop at Ilkeston can practically be accommodated within the existing service pattern. Two regular passenger services pass through the proposed site: the Liverpool-Norwich service run by East Midlands Trains and the Leeds-Nottingham service run by Northern Rail. Following early discussions with the train operators, I understand that the county council concluded that stopping the Leeds-Nottingham service would be the more feasible of the alternatives, although that would not necessarily preclude other services from calling in the future, if it proved to be commercially viable.

The good news is that Network Rail is funded to re-signal the Erewash Valley line and the western approaches to Nottingham station. The work is due to finish by 2013. I am advised that that upgrade could potentially create the additional time in the schedule needed to enable services to call at a new station at Ilkeston. However, services would have to be fairly tightly timed, and that would put some additional pressure on the timetable. It is important to consider the effect of that pressure on reliability and the overall impact of a new station on longer distance passengers. The market for travel between Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds is growing. There is strong support among local authorities for journey time reductions between Leeds and Nottingham. Making a call at an additional station would run counter to that ambition. Journey times would be about three minutes slower than otherwise.

In essence, as is so often the case with the configuring of rail services, there is a balance to be struck between the local interests of my hon. Friend's constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood, and the economic benefits that could accrue across a wider area with shorter long-distance journey times. Careful thought would need to go into getting that balance right. However, the evidence that I have seen does not lead me to conclude that the issue would give rise to an insurmountable barrier to the project going ahead: so that is not a show-stopper either.

Mr Spencer: It is worth putting on record our thanks to the Minister's Department for the amount of money that is being spent not only in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire but in the whole of the east midlands. That will, I hope, push forward the east midlands, generate
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more jobs and drive us out of the disastrous economic position that the Government found when they came to power. Does my hon. Friend recognise how important it is to make transport links-not just new train stations like the one that is wanted at Ilkeston but links to cycle routes and other public transport hubs-so that people can get from their place of residence to their employment, to generate their own income and drive the economy forward?

Mrs Villiers: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. A striking aspect of the comprehensive spending review was the Chancellor's commitment to continued investment in our transport infrastructure. Past spending squeezes often meant that the axe was taken to a whole range of transport upgrade projects. We have decided not to do that, because those projects can play an important role in generating the growth we need to get out of the economic mess left by the previous Government. Integrating different modes of transport can, of course, yield important benefits for passengers and, similarly, valuable economic benefits, if people have better access to different modes of transport and we try to co-ordinate them.

Nigel Mills: I concur with the Minister's assessment. The Liverpool-to-Norwich train was taken off from stopping at Langley Mill, and was effectively replaced by the Leeds-to-Nottingham service, which stops twice in my constituency, at Alfreton and Langley Mill. That service has proved very popular, according to the number of people I have seen on that train when I have used it.

I would strongly oppose any timetable changes that removed that service from stopping at either of those two stations in my constituency. This proposal should be an incremental addition to that service, not a replacement. There have been rumours of a threat to Langley Mill station if Ilkeston were reopened. I would urge the Minister not to go down that route.

Mrs Villiers: I am not aware of any intended subtractions of services. As my hon. Friend says, we are discussing today whether it is realistic and practical to add a service and a station at Ilkeston, but he makes a good point.

The third of the questions that I posed at the start of my speech was whether commercial incentives alone would motivate train operators to call at a new station at Ilkeston. That is another important issue that we need to address. Before going ahead, the Department would expect the county council to confirm with Northern Rail whether it would be prepared to stop at a new station. However, its franchise is coming to an end relatively shortly, and it is not easy to predict what approach a future franchisee might take. Although the studies undertaken for the county council indicate that revenue from the station calls would outweigh the costs of its operation, train operators might take a different view of the impact of journey-time changes on longer distance passenger numbers, and hence on ticket revenues.

The Department of Transport is certainly prepared to consider whether it would be justifiable and appropriate to include obligations in relation to the new station in the future franchise contract. As the House will be aware, the Government have been assessing how to reform the franchising process, and we made a further announcement on that today. We want to see a move
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away from the specification of highly detailed inputs that leave little flexibility for train operators to innovate and respond to the changing needs of passengers. That said, franchise contracts under the new system will continue to contain obligations on service levels. We could consider whether that should include obligations in relation to a new station at Ilkeston.

The issues raised by the third question that I posed look as if they also could be resolvable. However, I would emphasise the word "resolvable", not "resolved". It is important to ensure that the commercial case for the station is rigorously assessed, so that the Department, the county council and train operators can be as confident as we can that the new services would be commercially viable. That is pivotal. Without that confidence, it is difficult to see how the project can get off the ground.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash for the opportunity to give an indication of the Government's approach. In conclusion, it is clear that the coalition will face difficult decisions if we are to address the crisis in the public finances that we have inherited and get our economy back on track.

Jessica Lee: I am very encouraged by the Minister's response, in particular the view that, although there are hurdles and complexities to this project, all have the potential to be resolved. That encouragement will be received well in Erewash.

Mrs Villiers: I am grateful. In these difficult times, there will be issues to resolve about whether funding can be secured, but this is a worthwhile project, and I and my officials at the Department of Transport are happy to continue to work with the hon. Lady and Derbyshire council to see if there is a way forward. The crisis in the public finances puts significant constraints on the funding available but, as I said earlier, the Chancellor has clearly accepted that transport infrastructure projects can often yield high value for money for taxpayers. They can provide economic benefits many times their cost. That is why rail has emerged from the spending review in a far stronger position than most people expected, albeit with some necessary tough decisions on fares. We have broken the recurrent pattern of spending squeezes of years past, which was to take the axe to a wide range of capital infrastructure projects, with rail and roads often the first to suffer.

While proposals for a new station at Ilkeston need to be taken forward locally-rather than through the national rail budget-a number of funding streams might be a source of support, as we have been able to consider this afternoon. Along with my hon. Friends the Members for Erewash and for Sherwood, and others who have taken part today, I feel that this is a worthwhile project. My officials at the Department for Transport remain happy to work with the county council to see if a way can be found to take it forward. I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash for giving the House the opportunity to consider this important issue for her constituents and others in the area.

12.56 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Social Housing (Nottingham)

1 pm

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to have this debate. I want to speak on behalf of the Meadows community in my constituency, and to explain to the Minister the real dismay that many local people feel about the news that the housing private finance initiative scheme to transform their neighbourhood will not now go ahead.

The Meadows has enormous potential. It lies just south of the city centre and is close to the railway station, which is undergoing a major redevelopment as part of the Nottingham hub. Two new tramlines that have just been given the green light will pass through the Meadows. The area is bordered by main roads linking it to the city's ring road and key routes in and out of the city, so it has excellent transport links.

The Meadows sits on a bend in the River Trent. The Victoria embankment is a beautiful green space alongside the river, with an avenue of mature trees, the city's war memorial, formal gardens, bandstands, sports pitches and a children's play area. The Meadows has three excellent primary schools, a well-used library and a wealth of active community organisations, including the Arkwright Meadows community gardens, three tenants and residents groups, and the Meadows Partnership Trust, which provides advice and support on a wide range of issues, including training and employment opportunities.

The Meadows also suffers from serious deprivation, a poor reputation, crime and the fear of crime, and high unemployment. That is not to talk the area down-as I said, the Meadows has much to be proud of-but serious problems need to be tackled. According to the Office for National Statistics, all four of the super output areas that cover the New Meadows area are in the 20% most deprived nationally, and two are in the 10% most deprived. There are particularly high levels of deprivation in relation to crime, with higher than average levels of drug-related crime, and in relation to health, with just over a fifth of the population facing limiting long-term illness or disability, and with high levels of chronic heart disease. Many residents have no qualifications and low skills, and therefore have a reduced readiness for paid work and higher than average unemployment.

The Meadows is home to a diverse population of around 9,000 people living in 4,500 households. Housing in the Old Meadows is predominantly Victorian or Edwardian terraces. Although primarily owner-occupied, there are many privately-rented properties, including houses in multiple occupation, and considerable levels of disrepair.

The New Meadows has predominantly social housing, with most of the properties built in a Radburn-style layout, following slum clearance in the 1970s. That layout causes particular problems. Gardens back onto public spaces, making them vulnerable to burglary; there are many enclosed spaces, such as alleyways and tunnels, that feel unsafe; and the separation of pedestrians and car users makes it difficult for people to find their way around. Particularly unsuitable and unpopular are the Q blocks-two and three-bedroom family-sized properties accessed via stairwells and walkways. They are vulnerable to antisocial behaviour, which leaves
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residents worried about crime and personal security. They certainly are not places where one would choose to bring up one's family.

There is an over-supply of flats and maisonettes. Many of the sheltered schemes are unsuitable, as they have small, first-floor flats with narrow staircases that mean that it is impossible to make them accessible. Overall, there is a need for significant investment to bring these homes up to decent standards and to ensure that they are secure, warm and modern.

More than three years ago, the city council's regeneration team began working with local people and community groups to devise a neighbourhood plan to identify the problems facing the Meadows and come up with a shared vision of what was needed. More than 30 community events took place, and about 500 people participated in the process, including children, young people and local businesses. The neighbourhood plan provided a framework to make the Meadows a more sustainable community, with better access, greater housing choice and improved community assets; it would be more of a low-carbon neighbourhood, with less worklessness, lower crime, and reduced antisocial behaviour.

The housing PFI proposals were a vital part of the shared vision that emerged, and 90% of residents supported the remodelling proposals. As a result, the Labour Government gave the proposals a PFI credit of up to £200 million, subject to a satisfactory outline business case. The PFI housing contract would have transformed the area by: demolishing unsuitable and unpopular properties; building new council homes-predominantly two to five-bedroom houses-to meet existing and future need; building 100 ExtraCare properties for elderly tenants; remodelling many properties to improve the layout and living environment; turning properties around to face the street; converting some flats to houses; removing enclosed spaces and alleyways; and improving and refurbishing existing council homes to meet modern standards.

A complementary development agreement for non-PFI housing would have delivered new homes for outright sale, and new homes for shared ownership that would have provided a foothold on the property ladder for people with limited financial means. Alongside those plans to improve the housing stock, the city council was securing a separate development agreement to create a new district centre to provide new commercial, retail and community facilities. That would have supported the area's needs, and increased the attractiveness of the Meadows to potential residents and developers.

Together, those changes would have transformed the estate. Better housing would have meant that families would choose to live and work in the Meadows and be able to move to a larger or smaller home, with a choice of renting or buying as their needs and circumstances changed. That would have helped to create a more sustainable and balanced community, and residents would have had a real long-term interest in its future. The ExtraCare scheme would have offered high-quality sheltered accommodation for elderly people, with homes for life for local residents. It would have contributed to reducing health inequalities, and it would have created new employment in the area, including positions for carers.

The improved layout of the estate, with "Secured by Design" housing, would have made the Meadows more welcoming for visitors and residents, made the area feel
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safer and reduced the opportunities for crime and antisocial behaviour. It would have encouraged more people from across the city to visit the Victoria embankment and the green-flag Queen's Walk park for leisure activities, further enhancing the Meadows' reputation.

The new housing would have been designed and built to high environmental standards, helping the area to move nearer its aim of becoming a low-carbon community, using alternative energy sources and tackling fuel poverty. Of course, many new training and job opportunities would have been created in the heart of the community, particularly in construction and retail.

The Government's decision to remove funding for the Meadows PFI project means that a unique opportunity to transform the area will have been lost. That short-sighted decision will place a heavy burden on other publicly funded bodies, which will have to pay the price of poor educational attainment, high unemployment, benefit dependency, crime, antisocial behaviour, poor housing and fuel poverty.

Unfortunately, things will not just stand still; they could get worse. The 1,300 social homes that would have been refurbished under the PFI scheme now need funding from the already overstretched decent homes budget. An extra £10 million will be required to bring those properties up to standard. It is no wonder that Meadows residents are dismayed. While people in other parts of the city were getting their new doors and windows, boilers and insulation, kitchens and bathrooms, Meadows residents waited patiently for the opportunity to have something even better. They now know that even a secure, warm home may be out of reach.

What other options are open to residents of the Meadows to tackle these problems? The so-called big society offers no answers. The Meadows already has a thriving network of volunteers and community activists, but every voluntary sector group knows that its funding is under threat from the budget cuts.

The local neighbourhood policing team is working hard to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour, and crime in the city has reduced significantly in recent years. However, funding cuts of 20% over the next four years will make it extremely hard to maintain that trend, and the potential reduction in the visible police presence in the area will leave residents feeling more fearful of crime. Meanwhile, Nottingham city council faces cuts of 28% over the same period, so its ability to explore alternatives, let alone provide the necessary financial support, will be severely restricted.

The Government claim that we are all in this together, but I cannot imagine Mrs Cameron or Mrs Clegg struggling with a buggy up three flights of stairs and along a walkway to get home with their shopping bags. I do not suppose that they have to worry about walking down dark alleyways and through tunnels on their way home at night. I do not imagine that they have to worry that their windows do not fit properly, that their flat is cold and damp and that their kitchen is falling to pieces. I ask the Minister to think again. This opportunity to transform the Meadows through a 25-year investment is good value for money; not only is it socially just, but it makes real economic sense. We are talking about not just numbers on a balance sheet but people's homes and life chances; such things are too important to throw away.

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If the Minister will not review the decision, will he tell us how we can ensure that every home is brought up to a decent standard when the decent homes budget is being cut nationally by £900 million? How can we make the Meadows safer when police numbers are being cut and we are in danger of losing our local police station? How is it fair that an area such as the Meadows faces deeper cuts than much less deprived council areas that never received additional budgets through area-based grants? Furthermore, how can this Government, which claim to be the greenest ever, support the Meadows in becoming a low-carbon community, free from fuel poverty, when we are burdened with cold, damp and hard-to-insulate properties?

If the Minister tells me that there is no money left, I will tell him what people in the Meadows always ask me. They say, "How can there be no money when the banks that we own are still paying out massive bonuses?" If it is true that there is no money, how can it be that there is funding for new free schools, and that £2 billion is found for a reorganisation of the health service that nobody voted for? Rather than undertaking a survey that costs millions of pounds about how happy people feel, why do the Government not do something practical to make lives better?

If the Minister is not convinced by what he has heard this afternoon and will not rethink this cruel cut, I urge him to meet me, the regeneration team and all the local people who worked so hard to devise the neighbourhood plan to help us find new ways in which to meet the hopes and aspirations of an area that deserves so much better.

1.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): As ever, it is a pleasure to see you in the chair, Mr Gale. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) for raising these matters and I congratulate her on securing the debate. She raises a number of understandable concerns, which reflect, I suspect, the inevitable difficulties that result from our predecessors breaking the bank. Unfortunately, the consequence is that the current Government have to pick up the tab, and that involves some very tough decisions; I do not pretend otherwise.

I take on board the specific points that the hon. Lady has made in relation to particular concerns of her constituents and the situation in Nottingham. I know from personal experience in my constituency of Bromley and Chislehurst of the importance of a well-funded and well-managed social housing sector. I understand why the hon. Lady is disappointed that funding for the Meadows estate private finance initiative scheme will not now be available; I do not complain at all that she has raised it as a concern. However, I make no apology for repeating what Ministers have consistently said to the House. Since coming to office, our most urgent priority has been to tackle this country's record deficit. Our clear message is that we need to restore confidence in our economy and support the recovery. Failure to do so will prejudice investment in housing of all kinds in the longer term.

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We are living in difficult times and we need to take difficult decisions about how we reduce our national debt; I am afraid that that cannot be shrugged off. We need to be honest with people about the hard choices that we face. We must live within our means and deliver value for money for the taxpayer in all our investments. Simply put, my Department does not have the resources available to fund every private finance initiative scheme. It was quite clear when the previous Government were in office that there would have to be considerable cuts; the previous Chancellor indicated that there would have to be cuts. Cuts in regeneration funding worth some £300 million were announced before the general election. There was no guarantee that any scheme would continue whichever party came to power.

Given that we were not able to support every PFI scheme, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government and fellow Ministers concluded that our priority had to be to support projects that were in procurement. Those projects were more advanced; some had got to the contractual stage and others had undergone considerable preparation work. That means that we cannot support projects which, although undoubtedly worthwhile, are only in the pipeline and have not progressed to the procurement phase. Such projects include the Meadows in Nottingham. Councils, including Nottingham, were notified that funding would not be available on 22 November.

None the less, it would not be right to assume that that means there is no commitment on the part of the Government to fund housing, including social housing, and improvements in housing. That may not help in the hon. Lady's case, but it is important to set this decision in a broader context. Over the same period of the spending round, my Department will make available £721 million for PFI projects that were in contract. We are making available a further £372 million for other projects that were more advanced in the procurement stage. Therefore, it is the procurement and the contract that have the priority. That demonstrates very clearly that we are by no means washing our hands of this issue. We have a clear commitment to continue funding social housing and decent homes, but when the money runs out and one inherits an empty set of coffers, a line has to be drawn somewhere. As well as funding housing PFI, we will assist fire PFIs if they are in contract and procurement as well.

I know that that is a disappointment for Nottingham. It is a thriving city-I have visited it in the past, but not since the general election-but like any city, it faces challenges. However, I am confident that Nottingham and its social housing sector can weather the current financial storm and build a sustainable and prosperous future. Let me highlight a good example of an organisation in the city that has turned its fortunes around. Nottingham City Homes is the arm's length management organisation that manages the council housing stock on behalf of the city council. A couple of years ago, it faced some real challenges, but it is now delivering a successful decent homes investment programme. That large capital programme has already invested £74 million to upgrade the housing stock in the city, which is helping to make homes safer, more secure and more fuel efficient. The sadness is that our economic inheritance constrains our ability to help everyone in the same way.

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Lilian Greenwood: Recognising that Nottingham City Homes works incredibly hard to achieve its two-star rating, and so has been able to access central Government funding for decent homes money, is it fair that it should now be told that it has to rebid for that money and that it may not get the full funding that is required to bring all Nottingham homes up to standard? How can that be reasonable and fair, and how can Nottingham City Homes respond to that when it will be short by a significant measure of the funds that it needs to carry on with work that it has already set in train?

Robert Neill: Because fairness requires that we have to recognise that we must cut our cloth according to the cloth that is now available to us. Unfortunately, because of the economic policies that were pursued previously, there is less money available, so we must say to organisations, including good organisations-and Nottingham City Homes is not unique in that regard-that they have to rebid. That is at least keeping a door open, given the limited pot that we have available.

In relation to PFI projects that we cannot fund, such as the Meadows, it is worth saying that the Homes and Communities Agency is in discussion with all the authorities in that situation to see if there are some parts of those projects-not the whole, but some parts-that it might be possible to advance through some other means. I cannot hold out promises; I would not seek to do so. However, those discussions are taking place and I am sure that the hon. Lady and her city council will be in touch with the HCA swiftly about that matter, if they are not already in touch with it; I suspect that they already are.

Work is therefore being done and there is investment going in. The ALMO in Nottingham-Nottingham City Homes-is engaged with wider agendas, to which the hon. Lady fairly referred, such as community empowerment and tenant engagement. It is also working with partners to tackle joblessness and welfare dependency. We are committed, too, to continuing funding for the decent homes programme. The coalition Government are committed to reducing the £3.2 billion capital investment backlog in council housing that we inherited from the previous Administration. This year alone, we are investing about £1 billion in decent homes funding to improve the social housing stock, despite the difficult financial envelope that we have to live with. I think that, again, that clearly demonstrates our continued commitment to invest in communities and support neighbourhoods, including those inhabited by some of the most vulnerable people.

In the spending round, we fought hard to secure a good settlement for the decent homes programme. At the time, there were people who said that the Government might abandon the programme altogether, but that has proved not to be the case, thanks to the work of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government, and his colleagues. In fact, we have secured more than £2 billion of capital funding during the next four years, which is sufficient to halve the remaining capital investment backlog. That means that about £1.6 billion will be available for local authority housing, which could deliver more than 150,000 refurbished council homes by 2014-15.

Furthermore, we have not stood still on the allocation of future decent homes funding. On 11 November, together with the HCA, we published proposals for
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allocating funding, on which local authorities will be consulted. In future, decent homes funding will be available for all local authorities, including Nottingham city council, that have a significant investment backlog. We expect bids for funding shortly from such authorities, and I am sure that Nottingham city council will be among them. We are also moving to tackle some issues underlying the way in which our council housing finance system is organised, because it has been recognised for too long that it is unduly complex and overcomplicated. We are therefore using the localism Bill, which we hope to introduce in the House very shortly-I think that that is the appropriate phrase-as a vehicle to provide much-needed reform of social and council housing finance.

Under the proposed arrangements, which I hope will gain broad cross-party support, councils would keep their rental incomes under a much fairer and decentralised system. That is relevant to Nottingham, as the reforms will provide new opportunities and incentives for all councils to plan for the longer term, and to put in place effective asset management strategies. Nottingham, like many of our substantial cities, has considerable assets that fall within that category.

We have also indicated that we intend to press ahead with tenure reform. On 22 November, we published a paper that set out our intention to reform the way in which social housing is used, because we have to look at getting the best use out of the existing social housing stock. I think that the case for reform in that sector is strong and it is one that I have heard articulated by Members from all parts of the House, because it is an issue that is often raised in their constituency surgeries. It is not right that some people-I am sure that there are some in Nottingham-spend years on housing lists but never seem to get anywhere near an allocation. Ensuring that there is enough housing for those in real need is an important part of the housing mix too.

We also want to look at creating more flexible tenancies, which has been referred to by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government. We are looking at flexible tenancies for a minimum of two years, but I emphasise that we will protect existing tenants, such as those on the Meadows estate; they will not see their situation change. This issue is about tenancies for the future, which may be appropriate for some of the new build that I hope in due course it will be possible to bring forward.

Finally, it is worth remembering that the new homes bonus will apply to social housing as much as to private housing. That bonus is a powerful, simple, transparent and permanent incentive for local authorities and communities to increase their aspirations for housing growth. At the moment, there is not much of an incentive for local authorities to welcome the creation of new homes. Beginning in April 2011, the new homes bonus will match-fund the additional council tax raised for new homes and properties that are brought back into use with an additional amount for affordable housing, so there is positive additional support for social affordable housing for the following six years. My Department has set aside nearly £1 billion during the comprehensive spending review period for that scheme, including nearly £200 million in the first year. We have made it clear that funding beyond those levels will be continued via the
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formula grant. That should mean that, by the sixth year of the scheme, about £1.2 billion will be made available as an incentive for councils that wish to build homes.

Against that background, despite the disappointment that I am sure the hon. Lady and her constituents feel, along with others who in a similar position, I think that it is fair to say that the coalition Government have demonstrated a commitment to social housing. We want to see a flourishing social housing sector; we want to encourage talent working in that sector, and we want to encourage tenants and occupiers of social housing to become much more proactively involved in the management and improvement of their estates and homes. That is why we are decentralising power directly to local authorities such as Nottingham, so that they can decide how best to deliver their services. As I have said, against that background I am sure that councils such as Nottingham, which had PFI schemes in the pipeline, are already considering other options about how to deliver the outcomes that the PFI funding would have supported. As I have also said, the HCA will liaise with them and advise them on that issue.

We are determined to ensure that social housing continues to be relevant and available in a changing world. The underpinning rationale of the Government's approach is clear and consistent: future investment is very tightly focused; it must deliver value for money; and we seek to provide access and provision to those in greatest need. Of course, we must do all of that in the context of our economic inheritance.

Although I accept that the hon. Lady will not be happy about the outcome in the case of her constituency, I have been honest with her about the position, and the Government's overall commitment to social housing remains very firm despite the awkwardness of the economic inheritance that we have to live with.

1.28 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Energy Industry (East Anglia)

1.30 pm

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): If we can catch the wind, the economy of the east of England can take off. When the first gas was brought ashore more than 40 years ago, it was the east of England that fuelled the North sea boom. Today, we are at the forefront of what could be a second energy-led economic boom-the drive for more renewables. The first major offshore wind farm installations, the largest in Europe, are in our region at Scroby Sands, which is now a prominent landmark, just off the coast of my constituency. It has given a further economic boost to tourism: the wind farm's information centre is hugely popular, with about 30,000 visitors a year who bring even more economic benefits to Great Yarmouth. The new Greater Gabbard wind farm, off the Suffolk coast, will dwarf first-generation wind farms; it is due to go online with 140 turbines.

The UK's ambitious target is to increase offshore wind power from 1 GW to 33 GW over the next decade, and the eastern seaboard will have a major role to play. Although planning agreement for the round 3 wind farms will not be completed before 2012, an area stretching from the Humber to the Wash and the Thames estuary will contain the world's largest market for offshore wind energy. The Carbon Trust estimates that as that market develops, more than 70,000 jobs could be created or supported in the UK. Areas such as Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft desperately need those jobs. Great Yarmouth has some of the most deprived wards and highest unemployment figures in the country.

The UK has enormous potential not only to dominate the domestic market but to export expertise, technology and energy around the world. Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and surrounding areas in east Anglia have done well in the past 40 years exporting and understanding the expertise and technology of the North sea oil and gas industry. It is vital that we seize this opportunity, especially as our area has been excluded from the Government's recent announcement of £60 million in funding aimed at the industry because we are not part of the assisted areas scheme. We understand that, but we are determined to highlight what our area has to offer. For example, environmental studies have already been approved for the outer harbour of Great Yarmouth, saving a potential £50 million by some estimates.

Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft have pockets of high deprivation and unemployment. Energy could boost and regenerate local economies and give economic impetus across Norfolk and Suffolk. Outside the tourist season, some wards in Great Yarmouth have unemployment rates of 16% and occasionally 18%. It is important for our area that we develop and regenerate our economy to improve employment and economic growth all year round. Energy could supply that opportunity.

We appreciate that we will have to work even harder to compete against the north-east and Scotland. Partnership working is the key to bringing success to the region. Already, a consortium of businesses, public sector organisations, politicians and universities and colleges have come together with a common aim, focused through an organisation called the East of England Energy Group. The group fulfils a fabulous role in bringing together all those bodies to develop and outline innovative ways to attract investment to the area.

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Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend on securing this debate. East Anglia has great potential to create new jobs in the energy sector, but does he agree that in order to realise that potential, it is vital to invest in skills and training to attract new businesses to the area?

Brandon Lewis: Absolutely. I agree. If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I will come to that in a few moments.

The EEEG's strategy is to use the region's enthusiasm for wind energy to encourage other opportunities and energy-saving activities, including the decommissioning of North sea platforms and the use of empty gas wells for carbon capture and storage. Decommissioning alone could be a huge industry for the east of England. We could become an area of leading expertise. We are perfectly placed in terms of proximity, expertise and history to do so.

It would boost the market and longer-term North sea oil and gas production if we moved forward with tax relief on security fund payments for the industry and reconsidered the currently high levels of financial security required for those platforms. At the moment, those and other issues are restricting the amount of investment and production, and the Treasury is arguably losing out as well.

Along with councils in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, 1st East is specifically directing a marketing campaign at companies involved in the first two rounds for wind turbines. The campaign is already generating visits to east coast ports, where companies are seeing that the area is superbly equipped for servicing the industry and cannot be beaten on proximity. The new deep-water port facilities in the outer harbour of Great Yarmouth, which can handle the largest offshore wind vessels, also make us more accessible, and the existing multi-energy supply chain is particularly attractive to companies entering the area.

We have also been boosted by the Government's announcement of the A11 upgrade, which our area desperately needed. Without it, the region's economic expansion would have been hampered. All those things have shown the industry that if it is willing to invest in Norfolk and Suffolk, we are willing too. Our Government have put their cards on the table by investing in the A11. It is a fantastic announcement that could boost the economy across a range of industries. However, securing investment and developing infrastructure alone will not be enough. We must similarly expand the skills base. Our colleges and world-class universities are providing skills for a new generation of apprentices and engineering graduates.

Simon Wright (Norwich South) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman welcome the bid prepared by City college Norwich and the university of East Anglia for a university technical college in Norfolk? It would help develop energy skills and advanced manufacturing and engineering in the sector. Does he also agree that for the reasons he has given, Norfolk is an obvious location for such an institution?

Brandon Lewis: I support everything that my hon. Friend says. We are perfectly placed. At the moment, we face a skills gap, as not enough people are coming through schools and into universities with the right
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graduate skills to serve the energy, engineering and high-tech industries in our region, let alone the rest of the country. The work going on now is perfectly placed to encourage more students into those fields. The industry is working with colleges to develop courses to ensure that the skills base is built up properly.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he agree that we have such a wide range of energy platforms, whether offshore, nuclear, biogas or similar, that the skills could be transferable? We need not be single-minded about skills in specific offshore or onshore renewable energies. East Anglia is the epicentre of the green coast, as I said in my maiden speech. The case for a technical college covering both Norfolk and Suffolk is compelling, ideally with the help of the new local enterprise partnership.

Brandon Lewis: I endorse everything that my hon. Friend says. The new LEP, which will hopefully be the new Anglia partnership-a strong bid has been submitted, and we are hoping for approval any day now-has shown Norfolk and Suffolk councils and businesses coming together to do something for the best interests of our entire region. It is fully endorsed by the energy industry and those who represent it, and could be a hugely important vehicle for moving the industry forward. She is absolutely right to highlight the opportunity offered by our region, which I touched on briefly, because we already have multi-energy use, something that hardly anywhere else in the world can match.

This morning I met representatives of a company called Perenco, one of the largest independent oil and gas companies in the world, and certainly in our country and in the region, which already looks after and owns platforms in the North sea. It has shown exactly the kind of skill base that we have in the region. For example, there is a company based in Great Yarmouth that has taken on platforms that were due to be decommissioned. I remember reading articles more than 10 years ago that stated that decommission was imminent, but we are still taking about that being imminent, and one of the reasons why it is taking so much longer than was originally outlined is that companies such as Perenco are playing their part to maintain that time lag, and for good reasons. Their expertise, knowledge and ability to get more production out of those platforms in order to increase energy capacity cost-effectively are making a vital contribution to our energy security and energy supply chain. Companies such as Perenco could do more, but they are slightly hampered in their work, particularly with some of the platforms that they could develop and invest in, by some of the restraints imposed by the way in which decommissioning is structured and the regulations around security for that. I hope that the Minister will take those comments forward.

As hon. Friends have mentioned, there is a skills centre planned that will act as a hub, working directly with existing training providers and industry to bridge the gap created by current skills shortages. Some energy companies are already sending staff to meet pupils in schools and colleges, for which they should be commended. I hope that we can find a way in which the Government can encourage and motivate more of that and make it more worthwhile for those companies. They are doing
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that out of their own good sense and because they understand that they need to do it now to secure the skill base for the future.

No matter how much we ask our teachers, careers advisers and educationalists across the education spectrum to talk to students about the opportunities available and the right courses to study, it is always different when a member of the industry who has been there, seen it, done it, lived it, experienced it and benefited from it can go into schools and motivate the children. It is a more positive way to motivate them, with real experiences that children will understand. It is exciting that some of those companies, certainly in Great Yarmouth, are already going into secondary schools to talk to students at quite a young age, sometimes before GCSEs, to tell them what they can aspire to and what they can achieve if they choose the right courses early on. Those companies are planning even now for 10 or 15 years down the line, and they should be commended for that.

There is also the participation of the Forces 4 Energy initiative, which helps attract to the industry much-needed and highly-skilled engineers leaving the armed forces. They are ideal candidates to be retrained for key roles in the energy sector, and they can play an important part in closing the skills gap. The companies going into schools now are planning for the next 10 to 15 years, but we must also bridge the gap for the next two to five years, and engineers leaving the armed forces can play an important part in that.

We are not asking for a Government handout, much as we might like one-we would welcome it if it is offered at any stage. We are happy to work hard, show why East Anglia is the place for companies to invest in, and do our part to develop our economy. As I hope I have outlined, we are doing that already. We are asking for an even playing field and for the Government to acknowledge our skills base, the offer we can make to our economy and the wider national economy and to recognise the excellent work that the private and public partnerships coming together are providing for our region.

With Great Yarmouth borough council, Waveney council, Suffolk Coastal district council, Norfolk county council, Suffolk country council, 1st East and private companies right across the region coming together, there is a long list of organisations in the private and public sector working hard to deliver for our region and our country. That, I argue, is the perfect example of the big society. The extensive network of companies, councils and training providers, some of which I have noted, in the Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and East Anglia region generally will be one of the key driving forces in our region and in the UK for a green, secure and thriving economy.

1.44 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): It is a pleasure and a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gale. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) on securing the debate and on the vision, realism and determination that came through in every aspect of his speech. He has already
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shown himself to be a strong champion for his constituency and his whole community, and today's speech adds to his track record. I was also delighted to hear the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney (Peter Aldous), for Norwich South (Simon Wright) and for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), which focused so directly on the skills issue and on what more should be done, and is being done, to ensure that people in East Anglia, particularly the young, can take advantage of the huge array of energy opportunities that will be available to them in the future.

I will begin by explaining the national background against which the opportunities in East Anglia need to be seen. I particularly want to pick up on the energy security aspect to which my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth referred. In the past week, we have had two of the three days of highest gas demand that we have had in our history. All three of them have been this year, and we should be in no doubt about the contribution made by the interconnectors coming into East Anglia, which make a critical contribution to our gas and energy security. I have been pleased to give a licence to Eni, an Italian company, to develop what will be the largest gas storage facility off the East Anglian coast. It still requires final approval, but it will be a significant addition to the contribution that East Anglia makes towards our energy security.

The Government have a key role in ensuring that we can make the transition to a low-carbon economy, but it is not up to the Government alone. The business world also has a critically important contribution to make, and the Government believe that it is our job to try to facilitate that transition and investment. We are introducing a range of measures that we believe will take that forward. First, electricity market reform will totally transform the attractiveness of investing in the low-carbon energy sector in this country, and will be the biggest reform of that market for 30 years. We believe that it is critical if we are to secure the essential investment- £200 billion-that will be required over the next 10 to 15 years. That will include issues such as setting the carbon price and moving on from the climate change levy, as announced in the June Budget, to give people long-term security about the market in which they will be investing.

We have given real meaning to the concept of a green investment bank, as £1 billion has already been committed to that, with a commitment for additional funds to come through from asset sales in due course. In looking at exactly how that should be structured, we can look at other examples, such as the green investment bank in the Netherlands, which has a market capitalisation of €2 billion, but which has brought in capitalisation leveraged from private investors of €100 billion. That can play a critical role in encouraging investment in low-carbon technologies.

We are reforming the planning system for major infrastructure projects. We had a debate in the main Chamber last week on the national policy statements, and we hope that they will go through the parliamentary process by next spring. We are also tackling barriers to investment in energy efficiency by launching the green deal, which will be the centrepiece of the energy Bill that will be introduced in the next few weeks. We will also ensure that we roll out smart meters with greater determination and drive than has previously been the
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case. We are putting in place the right framework to encourage people to invest in the low-carbon economy and in our energy security.

I want to focus in particular on the unique contributions and benefits that East Anglia can make in that respect. In almost every aspect of the energy equation, East Anglia has a role to play: in nuclear and the role of new nuclear; potentially as part of the process of carbon capture and storage; as a major centre in the roll-out of renewables; and clearly as a key centre for gas security. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth opened his speech by discussing the renewables aspect of the debate. That relates both to onshore and to offshore wind energy. We should recognise the contribution that East Anglia is making in relation to onshore wind, as it provides 15% of England's onshore wind capacity. Growth is expected to continue over the coming years, as there are 10 projects in planning and 10 projects that have come through planning and are awaiting construction. There are 18 projects already operating and we are aware of a further eight projects in the pre-planning stage. We should certainly recognise, therefore, the contribution that East Anglia can make in that area.

We want a different relationship between wind farms and the communities that host them. That is why, in the localism Bill, to be published shortly, we will discuss how local communities can derive much greater direct benefit from the facilities that they host, both financially, for local business rates for a number of years, and through community ownership. Examples throughout the country include Westmill community wind farm in Oxfordshire, which is 100% community owned. The people living near such facilities can truly see the benefits that they get from them.

We also recognise the massive potential offshore. Without doubt, offshore wind technologies will be critical in meeting the challenging renewable targets faced by this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth mentioned Scroby Sands. I am pleased that he highlighted the effect that that has had on tourism-30,000 visitors a year view the facility there-because that shows that there is great public interest in the opportunities that this technology presents. Public support and interestwill be immensely important to us as the technology advances.

The Crown Estate has awarded development rights for the East Anglia offshore wind farm zone, under the third round of offshore wind development. Initial studies have identified a target capacity of more than 7 GW, which would be enough to provide clean, green energy for 5 million homes. I am delighted that the first project in the zone has already been identified with a scoping application recently submitted. Known as the East Anglia ONE Offshore Windfarm, covering an area of about 300 sq km, it could support up to 1.23 GW.

East Anglia is well placed to exploit the opportunities provided by the expansion of offshore wind manufacturing and I want it to demonstrate the positive impacts of this emerging industry, not only on the local economy, but for our country's energy security, growth and environment. However, we want to do that based on realism rather than grand plans, which is why next spring we will publish a robust delivery plan for renewables to ensure that people are clear about what we want delivered, and
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understand the role of Government in making that happen and what we believe will be the role of others in delivering that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth is concerned about the ports competition. I understand that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney are frustrated about the competition focusing on assisted areas, which is necessary because of European funding rules, but I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth that that will not preclude investment in areas that are not assisted. We are pleased with the work done by the Crown Estate, and we have agreed a statement of intent to work together to support the development of the UK's offshore wind manufacturing capacity. That is intended to ensure that port infrastructure requirements do not delay offshore wind development. Opportunities around the country will be considered, with the focus not purely on assisted areas, but on the potential in many parts of the country. Through conversations that I have had with both my hon. Friends, I understand their determination and drive to bring investment to their areas, and I commend their personal work to draw attention to the opportunities in that regard, which are some of the greatest in port infrastructure anywhere in the country.

Other issues need to be addressed, to reassure my hon. Friends' constituents, in relation to the grid connections and how those will be joined to the national grid. There is growing concern about the need to upgrade the national grid, which will have to be substantially rebuilt in the coming years to respond to the way in which our energy supply will change. We have already made changes to the offshore market to try to encourage investment in that sector, with businesses confident that they will be able to get their power to market when it can be generated, but that gives rise to two issues that we must focus on. There is the national interest in trying to ensure that we contain the number of substations that will be required-the junctions where the cables land-and how those tie into the national grid, because they are substantial and will cause local concern.

We are trying to ensure that a strategic overview is taken in considering such matters and that, in looking at the most appropriate place for the power to come on land, we consider the existing onshore grid infrastructure. I understand the concerns of my hon. Friends in East Anglia-as in other parts of the country-about the new pylon infrastructure. We will take a strategic view to see how best that can be taken forward.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth rightly focused on oil and gas decommissioning. The oil and gas industry has been extraordinarily successful for this country; it supports 450,000 jobs and has capital investment worth some £5 billion a year and is still one of our most extraordinary successes. As we know, however, the decommissioning of offshore oil and gas platforms and infrastructure will start to speed up, with some 260 fields in the UK continental shelf having to be wholly or partially removed from UK waters in the next 30 years. It is estimated that there will be around £25 billion of work in the decommissioning market in the UKCS in the next 30 years, which presents a huge business opportunity for the UK supply chain and the East Anglia region in particular, given that roughly one third of the installations are on its doorstep. The work
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that Perenco, Shell and EDF and others are doing has been important both for the region and in respect of this vital task for our nation.

There is significant engagement with contractor companies, including AF Decom, Aker Solutions and Smulders, the Dutch company. We want to encourage more companies around the world to look at the opportunities here. Equally, we see fantastic opportunities for the companies that are already based here to use that expertise to find international opportunities. As a Government, we will work with them to try to secure such opportunities. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth mentioned tax, and we will ensure that the Treasury hears his comments. He will understand why I am not able to make any personal commitment on those matters today, but we understand that our friends in the Treasury will consider these issues carefully.

We have heard about opportunities for new nuclear. We are taking that work forward with great energy. We have taken through the House the process of regulatory justification-a key legal stage-with one of the biggest majorities in this House on a significant issue in recent times. Sizewell B is our most recent power station in the nuclear fleet, generating 3% of the UK's entire electricity needs, and it is EDF's favoured site for a new reactor. EDF has identified sites at Hinkley Point, near Bridgwater in Somerset and Sizewell for their new reactors, which would potentially amount to 6.4 GW of new power.

As has been said in this debate, much depends on skills. To take advantage of the opportunities in the power sector, we have been working with Cogent and others to help ensure that young people and others have the relevant skills to take part in this process. Cogent has estimated that in the nuclear sector alone, in the manufacture, construction and operation of a station
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with twin reactor units, there will be 21,200 person years of work over a six-year period, which equates to 3,400 full-time equivalent personnel per year. That shows the scale of the opportunities for new employment in this area.

There is a massive opportunity in new nuclear for British business and for businesses that are already established in East Anglia. The role of business is to secure the low-carbon economy and the low-carbon future that we want. There is no doubt that business needs Government support and co-operation to make that happen. At the same time as introducing those changes, which will help to transform the attractiveness of the energy sector in this country to international investors, we will work to reduce the regulatory burdens on business.

My colleague, Lord Marland, has been in contact with 250 organisations to explore the scope for reducing and simplifying the burden of red tape imposed by my Department. The ideas generated by his contact with organisations and what the Department of Energy and Climate Change plans to do as a result has already been put on our website. I give an absolute assurance that, if there are barriers to investment that should not be there which Government can remove, we will focus on those.

We have had a valuable debate about an issue that is critical to the whole East Anglian area. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth and my other hon. Friends for their contributions to this debate, but more importantly for the contributions that they are making to the sustainable energy future of their counties.

Question put and agreed to.

1.59 pm

Sitting adjourned.

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