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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) Order 2004

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Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Monday 21 June 2004

[Mr. Peter Pike in the Chair]

London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) Order 2004

4.30 pm

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) Order 2004.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Pike. You presided, as you will recall, admirably over proceedings on the recent Housing Bill in Standing Committee, and I am sure that you will bring the same magic touch to our proceedings this afternoon.

The order was laid before the House on 11 May. If it is approved by the House and the other place, it will establish an urban development area in the lower Lea valley and the Barking-Havering riverside, and an urban development corporation to regenerate it.

The Thames gateway presents a huge opportunity. Its growth potential was recognised more than 10 years ago. The sustainable communities plan sets out our vision for the gateway. We have identified its capacity to accommodate some 200,000 jobs and 120,000 homes by 2016. They are vital to the economic future of London, the south-east and the country as a whole. Within the Thames gateway, east London provides both its biggest challenges and its greatest potential. The area is characterised by a wide range of complex land use and land assembly problems that combine to constrain development and economic growth. Across the gateway, we are working with partners to put appropriate delivery mechanisms in place. That includes an urban development corporation in Thurrock and a range of bespoke local delivery partnerships and urban regeneration companies elsewhere in the gateway.

We are firmly of the view that a UDC is the most appropriate delivery vehicle to provide the single-minded focus and clout necessary to get things done. The overriding objective of the UDC will be the regeneration of the London Thames gateway area. It will bring land and buildings into effective use; encourage the development of existing and new industry and commerce; create an attractive environment; and ensure that housing and social facilities are available to encourage people to live and work in the area.

The UDC will accelerate the sustained regeneration of some of east London's most challenging areas. It will focus on securing the development of new homes and jobs on brownfield sites in the lower Lea valley and the Barking-Havering riverside. It will enable existing

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communities to access affordable homes and new job opportunities, while also providing homes and jobs for newcomers to east London.

On 17 November last, we published a consultation paper on our proposals for the London Thames gateway UDC. Responses were received from individuals, the voluntary and private sectors, local authorities, non-governmental organisations and Government agencies. I was pleased at the general support across all sectors for the establishment of a UDC in this key area of London.

A particular issue considered as part of the consultation was the boundaries of the UDC. I would like to deal with that issue in some detail. It is our intention that the operational boundary of the UDC should ensure that it has a strong delivery focus and a clear remit. The order provides for the UDC's operational area to cover the lower Lea valley and the Barking-Havering riverside. The UDC will not have a presence south of the Thames. Although our initial proposals for the UDC included Bexley and Greenwich, I have concluded that those areas will be better served by their own bespoke delivery bodies.

I must emphasise that decisions as to the boundary of the UDC have been made following extensive consultation and the commissioning of independent advice from consultants. In addition to the decision on Bexley and Greenwich, a number of other significant amendments have been made to the proposed UDC boundary following the consultation, and I should like to take a moment to explain them.

First, concerns were expressed that the initial area proposed for designation was too wide, that the UDC's focus would be diluted and that instead of accelerating development in certain areas, those places would instead wait for the UDC to get round to them. I must say that I felt that to be a persuasive argument. It seemed clear that significant progress could speedily be made in certain locations with the support of existing agencies and my Department, without the need for intervention from a UDC. That is why I concluded that areas originally included in the boroughs of Greenwich and Bexley should be supported through their own partnership arrangements, and that the UDC should focus on the lower Lea and Barking-Havering riverside areas. I am pleased to report that that approach has been warmly welcomed by those two authorities and that good progress has been made in further developing the delivery mechanisms in Greenwich and Bexley.

Secondly, strong representations were made to me advocating the inclusion of large residential areas, most of which are council owned. I carefully considered the consultants' views, and decided that we should not incorporate large areas of housing in which other agencies already have renewal schemes in hand, as that would simply add confusion, especially as the UDC would not be directly active in housing renewal. In order to prevent any dilution of the UDC's energies, the UDC boundary has been widened only where to do otherwise would limit its ability to deliver sustainable regeneration.

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Thirdly, I share the concerns of several consultees that the UDC must avoid creating ''cliff edges'' at the boundary of its area. It will work with relevant housing providers, including the Housing Corporation, registered social landlords and London boroughs to ensure that regeneration activity and new development are integrated with existing communities where possible. I will return to the principle of partnership working in a moment.

The UDC will be able to support relevant programmes, such as access to training, jobs or community space, across its boundaries. In the past, if regeneration resources did not flow through UDCs to surrounding areas, they did not flow at all, but we now support a much wider programme of regeneration and growth in the Thames gateway as a whole, of which UDCs are one, albeit important, part. The important point is that we now have the flexibility to support good strategic projects on the margins of the UDC area, because of the way in which we have established the programme.

On the UDC board membership, the role of the board is to set the UDC's strategic vision and to take the decisions necessary to deliver it. All the places on the board will be filled on grounds of merit and in accordance with Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments guidance. The London boroughs most affected by our proposals will all be represented on the board. We have invited those boroughs and the Greater London authority to make nominations. Other seats will be filled through open competition.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Will all six boroughs in the UDC area have a member on the board, or will the one that contains only a small amount of the area be excluded?

Keith Hill: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that six east London boroughs are touched by the UDC. We are offering seats on the board to five of them. If my memory serves me correctly, they are Tower Hamlets, Newham, Havering, Barking and Dagenham, and Hackney. The excluded borough is Waltham Forest, but I should point out that the part of it in the UDC area is no bigger than a car park, so it seems reasonable not to give it a seat on the board. Of course, the other local authority that will be represented on the board will be the GLA.

Mr. Davey: Will the Minister explain why, in the previous proposals that were consulted on, eight of the 13 board members would effectively have come from local authorities, whereas now only five will come from local authorities? Was there a reason for reducing the proportion of elected members on the board?

Keith Hill: The composition of the board and the representation of local authorities on it are in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

Mr. Davey: I am sorry to press the point, but I am sure that one of the debates that we will have will be about democracy. Previously, there were to be 13 members of the board, eight of whom would have been

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from boroughs. Now there will still be 13 members on the board, but only five of them will come from boroughs. Previously, therefore, representatives of elected bodies on the board could have outvoted the non-elected. That is no longer the case in the new structure.

Paragraph 3(2) of the order states:

    ''The corporation established by paragraph (1) shall consist of eleven members''.

If that number had been reduced, the representatives of elected bodies could still have had the majority. Why did the Minister not go down that route?

Keith Hill: The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that the reason why more boroughs were initially considered in the composition of the board was that two of the boroughs that have now chosen not to form part of the UDC would have been included. However, the guidelines from the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments make it clear that one sector cannot have a majority on such a board.

I think that I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from with regard to the political character of Waltham Forest, where there is a powerful Liberal Democrat presence. I reassure him that the UDC will operate on the basis of partnership, with strong involvement by local authorities and communities. I shall take up that point again briefly, after saying a word about the proposed lifespan of the UDC.

UDCs are intended as short-life bodies. It is important that they focus on achievement within a clear time scale rather than regard themselves as having an open-ended remit. Typical lifespans for previous UDCs have been seven to 10 years, which has given them sufficient time to develop and implement a strategy and delivery plan and to tackle complex land assembly problems. The London Thames gateway UDC will therefore have an indicative lifespan of 10 years, with a full review after five years.

Having set out the background to the order and the reasoning behind it, I want to take a moment to emphasise a key principle that underpins it. This UDC will operate in partnership with sister agencies in the London gateway. That represents a fundamental change in strategy since the days of the London Docklands development corporation, when that really was the only show in town. Today, the UDC will operate in an environment in which specialist agencies are already making significant progress and will look to it to be the catalyst for co-ordination, providing the all-important framework in which everyone can work.

In that regard, I start with the local authorities. It is my expectation that, through membership at board level and joint working at official level, the boroughs and the UDC will handle the statutory planning and programme delivery efficiently and effectively. That means forging productive relationships with the London Development Agency, the Greater London authority, English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation, as well as with key local organisations working on behalf of local communities.

If the UDC is to succeed, it will need to take into account the views and aspirations of existing local communities. In building those relationships, it will

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draw on the expertise and experience of existing agencies and partners to make that process as effective as possible.

 
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