|London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) Order 2004
Mr. Davey: It is good to hear the Minister talking about partnership and his hope that the new UDCs will be different from the former UDCs, in which there was a problem about the notion of working in partnership. What legal changes have been made to the statutory framework for UDCs that will reassure hon. Members that what he is describing will actually happen and is not just an aspiration?
Keith Hill: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, and I intend to cover it as I conclude my observations. Indeed, I shall come to it instantaneously. I can inform the Committee that the need to include local communities will be highlighted in the guidance issued to the UDC by the Government.
Planning is one of the key powers for the new UDC. Giving UDCs the role of determining planning applications for types of development likely to be most relevant to their purposes will allow them to deliver action quickly and effectively in areas of intended change. Following the establishment of the UDC, it is the Government's intention to place before this House and the other place an order to give the UDC powers to determine large-scale and strategic planning applications, with the exception of the Stratford and Olympics area, to which I shall return. Householder and minor planning applications are expected to stay with the local authority for determination.
Hon. Members should note that such a transfer of planning powers would not change the nature of those powers, and neither would it lessen the transparency of the planning process. The UDC, as a local planning authority, would follow the same or similar procedures as the borough in determining applications. For example, if the borough would have consulted, the UDC will do so. If the public have a right of appeal against borough decisions, they will enjoy the same right in respect of the decisions of the UDC. It is not primarily the pace of planning decisions that would be increased by their transfer to the UDC, but the speed with which the area would be regenerated as a result of combining planning powers with the UDC's single-minded focus.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): Will the Minister clarify whether the powers that he intends to give to the UDC are part of a wider strategy to take away planning pressures elsewhere in the south-east? In my constituency, we do not have brownfield sites for building, but the powers would be attractive for the area of the Thames gateway.
Keith Hill: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Following the judgment of a distinguished former Deputy Prime Minister in the previous Administration, and in recognition of the enormous pressures of the housing demand and wider economy of London and the south-east, we have decided that the Thames gateway, along with three other growth
Column Number: 8areas in the south-east, presents a huge opportunity for meeting that demand. Our ambitious but realisable plans are for 120,000 new homes to be built in the Thames gateway largely on brownfield sites by 2016, with the opportunity for a further 80,000 homes in the other growth areas in the south-east. We realise that this is a unique opportunity to deal with these pressures, which should not be underestimated. The hon. Gentleman represents an outer London constituency
Mr. Taylor: Outside London.
Keith Hill: I beg the hon. Gentleman's forgiveness; I know how important such things are to local people. Even in his outside area, he will recognise, as will hon. Members representing all London constituencies, that there are huge pressures on housing as a result of inward migration from the rest of the UK and abroad. It is also worth bearing in mind the astonishing statistic that, over the next 20 to 30 years, no less than two thirds of all natural population growth in the UKthe excess of births over deathswill be generated in the City of London alone. There is therefore enormous housing demand, which is likely to develop, and a gateway is an important way of meeting that demand. I hope that goes some way towards reassuring him.
I was coming on to talk about the Olympics and the Stratford railway. In relation to the Olympics area and Stratford, I have been most impressed by the commitment shown by all stakeholders in taking forward plans for our exciting Olympics bid for London 2012. The joint planning authorities team is currently considering five planning applications relating to the Olympic games in the lower Lea valley. It would be counter-productive for the UDC to intervene in that process mid-way through it. Similarly, the linked planning application for Stratford City is soon to be determined by the London borough of Newham, and UDC will not expedite matters by intervening at this stage. On that basis, I propose that the UDC does not take planning powers for the areas covered by the Olympic or Stratford applications.
I have set out our proposals, which have been the subject of extensive consultation and widespread support. The London Thames gateway UDC will make a major contribution to realising the Government's vision for the Thames gateway as a whole. It will create new and sustainable communities, bringing new jobs, new housing and new hope to an area critical to the future of our capital. I commend the order to the Committee.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): I am delighted to be sitting under your benevolent stewardship, Mr. Pike, as the Minister has already noted. I am sure that you and the Committee will forgive me if I look a little less vibrant and spry than normal. Following the birth of my son a week ago, I have had a number of sleepless nights, although they have not principally been caused by him, but by
Column Number: 9the Government's worrying policies, particularly in respect of housing and development. However, there is much merit in the development of the Thames gateway.
The project has considerable advantages to which the Minister has drawn our attention, not least the high proportion of brownfield land within that area, which could be developed for the benefit of all. There are significant housing, economic and other benefits from development in that part of the country. It needs to be said at the outset that the Thames gateway development project is qualitatively different from the planned communities projects in other parts of the country where there are significant concerns about sprawl, greenfield development and the creation of unsustainable communities that become dormitories, distorting existing settlements socially and culturally, and doing untold damage. The Conservatives are profoundly concerned about the Government's policy in that regard.
I am also worried about concentrating development entirely in the southparticularly the south-eastof England. While the Government have to some degree extended their communities plan, which now stretches further northas far as Peterborough, in my own part of the countryit is still true that most of the emphasis of their strategy is on boosting areas that are already disproportionately prosperous. That sends an unhelpful message to other parts of the country, where regeneration is not simply desirable, but desperately needed. I worry that, by building more houses, creating more jobs and investment, and providing more money for the south and south-east, we will be doing no favours to other parts of the country that need that extra stimulus. However, that is not what we have come to debate, Mr. Pike, and if I digress too far you will be quick to chide me, so I must address the specific issues surrounding the order.
I have four areas of concern. The first is to do with sustainability. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Select Committee has drawn our attention to a number of profound worries about the Government's proposals, to which this order relates. The second concern relates to the proposed delivery mechanisms, which are central to the Thames gateway development. The third concern is about democratic accountability. That has been mentioned, but the issues raised require further scrutiny and I will amplify some worries on that subject. The Minister will be aware of them because they have been expressed by a variety of organisations and individuals. The fourth concern relates to financethe gaping hole in the Government's sums.
I could speak at great length about the Select Committee's concerns because it was fulsome in its criticism of the Government's proposals. I will not exhaustively refer to those criticisms, but it is worth reminding ourselves of what it said:
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We will not oppose the order, but I have worries about proceeding further until the Government have answered some of those very important questions. The Minister has begun to deal with some of the issues, but we have not had a full response to several of the profound concerns expressed by the Select Committee and others.
If we are going to proceed, we must do so properly. That is vital not just for this generation but, as the Minister implied, for generations to come. If this goes wrong, history will not judge us well. It is a major project with long-term implications environmentally, economically, socially and aesthetically. I make no apology for referring to aesthetics because it is vital that what we design in this particular part of our country is something of which we are proud and of which future generations can be proud too.
The Government have made an insufficient case in respect of the worries that the Select Committee articulated. The Minister will have to be considerably more persuasive if he is going to bring along with him the sceptics and the doubters. I do not think that they are instinctively opposed to the project. They do not reject the concept of developing the Thames gateway. However, they want the details to be provided for them so that they can support it on the basis of good, quality information.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2004||Prepared 21 June 2004|