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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for his intervention and, in recognising his long and valuable service in local government, for the importance of the questions that he asked.

We have set out the plan, the targets and the funding that will be available. In essence, the key is that we need to work very closely in partnership with local authorities and the RDAs. Some of the detail will need to be worked through in that consultation and in the development of the plans.

I do not know whether the noble Lord picked this fact up, but 446 million will be set aside for Thames Gateway with the new development agencies. A Cabinet committee chaired by the Prime Minister will plan for the development of the Thames Gateway. Clearly, there is much work to do to build up the detail. We will have to consult and work with all the agencies and bodies involved with that.

I very much welcome the support that Thames Gateway has attracted, as we think that much can be achieved there. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred to the fact that much of the land—nearly all of it, in fact—was brownfield and suitable for the sorts of development that we envisage to tackle housing shortages in that part of the South East. She also referred to existing capacity.

I want to make it plain that there is no return to the old days of predict and provide. For all authorities, not only in the South East, we will ensure that we work to the figures provided in the regional planning guidance.

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We will also take a long-term view, as we need to plan for the long term so that we do not end up with a situation like that that we inherited as a government, which we all acknowledge has created difficulties.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, also raised questions about the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor. That growth area links areas with strong economies and job-growth potential. As we identified in the plan, there are very significant employment and housing opportunities in that area. We need to study the potential and work with the agencies and local authorities involved.

I recognise the noble Lord's point about Stansted airport. That will have to be dealt with using existing approved plans. Future decisions on runways and so on are awaited in the airports White Paper. Within that corridor, there are important priority transport areas, such as the M11 improvements near Cambridge and Harlow. There are other considerations relating to the east-west rail connections and the need to ensure that we continue to improve routes in and out of London, so that the infrastructure is in place if we are to see the sustained growth that is possible there.

Again, there will be consultation. The RDAs, local authorities, central government agencies, development bodies and so on will need to work carefully together to get things right, so that the sensitivities of local people are met and matched. It is important that we take the plans forward with the maximum support to fulfil the needs and obligations of future generations also. If we do not meet and match them, we will fail future generations in their aspirations.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, I invite the Minister to clarify the reference to brownfield sites in the Statement, to which he referred more than once in his reply to questions from the Opposition. Is he aware that much unease and dismay has been caused by the Government's decision to classify gardens in villages in the rural countryside as brownfield? Can he tell us that that interpretation will not be followed in the ambitious and far-reaching programme contained in the Statement?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I recognise the importance of allaying the concerns to which the noble Lord referred. It would probably be best if I took that particular question away and looked at the issue that has been raised, because I want to ensure that my answer is precise and meticulous.

Baroness Billingham: My Lords, I warmly welcome the report on sustainable communities. It is a marvellous blueprint for decent homes and places for people to live. By implication, looking at the sums, it will involve more than a decent amount of money to enable the aspirations to become reality.

Perhaps I ought to remind noble Lords that I chair an urban regeneration company in Corby in the Midlands. As a result, I have been awaiting the report with enormous interest. I am pleased because our crucial blueprint for Corby—we launched the master

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plan only last week in this House—is very much reflected and in step with the ideas in the document on sustainable communities.

Given the points raised around the Chamber, I should state quite clearly that the urban regeneration company is made up of a consortium of local authorities at county council and borough level, government agencies such as English Partnerships and EMDA and so forth, as well as the local communities involved. Everything that has come out of our master plan has come from the demands of the local community. We are not telling people what they want; they are telling us what they want, and we are responding to it. I believe that the plan has the potential to have an enormous impact in future.

The Thames Gateway is important, but the work being done in the Midlands is equally important. It is worth noting that places such as Corby have very low unemployment. We are an open door in that one thing that differentiates us from areas around us is that, where other communities might be somewhat wary of an influx of newcomers, we want to build 28,000 new homes almost immediately—as soon as possible. We look to the document as a source of funding.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, "sustainable" must surely mean having rail links. A weakness of our regeneration company is that at the moment Corby does not have a passenger railway station. I think that I read that 164 million was earmarked for Milton Keynes and the South Midlands. Will some of that money go towards providing that essential rail link which would unlock much of the potential of our scheme?

Secondly, while others will be nervous of the projected influx, we are more than ready, willing and able. Will the Government look at us as a pilot scheme, to see how some of their ideas in the document can be shown to work within the Corby dimension? We would be delighted to act as a pilot for that project.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, is one of the most proactive campaigners on behalf of Corby and the surrounding area. I take to heart her comments, particularly that about the fact that much of the plan is based on good local practice and experience and on tried and tested strategies that have been melded together in our thinking to ensure that we meet the challenges of the future. The plan constitutes a brilliant opportunity to succeed because it is based on good local experience. It must succeed not just because it is an important government objective but because it aims to meet the needs of the future and to tackle problems from the past.

The noble Baroness made two points, the first of which was about the value of rail links. It is plain to all that we want to ensure that rail links are well maintained, and established and developed where they are essential. I obviously cannot give a specific response to her pitch for the rail link that she

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mentioned. The partnerships that are in place and those involved in planning and implementing the communities plan will want to consider that in detail.

Secondly, the noble Baroness asked why Corby and its immediate environs could not be used as a pilot. That will be one of the considerations taken into account by local partners when establishing the overall plan. One of the unique features of our approach is that we have developed a regional plan for implementing and taking forward the programme for each of the nine regions. Our approach does not simply involve a national plan that is focused on one part of the country; there are nine simultaneous regional launches. The local regional documents are a good read and give a better feel for the way in which the scheme will be carried through. I am sure that Corby will be active in the Government's considerations and that the partners involved in implementing the strategy will play a full part.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I welcome the Statement's approach to government aspiration and planning—it is a fine Statement. I should declare an interest: I am non-executive chairman of the Quarry Products Association. As a result, I have a sense of the volume of traffic—heavy lorries—that will be generated before a development is completed. Will the Minister give an assurance that as part of the planning process, thought will be given to how that transport flow can be managed in order to minimise costs and disruption to the areas of a conurbation that abut on to, for example, the Thames Gateway site?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, for his question. When developments are taking place, local environmental impact is obviously important. Many local authorities have "good builder" schemes in place, by which there is an agreed partnership with those involved in major construction projects to mitigate and manage the impact of the development on the local environment. That must be part of the planning process when the physical aspects of the communities plan are rolled out in detail. I am sure that we shall take careful note of the noble Lord's experience and knowledge in this field.


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