HC Deb 13 May 1992 vol 207 cc610-1
9. Mr. Hunter

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a further statement on his policy regarding development in the east Thames corridor.

Sir George Young

The study into the potential of the east Thames corridor for development and environmental enhancement, commissioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) last November, is proceeding and is due to be completed by July. Once the study is completed, I shall need to look carefully at the consultants' findings and consider appropriate action.

Mr. Hunter

As the concept of development in the east Thames corridor has much merit in itself and as it would relieve pressure for development in other parts of the south of England where, arguably, there has been excessive development in the past, will my hon. Friend give a great priority in this Parliament to implementing sensitive development in the east Thames corridor?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is right. The east Thames corridor has considerable potential for development, not only for those who live in the area, but for the region as a whole. We see it as a regional resource. One of our priorities will be to develop a coherent strategy for the east Thames corridor, enhancing the environment while releasing opportunities for development and focusing especially on the many derelict and underused sites. If we can do that, it will reduce the pressure on other parts of the region.

Mr. Spearing

Can the Minister confirm that the criteria for the study are other than the criteria delivered some time ago to the London Docklands development corporation? Does not full development also include affordable housing, opportunities for employment, productive industry and integrated public transport, all of which were notably lacking from the notorious Canary wharf scheme? Surely we want something which is other than an enlarged London Docklands development corporation.

Sir George Young

The hon. Gentleman is confusing two entirely different studies. The east Thames corridor study is examining a strategic outline for a whole region. The LDDC, in the study to which the hon. Gentleman refers, was focused much more narrowly on part of east Thames. The scale is different. There will be opportunities in the east Thames corridor for affordable housing, regeneration, employment opportunities and, of course, transport, because the channel tunnel rail link will go through the middle. We are determined to obtain the best possible benefit from that transport link both for those living in the area and for those in the region as a whole.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

My hon. Friend will be aware that those of us who represent historic towns and green belt areas in the east Thames corridor are aware of not only the opportunities but the considerable dangers presented by the study. May I draw it to his attention that the borough of Gravesham contains the only remaining piece of green belt southwards from the Thames between the London conurbation and the Medway towns? It has associations with Charles Dickens at Gad's Hill and local residents are determined to maintain it.

Sir George Young

I make it absolutely clear that the terms of reference for the consultants studying the east Thames corridor include the opportunity to enhance the environment in that area for the benefit of local residents. Any concept that the region will be concreted over for development is wholly misguided. We want to improve the environmental quality of the region at the same time as looking at some of the underused sites, especially those which suffer from degradation.

Mr. Gould

Does the Minister accept that taxpayers' money should not be used to bale out a private sector company such as Olympia and York, particularly when the fortunes of that company and of the Government and their Ministers have been so closely linked? Will he assure the House that any deal struck with Olympia and York will be totally transparent and that full disclosure will be made of all the tax benefits, rating reliefs and other sweeteners already made available to that company at the taxpayers' expense?

Sir George Young

Any expenditure by the Government will be subject to the normal scrutiny by the House and the Public Accounts Committee and to all the other institutional opportunities available to Opposition Members. I endorse what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said yesterday. Any transaction between the Government and a landlord in the east Thames on behalf of civil servants will be done on the basis of the best value for money.