HC Deb 09 December 1996 vol 287 cc2-4
2. Sir Michael Neubert

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what was the purpose of his recent official visit to London docklands; and if he will make a statement. [6495]

The Deputy Prime Minister

I last visited London docklands at the end of September to open a new footbridge at West India quay. That marked another step forward in the regeneration of the docklands.

Sir Michael Neubert

My right hon. Friend may be assured that he will always be welcomed as the architect of London docklands development, for his part in the regeneration of east London and for redressing the imbalance between east London and traffic-congested Heathrow-dominated west London. Is he aware, however, that both the millennium project on the Greenwich peninsula and the proposed exhibition centre in the Royal docks will greatly benefit as potential sources of employment in the medium and long term from extra infrastructure, whether it be additional car parks to assist the river-road interface or an extra bridge crossing in the east of London? Will my right hon. Friend lend his good offices to progress in that direction?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I am extremely grateful for my hon. Friend's kind remarks. The regeneration of east London must be one of the largest and most successful regeneration projects anywhere in the world. The results are quite incredible. The number of people employed there has risen from 27,000 to 69,000; more than 170 km of new and improved roads have been built; there is 24 km of new railway; and there has been the creation of an inner-city airport. It is a remarkable tribute to the Government and was brought about and made possible only by removing the powers of inner London Labour authorities.

Mr. Spearing

I share the view of the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) in relation to transport infrastructure for public transport, particularly on the water, but I draw the Deputy Prime Minister's attention to Britannia village—the development opposite the exhibition centre at Victoria dock. Is he aware that of the 1,000 dwellings being constructed 75 per cent. are for sale and only 25 per cent. are for letting? The Deputy Prime Minister was responsible for setting up the London Docklands development corporation. In view of the fact that the land was publicly owned and many of the relatives and descendants of those who worked in the docks are having difficulty finding rented accommodation, would it not have been more to his credit and, indeed, that of the Government if the proportion were nearer 50 per cent?

The Deputy Prime Minister

No, it would not. Such was the saturation by publicly owned and let accommodation that anyone wishing to buy accommodation had to leave, thus impoverishing the area. That was one of the reasons for the area's decline. In the years since its establishment, the London Docklands development corporation has created a better balance—though by no means a majority balance—to encourage young people who want to buy their own homes to stay in the area where they were born rather than leaving for more prosperous areas.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

My right hon. Friend mentioned London docklands and reference was made earlier to the Greenwich millennium site. Will my right hon. Friend give careful attention to the river's potential for transport and leisure, which presents terrific opportunities from central London to the centre of the universe at Gravesend?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I assure my hon. Friend that those matters are never far from my mind, but I must also bear in mind the fact that many people prefer to use other forms of transport and have not yet come around to seeing river transport as their prime means of moving from one place to another. Such a change may be desirable, but this is a free society.

Mr. Beith

What does the Deputy Prime Minister think would happen to investment in docklands and in similar areas—and to the financial services industry, which is well established in docklands—if Britain were on the outside of a functioning single currency? Is Britain's participation still a serious option for the Conservative Government, given the reaction of Conservative Members to what the Prime Minister said on Sunday?

The Deputy Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend set out the advantages and disadvantages extremely clearly, and he made his personal position and that of the Conservative Government clear. After the election, the House and the country will realise that we shall carry those policies forward.