HL Deb 25 June 2004 vol 662 cc1504-14

1.40 p.m.

Lord Evans of Temple Gutting rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on Ii May be approved [19th Report from the Joint Committed].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order was approved by the other place on 21 June. If approved today, it will establish an urban development area in the lower Lea Valley and 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. These are vital to the economic future of London, the south-east and the country as a whole.

Within the Thames Gateway, east London provides its biggest challenges but also its greatest potential. It 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 in place appropriate delivery mechanisms. This includes a UDC in Thurrock and a range of bespoke local delivery partnerships and UDCs elsewhere in the gateway. We are firmly of the view that a IJDC is the most appropriate delivery vehicle for providing the single-minded focus and clout necessary to get things done in east London.

The objective of the UDC will be the regeneration of the London Thames Gateway area. It will bring land and buildings into effective use. It will encourage the development of existing and new industry and commerce. It will create an attractive environment. It will 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 Barking-Havering riverside. It will enable existing communities to access affordable homes and new job opportunities while also providing homes and jobs for newcomers to east London.

On 17 November last year, we published a consultation paper on our proposals for the London Thames Gateway UDC. Responses were received from individuals, the voluntary sector, the private sector, local authorities, non-governmental organisations and government agencies. We were pleased at the general support across all sectors for the establishment of a UDC in this key part of London. A particular issue considered as part of the consultation was the boundaries of the UDC, and I should like to deal with this 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. I must emphasise that decisions on the boundary of the UDC have been made following extensive and intensive consultation, and commissioning independent advice from consultants.

The order provides for the UDC's operational area to cover the lower Lea Valley and Barking-Havering riverside. The UDC will not have a presence south of the Thames. While our initial proposals for the UDC included Bexley and Greenwich, we have concluded that these areas will be better served by their own bespoke delivery bodies. A number of significant amendments have therefore 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. We felt this to be a persuasive argument. It seemed clear that in certain locations, significant progress could be made now, with the support of existing agencies and the ODPM, without the need for intervention from a UDC. That is why we concluded that those 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 areas of the lower Lea Valley and Barking-Havering riverside.

I am very pleased to report that this approach has been warmly welcomed by those two authorities and good progress has already been made in further developing the delivery mechanisms in Greenwich and Bexley.

Secondly, strong representations were made to us advocating the inclusion of large residential areas, mostly in council ownership. We carefully considered the consultants' views on this. We felt that we should not incorporate large areas of housing where other agencies already have renewal schemes in hand. To do so would simply add confusion, especially when the UDC would not be directly active in housing renewal.

Therefore, to prevent diluting the UDC's energies, the UDC boundary has only been widened where to do otherwise would limit its ability to deliver sustainable regeneration.

Thirdly, we share the concerns expressed by several consultees that the UDC must avoid creating "cliff edges" at the boundary of its area, but must have bridges into those areas beyond the boundary. The UDC will work with relevant housing providers, including the Housing Corporation, registered social landlords and London boroughs to ensure that regeneration activity is integrated with existing communities wherever possible. I shall return to this 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 beyond its boundaries to achieve the most effective regeneration of its area. In the past, if regeneration sources did not flow through the UDC to surrounding areas, they did not flow at all. Now we are supporting a much wider programme of regeneration and growth in the Thames Gateway as a whole, of which the UDCs are one part, albeit an extremely important part.

The important point is that we now have the flexibility to support good strategic projects on the margins of the UDC area as a result of the way in which we have established the programme.

The role of the UDC's board is to set the strategic vision and to take decisions required to deliver that vision. All the places on the board will be filled on merit, in accordance with guidance from the office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

The London boroughs most affected by our proposals will all be represented on the UDC board, and we have invited nominations from the boroughs concerned. The GLA has also been invited to nominate. Other seats will be filled on the basis of open competition.

UDCs are intended as short-life bodies. It is important that they focus on achievement within a clear timescale rather than regarding themselves as having an open-ended remit. Typical lifespans for previous UDCs have been seven to 10 years. This has given them sufficient time to develop and implement a strategy and delivery plan and to tackle complex land assembly problems. The 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 and reasoning behind the proposal, I should like to take a moment to emphasise a key principle that underpins it. The UDC will operate in partnership with fellow agencies in the London Gateway. This partnership approach represents a fundamental change in strategy since the days of the London Docklands Development Corporation, when, as noble Lords will know, that was the only regeneration agency in London. Today, the UDC will operate in an environment where specialist agencies are making significant progress and will look to it to be the catalyst for co-ordination by providing the all-important framework to which everyone can work.

I shall say a few words about 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.

Other key agencies will also be involved. The UDC will forge 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. It is a fundamental point that if the UDC is to succeed it will need to take into account the views and aspirations of existing local communities. In building these relationships it will draw on the expertise and experience of existing agencies and partners to make that process as effective as possible. 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 it the powers to determine large scale and strategic planning applications, with the exception of the Stratford and Olympics area, to which I shall return in a moment. Householder and minor planning applications are expected to stay with the local authority for determination.

Noble Lords should note that such a transfer of planning powers would not change the nature of those powers, nor 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 boroughs. So, for example, where the borough would have consulted, so will the UDC. Where the public have a right of appeal against borough decisions, they will enjoy the same right against 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 could be regenerated as a result of combining planning powers with the UDC's single-minded focus.

In relation to the Olympics area and Stratford, I have been most impressed by the commitment shown by all stakeholders to take forward our plans for the 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. I believe that it would be counter-productive for the UDC to intervene with that process mid-way through. Similarly, the linked planning application for Stratford city is soon to be determined by the London Borough of Newham and the 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 Olympics or Stratford applications.

I have set out our proposals. They have been the subject of extensive consultation and have received 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 and bring new jobs, new housing and a new future to an area critical to the future of our capital. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 11 May be approved [19th Report from the Joint Committed].—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of this order. I am grateful to him for going into some detail. I have here a very large map with lots of colours on it. The yellow bits are now excluded as a result of the order. As I understand it, a very much larger area was originally intended to be covered by the UDC. As the Minister has explained, it now seems to have been reduced because of the need to let smaller regeneration projects go ahead and, as I understand it, because of the amount of residential accommodation already there. That takes at least three pages out of my speech and I am grateful to the Minister for having answered those questions.

We must not underestimate the importance of what we are being asked to consider today. This is probably the largest development area that has ever been undertaken in this country. We discussed the mechanism for delivery, the urban development corporation, during the passage of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill and some of its powers have been brought forward.

The Minister confirmed that there will be representatives from the local authorities on the UDC and explained how the planning processes will work. But I have one or two questions on planning. When we were debating the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill it was agreed that when these big developments take place there will be a statement of community interest. The Minister did not mention that and I want to be sure that a statement of community interest, as well as the economic interest assessment that will be associated with it, are undertaken when the planning is being carried out. They need to be incorporated.

The Minister also explained that there are a number of partners involved in the UDC. It is not clear from the order exactly how all these authorities are going to work together and what their roles will be. They include English Partnerships, the London Development Agency, and the Port of London Authority, as well as the involvement of the Greater London Authority. There are also major private landowners and the London boroughs. Presumably, each of them will have a representative on the UDC and each will have its own specialist role. The question is whether those specialist roles marry up together or whether each partner will focus on its own particular area of interest and will not be clear about working together. We must be assured that they will work together.

This is an enormous project. If 200,000 houses are to be developed by 2016, it is a project that will have to take place at a tremendous speed. A matter that I have continually raised, and I am not sure how it is dealt with by the UDC, is how communities are to be developed. It is intended not only to extend existing communities but also to create new ones. Will the UDC be charged with looking at matters such as the provision of educational establishments, shops, local focus, GPs and transport infrastructure? We cannot envisage setting up such a vast development as this without being satisfied that all these elements will be taken into account. I notice that although there is a member from the Greater London Authority on this UDC, Transport for London is not mentioned. If the transport infrastructure is not there—it categorically is not there at the moment we may all whistle in the wind for none of this will have any effect or be of any use.

I note the order with interest. It initiates a major redevelopment scheme. We shall all watch it with enormous interest. As I say, I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to the questions I asked about how the UDC will operate.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, we on these Benches are opposed to the order although I recognise its inevitability. We are opposed to it as we regard it as detracting from democracy and accountability without contributing anything which could not be dealt with through existing mechanisms.

This afternoon the Minister described the Thames Gateway as a huge opportunity, as have many others. I think that it is right to speak in terms of the glass being half full. We owe it to the people who live in the area now, and to the generations of people who have lived there over many years, to acknowledge that for them the glass has been half empty. People in those areas have been failed by government over a long period. I want to make it clear that we support the regeneration of the Thames Gateway, including the London part of it. In that respect I suspect that the funding decisions, including in particular the 2004 spending review, will be far more relevant than this order.

I have already participated in responses to the consultation, both through my party's response, which was a combined response on behalf of the Members of Parliament, London Assembly members and the boroughs, and through the Greater London Authority where the London Assembly expressed differences of view from those of the Mayor, Transport for London and the London Development Agency, who support the UDC, by saying that a very large number of conditions needed to be met if the Government were to proceed. Some of those conditions have been met. I welcome the restriction of the UDC area to the north bank of the Thames.

I note that it has been said both in the other place and here that Greenwich and Bexley which are now excluded, I think, rightly, would be better served by their own bespoke delivery bodies—indeed, they have local authorities. However, I also note that support for those boroughs has come from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I hope that the Minister will explain what that means.

With regard to the boundaries, I welcome the exclusion of the "Olympic" zone, if I can describe it in that way and the other areas of the lower Lea Valley where the London Development Agency owns significant amounts of land. I understand it is proposed that the LDA will work on behalf of the UDC to deliver the LDA's current master plan. The LDA is, of course, undertaking planning of the whole area for its own sake and not just because of the Olympics, but will incorporate Olympics plans as well. Can the Minister confirm that that is the case?

Also regarding the boundaries, like the noble Baroness I am concerned about the implications for areas that are not included. We have heard about the cliff edge difficulties and so on. We have also heard that there is—I believe that the Minister, Keith Hill, said this—now flexibility to support good strategic projects on the margins of the area. I am not sure who can support those projects or whether there is a formal obligation on the part of the UDC to have regard to communities at the edge, or just over the edge, of its area.

There is such a plethora of boards, bodies, partnerships and organisations. I refer to the Thames Gateway Strategic Partnership, the Thames Gateway Strategic Executive, the Thames Gateway Steering Group, the Thames Gateway London Partnership, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's Sustainable Communities Delivery Unit, English Partnerships and, of course, the boroughs, the GLA, the LDA and other quangos. What a potential for overlap and conflict.

The role of the UDC's board will be, among other things, to set a strategic vision for the UDC and to take the decisions required to deliver that vision. How is that distinct from the roles of the other organisations and why is it required? The Government need to justify the creation of another quango, and particularly a quango that usurps the planning powers of the local authorities. I accept that that does not apply to all the planning powers. The London Plan will stand as the strategic plan. I accept that in terms of development control the Mayor's and Secretary of State's powers will not be affected with regard to refusal or call in. However, it remains relatively unclear to two people—I hope that I may include the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, in this—who have been immersed in London politics for a long time just who will be responsible for what.

Over a long period I have been critical of regional development agencies—at any rate their structure—and, indeed, critical of the London Development Agency, which has taken a very long time to set its own clear objectives and performance indicators against which its performance can be assessed. However, it is leading on regeneration issues. It is focused particularly on the eastern part of London. Regeneration can in short be broken down into inward investment, skills development and economic development. The development agency is doing all those things. As it has powers and, indeed, assets, will the Minister confirm that those existing powers and assets will remain vested in the LDA and will not be transferred to the UDC? Does he envisage any formal agreement between the LDA and the UDC on these areas?

It is widely agreed that much hangs on access. The noble Baroness referred to that. The UDC should not act as if it were just another transport authority. As regards infrastructure, clearly we are not just talking about housing numbers. You cannot have the extra housing that is proposed without all the other kinds of infrastructure, not just transport, that are required. The GLA has suggested that one of the board members appointed should act as a champion for design, so that we are heading towards creating not simply numbers, but something very special. I am not wholly sure about whether one board member should act as a design champion, because we need champions for the environment and community engagement, and all the board members need to champion all those issues.

When the London Assembly discussed the consultation paper, a senior Labour Member—senior in both the Assembly and the Labour Party—sent a note to the committee. Without attributing it specifically, although it was in the public arena before, I shall refer to a couple of paragraphs from it. He said: Overall: this proposal will only add to the fragmentation of agencies operating in this area, it would be much better if the government had outlined the relationships between the local authorities, the GLA and the agencies … Whilst I do not at all object to working in partnership, in particular with the private sector, the principle of democratic accountability, through elected individuals, should remain a central part of the decision making process for this body". I quote that because the Minister in the Commons seemed to think that opposition by the Liberal Democrats was somehow because we were not invited to the party, as we do not have much elected representation in the area. We are working on that, but the view that I am giving is a local government view, not a party-political one in that sense.

Five of the 13 members of the board will be nominated by local authorities, but we have six local authorities on the ground, working away and no doubt clamouring for extra resources to do better the job that they will all have identified. My view is that they should be given the support that the UDC will have, to enable them—directly elected authorities—to do the job.

The Minister told the House that the UDC will have focus and clout—those were his words; perhaps they are not technical terms. I would like to think that the local authorities have the focus, and that they may be given the clout. As the noble Baroness so rightly reminded us, we are talking about creating communities. Local authorities expressly have the role of community leadership, and I would prefer to see them setting out to achieve the very admirable objection of regeneration of the area.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baronesses for their contributions on the order. They have raised a number of points that I will do my best to answer. If I miss anything out, I will arrange for letters to be written to them.

Thames Gateway is a top regeneration priority for the Government. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said, it is an extremely ambitious project. It offers both challenges and opportunities and, in London in particular, the challenge is to address the issues that existing communities face every day, as well as to realise the full potential of the untapped assets at our doorstep. We must not underestimate the task, a point that has been made this afternoon. Our existing agencies do an excellent job, but all have a wider regional or national remit and cannot exclusively focus on the London Gateway. The UDC can and will. The UDC will provide the co-ordination and framework to assist those agencies to do what they do best, with the UDC taking on the responsibility for direct intervention when warranted.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked three questions. Her first was, "Will there be a statement of community involvement?". The answer is an emphatic yes. With regard to planning powers, Ministers will ensure that the UDC complies with the relevant local authority's statement of community involvement, which enshrines how it will ensure the involvement of the local community in its exercise of planning powers. That is a very important part of the whole operation.

Secondly, the noble Baroness asks how the UDC will work with existing agencies. I hope that I have got the message across that, unlike the UDCs of the past, there will be a clear expectation from the start that this one will work with and through existing agencies at local, regional and national level to deliver a comprehensive and sustainable solution for its area. We will make clear from the outset that it will be expected to build effective partnerships spanning both public and private sectors.

Clearly there is a management job to do to ensure that all of the organisations listed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, have methods of working together and that they do not go off in different directions. It is recognised that an enormously important exercise in co-ordination is needed—and that will happen.

The third question returns to the fact that this is an extraordinarily ambitious project. How will we cope with the aim of building 200,000 homes by 2016? It is not simply a matter of building homes; building a community is a more difficult operation and that is a matter that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, touched on when she said that the local authority had an important role. We would agree with that. With a project of this size every aspect of it has to be looked at and that is what we plan to do.

Although the UDC will not be responsible for the direct delivery of transport or local public services, part of its remit for securing the regeneration of the area will be that it is expected to work with those agencies responsible for infrastructure and public service delivery on the identification of local priorities. I would expect those to include Transport for London, primary care trusts, the learning and skills councils and, obviously, the local authority.

ODPM is funding £446 million worth of projects in the gateway over the current spending period. While many of the projects are directly related to housing delivery, the programme also addresses essential infrastructure and public service issues. As the UDC becomes established it will develop a framework to guide the regeneration of its area and will have a direct call on the resources made available through ODPM's Thames Gateway budget to work with partner agencies to deliver that regeneration. I should reassure your Lordships that, given the nature of this project, we will look at integrating every aspect of community life to ensure that we do not have 200,000 built without a community. That would be ridiculous.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the plight of existing communities. The UDC will ensure that the local community will be at the heart of the project. That commitment was set out in the consultation paper. The UDC will consult on its regeneration framework and corporate plan, which will give local voluntary and community groups the opportunity to contribute to the building blocks of the UDC. The UDC will build on the work already established by local authorities and continue the relationship with the community that already exists. The UDC will operate in a spirit of openness and transparency and will make papers available on their website, as appropriate.

Why have Greenwich and Bexley been left out and what arrangements have been made for them? Some consultation respondents doubted whether all three parts of the proposed UDC would benefit equally from its operation. There was a particular concern over the areas south of the river—Thamesmead, Belvedere and Erith. Having discusses these issues with the boroughs concerned and the GLA it has been decided that the UDC should concentrate on the two large development opportunities that we have been discussing. Delivery mechanisms will therefore be established to tackle the specific structural and strategic regeneration issues in Greenwich and Bexley. Further discussions will take place with those boroughs and other partners to determine the nature and scope of the organisations required.

How will we avoid the cliff edges? How will we make sure that we avoid the problems that one could imagine resulting from those boundaries? We are all agreed that there is a need to avoid creating sharp disparities between the UDC's designated area and its margins. All the new UDCs, not just in London, should seek to integrate regeneration activities and new development with existing communities wherever possible. We are aware of this problem.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that it is just another quango. The UDC will kick-start the renewal of the physical and economic fabric in its area.

Its singleness of purpose, focused and business-like approach, capacity to deliver the comprehensive range of activities needed for local regeneration and ability to make fast and non-bureaucratic decisions enable it to make a much greater impact in areas with complex land assembly and other constraints.

Finally, I was asked about land vested in the UDC. How will the UDC operate effectively if we do not vest land in it to start with? I have gone into some detail to explain the principle behind this new generation of urban development corporations which will work closely with public-sector partners to achieve comprehensive regeneration. It is envisaged, therefore, that necessary transfers of land ownership will take place by agreement.

I hope that I have answered all the questions raised. If I have not, I shall write to noble Lords. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hanham and Lady Hamwee, for raising many interesting points, which we are happy to discuss and will take very much to heart. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.