Thames Gateway

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Thames Gateway is changing east London for the better; indeed, enormous and rapid change is taking place. Depending on whom we talk to or whom we get the figures from, it appears that 150,000 to 200,000 homes will be built. Already, my borough has seen an enormous growth in the local population. People are starting to talk about what is happening to our public services and the demands made of our local health service, local schools, local police and so forth. I know from talking to my constituents that those issues are being discussed. We need to set out clearly our proposals for meeting the needs of the new population in the Thames Gateway area.

Jobs are important. Depending on where one acquires the statistics, between 120,000 and 150,000 jobs will be created in the Thames Gateway area. Hon. Members whose constituencies are close to the area, but are not necessarily part of it, ask the same question as I have consistently raised in debates on regeneration programmes: how do we ensure that the benefits reach the wider community? Transport infrastructure is particularly important because it allows the wider community to access the Thames Gateway regeneration and benefit from the economic activity that it stimulates.

I want to mention the peninsula at north Greenwich, which saw the grand opening of the Jubilee line five years ago. One can now leave the dome on the peninsula and get to St. John’s Wood more quickly than to my constituency, which is in the same borough as the dome.

There has been a serious planning failure in what I call the second phase of development of transport infrastructure. We have not thought enough about how we feed into the new transport hubs that we are creating, which is so important for the wider community’s ability to access the benefits. When I spoke previously about the need to improve transport links in south-east London, I referred to young people in my constituency who want to go to the cinema in north Greenwich. It is a three quarters of an hour bus ride away—a large chunk out of a young person’s day, especially when he has to use public transport to travel there and back—and represents a serious block on those young people accessing that service. We need to pay more attention to ensuring that these schemes properly link up to the wider community, and we need to take all sections of the community into account.

I would be failing my constituents if I did not raise the issue of Crossrail. It is essential for London and will generate about 40 per cent. of the total anticipated capacity needs for transport across London. It is expected to carry about 250,000 people during peak times such as the morning rush hour and will be essential for linking east London with the more prosperous west and with Heathrow and beyond in the future.

As the Minister will be aware, there are currently no proposals for establishing a station at Woolwich, yet Woolwich is a major transport hub for south-east London. It is the nearest place at which my constituents could access the Crossrail service. The current proposal is that it will not stop anywhere between the Isle of Dogs and Abbey Wood—a six-mile stretch of Crossrail. There is no similar stretch without a station in between and it bypasses one of our major town centres.

This may sound like a whinge—it is a whinge!—but I have to say that if we were talking about west London, bypassing a town centre in that way would not be contemplated. In previous debates on infrastructure projects, I have referred to other examples such as the Hammersmith and City line. Someone who suggested that that line should bypass Hammersmith, Broadway—a transport hub with bus and other links to west London—and stop instead at Ravenscourt Park down the road would have been laughed out of court.

Yet that is exactly what is being proposed, even though Woolwich in south-east London is already a big transport hub.

The transport links that I have described are even more essential when one considers that my area does not have access to the tube network or to the docklands light railway. The DLR will reach Woolwich in the next five or six years, but the wider community will still suffer from a lack of direct access to public transport. That makes the development of a local transport hub even more essential, so that people can access all the different modes of transport. In that way, we can encourage the use of public transport and go some way towards dealing with the growing demand for road space in south-east London.

That demand will only be exacerbated by the current rate of development. We must consider how we address some of the current problems in my constituency, which is located at the confluence of the A2 and the A20. There are enormous traffic congestion problems there, and improved transport links are absolutely vital. To that end, we must develop the transport hub at Woolwich.

I went to Stratford this week, to see the preparations for the 2012 Olympics. Since my previous visit, enormous progress has been made in extending the DLR. It now reaches the edge of the Thames, and the next phase of development will take it across the river and into Woolwich town centre. The hope is that the line will open some time in 2008-09.

I want however to make sure that the development benefits the wider community. We must consider where the DLR will go next, and there is an argument that the line should move away from the river and take in communities such as my constituency in Eltham. In that way, people there will be able to benefit from the new transport infrastructure links being built.

Hitherto, the traditional routes that people take to and from work have resembled the spokes of a wheel, with people living on London’s outskirts using the rail or tube networks to reach their places of employment in the centre of the capital. However, with the development of the east Thames corridor and growing demand to access the Thames Gateway, more people in my constituency will want to travel north and east. Therefore, links such as the DLR, which will head south from the river towards my area, will be vital. That is another reason why it is so important to establish the Crossrail transport hub at Woolwich that I spoke about earlier.

I must tell the House that I was very impressed by what I saw at Stratford on my visit this week. The members of the Olympic committee must have heard our arguments about London’s transport system and imagined that it was creaking and incapable of accommodating the demand inspired by the games. People who do not live in London and who are not involved in the transport discussion could be forgiven for labouring under that false impression, but we should not lose sight of the fact that more than 90 per cent. of those who work in the City of London travel in and out by public transport.

London’s transport system is very effective, and the scale of the development already in place must have impressed the Olympic committee enormously when it arrived in Stratford. Moreover, we are not talking about a concept or a model on a table: a real infrastructure development is under way, and it is considerably well advanced. I was certainly impressed with it, although certain elements could be improved. I do not want to overstate the problem, but we seem to have lost sight of the fact that the Paralympics are the second biggest sporting event in the world, being bigger than the football World cup. They will take place in Stratford, but very little consultation about the development of transport links is taking place with groups representing disabled people, such as DIPTAC.

There is an irony in that, and we need to address the matter soon. There are some concerns about the accessibility of transport and whether it is suitable for disabled people. It is essential that we deal with that matter in the near future.

The development of the dome by Anschutz will bring a lot of regeneration. I have already spoken about the need to improve transport links to that and about the training opportunities. I draw to the Minister’s attention the opportunities for training that are provided by Greenwich community college at a unique facility that it has developed with Charlton Athletic football club: it has based one of its faculties, which is called the London Leisure college, at Charlton Athletic for several years.

Greenwich community college has positioned itself to develop opportunities for training in the leisure industry. It has started to train stewards for major events and to provide health and safety training and other forms of training, so that people who are putting on large events, including those at Charlton Athletic and the London Arena in the docklands, can employ qualified and trained staff. Clearly, the Olympics could benefit from input from the community college. In the Minister’s future discussions about the development of the Olympics, that should not be overlooked.

The major contribution that the development of the Thames Gateway can make is in housing. Shelter’s recently published report, “Building Hope: the case for more homes now”, highlights the scale of need across the country, including in London. Nation wide, there are 116,000 children living in temporary accommodation. Over 73,000 of those live in London. There are 900,000 children nationally who are in overcrowded accommodation and 261,000 of those are in London.

Living in cramped accommodation has all sorts of implications for young people who are trying to educate themselves and to study at home. There are also implications for their health. All the studies on the development of children who are in temporary accommodation show that, because their base is temporary and they often get moved, their development falls behind that of their peers, which puts them at a disadvantage. We are developing schemes such as Sure Start, which those children often do not have access to, and targeting education to improve standards of attainment. When that number of children do not have a permanent home where they can study properly, or where they have difficulty in getting the home life that they need to be able to make the best of their education, we have a serious problem in tackling the Government’s agenda on developing those young people. Housing is therefore central to the success of the Thames Gateway.

A growing number of people are living in temporary accommodation for long periods. In 1997-98, the percentage of people who were in temporary accommodation for over two years was 1 per cent., but that has grown to nearly 10 per cent. The percentage who have been living in such accommodation for more than one year is up to nearly 25 per cent., so it is essential that we deal with the issue of affordable housing in the Thames Gateway area.

I am absolutely sick and tired of not being able to help the families who come to my surgery who are looking for housing. Three generations are living in a house. As I have said before in the Chamber, those families are living in houses that were built by a Labour Government, and they are now looking to a Labour Government to give them the start in life that was afforded to their parents. We must address that issue. Those people look to us to provide them with affordable housing. No amount of schemes to assist families to purchase, which I fully support and welcome, will address the fundamental problems of overcrowding and the number of families in temporary accommodation. If they could afford to buy, temporary accommodation is certainly an incentive; if they could buy, they would get themselves out of it pretty damn quick. There is a growing need for affordable accommodation for rent and we are not addressing it forcefully enough in the Thames Gateway development.

Shelter tells us that we need to build 20,000 additional homes each year until 2010 and that in London we need almost 6,000 homes a year in addition to those already proposed, to deal with our housing problems. If we fail to address the problem in a regeneration programme as big as Thames Gateway, we shall be letting down a whole generation of young families in London.

We have to ask who the regeneration is for. At the end of the programme, when the Thames Gateway area is fully regenerated, who will be living there? Who will benefit from all the effort that we, as politicians, have put in to bring about change? Will it be the people we were elected to represent—those who really need to benefit from the regeneration? That is the real measure of whether the Thames Gateway and everything we have discussed, including the Olympic games, will be of benefit to London and its people.

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