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Urban Growth (Essex And Kent)

Volume 930: debated on Wednesday 20 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans Her Majesty's Government have for urban growth in South Essex and Kent as part of any dispersal of population from central London.

In South Essex Her Majesty's Government have a direct responsibility for the development programme for Basildon New Town which was not modified in the review that my right hon. Friend announced to the House on 5th April. The Government's more general view on the requirements of the South-East will appear in the response to the 1976 review of the Strategic Plan for the South-East, which we hope to issue later this year.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that The Guardian of 20th April reported that the South-East Joint Planning Team was recommending the continuance of no fewer than 11 growth areas in South-East England and that the provisional report on the South-East—as the Minister indicated—also advocated continued growth of green field sites? Would it not be better to develop areas such as dockland than green field sites that might be more useful for agriculture?

I have seen the report to which my hon. Friend referred. He will understand that I obviously cannot make any comment on that. Such comment as we shall make officially will be made in response to the review of the Strategic Plan for the South-East.

I think that my hon. Friend will accept that it would be wrong to assume that as a consequence of the change in the direction of the Government's policy there will be no development in green field sites. There will obviously need to be some such development, especially in view of the smaller size of households now. That is why there may need to be some green field development. But I accept my hon. Friend's general point.

While my hon. Friend is considering urban development in South Essex and the laudable plans to rejuvenate inner London, will he also consider the problems created in North-West Essex, particularly for the second generation in Harlow? Is he aware that the decision not to go ahead with expansion in Harlow threatens to create a severe shortage of homes for all those in need—particularly for the second generation—during the next 15 years?

I am well aware of the problems to which my hon. Friend has referred. I certainly undertake to consider those issues carefully.

Following the questions that have been put on this matter by hon. Gentlemen on the Government Benches, will the Minister consider whether it would be better if the Government took a fresh look at the development of London itself, particularly dockland? Could not dockland be part of the New Towns Commission, so that proper development could take place? Would that not relieve the extra burden at present placed on the new towns?

I cannot accept the suggestion that dockland should form part of the New Towns Commission, because so much of what needs to be done in inner city development is bound to involve programmes that are already the responsibility of local authorities and of central Government. That is the reason why, after much careful thought, it was decided that the right way to tackle inner city problems was primarily in co-operation with local authorities and by bringing together the programmes of the various Government Departments rather than through the kind of corporations to which the hon. Gentleman refers.