It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Hollobone, and to have sufficient time to explore this interesting issue. I am delighted to be joined not only by the two Front Benchers, obviously, but by my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), who I suspect may talk primarily about the subject to which I am going to devote most of my speech.
Let me begin by explaining and delimiting the topic of the debate, because the title was chosen with some care. This is not a debate about the merits or demerits of particular infrastructure projects; it is a debate about the relationship between those important national infrastructure projects and the localities in which they reside. I have the honour—or shall I say pleasure?—of being able to say that at least three such projects are in, or directly affect, my geographically small constituency. One is the Thames tunnel, which is a controversial project and, as a nationally significant infrastructure project, is subject to the new fast-track planning process that was introduced by the previous Labour Government. Another is Heathrow airport—obviously it is not in my constituency, but it is very germane to it; indeed, it is germane to the whole of west London, and to the whole of London and the south-east. The proposed expansion of Heathrow airport—the building of the third runway—could have an extreme effect on all my constituents. The third project—the one I intend to spend most of my time this afternoon talking about—is High Speed 2 and the development at Old Oak.
I could spend some time talking about the third runway at Heathrow. The reason I am not going to is that it has been my view for the 30 years that I have been an elected representative in west London—it is the view of the overwhelming majority of my constituents, too—that, much as we value Heathrow as a driver of the west London economy and the jobs and services it provides, it is possibly the worst place one could think of putting an airport. It is there by historical and geographical accident. One would have to be quite mad to think about significantly expanding that airport, given that more than a third of all the residents in Europe who are seriously affected by noise live around Heathrow. If a decision were made to build a third runway, rather than the Heathrow Hub proposal of an extended runway—which is one of the three Davies commission options—the flight path would be directly over central Hammersmith, exposing all my constituents to noise nuisance, not only those at the southern end.
However, Heathrow expansion is a much bigger issue than pollution, congestion and the disruption of life for 2 million people who live in west London. Therefore, I will simply say that most people—not everyone—who live in west London constituencies, whatever their view on the merits or demerits of airport expansion per se, believe that it should not be at Heathrow and that there are acceptable alternatives. For that reason, although one could go into great detail about the deleterious effects of Heathrow expansion, that is not what I want to talk about this afternoon. The effect on the local environment will be entirely negative.
The Thames tunnel is slightly more interesting, although it is also a controversial project. My view is that we need to alleviate the severe sewer flooding into the Thames. It is completely unreasonable in the 21st century—given that it was thought completely unreasonable in the 19th century—to have huge quantities of raw, albeit diluted, sewage flow into the tidal Thames area on a weekly basis. Nobody has come up with a convincing alternative. People talk about sustainable urban drainage and other methods of redesigning the joint sewage and rain water system altogether, which I do not believe are practicable. However, there are many problems with the Thames tunnel’s financing, its cost and the role that Thames Water, as a private company, is playing in the process. Those problems remain to be resolved.
However, in this debate I want to look at things in terms of their infrastructure contribution. The Thames tunnel is a substantial infrastructure project, and although it will be disruptive on the one hand, it will provide a great deal of employment on the other hand. As far as my constituency is concerned, it is a mixed blessing. It will cause some disruption; it may, however, lead to some amelioration, particularly at the Acton sewage tanks. They are a severe health and nuisance problem to some of my constituents, because of the smell and the works that go on there, which may be partly alleviated by the Thames tunnel. There will be works on the riverside at Hammersmith in Chancellors road, which in some respects are also controversial.
However, the Thames tunnel is not the major infrastructure work that I want to talk about today—I say that simply by way of clarification, lest it be thought that I am ignoring or blind to those issues. On another day, I would have a lot to say about them, but today I want to talk about the opportunities that are created when major infrastructure projects go ahead. I am a supporter of HS2, and I support having the main interchange for HS2 in my constituency at Old Oak—I will say a little more about the obvious and incontrovertible benefits that that will bring in a moment.
However, what I really want to look at is the opportunity cost. When large sums of public and private money are being spent on a project that has a star quality—that has a national prominence and is a game changer for national transport, as I believe HS2 is—it is easy to simply say to the people of Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush, “Aren’t you lucky that this fantastic transport interchange is coming to your area? Please don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” However, one should look at the risks and the detriment that major projects can bring. One should also look at whether the advantages they bring are properly shared between national gain and local benefit, particularly given that it is local people who must put up—over 20 to 30 years, in the case of Old Oak—with the disruption that is caused by developing a site on such a scale. What is planned for Old Oak is nothing less than a rail complex that will be as busy as Waterloo station and will involve not only the main interchange for HS2, but a new Crossrail station, new Overground stations, new links with the tube system and no doubt with road and bus services too, but that is only the beginning of it.
Let me start by talking about what Old Oak is. Old Oak, which I am using as shorthand for the Old Oak Common area, is an area of about 155 hectares in the northern part—indeed, it is the northern part—of my constituency. It lies north of Wormwood Scrubs, a famous and significant open space of some uniqueness and a great deal of merit. I do not think it is controversial to describe it as underused brownfield land, although it is by no means an area that is not in use or that does not provide current uses. The southern half of the site is mainly railway sidings and mainly in public ownership of some kind. I am told that about 50% of the entire area is in public ownership—I would have thought it is more than that, but let us use that figure for our present purposes. When one goes north of the Grand Union canal, one comes primarily to land that is owned by Cargiant, the largest car dealership in the world outside north America. It occupies about 40 acres, most of which is owned and used by Cargiant, but some is sub-leased to a variety of small businesses. There are a number of other private landowners as well, but essentially, that is the area we are talking about.
The area is almost entirely within the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and within my constituency, but it is bordered by four of the most deprived communities in London, and therefore probably in the country—at Harlesden, at north Kensington, at White City, and at east Acton. So although people might casually think that this is an opportunity area in prosperous west London, it is in fact nothing of the kind. It is a relatively desolate industrial area, although with employment uses, which borders areas of high unemployment and mixed-use but not terribly good-quality housing, with people whose incomes are not the highest.
For clarification, although I am talking about Old Oak, when we come on to discussing the mayoral development corporation, which is the mechanism by which the Mayor of London wishes to see the area developed, we will see that that includes not only the Old Oak area, but the rest of the Park Royal opportunity area. I see different figures for that, such as in one place a figure of 950 hectares, but I think the more reliable figure we have is 868 hectares of Park Royal and an adjacent area, north Acton. Park Royal is the largest industrial estate in Europe: it provides some 40,000 jobs in a huge variety of occupations and is strongly connected to areas such as Heathrow. It is a manufacturing and distribution centre, and contains not only some very large businesses, but a plethora of small businesses. They provide highly skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled work, a lot of which is for local people in the west London area.
The area is very developed, but that does not mean that Park Royal could not do with some changes. The London borough of Ealing, in which most of the industrial estate sits, would like to see some changes to the area, such as a reconfiguration of some of the businesses, but it is a successful and vibrant industrial area. The north Acton area, which is perhaps the third and smallest part of the overall development zone, is now almost completely developed in terms of new residential and employment uses. So when one uses a catch-all phrase such as “development area”, it contains a multitude of sins.
My first reaction when I saw what the Mayor was up to in designating Park Royal together with Old Oak and north Acton as an opportunity area was that something was wrong, because on the one hand there is an area that requires some development but has effectively been fully developed for many decades, and on the other hand there is an area that requires very substantial regeneration. Although we have probably moved on from this point, I am still of the view that it was unnecessary to conflate those different areas of north-west London in that way, and that had we simply concentrated on the 155 hectares of Old Oak, things would have been clearer and cleaner and would not have involved the complexity that we are now seeing in terms of regional and national Government becoming involved.
Let me be clear: this is going to be a very difficult site and project to manage. I meet regularly with HS2 Ltd, Crossrail and other prospective developers of the site, including the two main private contenders for development—Cargiant and the consortium involving Queen’s Park Rangers football club—and already, alarm bells are ringing about who is going to take charge of development in the area. HS2 Ltd’s objective, which I quite understand, is to deliver HS2, an already very expensive project, on time and on budget. Crossrail’s objective is simply to deliver Crossrail—a project that is much further advanced, of course—and I am sure the same goes for London Overground and for the developers who are seeking to establish residential and other employment uses. What I do not see at the moment is any co-ordination or master plan, or any central organisation that will say, “We are in charge and we will determine how these various pieces of the jigsaw fit together.” The Minister may say, “That is the purpose of the MDC.” Well, I have already expressed my reservations about why we have a mayoral development corporation that covers an area that is four or five times larger than the Old Oak area, but I think that would miss the point.
I will come on to explain my concerns about the MDC in a moment, but what I mean by a central organisation is an individual, or a body, that will co-ordinate and knock heads together in terms of the various proposed users of the site. Let me give an example: at the moment, we are looking at two separate Overground stations, HS2 being in splendid isolation, and Crossrail effectively doing its own thing as well. At the very least, those various components of the railway network should be linked up. I have seen proposals to do that by tiering the station so that it was on several levels, which would not only be a huge space saver, but make interchange at the station much easier. I may say a bit more about that in the context of the West London Line Group in a moment, but I use that as an example to show that while each individual component is trying to seek its own remedy and achieve its own ends, we are losing the sense of continuity and co-ordination. Will the MDC achieve that? I do not think it will.
In my last conversation with Department for Transport officials, I asked who was in charge of the HS2 site. They said, “We are, obviously. It is a transport project—a rail project. We are in charge of that.” I said, “Where do you stand then in relation to the MDC and the planning power?” They replied, “Well, good point. We’re not sure. We will come back to you on that.” There is confusion about who will be in the lead here. We have a number of competing organisations. We have the Mayor and his objectives, the different railway interests and the borough councils at least, before going on to the private owners of the sites.
As I said, despite some reservations that residents’ groups have about the impact on the area, there is no substantial resistance to the redevelopment of the site. There are many sites in west London, in my constituency—two are Earls Court and White City—that are comparable in terms of size and scale and certainly development value and that are highly controversial as to what is being displaced and replaced on the sites.
Provided that alternative locations can be found for Cargiant and the businesses on the Cargiant land—I know that that is a work in progress; Cargiant is actively seeking to relocate—I do not think that there is controversy about the development of what is essentially a very large piece of brownfield land, the largest that will be available, certainly in inner London, in the foreseeable future, in order to create jobs, homes and a better environment. But that’s the rub: those three things and whether they will be achieved.
We now come to the proposed medium for development: the mayoral development corporation. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods), when she replies from the Opposition Front Bench, will make clear what our view is on mayoral development corporations, but I do not think I will give anything away by saying that we are not opposed to them in principle. They are a creature of the Localism Act 2011. They allow the Mayor of London—specifically the Mayor of London—to designate an area of London that is in particular need of redevelopment and that he or she believes will require greater intervention than can be achieved at local level alone.
So far, there has been only one example of that: the Olympic park. I believe—there certainly have been rumours—that one may be designated in the London borough of Haringey, in Tottenham, but I do not know very much about that; I think the local MPs and the borough council are at least open to the idea. Therefore, the only one in play at the moment is the one proposed to begin on 1 April at Old Oak and Park Royal. I think that that is a device to take control of the planning and regeneration powers—to take them away from the borough councils and give them to the Mayor; to take them away from elected authorities and, in large part, give them to unelected authorities. It may be a device to try to put the interests of some of the landowners and other proposed users ahead of local interests. That may be being done quite explicitly because this is a hierarchy and they take precedence, but I believe that it is being done in a way that jeopardises the interests of my constituents and, indeed, everyone else who lives in that area of west London. That is what I want to talk about now.
I am assisted by the briefing note that the Mayor of London has prepared for this debate. I do not find it very credible. He mentions that the Old Oak Common area is now intended to deliver 65,000 new jobs and 25,500 new homes. That is very substantively different from the original proposals, which date back some way. I think that the first consultation document was in June 2013, and at that time we were talking about 19,000 new homes and 90,000 jobs.
I appreciate that things may have changed in all good faith, but I have seen little flesh on the bones, either from the proposed developers or from the Mayor, as to exactly what those jobs and homes would constitute, save that the overwhelming majority of them would be on the Old Oak site; a de minimis quantity would be within Park Royal.
The new MDC, we are told,
“would significantly boost the profile for this massive regeneration project and help build confidence with central Government and the private sector, as well as establishing the single point of contact, clear leadership and direction that partnership working cannot always deliver.”
The note then adds that the new MDC
“has been endorsed by the cross-party London Assembly”.
It is more likely to generate a hollow laugh in west London. I think that it is positively misleading. I kept a close eye on this matter when the Greater London assembly was debating it just before Christmas. The process for an MDC is that it is proposed by the Mayor; it can be opposed by the GLA; and it then has to be ratified by Parliament through the negative statutory instrument process, which is in train. I might say more about that as well.
This is what the GLA said in relation to the MDC:
“The governance structure remains contentious. There are concerns about the size and composition of the Board, and the terms under which members will be appointed…The proposed timescales for the development of planning documents are extraordinarily rushed. The Development Infrastructure Funding Study…phasing plans indicate that most development is expected within twenty years, yet the OPDC”—
the Old Oak and Park Royal development corporation—
“hopes to adopt the Opportunity Area Planning Framework…within two years of its establishment…Rushing the process limits the scope for meaningful consultation with local communities and local authorities…There remain too many uncertainties regarding the funding of infrastructure…The inclusion of Wormwood Scrubs within the boundary of the OPDC is unjustified and unnecessary. This unique open space of scrub, grassland, and woodland supporting a wide variety of plant and wildlife is an important community amenity…The protection of industrial land must be strengthened. Park Royal is Europe’s largest industrial estate and is protected as Strategic Industrial Land under the London Plan because of the essential role it plays in London’s economy, particularly in the food and film industries. However, the ambition for 1,500 homes in Park Royal raises concern that some of this land will be sacrificed for housing…The commitment to provision of genuinely affordable housing must also be strengthened...We therefore call on the Mayor to make clear that the OPDC Local Plan will include a requirement that 50 per cent of all new homes are affordable, with a 60:40 split on intermediate and at social rents...we are not satisfied that the structure and substance of this particular MDC, as proposed, will deliver the best possible outcome for Londoners in terms of affordable housing, urban design and architecture, and protection of strategically important industrial land.”
That is some endorsement, which is what the Mayor put it forward as. It quite concisely sums up most of my own concerns about the proposal. This is sleight of hand. It is a construct. There is absolutely no reason why the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, in partnership with the GLA, could not have managed this regeneration, as it has with Kensington and Chelsea in relation to Earls Court and with White City. Those are comparable sites. Earls Court/West Ken is a £12 billion development now. The White City development will provide 6,000 or 7,000 new homes on prime sites. Imperial college is the main developer there. There are similar areas where borough councils have been able to do that.
The fact is that there is a fully working partnership and full co-operation between the three boroughs. For some reason, Kensington has decided to opt out of it, and that, apparently, is acceptable to the Mayor, but Brent, Ealing and Hammersmith are working extremely closely together on this. They have the local knowledge, the expertise and the legitimacy when it comes to democratically representing local interests.
The Mayor’s briefing goes on to say:
“As a functional body of the Mayor of London, the OPDC will be responsible for planning and driving the regeneration of Old Oak and Park Royal on his behalf. It will be the Local Planning Authority for the area, with an overarching role to capture and maximise the benefits brought by the HS2 / Crossrail”.
The essence of the MDC is that the OPDC will be both the planning and the regeneration body. That was the case with the predecessor to this process in London’s docklands, and it was the case with the Olympic park, but I submit that that should not be the norm in relation to redevelopment. Local authorities have enough trouble creating Chinese walls between their regeneration and planning functions as it is, and they often fail to do so. If a powerful political voice drives a local authority to the exclusion of the planning function, that is very dangerous, because planning is supposed to be a quasi-judicial function. Although there is a separate planning committee, an MDC explicitly contains those two aspects, and planning is seen as a function of regeneration.
Of course, we all want effective regeneration, and we want it to happen as quickly as possible. However, nobody is suggesting that the redevelopment is anything other than a 20 to 30-year project, so why, as the GLA has pointed out, will most of the decision making be forced through in the first two years? Why has an obvious redevelopment area been lumped in with areas next door that are in no way similar in their redevelopment needs? It is simply a political fix. It is simply a way of telling three Labour-controlled boroughs—two of which have been Labour controlled for some time, and one of which, my own, is a more recent addition—which have their own clear agenda based on the mandate of their residents, what should happen.
We know that the current Mayor of London will not be in office in a year’s time, and I hope that we will have an administration of a different stripe. It appears that some individuals are in a great hurry to get on and make decisions that will be difficult to reverse.
Will my hon. Friend clarify who will make final planning decisions? It seems possible to me that they will be deemed to be so strategic that they devolve, if that is the right word, to the Mayor, and we will have a one-person planning committee. It will be case of one man, one vote; the Mayor will say, “I am the man, and this is my vote.”
That is exactly the point I was about to make about the process as envisaged. I dealt to some extent with the process thus far, which I have described as a political fix. The idea has been to create the artificial construct of the Park Royal and Old Oak development area, and to say, “That looks so big that we cannot possibly manage it without an MDC, so let’s invent an MDC and get it through the GLA.”
There is nothing that the GLA can do about that, because a two-thirds majority of the GLA is required to prevent it from happening. There are nine Conservative members, all of whom were present at the vote, so it would have been impossible to defeat the decision. That puts another interesting gloss on the idea that the decision was endorsed, because it was a one-party endorsement. All the other parties on the GLA have severe reservations about the process.
Other colleagues and I may well pray against the statutory instrument but, because it is subject to the negative procedure, doing so will not get us terribly far. It appears, therefore, as though the MDC will come into being in all its glory on 1 April, entirely at the behest of the Mayor—the “one person” to whom my right hon. Friend has referred—and there will be a mad rush to try to tie it up, in a way that will be injurious to my constituents, over the next year before the mayoral elections. Who will do the tying up? There are two bodies, one of which is the board, which will be in overall charge and in charge of the regeneration process.
The boroughs have said, quite reasonably, that the board should contain a majority of democratically elected representatives and/or local representatives, or that there should at least be parity between them and other representatives. Is that the case? No, it is not. Three of the 15 board members will be elected representatives, and five of the 15—including those three elected representatives, one from each of the constituent boroughs—will have some local connection.
The other 10 will look after the interests of the Mayor, businesses and railway enterprises and will be: the chair of the board; a representative of the GLA; a representative of Transport for London; a representative of the Department for Transport; a representative from High Speed 2; a representative of Network Rail; the chair of the planning committee—I see a conflict of interest there—a regeneration expert; an education expert; and an independent business representative. They will have a two-thirds majority over the local business community, the local residential community and the three elected representatives. That is how all the decisions will be taken. I can guess how the hands will go up and how the votes will go, even now.
On the planning committee, there will be a councillor from each of the representative boroughs, and the boroughs will have responsibility for consequential and minor planning, but all major applications in relation to the site will be the remit of the planning committee. Yes, there will be three elected representatives on the committee, but there will also be three other stakeholder representatives—which do not, as far as I can see, include any local representatives—and the chair of the board, the appointment of whom will be in the gift of the Mayor. At best, there is a built-in majority of four to three, and presumably the Mayor will have a casting vote to make sure that any planning decisions are made at his behest. I do not call that localism, and I do not call it democracy.
The powers of the OPDC will include the acquisition of land including by compulsory purchase and overriding third-party rights in the land. The OPDC will perform the functions of the local planning authority for the whole area. I have absolutely no doubt that the intention is to marginalise the meddling local residents and politicians and keep them out of the way, so that the adults—the serious people who want to get on with the development—can have a free hand.
That is completely unacceptable in this day and age, for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons are technical. Let us assume that that is a good way to organise things, and that the development goes ahead at the behest of the Mayor and his client committees. The fact remains that the boroughs, particularly Hammersmith and Fulham, will have to pick up the bill for the consequences. The borough will have no say in the setting of the infrastructure levy or the prioritisation of infrastructure, and it will have no say on the major items of infrastructure that go into the site. When the site is complete, however, the infrastructure will all be in the borough, and the borough will have to cope with the logistics and the costs of the development.
If the development contains affordable housing, will the borough have nomination rights to that housing? Have the revenue implications for the borough been considered? Will the borough even be allowed to be involved in the interview process for those who will be taking the decisions? It strikes me as something out of the 19th century. The borough is essentially being told, “You will have what you are given, and you will be grateful for it.” Whatever is left—whether it is, as I suspect it will be under the current plans, completely disorganised and done in a ramshackle “gold rush” fashion, with a station here and a station there, a block of flats here and a block of flats there, or whether it is done in a properly organised fashion—the consequence when the MDC is dissolved and everyone has gone away will be that the boroughs have to pick up the tab and that the local residents have to live with it, yet they have no say on what is happening.
Equally, a large number of residents from around the sites have written to me during my preparation for this debate. Some of those residents are not my constituents. I am pleased to say that large numbers of my residents will not be directly affected by noise and pollution, but constituents in Acton, East Acton and College Park, and some constituents in Brent—I am pleased to see members of the public and, indeed, councillors attending this debate—have written to me to confirm that they have no say in what is happening. They are worried about the lack of compensation proposed in the HS2 plan, and they are worried that the development will close access to their homes for years. The Wells House road and Midland terrace areas, which are just outside my constituency and which I had the honour of representing in years gone by, will be particularly affected. I will discuss the threat to the much valued and loved open space of Wormwood Scrubs in a moment.
We may be some way from discussing the method of working on the area, but how will so much development take place with such an inadequate road system? We have the canal to take spoil and other material away, but Old Oak Common lane and Scrubs lane are narrow roads in fairly poor condition, so the idea that they will be the main highways for the works on the sites over a number of years fills me with dread. The Minister might say that these are early days to be considering the consequences, but it would give residents more confidence if they thought that they will be talking to local representative bodies that they can access and over which they might have some influence, rather than remote bureaucrats at city hall or, even worse, the developers themselves being in the driving seat on the relevant committees. I am afraid that everything we have seen so far in relation to HS2, which is at a somewhat more advanced stage—my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras will have something to say about that—does not give us any confidence.
I am a member of the “fair deal for London” alliance, which is administered by Camden council as one of the main victims of HS2. Compared with what has been offered to rural parts of the country, which, coincidentally, often happen to have influential Conservative MPs who are lobbying for them, what is being offered to London is nugatory. Five compensation packages were announced by Ministers last month; all are available to HS2-affected residents in rural areas, whereas just two apply to urban residents. Given that the effect is more intense in urban areas, where there are often works that affect larger numbers of people, that are closer to homes and that are in areas that already suffer much environmental stress, I cannot for the life of me see why London residents should suffer more and get less compensation for HS2 other than through political choice. As Camden council says in its brief, one would expect HS2 to set a “gold standard” for community engagement, fair compensation and sensitivity to local plans. The evidence so far is exactly the opposite, which is why I share the concerns of my constituents and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras.
As for the consultees, there are expert bodies that have local and professional knowledge of how the site is to be developed. The West London Line Group, which has also kindly provided me with a brief, has ceaselessly offered proposals to the Department for Transport, HS2, London Overground and the Mayor’s Office. Unlike the West London Line Group, I am not an expert, but the proposal seems to me to be entirely sensible and constructive on how HS2 would configure with the rest of the railway network at Old Oak. The proposal contains three main points. First, that the HS2 legislation should allow four way-stations in the south midlands and Buckinghamshire. Secondly, that the Old Oak Common interchange should be built with enough space and vision to connect efficiently with local lines, for the maximum benefit of passengers and regeneration areas along all the lines; should provide for unforecasted passenger demand growth on connected services; should reduce the potentially overwhelming pressure on the Euston area and its tube stations; and should secure a new West London line station at Westway Circus for the transport and regeneration needs of the North Kensington, White City and Earls Court opportunity areas and Imperial college west.
The proposal’s third point is that it should be possible to link HS2 and HS1 via the West London line at Clapham Junction, East Croydon, Merstham, Gatwick, Tonbridge and Ashford International to connect the UK and international high-speed rail networks and expand HS2’s catchment by another 64% by allowing access to HS2 from all of southern England between Ramsgate and Exeter with a single change at one of the above hubs. Given the concerns about Euston’s capacity to handle crowds following the introduction of HS2 phase 1, the West London Line Group also proposes a variety of changes to the tube network. I will not describe those changes in detail now, but I am happy to send the brief to the Minister or to his ministerial colleagues.
Those proposals sensibly describe how the impact of HS2’s arrival in west London may be mitigated. I have worked with the group for some 20 years, and I am extraordinarily impressed by its detailed and professional knowledge of how the railway system works in west London. However, not only does the group find it difficult even to get meetings and access, but when consultation documents are produced, as they were for the Overground proposals, the group’s sensible alternatives are studiously ignored, which is happening time and again. Where people are trying to make constructive proposals for how the configuration of transport services might work in this area, it is always a question of the Government or the railway companies knowing best to the exclusion of not only local residents but other competing railway interests in the area. The thought of what a mishmash this will end up being fills me with dread.
I have three main concerns. I do not need to say much about jobs. I hope jobs will be created on the site, but I hope the jobs will be accessible to local people, which has not been my experience of such developments. When Westfield came to west London, providing a variety of retail and other jobs, very few of those jobs went locally; most of the major retailers imported their staff from elsewhere. Westfield two is being constructed and many other employment developments are happening throughout the borough, and the new Labour council in Hammersmith is trying to ensure that for further developments young people who are long-term unemployed—a particular problem in the Shepherd’s Bush area—are given priority.
In the Mayor of London’s vision for his “mini-Manhattan”, I do not see much that will be open to my constituents or those from Acton, Harlesden or North Kensington. Given the Qatari sovereign wealth fund’s interest in investing in the area—I have seen the interesting plans and the model visualisations—it is going to bear something of a resemblance to the juxtaposition of Canary Wharf and Tower Hamlets, which is great for international finance and not so good for the poorer residents of London.
No. Indeed, there was some resistance in the previous Conservative council even to granting neighbourhood plan status for residents in the adjacent area. I will come in a moment to what residents are doing, but they have hit a brick wall in dealing with the Mayor’s office thus far.
My hon. Friend referred to Canary Wharf. It is sometimes proclaimed that Canary Wharf produced about 20,000 white-collar jobs in the area, but what is seldom mentioned is that 20,000 blue-collar jobs disappeared at approximately the same time, and that while the marble halls of the office blocks were being constructed, very little was being done to improve the quality of housing on the immediately neighbouring Barkantine estate.
My right hon. Friend, as always, makes his point succinctly and accurately. That is exactly our fear for this development.
I do not want to sound like a Luddite; I do not want to sound as though we are against redevelopment; I do not want to sound as though I am against white-collar jobs; but given the Government’s allowance for employment uses to be changed to residential units—we saw the Greater London Assembly’s concerns about what might happen to Park Royal—and given the fact that land values will be pushed up very substantially, I wonder whether the manufacturing, distribution and retail businesses and the small family firms and start-ups that are thriving and making Park Royal such a success as an industrial and employment area will be able to survive, and what will be done to ensure that they do. I see nothing at all being done.
Although I said that we have had plans going back to June 2013, and even some suggestions before that about how the area might be developed, it burst upon the world on 26 November 2013 that the
“Crossrail and HS2 superhub will bring £6 billion boost to north-west London”,
in a planted story on the front page of the London Evening Standard, which came with one of those wonderful architect’s designs. The first thing that caught my eye was the railway line cutting across Wormwood Scrubs. I hope that we have now defeated that prospect, but it was certainly not the most propitious start to learning about the development.
That puff article was where the development was first described as “mini-Manhattan” I do not particularly blame the journalist who was fed these lines; I think that Boris had decided that “Canary Wharf of the west” was not grand enough, so it had to be Manhattan that he would build instead, with rows of skyscrapers shown teetering over the edge of Wormwood Scrubs in the rather surreal representation that accompanied the article. Maybe we have recoiled slightly from that hyperbole, but not by much.
I have nothing bad to say about either of the competing developers. Queens Park Rangers and Cargiant have both set up their stalls in terms of wishing to be the preferred developer for part or all of the site. It appeared at one stage that the Mayor favoured QPR, but he might favour Cargiant now—I do not know. All I would say is that my previous experience of dealing with the Mayor’s office on major developments has been entirely depressing. It always puts the cart before the horse: we always have the developer’s proposal before the master plan. The developer will say, “This is what I would like to do with the site. Would you like to write a planning policy to go with it?” That is certainly what has happened at Earl’s Court, and to a large extent White City as well. That is a disgraceful way for a public authority to behave. It should both be democratically accountable and, for reasons of probity, ensure that what is set out is sustainable development that delivers not just on the profitable elements of the scheme but in schools, hospitals and roads. It must be viable going forward and 100 or 200 years into the future. This is trite; this is how London has developed over the years. Why are we suddenly in thrall to developers and their profits, and entirely reliant on them in that way?
Nowhere is that clearer than in housing. I quoted earlier from the Mayor of London’s brief. There is nothing about housing in there, yet the single most urgent and chronic need in London is to resolve the housing crisis. It does not matter whether it is someone who has been on a council house waiting list for 10 years, someone in substandard private rented accommodation, someone who is part of generation rent and spending 80% of their salary renting not terribly good accommodation, or a couple waiting to start a family and thinking that they might have to move out of London to do so; previous Governments of all stripes would have thought that they had an obligation to provide housing either directly or through local authorities’ housing associations, or to enable the building of decent-quality affordable housing to suit all those markets. Where is that in any of these proposals?
I think I heard Sir Edward Lister, the deputy Mayor for planning, say, “We anticipate up to 30% affordable housing on this site.” That would not be sufficient. The demand from the GLA is for at least 50%, and for 60% of that to be social housing for rent. That is a more realistic configuration in my view. Even if that were right, my previous experience gives me no confidence that any of that 30%, or whatever figure is finally decided on, would be genuinely affordable. Every scheme in Hammersmith that the Mayor has had his sticky fingers on has resulted either in zero affordable housing or a small quantity of housing that is affordable only to people who are very rich. As I often say of discount sale properties at 80% of market value, the people who can afford a £1.6 million new-build flat on the riverside at Hammersmith are not much different from the people who can afford a £2 million one. In the Earl’s Court area, the disgraceful destruction of the exhibition centres is going on: iconic buildings are being torn down, despite this country’s chronic lack of exhibition space, to build 1,300 luxury homes on the site, with no affordable units at all. Nothing that the Mayor of London has done in the entire period in which he has been engaged in the opportunity areas in west London fills me with anything other than scepticism that we will have a single unit of affordable housing.
That is a disgrace. Until it was abolished by the previous Conservative council, there were more than 10,000 people on the waiting list, some of whom had waited more than 10 years for social housing in Hammersmith. If just the proportion that local plans say should be built were built on that site alone—never mind the other sites—it would go a long way toward resolving the issue. Not only would it be a template for what the Mayor would like to do in Tottenham or other deprived areas into which he sees mayoral development corporations going, but, in itself, it could solve a great deal of the chronic employment and housing problems in that part of London. That is what I meant when I was talking at the beginning about the opportunity costs of developments such as this.
Just south of the area is White City estate, which is about 2,000 units of social housing. It was built on land compulsorily purchased in the 1930s to provide decent-quality, good-standard accommodation with good space for poorer residents of west London. If we could do that by compulsory purchase in the 1930s, why in the 21st century are we not ambitious enough to try to provide the affordable homes that families need, especially when most of this land that I am talking about is public land?
It is a scandal that people are living in severely overcrowded, damp and unsanitary conditions in my constituency, in surrounding constituencies and, indeed, in most constituencies in London at the moment; that people are homeless; that people are living under threat of eviction; and that, as a result of Government policies on benefit capping, capping of local housing allowance and the bedroom tax, people are increasingly being forced to move out of their local areas.
As a consequence, we see family break-up and people being moved away from their schools and jobs, when the opportunity exists to provide large numbers—thousands—of units of affordable housing on brownfield sites such as the one I am discussing. That is the biggest scandal of this development as it is proposed. I firmly believe that, because that is the major ambition of the three councils, it is one of the key reasons why the Mayor and his cronies do not wish to see this piece of land being made subject to local jurisdiction.
Let me deal with the issue of Wormwood Scrubs. Why is Wormwood Scrubs in the MDC area? Originally, the land immediately south of the MDC area, which includes Hammersmith hospital, Wormwood Scrubs prison and other places, was all included, but those other places have now been excluded as part of a revision of the original plan. Nevertheless, why include a piece of wild open space that is fully protected by legislation and currently sustainable, as well as being much loved by the local residents who use it, in this development area? That question needs to be answered.
There was a consultation in relation to the setting-up of the MDC, as is required. The original consultation on the merits of the scheme as a whole produced results. The Mayor portrayed them as being marginally in favour of the MDC. Here are the actual figures: 95 respondents in overall support; 43 in overall support but raising specific questions or recommending some changes; 135 objecting to the proposal; and 35 undecided. To me, those results are a pretty clear indication that the majority are either opposed to the proposals or sceptical about them, and yet they were portrayed as people being in favour of them.
Even if there is any doubt about that original consultation, when there was a further specific consultation on the amendment to see whether the changes around Wormwood Scrubs should be implemented, the results of the 247 responses were: four in overall support; three in overall support but raising some specific questions; and 228 specifically objecting to the continued inclusion of Wormwood Scrubs within the proposed development area. Yet the Scrubs is still being included in the development in exactly the way it was originally.
I hope that we have defeated the proposal to build on the Scrubs itself. That was originally an option, as with the Overground development, which I think is just an outrage. Although we have not yet had that decision on the Overground development from the Mayor, I hope that that option will be ruled out. Although I do not think it is particularly good, I hope that the option that results in two stations some distance apart and not infringing on the Scrubs will be chosen—it is called option C—and that we will not have a viaduct going over the Scrubs itself.
However, the Mayor still says that improvements to the Scrubs as a result of including it in the MDC area could relate to biodiversity and accessibility from the surrounding area. That starts alarm bells ringing. The original proposal was that there would be wetlands on the Scrubs. That may sound very nice—we have the wetlands at Barnes, of course, which are very popular. However, it misses the entire point that Save Our Scrubs and other organisations have made about what Wormwood Scrubs represents.
Wormwood Scrubs is not a commercialised or manicured open space; it is not Kensington gardens and it is not the wetlands at Barnes. It is Wormwood Scrubs, and it performs a different role from that of a town park or a recreational open space. It is 60 hectares of scrub, grass and woodland, which supports a wide variety of plant life and wildlife. It provides pitches for football and other sports, and adjacent to it is the Linford Christie stadium. It also has the Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre, which was built by Anneka Rice and which is used by disabled children. There are also two separate play areas for children: one for under-fives; the other for five to 13-year-olds. It is regularly used by dog walkers, botanists, bird watchers, kite flyers, kite-boarders and model aircraft flyers.
I do not know whether the Minister or shadow Minister have visited the Scrubs, or are familiar with it, but it is literally a breath of fresh air for inner London. It is a place where people feel completely removed from the world around them, and which genuinely feels almost like a piece of open moorland or park. However, it also has areas of scientific interest and wildlife. We do not want that to change, or the Scrubs to become an adjunct to the development planned for the area north of it, in the so-called “sensitive enhancement” to the Scrubs. We want the area to be left as it is, and managed by the local people, the local council and the charitable trust.
Of course, the reason why we are suspicious about this process is that the more that the Scrubs can be portrayed as a recreational facility for the “mini-Manhattan” that the Mayor wishes to build in the area, the less by way of open space and recreational facilities he will have to provide within the development area itself. We see that happening all the time. Developments go around much smaller pieces of open space and when the planners ask, “Well, where is your amenity space, apart from your two-foot by two-foot balcony?”, the developers say, “Well, it’s there. It’s Ravenscourt park,” or, “It’s Bishops park,” or one of the other parks in Hammersmith.
Open space is precious in inner London; there is little enough of it as it is. Where there are new developments, they should provide their own open space, both for their own residents and for public communal use. Yet we face the prospect in our area of things being done simply to make money—simply building the skyscrapers and the buy-to-leave flats that will undoubtedly be the feature of this development, as they are everywhere else in Earls Court, White City, Shepherds Bush market and every other area, including all along the riverside, where the Mayor and the previous Conservative council chose to develop.
This scandal involves building blocks of flats that dominate the area, shut out the light and ruin the environment for local residents, without having any socially useful function themselves: they are safe-deposit flats for Russian, Chinese or Malaysian investors, who simply buy them up and let them out on short-term lets, or use them once or twice a year, but other than that leave them empty because they are simply there to dump money.
Is it not the case that, in effect, the commitments for the planning of London since the second world war involved a great bargain with Londoners? That bargain was: “We will have more of you living in the air, in high-rise blocks, but in exchange for that we will provide more compensatory open space.” Any new high-rise that is not providing compensatory open space is breaking that social contract with Londoners.
Again, my right hon. Friend puts it more eloquently than I possibly could.
There are different views on high-rise living. The previous Mayor was a fan of it and I have an open mind on the issue. There are some fantastic high-rise buildings in London and other cities. A lot of people would prefer to live nearer the ground. There has been some rethinking of the 1960s and ’70s architecture, and we have done some of that redevelopment in Hammersmith ourselves. Certain types of residents, particularly families and young children, prefer houses with gardens.
That is the obscenity of the Earl’s Court development, where 750 good quality low-rise councils flats—rented, leasehold and, now, some freehold properties—are to be demolished. A couple of thousand long-term residents, many of them elderly people who have lived in those homes for 50 years, are being pushed out and the place is going through a period of up to 20 years’ development, simply so that a developer can make money building high-rise flats on the site, but not, frankly, high-rise flats that any normal person, on a normal income, would ever be able to afford.
Let me just finish what I was saying about the Scrubs. Two or three things need to be clarified. First, the Scrubs needs to be removed from the development area. Perhaps, under a future Mayor, we can look at the whole ambit of the development area and try to disaggregate Park Royal from Old Oak. We need a tsar, whether it is Lord Adonis or whoever—somebody who has both the passion and the understanding to take forward complex schemes.
Of course, I want HS2 to succeed. I am delighted that, as a consequence of HS2 coming to my constituency, I will also get Crossrail there, and as a consequence of that I will get Overground stations. I know that I am pointing out the negatives. That is the purpose of this debate. There is not much point my talking about all the good things that are happening: they speak for themselves. HS2 is controversial because of its cost. It will be controversial in this location for the people I have referenced who are worried either about their lives being disrupted or about not getting sufficient compensation. I will fight hard for them and I am sure that the other west London MPs will do so as well.
I do support the project. It is essential nationally and will produce regeneration and unlock this site—previously impossible because of the poor transport links—and will make that transport interchange one of the biggest in the UK. It will also generate jobs and the ability to have new homes in the area. However, why should we be told, “Well, there you are; that’s your lot. You now put up with whatever we decide that we will put on that site. And we will put on that site something which is unsustainable, which alienates the existing local community and drives it out by pushing up land values and prices to a level where people on ordinary incomes can’t afford them, and which pushes out local business”?
It is not beyond the wit of Government at central, local or regional level to regenerate an area this size in London in a way that is beneficial to Londoners and achieves a profit for developers, but not an excess profit, and achieves the strategic transport links that we all want to see, but not at the expense of ordinary residents of west London, who will not just not reap the benefits of this project, but will reap its disbenefits. The project will make people’s lives miserable while the construction continues; it will be difficult to sustain; it will ruin their local environment; and it will possibly weaken their opportunity to have decent housing and decent jobs. That is the opposite of what regeneration should do.
I think probably all Governments have got out of the habit of intervening in and managing projects like this. That does not mean that they should micro-manage or that the detail should not be left to the private sector, local authorities and others. However, with the creation of the MDC, we are seeing a construct designed to exclude exactly those people who should be in the driving seat: the local residents and residents’ associations. They were all consulted. There are some excellent residents’ associations in this area. There are now some excellent co-ordinating groups. For example, the London Tenants Federation and the Grand Union Alliance have pulled together many local residents’ associations, including Island Triangle Residents’ Association, College Park Residents’ Association, and associations representing Old Oak, Wells House road, and the Wellesley estate.
I have worked with all those groups extensively over the years, either in my current incarnation or previously as the MP for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush. They are sensible people who have detailed knowledge of the local topography and are very well able to represent the thousands of people who are going to be directly affected. Yes, they were consulted, but their views have been ignored. That is the problem. Will the Government follow through on their own rhetoric about neighbourhood planning, localism and ensuring that people who have a community interest in the area, but also a pecuniary interest, can continue to have the quiet enjoyments of their home and to live and thrive in the area? That is what is at risk under the current proposals. At the very least we need to reconfigure the area of the MDC and we need a new process. We need a new board structure; we need to make it more legitimate and more democratic; and we need to involve residents more and listen to them. We need a neighbourhood planning role in that way. If that is done, I do not see the problem.
The other logistical problems of co-ordination, which I have talked about, are resolvable with good will. This does not have to be party political; it does not even have to be that difficult a problem to solve. Ulterior motives and ideology dictate that any large development now going on in central London and high-value areas of London has to be of this uniform nature: “How can you sweat the asset?” “How can you extract the maximum amount for whichever development company it is?”, whether it is the Qataris or other developers in the end; I do not know.
That is not the world I want to live in, and that is not what my constituents want from this development. How terrible that this fantastic opportunity is now something that people are dreading, because of the disruption it will cause to their lives and the fundamental changes for the worse that they think it will make to the area. This should be a cause for celebration and an opportunity to deliver the homes and the jobs, and the environment, that Londoners need and deserve. That is not what is happening at the moment, and that is why I have asked for this debate today.
I make no apology for going on at some length, because there is a lot to say. I believe that lessons should be learned from this development, which is, as I said, only the second MDC. London boroughs and MPs should study what is happening in Old Oak and learn the lessons there. The Government should learn those lessons too and think again about ratifying what is effectively a folie de grandeur of the Mayor.
I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Let me start by presenting the apologies of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan)—who is your hon. Friend, Mr Hollobone, and also my friend—who wished to be here but is otherwise engaged meeting representatives of the European Commission in Brussels to discuss the environmental shortcomings of High Speed 2. I am sure she is doing a good job there.
Few localities face bigger impacts from any infrastructure project than the Euston-Primrose Hill part of my constituency faces from HS2. To make some simple points, the homes of 500 people will have to be demolished and the homes of more than 5,000 other people will be exposed to living next to and overlooking a demolition, engineering and building site for more than a decade and possibly, depending on the final proposals, for as many as two decades. Those living in the area have been suffering from what we might call psychological blight. It is five years since the hare-brained scheme was first announced, and it is no nearer any firm, implementable proposals than it was at the start.
I must confess that my original objections were wholly parochial. It is my job, as it is of any individual MP, to try to represent the interests of those who live in my area. Sometimes, an MP may say, “I think there are national considerations that outweigh some local interests,” and I have done that on other issues. In this case, however, the more I have looked at HS2, the more stupid it gets. If the HS2 proposal were to go through, those who currently use Euston as their London terminus—those who come in on the west coast main line or on local trains—would have their use of Euston intermittently interrupted for more than a decade.
There are those who say, “The west coast main line is a bit unreliable at present,” but they ain’t seen nothing yet. It will undoubtedly get considerably worse, because major engineering changes are proposed to the Victorian engineering works of one of the world’s greatest engineers, Robert Stevenson. I do not see anyone around who compares with him. For instance, there has been talk of excavating and putting the High Speed 2 line 3 metres lower than the existing track. That line is next to a retaining wall in the major cutting from Primrose Hill to Euston, and those behind HS2 said they would not need to replace it. Anyone with a grain of sense understood that digging 3 metres below a Victorian wall would mean that it would have to be replaced, and that is now accepted.
There will be major disruption, but the fundamental problem, which takes me on to matters related to the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) made, is that Euston is not a good location for the mainline station for High Speed 2. Euston’s onward connections are very poor. It has no connection to Crossrail or the Heathrow Express, and it has poor connections to the tube system that presently serves it. There would be far more sense in having a station at Old Oak Common, and that is what the people behind HS2 proposed. They clearly originally envisaged it as a parkway station that would have the advantage of connecting with Crossrail and the Heathrow Express.
[Jim Sheridan in the Chair]
Surveys that are utterly unchallenged by the Department for Transport and High Speed 2 show that for many places in London, people would do far better getting off at a parkway station at Old Oak Common, instead of coming into Euston. The first five Crossrail stations to the east of an Old Oak Common station are not exactly in obscure locations. They are Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon and Liverpool Street. People could get to all those stations 10 minutes quicker—HS2 has not denied this—by getting off at Old Oak Common than by getting off at Euston. Despite the fact that Tottenham Court Road station is at one end of Tottenham Court road and Euston is at the other, it would still be quicker to get to the other end of Tottenham Court road via Old Oak Common and Crossrail.
I can do nothing better than note the acceptance of that by the originator of the HS2 scheme, Lord Adonis. In autumn last year, he wrote that by getting off at Old Oak Common, commuters could get into the City and to Heathrow
“in a fraction of the time and with far less congestion than travelling via Euston/King’s Cross/St Pancras and the Victoria, Northern and Circle lines”.
If the main proponent of HS2 recognises that Old Oak Common would be a better place to get off, I do not need to say much more about it. I and other people in my area, including railway experts, have been saying it for a long time, and we have been mocked most of the time, but no evidence has been produced to knock down the case we are making, and we were gratified to note that Lord Adonis agrees with us.
The other virtue of having the station at Old Oak Common is that it could be purpose-built. It could, from the start and without having to bodge around existing lines and all that sort of thing, be designed to integrate properly the Crossrail, HS2 and London underground lines. For the first time in London’s history, we would have a purpose-built integration of services. Up to now, any new services in London getting anywhere near the main termini have always been bodged—a tunnel has been pushed through here and a tunnel pushed through there to try to cope with the existing stuff getting in the way. Old Oak Common would be infinitely superior in every sense.
High Speed 2 acknowledges that Euston cannot cope and that, if the scheme went through and Euston was the main station in London for HS2 and it worked, and if people actually caught it and got on and off the trains, the station would be so overcrowded that it could not cope. To allow it to cope, they are now saying that Crossrail 2 will be necessary at an additional cost—a mere bagatelle in terms of HS2—of £20 billion. That is on top of the £50 billion they are already talking about. So Crossrail 2 will be required to get passengers away, but even then Euston will not be on Crossrail 1 and will not be connected to Heathrow. Nor will there be any connection between High Speed 2 and the channel tunnel link, known as High Speed 1. All the propositions that were originally put forward in favour of HS2 turn out to be rubbish.
As my hon. Friend pointed out, if properly organised and planned, Old Oak Common provides a wonderful opportunity for a big new main London HS2 station. It can be a catalyst for a huge amount of good quality redevelopment, providing jobs, housing and a lot of genuine local amenities for people in the area. Without HS2, the chances are that any redevelopment of Old Oak Common will be, shall we say, held back.
It is now five years since HS2 was proposed. A Bill on the scheme had its Second Reading in the House of Commons, but the proposals that it contained relating to my constituency have been abandoned. There was a proposal for a connection above ground between HS2 and the channel tunnel link. Everyone said that it was rubbish, including the Institute of Civil Engineers, and we were duly mocked. It was abandoned because even HS2 had to recognise that it was useless.
Turning to what has been happening at Euston itself, we were told that, under the original proposal for Euston station, the new, magnificent super-station would cost £1.2 billion. Eight months later, they recalculated that it would cost £2 billion. An increase of £100 million a month is not bad. I do not know who made the original estimate and how much they were paid for it, but we should have asked for our money back. The cost went up to £2 billion, at which point the full-scale refurbishment and rebuilding of Euston was abandoned. Instead, the proposal was that to save money there would be a sort of elegant lean-to shed for HS2 next to the existing Euston station. Even that was going to cost £1.4 billion.
As time has gone by, various other aspects have turned out to be rather pricier than expected, including this business of having to rebuild the retaining walls of the great cutting, which does not come cheap. There is currently no firm proposal on the table for the refurbishment, redevelopment and rebuilding of Euston, including HS2. We were promised—I think it was in June—that the revised plans would be available in October. Most people thought that when they said October, they meant October last year. It turns out that the plans might be available in October this year, but there is no indication of what is going to be proposed or the costs, other than talk of the project at Euston now costing £7 billion. Compare that with the £1.2 billion on which the original commitment was made.
I believe very strongly that the opportunity provided at Old Oak Common should be adopted. The Department for Transport and HS2 have estimated the likely demand and usage for Euston, and they say that that is why it must be Euston and we cannot have the major interchange at Old Oak Common, but they have never produced any detailed figures showing their calculations. Even if, ultimately, some limited HS2 connection should come into Euston, common sense suggests that the best thing to do would be to ensure that the station at Old Oak Common is sufficiently extensive and modern, and that it can cope with people and get them on and off HS2 and on to Crossrail and the tube system. It would be best to go ahead with that and then, in the light of experience and knowledge, rather than guesswork—up to now, everything to do with Euston is guesswork—decide whether any HS2 service needs to go into Euston.
For that matter, from the point of view of transport strategy, should there be a line that goes from Old Oak Common to an east London connection? It could be underground all the way, because tunnels do not cost all that much—compared with stations, they are cheap. We could tunnel from Old Oak Common to connect to, say, Stratford International, so that people could go from the north of England or the midlands straight through to Paris.
Currently, that proposition is not available, and it is not going to be available. There really must be a serious consideration of the opportunity provided by a first-rate, properly planned and executed development at Old Oak Common for HS2 and Crossrail. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith said, we could then go on to the wholesale redevelopment of that area, particularly the brownfield site, to the benefit of local people.
Until I heard what my hon. Friend had to say, I had not intended to comment on the proposed structure for dealing with the major redevelopment of the part of his area that is so crucial to three boroughs. Quite frankly, I have no faith whatever in an idea run from city hall. The history of everything in London, including county hall under the Labour party, has been that, whenever something is done from either county hall or city hall, the interests of people living and working in a particular locality come last, and the fancy ideas from think-tanks, vested interests and all sorts of other people come first.
Although I do not agree with all aspects of the redevelopment behind King’s Cross station—there should have been more housing and particularly more social housing—it was none the less the product of a lot of hard work by Camden council and, to a lesser extent, Islington council, without any great contribution of any sort, least of all financial, from city hall. The London boroughs are capable of getting together and producing joint projects that will do the job, but the problem that that poses for city hall and Whitehall is that local councillors, by their very nature, reflect the needs of local people in a way no one else does. That is why my hon. Friend is right to be extremely suspicious of this new development corporation approach to the proposed huge redevelopment involving Old Oak Common and, possibly, Wormwood Scrubs. That approach cannot be right.
We need to look at Old Oak Common as a brilliant transport opportunity, but it must be developed properly. It must be properly integrated with the delivery of other things that people in the area need, including a lot of new housing and new jobs, and opportunities for start-up businesses. The area should not be sacrificed to great big multinational corporates, because the only thing we can be sure about with them is that the interests of the people living around Old Oak Common will not be their main interest. Their main interest is a great big bag marked “Swag”, which they want to be as big as possible, and which they will probably take off to Liechtenstein, Luxembourg or Switzerland, or to one of the four big British banks’ 1,649 subsidiaries located in tax havens.
My right hon. Friend is waxing eloquent, but he is also being extremely accurate. I mentioned the Earl’s Court development, where the partners are, on the one hand, Transport for London and, on the other hand, a Capco subsidiary company—a £2 company registered in Jersey. Public sector organisations are actually in bed with tax-dodging companies, and those companies have no liability: if a development goes well, they get the lion’s share of the money; if it goes badly, the public purse has to pick up the damage.
It is, admittedly, difficult for anybody respectable not to be involved with tax-dodging companies, given that HSBC, RBS, Barclays and Lloyds are all tax-dodging companies, while PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG and people like that are also heavily involved in tax dodging and have whole office blocks devoted exclusively to it. It is quite difficult to get away from that.
I would like to make one other point, and here I plead not socialist examples, but Winston Churchill and Adam Smith. A bit more than 100 years ago, when he was a Liberal and a member of the great reforming Liberal Government of 1906, Winston Churchill said it was a scandal that private property owners would benefit exclusively from the enhancement of property values following public investment in particular projects. He was in favour of a special tax on rental income in those circumstances. In support of that, he quoted from Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations”, which also said there should be a special tax on rises in property rents in such circumstances.
We therefore need to look seriously at any major redevelopment, such as that proposed at Old Oak Common, to make sure that, when billions of pounds of public money go into it, the public get something back directly. That is not happening at the moment. Crossrail has been a major investment by the British taxpayer—by people all over the country. About 18 months or two years ago, the company produced a brochure to a fanfare of trumpets—it wanted applause. In that brochure, the company stated that it had asked an estate agent for advice, and it now believed, on the basis of the information it got, that the value of the property around each Crossrail station was likely to go up by 25%—a wholly gratuitous, buckshee gift from the taxpayer to the property owners around each of those stations.
We need to adjust our approach to make sure that if, as I hope, Old Oak Common station is properly developed, some of the financial benefits will flow back to the people who live in the area and to the councils that represent them. The benefits should not go just to those who will whizz the money all round the world with the assistance of the banks and all sorts of other peculiar companies. There should be some sort of tax on the increase in property values.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Sheridan.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) on securing the debate and speaking so eloquently on behalf of his constituents. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) for making a really interesting and captivating case for Old Oak Common to provide the major HS2-Crossrail-tube interchange. I hope somebody somewhere who has a say over these matters was listening to the sensible case he made. I will concentrate most of my remarks on the issues raised by my hon. Friend in his excellent, forensic dissection and examination of the key issues relating to the manner in which redevelopment is being undertaken in his area. It is worth emphasising some of those points.
Clearly, my hon. Friend’s local community supports redevelopment, as indeed do he and I, but there are real concerns about the approach being taken to secure it. That includes the mayoral development corporation’s governance arrangements, the time scales adopted and the accountability, or rather the apparent lack of accountability, to local residents. They are also concerned about uneven development across the MDC area, which I suggest is not a good way of securing community confidence in a development. They also have queries about the funding of infrastructure and how and when it will be delivered. There are concerns about the balance between housing and employment land, and about whether there will be any affordable housing. That concern is shared by the London Assembly Labour group planning spokesperson, who said:
“Given the capital’s acute housing crisis, the provision of high levels of affordable housing should be at the forefront of the MDC’s aims. To achieve that goal we strongly believe the Mayor should include a requirement that 50 per cent of all new homes are affordable, with a 60:40 split between intermediate and social rents. Instead he has neglected to set any targets for affordable housing.”
Surely that is not an acceptable way to proceed.
There are further concerns about boundaries and, indeed, about why Wormwood Scrubs has been included at all. There are queries about compensation. Local knowledge seems not to have been listened to or taken on board. Residents want better use of transport and improvements to local transport, as well as access to jobs and apprenticeships. That is quite a long list of issues, and we look forward to the Minister’s comments on them.
I want to look in more detail at the mayoral development corporation model and question why it has been rolled out across London. This is the second MDC and there may be others in the offing, and I question whether it is the most appropriate model to support redevelopment. I want briefly to consider other models that might be available, and how we go about delivering national infrastructure. At the moment there is little connection between what happens in national infrastructure projects and what happens in localities. There are other models available for improving the links between the two and ensuring that local areas’ needs are reflected in national infrastructure projects, and vice versa.
One of the concerns already raised about MDCs is whether they are underpinned by sufficient democratic accountability arrangements. The Mayor has set out that the Old Oak and Park Royal MDC would have three local authority representatives on the board, and three members on the planning committee. Perhaps the Minister can explain why that is considered acceptable, especially as the powers given to MDCs under the Localism Act 2011 are extensive and include powers relating to infrastructure, regeneration, development and other land-related activities, acquisition of land by compulsory purchase, and overriding third party rights in that land, adoption of private streets, carrying on of business by the MDC and its participation in subsidiaries and other companies, and giving financial assistance.
When the MDC model was proposed in the then Localism Bill, the Government were at pains to stress that the model would be used only for the Olympic park site. In Committee on 8 March 2011 the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), then the Under-Secretary of State responsible for planning, responded to concerns about the possibility of MDCs being rolled out in other areas:
“Regarding the background as to why the power is cast as it is, it was made clear in evidence by Sir Simon Milton, the deputy Mayor, that Mayor Johnson has no intention of going beyond the mayoral development corporation for the Olympic park.”
He said that the only reason for not putting that in the Bill was that it
“would have created all manner of technical and legal problems, which would prevent the timely setting up of a body”. ––[Official Report, Localism Public Bill Committee, 8 March 2011; c. 906.]
Yet here we are a few years later; and that model is being rolled out.
As it happens, Labour members of the Committee were not convinced by the Minister’s arguments, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford) pointed out that the legislation does not limit the scope of the Mayor, in designating an MDC, to the Olympic park:
“It gives the Mayor carte blanche to come forward with proposals for an MDC in any area in London. I am not sure how compatible that is with the localist thrust of the Bill. There is not any provision for what happens if the Mayor proposes an MDC in an area where the local authority does not like the idea, and where a local neighbourhood forum has come into existence, and says, ‘We do not like the idea either.’ That is unresolved and there is no mechanism for it. That is a curious omission in a Bill that is supposed to have a well worked out theory of localism.”––[Official Report, Localism Public Bill Committee, 8 March 2011; c. 900.]
My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley)pointed out that the Bill gave the Mayor new powers to designate any area of land in Greater London as a mayoral development area. She expressed worry that there would be
“nothing to stop a future Mayor from establishing a new mayoral development corporation”
anywhere, and there would not be close enough consideration of what the London boroughs might want to do in their areas when putting the MDC together or drawing up plans to support regeneration. She pointed out that the provision could override the wishes of locally elected representatives,
“which would not be within the spirit of the Bill.” ––[Official Report, Localism Public Bill Committee, 8 March 2011; c. 905.]
Although the Mayor has a duty to consult local authorities and residents in setting up an MDC, he is under no obligation to act on their views or concerns. As we made clear in 2011, that is profoundly anti-localist.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras and I stress that we want redevelopment in many town and city areas and that we support development in London, but we must be careful about the model applied. The Minister has to explain why he is going for such a top-down model for delivering new infrastructure and housing when other, better models are available. Perhaps in 2011 such a model might have been accepted for the Olympic park, but people then were at pains to point out that it would not necessarily be suitable for other areas. Indeed, then and now they have stressed that it is better to use effective partnerships for regeneration, and that that could happen by the public and private sectors working together on infrastructure and housing delivery.
The Minister will know that Sir Michael Lyons was commissioned by Labour to examine the issues and consider models that would make it possible to deliver new housing and infrastructure, and jobs to support that. He was asked to look at a model for use in the 21st century; as we have all said, it is not acceptable to ride roughshod over the views of local people and their local representatives. Sir Michael proposed new homes corporations and garden city development corporations. He said—this is what I want to emphasise—that those delivery models should be based on an updating of the existing new towns legislation. Most serious commentators on regeneration recognise that we need a vehicle to deliver redevelopment and large-scale housing developments. Such a vehicle has to bring together a number of different organisations, agencies and partnerships and to include a mix of private and public sectors. It also has to be the right tool for the job.
That is why we need the new development corporations: to think properly about what it means to have a new generation of garden cities, urban extensions or new settlements. They should enable development based on certain key principles that already underpin the original garden cities. There should be an obligation to have meaningful community participation, not only to undertake consultation. The corporations should consider human health and well-being and look at what sustainable development really means and at how they would tackle climate change. Those would be statutory purposes, rather than policy objectives only. The Town and Country Planning Association has already issued a document to update the new towns legislation. The Government could simply have taken that off the shelf, put it through Parliament in a lot less time than the Localism Act 2011 took, and had something fit for purpose. Such vehicles should inspire community confidence in the delivery of regeneration, because if communities do not like what is happening, they are likely to object, which can slow a process down.
It is much better to get communities on board from the outset and to listen to what they have to say about how their areas should be regenerated. Communities should be involved in the drawing up of a master plan, which should be based on neighbourhood plans that they have been adequately supported to carry out in their area, so that we give communities real power over what happens in that area through the new town development corporations. Critically, we should also be supporting communities to drive forward redevelopment in their area to suit the needs of the local community and to deliver many of the different aspects and positive outcomes for local communities that we might expect from redevelopment, such as access to new jobs, better transport, better housing and more affordability in the housing stock.
Given the experience in my area of the privatised Royal Mail proposals for the redevelopment of its brownfield site at Mount Pleasant—the views of Islington and Camden councils and all the local people were overridden by a one-man decision by the Mayor of London—most people in my area will be dubious about any form of arrangement that does not continue to give primary powers to the locally elected representatives.
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I often find myself thinking about the disconnect between what the Government say about localism and powers for local people and what happens in reality, which is that local people might be consulted on plans for their areas, but are then ignored. That brings the planning system into disrepute. It is important to get back to a planning system that is visionary, but facilitates local people to develop plans in their area and helps them to think about what they want their neighbourhood and surrounding areas to look like in 25 or 30 years’ time. It is not beyond us to do that.
Additionally, on the need to update the legislation, many of the new towns did not always reflect the highest quality in design standards, so we proposed that the new homes and garden city development corporations should think properly about improving the quality of design. That, too, can often be achieved by involving local people who know what is suitable for their area and have a good understanding of the materials that should be used. That could be written into the legislation, but I cannot see any of it in the mayoral development corporations at the moment. Perhaps something like a design statement will appear in the plan, but I want to hear reassurances from the Minister about how that plan will improve the quality of housing delivered.
Finally, what can we do about national infrastructure delivery? Part of the powerful case put this afternoon is that we need a much better link between what happens at national infrastructure level and what happens locally. The Labour party, through Sir John Armitt, has come up with some really good proposals for improving national infrastructure by having it underpinned by an independent assessment of our needs, which should be carried out through a detailed assessment that looks forward over a 30-year period.
Whitehall Departments at the centre would therefore be required to set up and carry out sector infrastructure plans, which would go to Parliament for approval. Those plans would have to be all-encompassing in what they look at, including aviation, ports, transport, science, renewables, nuclear, strategic flood defences, resilient roads and rail, how we get integration, telecommunications, recycling, energy efficiency, water and waste, security of supply—I could go on, but I hope that I am making the point that we need such extensive consideration. A spatial element is also needed, and there needs to be a link with what is happening locally, in particular with local areas proposing growth plans through new homes corporations and garden city development corporations, so that the needs of the local communities speak to the national infrastructure and so that it can take on board the local plans.
We have set out a much more sensible way for the Minister and his mayoral colleague to undertake development in London. Indeed, the strategy is also a sensible one for development elsewhere in the country. I look forward to hearing from the Minister why he should not adopt it immediately.
I thank the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) for highlighting such an important area of work. Infrastructure investment is a critical building block of the Government’s long-term economic plan. I share his determination to see maximum benefits for local people as a result of our investments.
I have observed the hon. Gentleman in the debates we have had and he has never been a “glass half full” man. I have to say that I do not share his dark, bleak, depressing and negative interpretation of what is being proposed and driven through. After that bleakness, the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) lifted us with his contribution. I will add a little light, understanding and clarity on what is being proposed and the outcome being sought. Importantly, I will make sure that the democratic process behind it is understood as well as the role of the residents and their confidence in a journey that, it is proposed, will last some decades; they have a full role to play in the process.
Let us take one nationally significant infrastructure project, Crossrail, as an example. We can clearly see why there is so much focus on ensuring successful economic outcomes for both the local area and the wider economy. Although located in London and the south-east, Crossrail is generating jobs and business opportunities around the country. Europe’s biggest construction project, it is providing a boost to a whole range of UK industries. Over the course of the project, we expect at least 75,000 opportunities for businesses, and 97% of the £6.5 billion in contracts let by Crossrail to date has gone to contractors based in the UK; 62% of that has gone to firms outside London and 58% to small and medium-sized businesses.
This Government have made improvements to the planning regime for significant infrastructure projects. The bespoke regime ensures faster decisions on national infrastructure projects, and gives much needed certainty to developers and investors. The system is working well, with a number of notable decisions taken to date, including on the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in March 2013 and on the Thames tideway tunnel in September 2014, which was mentioned earlier. Hinkley in particular highlights how well the system is working: the planning consent was granted just 17 months after application, compared with the over six years it took to grant consent for the Sizewell B facility under the old system.
Making decisions quickly is not the only priority, however. Local people must have the chance to influence decisions on national infrastructure where it affects their area. The nationally significant infrastructure projects regime ensures that that happens, through pre-application public events, local authority statements on public consultation and formal representations during the inspection process. To return to the example of Hinkley, when seeking consent for the project, the developer held 37 public exhibitions and 67 stakeholder meetings, engaging with almost 6,500 consultees. The story does not end there: as the hon. Member for Hammersmith has highlighted, it is not only the national infrastructure itself that is important, but what is done around it to support it, link it to local people and ensure the maximum positive benefits for businesses and local communities.
The economic potential of the Old Oak and Park Royal development area has been catalysed by Government investments in High Speed 2 and Crossrail, and is huge. Current estimates from the Greater London authority are that the area has the potential for 24,000 homes and 55,000 jobs. Over a 30-year period, the development would ensure economic regeneration worth some £15.5 billion to the UK economy. I am sure that everyone recognises that that level of investment and outcome for our country is extremely important, and we need to seize the opportunity with both hands.
How do we do that? Local leadership is key. The Greater London authority, working with local partners, including the three London boroughs in the area, has proposed a mayoral development corporation for the Old Oak and Park Royal area to ensure that growth happens in the best way for the local community. I welcome that move. To support delivery on the scale required, the MDC will provide leadership for a single, robust plan with clear direction. The MDC will bring together transport agencies, local authorities, developers, landowners, local businesses and, crucially, local communities around a common goal of ensuring that the redevelopment is a success. Rather than individual developers coming forward with competing proposals for the area, the MDC will draw together the strategy and engage developers in its delivery. That leadership is crucial for success.
My Department is working well with the Greater London authority to ensure that the MDC is established in good time. As a result, I am pleased to say that the statutory instrument required to establish the MDC has now been laid before Parliament, and the MDC will be established on 1 April this year.
I know that the hon. Member for Hammersmith has raised concerns regarding the MDC. He is right to make people aware of his concerns through this debate, and to ensure that his constituents have had the opportunity to challenge. Many concerns, such as those about membership of the MDC board and its planning committee, are matters for local agreement. But we should note that the boroughs will be represented on both the board and planning committee, and I am particularly pleased that, as a result of public consultation, the board will also include local business and community representatives. It is also good to see that the MDC is planning wider community engagement, including proposals for a community charter to be prepared and agreed in collaboration with local groups, and that the Greater London authority is ambitious about maximising affordable housing provision across the site.
I have represented my own views, but I quoted extensively from all three boroughs for the area, the residents associations, groups such as the Grand Union Alliance and GLA members because they all share my concerns. All the groups that the Minister has mentioned—democratically elected bodies, residents’ groups and umbrella groups—have the same concerns. They are all in one basket and the Mayor is in the other.
There is a difference between our two approaches. I am not saying that the hon. Gentleman should not challenge things—if I were the MP for the area, I would as well. But I have more confidence, because I have been in local government—I know he has been as well—and I have never met a group of councillors that simply sat back and let themselves be manipulated by another party.
The hon. Gentleman should have some confidence. There are three authorities involved, all of which happen to be Labour-led, and I am sure that they will not sit back but will make sure that there is a role played by local authorities in the delivery. The terms and conditions and the outcomes sought by the MDC can come about only through negotiation between the local authorities and the GLA. Those negotiations have not concluded yet.
Issues such as housing and transport provision will be determined in the local plan, which will be delivered in 18 months’ time, after the mayoral elections. My own experience with a local plan in my constituency has shown me that that is the time for residents to participate in the process and for locally elected representatives to play a full role in making sure that they can shape the outcomes.
It is not the case, as has been suggested, that the Mayor will just roll forward with his own ambitions, along with greedy developers. If the plan is not appropriate, the inspector will reject it. If there is not sufficient affordable housing, there is an opportunity for the inspector to reject the plan on those grounds. If a future Mayor decides that they want to put more housing into the offer, they will have the opportunity to review the plan and put that in. To suggest that there is no affordable housing is wrong.
The Government’s track record on delivering affordable housing far exceeds that of the previous Labour Administration. I remind Members that more council houses have been delivered in the nearly five years of this Administration than were delivered in the 13 years of the Labour Administration. Tom Copley said that he is embarrassed that Margaret Thatcher delivered more council houses and flats in one year than the Labour Administration delivered in 13 years. I hear the right hon. and hon. Members’ lectures and rhetoric about there being no affordable housing. They say that it is appalling and that we have let people down, but I know, as a former Housing Minister, that there were 425,000 fewer affordable homes in 2010 than there were in 1997. It is the Labour party that has failed people who want secure homes.
I am not going to rise to the Minister’s bait, because he is getting somewhat off the subject. For eight years we had a Tory council, for six we have had a Tory Mayor and we have a Tory Government, and our direct local experience is that 500 council houses have been sold off, council houses have been demolished and whole estates have been scheduled for demolition, all with the active collusion of the Mayor. That is what has led to the suspicion of and the complete lack of confidence in this proposal. I am not going to get into a joust about the national figures, because I dispute what the Minister says. He is asking us to trust City hall to deliver, but our local experience tells us that we should do the opposite.
All that demonstrates is the fact that the hon. Gentleman does not understand the process. I am concerned that residents may be listening to the hon. Gentleman when he says that in the future affordable housing will not be delivered. The local plan and localist policies are giving members of the public and elected representatives the opportunity to determine where affordable housing is built. It is not in the hands of the Mayor. The hon. Gentleman said that the previous Conservative council did not deliver. He has now got three Labour councils, and he seems to have no confidence in their delivering.
The best prospect for relieving the pressure on Camden’s housing was the Mount Pleasant Post Office site, but the Mayor has given full-scale approval, using his existing powers, for what can be described only as a speculative housing development. He said that there will be some social housing, but it will be at 80% of market rent. He is cracking a pretty good joke, because in that area 80% of market rent is £30,000 per year.
We need to place this issue in context. The right hon. Gentleman has complained about the delivery of houses, and said that he does not like the formula. However, he makes no reference to the fact that one of the reasons why residents in London are struggling to find houses is that the Government of whom he was part failed to deliver housing. The Mayor of London has delivered 23,000 affordable homes, and he is on track to deliver another 15,000 before the end of the year. We asked him to deliver that, and he was confident that he could do it. He is also going to deliver another £1.1 billion of affordable homes in the future.
There are too few houses, which has forced up rents over a long time. It is important that we build houses, whether by building social housing or private rental housing, or asking councils to utilise some of the £300 million-worth of resources to build council houses themselves. The Government have delivered what we promised on affordable housing, and our record will be compared with the previous Government’s absolute failure to deliver over 13 years. A Labour elected representative has recognised with embarrassment that the Labour Administration failed to deliver in 13 years what Margaret Thatcher delivered in one. I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concern, but he must reflect on his party’s failure before pointing the finger.
Before I conclude, I want to pick up on some of the issues that have been raised, and to give some reassurances. The local plan will be delivered over the next 18 months, and it will set out our expectations on affordable housing. It will be subject to the rigorous examination that we would all expect. The MDC plans will also set out important safeguards to existing assets in the area, including the Park Royal industrial area and Wormwood Scrubs. That is key to ensuring that development happens in the right way for the local people in the area.
Old Oak and Park Royal is just one example of the impact national infrastructure has on local growth. By definition, national infrastructure projects have the potential to create benefits across the country, and there are examples of that along the whole length of the proposed High Speed 2 route. I realise that the right hon. Gentleman has been a ferocious opponent of that project. We both served on the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill Committee, and I completely respect the stance that he has taken, but as a northern Member of Parliament, I recognise that it is extremely important that we make use of the opportunity to increase our connectivity and capacity to ensure that the whole of the country grows as a consequence of High Speed 2. That does not mitigate all the individual challenges that the right hon. Gentleman has raised today and in the past.
The main objective of High Speed 2 is to promote economic development in five cities—Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester—but if the £50 billion were broken up into five nuggets of £10 billion and offered to each of those cities to promote economic development, does the Minister think that the first thing they would do is to club together to buy a railway?
I have heard the right hon. Gentleman pose that question several times before, but that is not how the project should be interpreted. Actually, it will benefit eight out of Britain’s 10 largest cities, linking them together and delivering a significant economic contribution to each of them. Journey times to London, and from London to other places, will be reduced, and the economic opportunities will be absolutely massive. However, as in London, the key to success across the country will be local leadership. Local enterprise partnerships will bring together elected individuals and businesses to work with the Government, agencies and other regeneration organisations.
It is important that we harness this opportunity. I recognise the challenge that elected representatives in London face, but there is a broader issue to be addressed. We are also delivering a comprehensive northern transport strategy that will complement High Speed 2 and set out the priority corridors and areas for investment and infrastructure across the north of England, which will drive economic growth and deliver the vision of the northern powerhouse. It is important to recognise that the infrastructure investment and changes that are going on at this end of High Speed 2 are connected to other parts of the country.
Apart from his frolic on council housing, I appreciate the tone of the Minister’s response. The purpose of the debate is to help not only to achieve those national objectives, but to take into account local considerations. Will the Minister deal with two points, which are not party political? Will he look again, as the Save Our Scrubs organisation and many others have asked, at Wormwood Scrubs being taken out of the area covered? There is no logic to it being included. Will he also encourage the railway companies and Transport Ministers to meet with the West London Line Group to look at its innovative and detailed proposal for the better integration of rail in that area? Surely the Government and Mayor keeping an open mind on both those issues cannot do any harm.
In his speech, the hon. Gentleman asked how all these difficult things would be led and delivered. The fact that there are three council representatives, three local community representatives, and the rest of it is made up of independent individuals who have no financial determination or interest associated with the planning committee is important. As far as the board is concerned, the fact that there are players there who will be in charge of that particular part of that process and be at the helm, driving the outcome, is also extremely important. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, though. The negotiations between local authorities and the GLA are continuing, and I am certainly prepared to write a note on the observation that he has raised, which is that different groups would like to participate and understand how the process works.
I am sorry to contradict the hon. Lady, but only a few days ago, the Chancellor announced massive investment in the east coast line for new stock to be delivered as soon as possible. She is right that an infrastructure development the size of High Speed 2 or High Speed 3 is a generational process. As far as the east coast line is concerned, we already have the infrastructure there, and there is massive investment in transport through this Government.
Before I move on to the issue of localism, let me reiterate a point, so people can hear it in the Minister’s voice, because I know that some out there will be concerned about some interpretations that were given earlier. Wormwood Scrubs is protected by the trust. Nothing will happen unless the trust agrees to that intervention, or whatever it is—and I have no idea that there is to be any intervention. However, it is important that the trust is part of the process; that they are there inside, driving that. There is suspicion and the idea that there is some ulterior motive associated with this, but the trust is in control and the trust—not any other person outside that—will make the determination.
The hon. Lady talked about localism and about a mechanism. I am sorry to be critical in response to the points she made, but I worked in and represented a large metropolitan authority. I sat on some of the leaders boards in the north-east as well, and I know that the historical machine of a Labour Administration had nothing to do with localism. Now, four years later, they have not had a road to Damascus moment and forgotten about their regional strategies and regional government and the power that was taken out of local authorities and given to RDAs, which were driving political decisions from the centre, and the fact that outcomes were driven by centrally located targets. I am not quite sure of the details, but I am sure that the Labour Members voted against nearly all the provisions laid out in the Localism Bill, so heaven forbid that a Labour Administration come back and change some of the powers that we have given to local authorities.
The reality is that local authorities, regardless of their political colour, will be empowered to have that strong relationship in driving forward the day-to-day planning activities associated with the MDC. Local residents can be confident that it will be their representatives doing that, regardless of the political party. It may be Labour Members who are out there arguing that, and I will champion them if that is the case and that is what they need to do. However, there is no removal of the democratic process in this.
The fundamental bit, which completely contradicts the argument made by Labour Members, is that the Mayor is elected and is up for election in a year’s time or so. Individuals will be able to challenge the new candidates about what is on offer and the outcomes that will be determined, but the local plan, the engagement of local authorities, the role of the Mayor, the fundamental role of the representative, and the fundamental role of the citizen are all actually empowered by this process.
I am most grateful for that, Mr Sheridan, and I will limit myself to those two minutes.
I thank the other three Members who took part in the debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) and I disagree on the advisability of HS2, but I cannot disagree with very much that he has said today, because he has put so eloquently the arguments on behalf of his constituents and is doing so as strongly now as he did 35 years ago, when he first arrived in the House. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods), who drew the argument to our concerns more generally on localism and the use of MDCs. I thank the Minister for his comments and for agreeing to refer onward the specific points that I made in relation to the Scrubs and the West London Line Group.
Four points were clearly not dealt with. We will have the debate on council housing in general another day, but the omission of dealing up front with the issue of affordable housing in these proposals from the Mayor is the most glaring. It is silly of the Minister to say that three Labour councils should be able to fight their cause and win when they have three votes out of 15 on the board. It is simply wrong to say that the Scrubs is entirely protected. We have already seen an attempt to put a viaduct over it and an attempt to turn it into wetlands, just in the preliminary issues. We are fearful about that.
Finally, if the Minister is right and plans can evolve over time, why the haste to push so much through in the current Mayor’s last term of office? There are suspicions, notwithstanding the great opportunities. I hope that this will be a site that all of London will be proud of in 20 or 30 years’ time and that it will create opportunities not only for my constituents, but for everyone who lives in that part of west and north-west London, but I fear that, at the moment, we are going about it the wrong way. Let us hope that I am proved wrong.
We have had a very good debate today. We do not often have the opportunity to go into this degree of detail. I am very grateful to you, Mr Sheridan, and to Mr Hollobone for chairing the debate. The Minister is right about one thing. We will continue to fight our corner and our cause with all the forces that he has heard about today, in the community, the councils, city hall and elsewhere, to ensure that the resolution of Old Oak is satisfactory to my constituents.
Question put and agreed to.