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Enderby Wharf Development

Volume 614: debated on Wednesday 7 September 2016

[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Enderby Wharf development in Greenwich.

It is a pleasure to see you presiding, Mrs Main. I am pleased to see the Minister in his place; as the Minister for Housing and Planning and the Minister for London, he is the perfect person to respond on behalf of the Government. I am sure that he will have been briefed, and I hope that he can assist us. It is no surprise to see my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), who has worked hard on this issue.

I first raised concerns about the Enderby Wharf development in 2014, when the matter was brought to my attention by my constituent Ralph Hardwick, who was subsequently joined by Howard Wynne, Martin Young and many others. Although this issue is in one sense complex, it is essentially simple: it is about air quality. As the Minister will know, there is a lot of evidence of the poor air quality in London. Evidence reported by the Evening Standard and others demonstrates that EU and UK Government clean air targets have been breached. There is clear evidence of the impact of poor air quality on human health. It adds significantly to the number of premature deaths and impairs our children’s healthy development.

Those data are not in dispute. We know that we have poor air quality and we know about its negative impact on our health, so why on earth are we allowing additional emissions to be pumped into our atmosphere in the centre of our great city, prospectively 24 hours a day, 155 days a year, by some of the biggest diesel engines ever seen on the Thames? Not only that, but why are we doing that when there is a simple, affordable and—most importantly—clean alternative already being used by other European cities and international ports? Indeed, it is required by many.

We are talking about cruise ships being moored on the Thames between Greenwich and Tower Hamlets. Let me be clear: I support the building of the terminal. Tourism is very important in London and we need the homes. I support more use of the Thames for business, commuting and tourism, since that is still cleaner and more efficient than other modes of transport, such as road transport. As a former shipping Minister and shadow shipping Minister, I also support the development as well as shipping generally, but why require these visiting vessels to run their diesel engines for the duration of their stay in London when a shore-to-ship energy source could power the ships more efficiently and more cleanly? Why not? This is where it gets complicated.

That is not required because there are no rules, regulations or laws obliging ships to connect to the grid. I have been raising this matter since 2014, when I wrote to the shipping Minister at the Department for Transport, but apparently it is not a transport issue. I wrote to the Planning Minister, the Minister’s predecessor, at the Department for Communities and Local Government, but apparently it is not a planning matter—certainly not for the Government. I wrote to the air quality Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but it is not singly an air quality issue, except that it is, it is and it is—it is all three. That is the problem: nobody has sole responsibility for this issue.

The Royal Borough of Greenwich is not—or was not—empowered to make it a planning requirement. It could have made it one, but I understand that it was advised against that and it was worried about legal challenge because it would have had no legal authority to require the developers to connect to the grid and use a shore-to-ship power supply. Therefore, although it cannot be held wholly responsible, it is the start of the problem.

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has no locus because the development is on the south side of the Thames, even though Tower Hamlets residents—my constituents—will be primarily affected. The Port of London Authority has no locus for land-based developments. The Greater London Authority cannot overturn the decision of the Royal Borough of Greenwich because it is a local planning matter. I understand that the former Mayor of London reluctantly approved the scheme because he could not challenge it and although the new Mayor of London, our former right hon. colleague, is taking a keen interest in addressing poor air quality, there is no power to overturn the decision of the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

The constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich who comprise the East Greenwich Residents Association and others have tried legal challenges, but so far there has been no success there, either. Therefore it is down to the developers, who could do the honourable thing and build a power source into their new development and still show a healthy profit, but they do not have to do that and, if that is not a requirement, why should they do that? Why should they do it? Because it is the right thing to do. The amount of money they would have to spend on that compared with the profit to be made off the site is negligible. I will come back to the developers later.

After I went through all the other Departments and having submitted a number of parliamentary questions and raised the matter in the Chamber, in Westminster Hall and in a variety of debates, the previous Minister of State responsible for air quality at DEFRA, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), before he was reshuffled, had promised to bring all the players together around the table to see if a voluntary deal could be agreed. However, he is in a new position and we, as Members of Parliament, local residents and campaigners, are almost back at the starting gate. As I explained informally to the Minister just before the debate started, it almost feels as if we are starting over again. We have had two years of campaigning on this, so I hope it will not take us two years to reach what I hope would be a successful conclusion. My question to the new Minister is: will he convene the meeting that was proposed and promised by the previous Minister at DEFRA, with his air quality ministerial colleague at DEFRA or off his own bat, because he outranks her, to get together with the developers, the Royal Borough of Greenwich, my hon. Friend and I to see if there is a way forward? Will he also look at the aspect of the planning regime and bring forward proposals to close the gap that exists not just for London but for other ports around the country? Especially with Brexit having been approved, we do not need European permission to introduce new regulations—even though other European ports in countries that are members of the Union do have such regulations while we do not. Why are we second class citizens when we could improve the situation for residents of our great ports and great cities?

The Minister may well be aware that the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently held an inquiry into air quality. It looked specifically at this issue.

I can see that the Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary is nodding. She and I are on the Committee and she will remember the exchanges with the air quality Minister. We looked specifically at this issue. Our report is about to be published—in fact, I am surprised to see her here because the report is being discussed right now in the Select Committee. We should both be there, but obviously we are here for this debate.

I am not aware of the final recommendations, nor the Government’s response because that is being discussed, but I hope that the Minister will look closely at that report when it is published this weekend. I would be happy to meet him to examine that aspect of the report, because I am pretty confident that the matter will be covered, that there will recommendations and that there will be a Government response, which may move this matter on.

In terms of the developers, Barratt, I checked its website this morning, which advertises properties at Enderby. There are some lovely graphics that advertise flats from £425,000, which I suspect is a one-bedroom version, to £785,000, which I suspect is for the three-bedroom versions. It says that residents will be the “envy of south London”, with views of Canary Wharf and the City. I was curious about why the balconies of the flats are enclosed in glass. Every other development that has taken place in east London that has balconies has left them open to the air. Given that I have been here 19 years, I am a cynical person. Perhaps it is because the developers do not want diesel fumes from the cruise ships coming into the brand-new flats that they are selling for £700,000-plus. As I said, that is my cynical interpretation—that may very well not be the case.

I have to say to Barratt that I expected more from it, being one of our premier building corporations. The development should be an even better showcase, not a cheaper, second-best, dirtier option. It would not surprise me in the slightest if the matter has been raised internally. These days, shareholders take a much greater interest in environmental responsibility and community responsibility and I hope that Barratt might be prepared to engage with us in respect of what more it can do to improve what we know will be a very difficult situation.

As I described at the start, this is a simple matter of air quality and trying to improve that which we have in London by not adding to the emissions already present owing to an absence of regulation. We have DCLG, DEFRA, DFT—the Department of Health will be picking up the pieces—RBG, LBTH, PLA, GLA and the Mayor of London, and no one is able to sort this out to the satisfaction of the residents. We all know that transport contributes about 20% to 25% of emissions and shipping is a fraction of that total, but, for those living on top of the new cruise terminal, that will be a significant contributor to poorer air quality as well as that of their community, east London and London generally.

Something needs to be done. We need a champion in Government. We almost had one, but he has been reshuffled. I say to the Minister: there is a vacancy, sir. He could fill that job and be the saviour who makes sure that air quality in London does not deteriorate any further. I hope he will think seriously about this issue, be that champion, engage with my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich and me, the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the developers and try to ensure that the situation not only does not deteriorate any further but improves and gives a lead to ports and cities around the rest of the UK to ensure that no one else finds themselves in a similar situation.

Thank you for allowing me to catch your eye, Mrs Main. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) said, this is an extremely complex and contentious matter and we have only a short time for the debate, so my remarks will be brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, which is of the utmost importance to our respective constituents.

Very few of my constituents are implacably opposed to the siting of a new cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf. Indeed, most recognise that the new terminal has the potential to make a positive contribution to Greenwich in terms of boosting tourism, creating jobs and supporting local businesses. What they will not accept—they are right not to do so—is those benefits coming at the expense of local amenities and air quality. Air quality is not a frivolous concern: the toxic and illegal levels of air pollution across our country and in our capital are an invisible hazard that contributes to the ill health and premature deaths of tens of thousands of people each year. It is nothing short of a public health crisis and it is one that requires a response commensurate with the harm it is causing. We know that shipping emissions in the form of nitrogen oxide and dioxide, as well as sulphur, are a major source of that pollution. Indeed, if things are left as they are, shipping will be the biggest single emitter of air pollution in Europe by 2020.

In recent years, a range of technical measures to reduce harmful emissions from ships have been introduced—the addition of scrubbers and the adoption of cleaner fuels to name but two—but none is a panacea. For example, low-sulphur fuel reduces sulphur dioxide levels and some particulate matter but does not remove all harmful toxins. Given the potential health implications of constructing a cruise liner terminal that would berth vessels emitting hazardous toxins into the air in the vicinity of a high-density residential area that is already an air pollution hotspot, it is little surprise that local residents and the East Greenwich Residents Association have organised to oppose it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse said, what makes many of them particularly angry is that when it comes to this unique scheme, there is an obvious solution already available: ship-to-shore power, or “cold ironing”.

Before planning authorisation, the developers and their consultants provided the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s planning board with an assessment that asserted that cold ironing was not feasible in this instance for three reasons. First, they argued that very few cruise ships worldwide have the ability to link up to shore-based power. Secondly, they argued that ship electrical requirements differed from those supplied by the UK national grid, meaning that an on-shore power supply would be an extremely complex task to undertake in this instance. Thirdly, they asserted that the costs associated with providing such facilities could be prohibitive to both the provider and user.

The independent consultants tasked by the council to look over the assessment accepted each of those arguments. However, I remain unconvinced that each has been properly investigated. It may be that only a small proportion of cruise ships worldwide are currently equipped with the necessary technology, but most operators are fully aware that shore-to-ship power is the future, that a growing number of ports in north America, Asia and Europe are investing in it, and that they will have to adapt at some point in the future. The electricity grid and on-board ship systems do use different frequencies, but the technology exists to render them compatible.

What is disappointing in the case of the Enderby Wharf terminal is that the developers have made seemingly little effort to explore the range of grid connections that might have been available through the various distribution network operators that serve the area. There are upfront capital costs to install shore-to-ship power infrastructure, but there are good reasons to question whether such costs are necessarily prohibitive over the long run. Indeed, several studies suggest that over time there are significant savings to be made for cruise lines in terms of fuel not expended while stationary in port, which could easily, with an agreement, be shared between the terminal operator and the cruise lines.

What is required in the case of Enderby Wharf is a serious examination of the feasibility and benefits of installing shore-to-ship power—not just today but in terms of the cost of avoiding the expense of retrofitting the terminal in the years ahead—and, more importantly, a genuine willingness on the part of those involved to approach the issue with an open mind. I hope the Minister will give us his thoughts on how that process can be initiated. If, instead, the developers insist on ploughing ahead with the scheme as currently proposed, they will do so in the face of widespread hostility from the local community and continuing negative coverage before a single shovel has even been put in the ground.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing the debate and the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) for his contribution. They both vividly described their constituents’ concerns about this particular development and were both powerful advocates for the communities they represent.

I will start by addressing one of the points that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse made at the outset, which is that this is a complicated issue because it engages the policy of a number of different Departments. I am determined to do my best to speak not just on behalf of my own Department, but for the Government as a whole. When I was a constituency MP, one of the most frustrating things was receiving piecemeal responses from different bits of the Government on a complex issue, so I will do my best to respond to all the issues that he so forcefully raised.

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will start with the issue that I am responsible for—the planning history in relation to the site. He made one point particularly powerfully: that the planning system has a difficult job to do, because it has to balance competing interests. He was commendably honest in saying that there are a lot of good things for London about the development, such as the contribution it will make to our tourism and the new housing units that will be built, even though they may be more expensive than the three of us would wish to see given the needs of Londoners and their ability to afford them.

By way of background, I point out that planning permission for a new docking jetty for cruise ships, plus a hotel, residential units, a skills academy and other infrastructure, was originally applied for in November 2010 and was granted by the Royal Borough of Greenwich in March 2012. As part of that planning application, planning obligations of about £400,000 towards the monitoring of emissions and improving air quality in the immediate vicinity were agreed. My Department did not receive any requests for the Government to call in the original planning application.

A further application was submitted last year to revise the terminal element of the development and other features, including by replacing the hotel with two residential towers. The 2015 proposal was subject to an environmental impact assessment, which identified no significant impact on local receptors. Though it was technically outside the scope of the application, because the principle of the jetty had already been agreed to in the original application, my understanding is that the Royal Borough of Greenwich commissioned consultants to undertake a detailed air quality assessment. The results of that assessment showed that vehicle emissions would not lead to any exceedances of the relevant air quality objectives for all pollutants, with the exception of short term nitrogen dioxide concentrations, which I think we would all agree are still a very serious issue. Those concentrations were calculated using the worst case scenario, and the results showed that it was highly unlikely that they would combine to result in exceedances of the directives. Interestingly, there was also no objection from the Environment Agency in relation to the application.

A number of residents in the constituencies of the hon. Members for Poplar and Limehouse and for Greenwich and Woolwich have recently campaigned vigorously against the development on air quality grounds, as has been explained, and asked for the 2015 application to be called in. I think the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse also wrote to the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), requesting that. He considered those requests, having regard to the national call-in policy thresholds that we set to determine when applications should be called in, and decided not to call in the application in this case. The Government are committed to giving councils and communities more power to make decisions on planning themselves and believe that, wherever possible, those decisions should be made locally.

As the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse said, a resident then took the case to judicial review, on the grounds that Greenwich council had failed to require, or take into account the need for, an assessment of the total cumulative effect on air quality, including the effects of ship emissions. The High Court held that Greenwich council had considered the air quality issues in line with the relevant planning policy and guidance, and had made no error in law in its decision.

On air quality as whole, as a Londoner I completely understand the strength of the concerns that local residents have expressed and that the two hon. Gentlemen have articulated in this debate, including the cumulative impact on local air quality. It is worth remembering that, since December 1997, each council in the UK has had to carry out a review and assessment of air quality in its area. If a local authority finds places where the objectives are not likely to be achieved, it must declare what is called an air quality management area. It is an indication of the scale of the issue that we face in London that the entire borough of Greenwich is designated as an air quality management area. Anyone listening to the debate will understand why both residents and their representatives have particularly strong concerns about the issue.

The planning policies and guidance issued by the Government include strong protections to safeguard people from unacceptable risks from air pollution, and new regulations on sulphur emissions from ships have also recently come into effect. The national policy statement for ports is clear that decision makers—in this case, the Royal Borough of Greenwich—

“should generally give air quality considerations substantial weight where a project would lead to deterioration in air quality in an area, or leads to a new area, where the air quality breaches any national air quality limits.”

The national planning policy framework, for which my Department is responsible, explains that those national policy statements are relevant to local authority planning decisions.

We have set out in the national planning policy framework that planning decisions should ensure that new development is appropriate for its particular location and that the effects, including the cumulative effects, on the existing background levels of pollution should be taken into account. It also sets out that planning policies should

“sustain compliance with and contribute towards EU limit values or national objectives for pollutants, taking into account the presence of Air Quality Management Areas”—

as I said, the whole Borough of Greenwich is an air quality management area—

“and the cumulative impacts on air quality from individual sites in local areas. Planning decisions should ensure that any new development in Air Quality Management Areas is consistent with the local air quality action plan.”

There is strong evidence that national planning policy gives significant scope for the consideration of those issues in the determination of planning applications.

I turn to shore-to-ship electrical provision, which both hon. Gentlemen mentioned. The national policy statement for ports—which, for clarity, is a Department for Transport lead, although I am not trying to pass the buck at all—sets out that all proposals should either include “reasonable advance provisions” to allow the possibility of future provision of shoreside fixed electrical power infrastructure or should

“give reasons as to why it would not be economically and environmentally worthwhile to make such provision.”

We have made clear that national policy statements form part of the overall framework of national planning policy, so that statement would have been a material consideration in decisions on the planning application. Ultimately, however, it is a matter for individual local authorities—in this case, the Royal Borough of Greenwich—to consider what conditions should apply to a planning application to make the development in question acceptable in planning terms before consent is given.

The hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich set out with commendable clarity the three tests that have been applied in this case, and the fact that Greenwich Council—or its advisers, it sounded like—had accepted the three arguments put forward. He also laid out why he remains unconvinced on those three points, which we might wish to return to outside this debate.

The Government take air pollution very seriously and are committed to improving the UK’s air quality, reducing health impacts and fulfilling our legal obligations. Not only this Government but the Labour Government who preceded us have improved air quality significantly over recent decades. Since 1970, sulphur dioxide emissions have decreased by 96%, particulate matter by 83% and nitrogen oxides by 61%. None of those figures, however, mean that the situation faced by many Londoners, and indeed people in other parts of the country, is satisfactory. There is clearly further progress to be made, and I entirely understand the concerns raised by the two hon. Gentlemen today and by their residents and constituents.

I understand that colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Transport who lead on air quality and shipping and maritime policy respectively will be examining the issue of shipping emissions as part of the UK’s national emissions ceiling directive implementation plan. Shore-to-ship electricity is one feature that might control emissions. Clearly, we should consider all technologies and all possible regulatory levers.

We have made sure that local councils have the tools they need to ensure that developments are appropriate for their location and to prevent unacceptable risks from pollution. However, I end by saying that I am very happy to meet with the two hon. Gentlemen and to talk to my ministerial colleagues in order to look further into this case. I commend both hon. Gentlemen for raising their constituents’ concerns in the House.

As I have a two-minute response to the Minister in this half-hour debate, I will make three quick points. First, I am grateful for the response and for the opportunity of a meeting. Secondly, the High Court obviously does not believe that Greenwich had the powers in question, because the judicial review said that the guidelines were complied with. Thirdly, and most importantly, it defies logic and common sense that a borough that exceeds the current air quality limits and is going to have cruise ships sitting in the middle of the Thames, giving additional emissions, will not suffer worse air quality as a result of that. The law does not cover that, because the High Court has said it does not, but I am very grateful for the Minister’s offer of a meeting with myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook). We certainly look forward to taking him up on that.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.