March 4, 2010
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I congratulate Frank Dobson on securing this important debate. I associate myself entirely with his words. As he will know, we have tried to work together, along with Meg Hillier. Underlying much of what the right hon. Gentleman said is the fact that the Crown Estate has traditionally been a very good landlord. The communities that it has built have been more stable than many of those we represent in central London, where the turnover is 20 to 25 per cent. annually. Nothing could be further from the truth in Millbank estate, where a number of people have lived for the entirety of their lives, some 50 or 60 years, and where communities go through the generations.
The Crown Estate has been a force for stability and continuity in our central London constituencies, so it is disappointing that we have come to this pass. I cannot help thinking that it was the travails of that organisation over the past 18 months that persuaded it to look on the estates as something of a jewel in the crown for the purposes of a quick sale.
We hope that good sense will prevail and that it will be persuaded that a sale is not yet necessary-either by a general bounce back in the property market or in its other investments, or by a recognition that it would be better for these communities to remain intact and continue to provide the rental incomes to which it has become accustomed.
I cannot stress too strongly the sense of community that exists in Millbank, which I am sure is also reflected in these estates in other constituencies. There is a tremendous community there. The 640 or so Members of Parliament who do not represent constituencies in central London may have the impression that London has a transitory community, but in many ways nothing could be further from the truth. We all represent a collection of villages with a proud sense of history, and over the past 20 or 30 years residents’ associations and amenity societies have done a huge amount to instil a sense not just of history but of ongoing community.
I hope that the Minister will give credence to what has been said today. I work closely with local councillors in the Tachbrook and Vincent Square wards, where the Millbank estate is located, but I also do cross-party work, which I think is particularly necessary. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch played a major role in ensuring that we kept Bart’s hospital and in securing the important investment in Barts and the London NHS Trust, which is covered by Hackney, the City of London and the eastern areas of the Westminster part of my constituency.
These issues should extend beyond any sense of partisan politics, and I hope that we will continue to work together and put the interests of our residents first and foremost. It should be emphasised that key workers are not necessarily only in the public sector, especially in central London. Although a number of key workers in the Millbank estate work in local hospitals and schools and in public sector jobs here in the House of Commons, some of the people who are the glue in our communities work in newsagents’ shops and other relatively low-paid retail jobs but are nevertheless committed to living and working in central London. Without the properties in the Crown Estate and other estates in our constituencies, we will lose that vital social glue. I shall not detain the House any further, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Thank you for allowing me to make a brief contribution. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.