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Development Plan For London

July 16, 2002

Development Plan For London

I congratulate the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) on securing this important debate. We go back some five or six years. Hon. Members may have wondered earlier how I could talk about the intricacies of the London borough of Enfield. The reason is not only that I am a bit of a political anorak, but that I was a candidate – sadly unsuccessful – in the 1997 election in Enfield, North.

I remember meeting the hon. Gentleman when he was a mere prospective parliamentary candidate. It struck me then how firmly he felt about the importance of housing and homelessness issues. During the year that I have been in the House, he has become a leading light in discussing the issues, although he is sometimes a thorn in the side of his own party. It was not a great surprise that a debate on a development strategy for London would concentrate on the issues in the draft London plan and effective housing.

The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) said that London is a wonderful place in which to live, and I agree. All London Members recognise London’s brilliance, history and vibrancy and the fact that it is a melting pot for people from different cultures and for the young and the old. Equally, it cannot be denied that London has deep-seated problems, and I hope that we can play our part in solving them. We must confess that the role of the 74 London Members is limited. A London Mayor is in place, and we must ensure that we do not obstruct what he is trying to do.

I welcome the publication of a visionary strategic plan for London. This might make me sound a little like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) discussing the Maastricht treaty, but I must confess that I have not read the document throughout. I suspect that reading the draft plan in order to contribute to the consultation process will take up a disproportionate amount of my summer recess. Nevertheless, it makes important comments on the sustainability agenda and transport, in particular Crossrail.

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Harrow, West): Will the hon. Gentleman take time during the summer recess to go through the Mayor’s development strategy in detail and consider it in the light of a possible bid to host the Olympic Games in 2012 or 2016, something that I have long believed London should do? In considering that will he recognise that one of the reasons for making such a bid is to help stimulate the investment in infrastructure and affordable housing that London so desperately needs and that were features of both the Commonwealth games bid in Manchester and the Sydney Olympic games bid?

Mr. Field : I fully accept those comments. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be talking to his constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner). Perhaps looking at these large-scale sporting complexes has not been the Government’s greatest hour. An Olympic bid for London may be a bit further away than 2012 or 2016.

I shall keep my comments brief, as I know we have to move towards the winding-up speech. I want to make a few points about affordable housing. The policy of 50 per cent. affordable housing in central London, which has been calibrated on the basis of 35 per cent. affordable housing and 15 per cent. for key workers, may have unintended consequences. If we have a tightly prescriptive policy from the Mayor on affordable housing, developers may think that it is not financially viable to go ahead and build, particularly in central London. We will suffer because of a lack of flexibility on rules in that regard.

Ms Buck : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Field : I am sorry, but I have to finish in a moment or two.

It is questionable whether this very ambitious agenda, or indeed any part of it, can be driven through by the current incumbent of the mayoralty. Like many other London Members I receive a positive blizzard of publications almost daily from the GLA and from Transport for London, the headcount of which has leapt from 2,257 to over 3,100 in the past year alone. Much of it is virtually irrelevant propaganda on an array of policy areas outside the work of the Mayor and the GLA and is produced by the Mayor’s policy unit.

I hope that the Minister will have something to say about ensuring that there is no centralisation by Government on a number of the planning aspects that several hon. Members have dealt with today. We need to put our trust in Londoners. My concern is that if we have a regional government whose raison d’aitre is to have a large-scale planning power, the 33 London boroughs will suffer. Effectively, planning decisions will be made up on high and will not be responsive to the interests and needs of local people in all the villages that make up London as a whole.