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Greater London Authority Bill

February 27, 2007

Greater London Authority Bill

Mark made a number of speeches and interventions in the debate on the Greater London Authority Bill

On the General Power of the Authority

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Like other Members, I shall speak briefly. I accept that most of the amendments in the group are uncontroversial, although I was wryly amused that the Minister had obviously liaised with the Mayor to ensure that the strategy papers would come on stream in tune with the electoral cycle, with the London mayoral election due to be held in May 2008. No one can dispute that we want to get on with the strategy papers at the earliest opportunity.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) made an important contribution. I was fortunate enough to serve on the Railways Bill in the run-up to the 2005 election. Much of the debate that we have had this afternoon was rehearsed at that time. There were grave concerns about the extent of the Mayor’s powers and the possibility of his tentacles reaching beyond the boundaries of Greater London. Some of those misgivings have been echoed by my colleagues who have expressed concern about the antics of Transport for London, but there are more important constitutional issues, which the hon. Lady raised in her contribution.

It would seem strange if, in my constituency, where both Paddington and Victoria stations are located, I had no say on transport matters. That is the result of devolution in London. Many transport issues do not fall within the ambit of Members of Parliament, even those with London seats. I would have no say about anything going on in my constituency in relation to Victoria or Paddington, but I would potentially have a much greater say about anything going on in Windsor or Reading, down in Sussex or beyond. That seems a strange precedent to set.

For that reason, when we considered the Railways Bill a strong case was made here and in another place to ensure that the Government removed the clauses that they now seek to insert in this Bill. As the Minister knows, the deal to remove the clauses expanding mayoral power was done in the run-up to the 2005 election. They caused grave concern not only about the expansion of the Mayor’s remit beyond Greater London, but about how, without getting into great politically partisan difficulties, he would be able to appoint a range of new advisers for the TFL board or the board representing areas beyond that.

I want to say a word about pedicabs, which were mentioned earlier by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich. It is to be regretted that my new clause 13 has not been selected for debate today. The matter was not debated in Committee, either. I understand that on advice from the Clerks, new clause 13 was considered to be out of order. However, the problem is a real one, and Transport for London and other transport bodies recognise that there is an increasing number of unregistered pedicabs, especially in the west end of London?some 300 or 400, and probably more in the months and years ahead.

I suspect that we are only a short distance away from the first fatality, when there will no doubt be a big hue and cry. I do not wish to blame the Government on this. Having had the opportunity to speak to the Minister’s colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron), I know that she too would like something put on to the statute book in double quick time. I am sorry that we were unable to use that as a device to get such a provision into this Bill. I implore the Minister to use the earliest opportunity to ensure that we have a proper registration process for pedicabs before some terrible accident happens, which will reflect very badly on legislators in this House and beyond.

 

On the London Waste Authority

Mr. Mark Field: The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) made some extremely heartfelt comments, and it is possible that I would take a similar approach if I represented a seat in the home counties. In our defence, it should be said that we in London have the country’s noisiest and most polluting airport, which is now to have a third runway. I suspect that many of the hon. Lady’s constituents use Heathrow when they fly off on their overseas holidays.

I was brought up not too far away from the constituency of the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West, and there were great battles in the early 1970s about the proposal for a new airport at Wing. That did not get built, and I am sure that many of her constituents were very much opposed to the proposal, just as they oppose a second runway at Stansted. To a certain extent, such things have a tendency to balance out.

I turn now to the main subject of my speech. It is great to be a sparring partner for the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), my next-door neighbour and colleague in Westminster. I suspect that, not for the first time, I shall support her Government rather than her amendment, but that is the way of politics. She made a heartfelt speech earlier, but there is a difference of philosophy between us.

Opposition Members believe that initiatives such as the one that we are discussing should work from the bottom up?that is, that they should operate at a very local level. Recycling is a personal responsibility, and I recycle bottles, plastics and newspapers two or three times a week. For me it is relatively easy, as the nearest recycling point is only 50 yd away from my apartment.

We must encourage people to take responsibility for their own lives, and recycling is an important thing to do. Therefore, in philosophical terms, it makes sense to focus on what happens at the local level in London’s 33 boroughs. I fear that the top-down approach exemplified by setting up a single waste authority would leave very little responsibility in the hands of individuals or local boroughs, and that it would not be an appropriate solution for the future.

However, the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North will be aware that the Mayor of London has called for a single waste authority for London to be established, with a view to it taking over the waste functions currently carried out by Greater London’s local authorities and existing consortium arrangements. Perversely, that single authority would have the greatest impact on those London waste authorities that have the strongest performance.

Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) said that Bexley had been a great success story, but the proposed arrangements would cause it to suffer something of a double whammy: having made the expenditure to set up a new incineration site at Belvedere, it would lose responsibility for it to the single waste authority.

I share some of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North about incineration, which is a terribly carcinogenic process. We must reduce the amount of stuff that we burn, and simply burying rubbish in the ground is in no sense a realistic solution in environmental terms. The fundamental point is that the London boroughs are closest to their communities, which makes them the best placed bodies to devise and promote arrangements to meet the many and varied needs of their populations.

A single body would mean an end to the income that individual authorities can expect from the Government’s landfill allowance trading schemes, which are an important way forward. There would also be increased costs for council tax payers, passed on through higher GLA costs and a precept higher than the cost of authorities’ own, often highly advantageous, waste disposal contracts. It has been suggested that the increase in overall waste costs might be as much as 5 per cent. In addition, there would be a risk of creating a monopoly service that reduced the end benefits that authorities can obtain for residents and council tax payers in a competitive marketplace.

Even if the powers of a single waste authority were confined to disposal only, the separation of disposal from collection would be enormously disruptive to the entire waste management chain?at least as it is organised in some central London boroughs. The ability of the authority to specify the types of material it would accept and the methods of transfer from collection to disposal could in practice lead to the imposition of a one-size-fits-all waste collection method. That is not the right way forward. Such a system is likely to suit the Mayor’s priorities, but it would fail to recognise the huge differences between London boroughs in terms of their population. For example, about 90 per cent. of Westminster residents live in flats or apartments?a great contrast with the situation in many outer London boroughs, which all have individual needs. Their ability to collect and dispose of waste in particular ways would be ruined under that one-size-fits-all proposal.

Ms Buck: Is not it the case that the proportion of residents of many European and American cities living in flats is at least as high, if not higher, yet those cities have a far better recycling record than London?

Mr. Field: I am not aware of all the overseas comparators, although I confess that I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling), who was a member of the Committee, whether there was a single waste authority in New York. He said that there had been one for quite some years, but I am not proposing that we should take the direct comparator route because I do not know enough about the New York situation, although clearly there is a large number of flats in Manhattan and one or two other New York boroughs. My concern about the one-size-fits-all idea is that it would go against the grain of many of the important initiatives that have taken place over the past decade.

There is no doubt that the UK has had a terrible recycling record for many years. The hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North rather excitably referred to a 19th-century recycling scheme. However, tens of thousands of people in London died from cholera every decade during that century, so whatever one thinks of the scheme she mentioned, we shall not be taking that recycling and waste disposal route in the years ahead.

Our record has improved significantly, so it is incumbent on anyone proposing a new system to recognise those improvements and ensure that any new arrangements bring about a step change. That would not be the case under the proposed authority. There is little justification for the Mayor taking over local waste collection and recycling services that already operate successfully in line with, or exceeding, national targets and strategies, as is the case in Westminster, where I hope there will be rapid improvements in the years ahead.

The Mayor has argued that a single waste authority is necessary in the light of both London’s relatively poor performance in diverting waste from landfill and the scale of the task the capital faces in meeting future targets. One accepts that there has been a relatively poor record, but it has been much improved. Collection and recycling arrangements have much wider implications for the quality of the local street scene. The development and roll-out of new services needs to be closely integrated with highway design, street furniture and cleansing policies, all of which should be pre-eminently local. Indeed, the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North accepted earlier that such matters should remain local. Although it is recognised that there are a significant number of underperforming London boroughs and that they require assistance, I strongly oppose any form of Mayor-controlled, single waste management authority for London. It would remove vital borough powers and produce an undemocratic structure that would be imposed on London’s residents.

Most importantly, no business case has yet been made for the Mayor’s preferred option of a single waste authority. I therefore urge the Government to await the conclusion of the ongoing discussions taking place on the issue between the boroughs under the guidance of London Councils, the umbrella organisation for London local authorities, before considering any future waste management structure for London. I am very grateful for the assurances that have been given by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who said that he felt that a single waste authority for London would not be the right solution.

I hope that if the new clause goes to a vote an overwhelming majority of Members in all parts of the House will defeat it. I accept the heartfelt way in which the proposal was made, but a single waste authority is not right for London, or Londoners, now.

 

On Planning

Mr. Mark Field: I will concentrate my remarks on the two amendments in my name?amendments Nos. 28 and 29?which would affect the City of London Corporation. They would put the area covered by the City of London in the same position as the areas covered by the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation and the Olympic Delivery Authority, as land exempted from the Mayor’s new powers of intervention. The areas to be covered by Thames Gateway and the Olympics are in a sense very special areas, but their general features are probably much more characteristic of London as a whole than is the City of London.

In Committee the Minister said that the land within the Thames Gateway and the ODA area were not excluded because there is no need to include them. Later, she said:

“the Olympics and the ODA refer to specific sites”,

whereas the policies to be dealt with by the Mayor

“apply across London as a whole”.??[ Official Report, Greater London Authority Public Bill Committee, 16 January 2007; c. 222.]

On those grounds there would seem to be good grounds to exempt the area covered by the City of London as well.

The City is certainly a very specific and atypical area, and the policies applied there are not the same as in the rest of London. [Interruption.] I am slightly worried as I see in his place the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), who, together with the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), has fought various battles about the electoral system that takes place within the City of London.

There are, of course, other fundamental differences. For example, the existing order under the mayoral involvement is triggered on planning applications that make different height and size requirements in the City as against Greater London as a whole. It is very difficult to see how the areas covered by the Olympics and the Thames Gateway would therefore be more distinctive. It is not as though the Mayor does not already have some involvement. The City’s own planning regime has to be in general conformity with mayoral policies under existing legislation. Neither does the fact that the Mayor has taken on a role in supporting the Olympics and the Thames Gateway make the argument for treating them differently from the City.

If a role as a cheerleader has ruled him out from considering applications, the Mayor would equally be disbarred from deciding applications in the City of London, as many of them concern tall buildings, as the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) pointed out in his powerful contribution earlier. That is a policy that the Mayor has said very firmly that he supports. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the case for the area of the City of London to be treated differently from the other areas to which we have referred?and therefore exempted.

I would like to speak briefly to amendment No. 29. In July 2005, the Mayor produced for the consultation of the London assembly draft alterations to the London plan, which included a 10-year target for the City of some 1,700 units?in other words, roughly 170 units a year. In October that year, he published further alterations to the London plan, which included a lower target of 90 a year. The alterations were then subject to public consultation and, after an examination in public, were finally adopted as recently as December 2006.

In the 18 months between the publication and adoption, the City argued strenuously that the figure of 170 units a year anticipated by the Mayor would actually be too high. With a 10-year cycle and assuming an average two-person household, it would have the effect of increasing the City’s resident population by about 3,000 people?in fact, by more than a third in that 10-year cycle. I have to say that the City’s population has been reduced year on year since the very first census of 1801?with the exception of the last 10 years, when it started very gradually to move up again. None the less, increasing it by a third over a decade would, in my view, be wholly unrealistic. As a result of sensible negotiation the figure was reduced to some 90 units a year, and the fact that it was accepted demonstrates that the original figure was rather too high. I hope that, under amendment No. 29, an application will not be regarded as being “of potential strategic importance” simply because it fails to comply with any policies in the development plans.

I would like to associate myself with the earlier comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait). She made her case firmly, explaining why we believe that this is a step too far and would like to avoid having strategic planning powers passed on to the Mayor, particularly when the definition of “strategic” has been left so open.