Andrew leads a debate in the Lords’ on urban regeneration

Asked by Lord Mawson

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans for a co-ordinated approach towards regeneration, in particular in the new metropolitan districts emerging in north-west England and east London and, if so, what they are.

Watch the debate here:

Lord Mawson: My Lords, when I first arrived in east London 30 years ago the Isle of Dogs was a waste land. At that time the financial centre of Canary Wharf did not exist. The culture of the public and voluntary sectors was anti-business. A dependency culture was rife and the councils running the surrounding boroughs of Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney were, I think it is fair to say, basket cases. Over the past 30 years, major changes have taken place and east London has been transformed. Because of the focused leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, and others taking part in this debate, a phoenix is now rising from the ashes and east London is once again becoming a global destination and a centre of enterprise, innovation, finance and business. It is increasingly being recognised as a powerful engine of the British economy as it had been, before the demise of the docks, for several hundred years previously.

It was a privilege to take the Commercial Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, and the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, by boat last week down some of the 6.5 miles of waterways across the Lower Lea Valley. My colleagues and I showed them all that has been achieved in a relatively short period of time and the potential that still exists if we continue to focus our attention and commitment. This trip is one of a number of water tours that I have been hosting over the past few years as chairman of the all-party group exploring regeneration, sport and culture, showing Members of your Lordships’ House and the other place the scale of development and investment opportunity in east London. Many of your Lordships who have made the journey east by boat with me have been surprised to see the rate of development, the scale of land and the potential for further investment in east London.

While chairing the APPG I was fortunate to make a voyage of discovery myself when the group’s secretary, the right honourable Hazel Blears MP, invited me to spend a day in Media City, Salford. What I saw there mirrored the developments in east London. I was shown pictures of former derelict docks and waterways that since the 1960s had been deserted. I learnt about a shared industrial history built around waterways. I also saw a modern experience of enterprise and regeneration in the midst of our poorest communities. I will let others who know far more about the north-west talk about what is happening 200 miles north. Suffice to say that these two areas of significant economic, cultural and social growth provide this country with important financial and business opportunities in a time when growth is ignored at great peril.

The purpose in raising this debate today is to make sure that these two important areas of growth are placed firmly on the map of the UK. They present the nation with development nodes that are nationally and internationally significant, now and in the years ahead. They require a sustained, co-ordinated and thoughtful response from the Government if they are to fulfil their true potential.

With only a few weeks to go until the Olympics begin, I will now focus my remarks on east London. For those of us who live and work in east London we know that the Olympics are actually not the biggest show in town, but a fantastic catalyst helping us join the dots of development nodes down the Lower Lea Valley. These are well advanced in Greenwich and the O2 in the south, at the expanding City Airport and the growing international conference centre at Excel-of which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord King, will say more-in the global business district at Canary Wharf, in Canning Town with £3.7 billion of investment, and further north in Poplar with a £1 billion housing and regeneration scheme with which I and my colleagues are involved. Here I must declare an interest.

At the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford across the River Lea we witnessed 1 million shoppers in the first week of opening. Stratford now has a new international station with a Eurostar platform. The Tech City concept at Old Street enhances east London as a rapidly developing science and technology hub. Sitting in the middle of all this activity is the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park that will hold five new villages and a commercial district. Again, I must declare an interest as a director of what is now called the London Legacy Development Corporation. This is a new city, a metropolitan district arising in the east of London that has profound implications for the capital. These development nodes are connected by the 6.5 miles of waterways. It was the late Reg Ward, the life force behind the Canary Wharf development, who many years ago described the Lower Lea Valley as a water city. If you fly into City Airport and look down you will see exactly what he meant.

As we prepare for the Olympic Games in east London we are 25 years into what is a 50-year regeneration journey. The opportunity to present to the world the investment opportunity is great, but the task is not complete. Continued focus and leadership in both central and London government beyond the Olympics are crucial if we are to ensure that the momentum created by the Games is not dissipated afterwards.

Underlying the regeneration and investment priorities in east London is the ambitious overarching objective of convergence, or narrowing the gap. The agenda aims to tackle inequalities by closing the socioeconomic gap between east London and the rest of the capital within 20 years. This is an aspiration that unites all six Olympic host boroughs and has support from the Mayor of London and national government. In Newham, along with this desire for convergence with the rest of London, goes the desire to be financially sustainable and become a net contributor to the UK economy. Ideas about convergence alone will not bring investment. The area needs a unique London identity like Wembley, Kew or Westminster if we are to attract international investors. Hence the “water city” vision for what are the historic docklands.

The 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games have helped to kick-start this sustainable objective. For example, Westfield shopping centre estimates that the Games brought forward its investment in Stratford City around five to seven years earlier than would otherwise have occurred. This added between £1.1 billion and £2.2 billion to the London economy. Oxford Economics found that with a skills mix matching the London average, growth in east London could generate an additional GDP of £7.3 billion a year by 2030 and improve the public finances by about £5 billion a year.

I would like to take this moment to refocus our attention on east London and alert the House to the bigger growth picture there that has significant implications nationally. The London Borough of Newham and University College London are currently exploring the establishment of a new campus for UCL. In terms of urban regeneration, the Olympic legacy and the future competitiveness of the UK, this development is of immense local, national and international importance. Of equal significance is the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone, for which the Mayor of London, the London Enterprise Partnership and the London Borough of Newham have high ambitions. The Royal Docks will be a world-class business destination for the knowledge economy through the creation of a science and technology hub within a high quality environment in which to live and work. This hub would complement the Prime Minister’s “tech city” vision. If this is successful, Britain has the opportunity to be a world leader in science and technology.

What threatens this future vision of east London? We all know that world-class infrastructure is crucial to maximising UK growth potential yet, despite over £1 billion of public investment, Stratford International station currently has no international services. There is support from East Anglia, the Midlands and beyond for the station to play a role for both HS1 and HS2, to increase business between the UK and the Continent. Disappointingly, the Government have not as yet confirmed Stratford’s role in the UK’s high-speed rail network, and so risk the benefits that this could bring to the UK.

Another area of concern is insufficient capacity on existing river crossings to meet current demand. Without this issue being comprehensively addressed, the Olympic host boroughs warn that it will be a significant barrier to achieving convergence. The major missing element in the Mayor of London’s crossing package is the absence of a firm commitment to a fixed-link crossing at Gallions. The Silvertown tunnel could provide necessary resilience to the Blackwall Tunnel, but this will do little for the regeneration of key sites, such as in the eastern Royals, Beckton, Woolwich and Thamesmead. For this, the Silvertown tunnel needs to be complemented by a river crossing at Gallions, a catalyst for economic development.

The fundamental danger, of course, is that when the Games are over the uninitiated will feel that they have now done east London and it is time to move on, yet that is precisely the time when the opportunity is at its greatest. To ensure that the vision for a fully regenerated east London is realised, that our national focus is maintained and that the microdetails of infrastructure are addressed, my first question to the Minister is: who is the person in Government today with responsibility for driving these changes through to the end after the Olympics have finished? Who is going to work through until Sunday evening and get out of bed on Monday morning to develop this national regeneration project with international implications? My next question to the Minister is: how will the Government ensure a co-ordinated response from across government departments to the new opportunities that I have outlined, linking this with other emerging growth areas nationally? This matter is bigger than the interests served by London government alone.

It is my view that by fully regenerating areas of potential growth, like the Lower Lea Valley, we will be making a significant contribution towards our immediate and future national economy. I realise that some noble Lords may have heard me reference these issues at the Second Reading of the Financial Services Bill last week but I see no harm in reiterating the point. Now is the time to co-ordinate all our efforts and ensure that east London is fully regenerated. We need to end on a full stop, not a comma.