§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Gourlay.]
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West) rose—
§ Mr. Hamling
I am grateful to have the privilege of again raising on the Adjournment the issue of the redevelopment of the former Woolwich R.O.F. site. On the last occasion, I asked my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary several questions, to which I received replies, and I will not tonight cover that same ground. The questions I want to ask tonight are concerned with the pace, nature and character of the development.
I promise not to be long, because I understand that my hon. Friend has a long speech to make and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) would like to intervene in the debate.
One of the important questions in which the citizens of my borough are interested is how far in this new community shall we be able to fit the new citizens into the existing boroughs. It is most important that as soon as they arrive they shall become an integral part of the Borough of Greenwich. Another point on which we should like some assurance or information is the present state of the plan. We would like to know something about starting dates, when some of the land will become available and how soon we can start building. We are also interested in the form of new development, who will be there, how many, and whether the development will simply take the form of housing or, as we hope, it will be a mixed development with opportunity for the people who live there to work close at hand.
One of the problems which has exercised the minds of the citizens of my borough for a long time is the difficulty of transport in south-east London. Already, trains and buses are overcrowded and one of the anxieties of the people there is that this will add a vast 542 new population to the existing population, making present overcrowded transport unbearable and quite impossible.
We are also interested in the style of development. We would not like to see housing development which is simply of one kind. We would like it to be mixed and to provide some scope for industrialised building and we would like, under that heading, all the existing boroughs to work, in conjunction with the greater London Council and the Minister of Public Building and Works, in developing new forms of industrialised building. We want to see houses as well as flats and maisonettes; we want to see provision made for families, for old people's dwellings and for single people because let it not be supposed that only elderly people need small living accommodation.
We want there to be an opportunity for all sections of the community to come and live there and have a happy life. We hope that the form of buildings will combine both industrialised building and traditional building, and that we shall have colour, variety and good taste. There must also be proper provision for schools. We think very highly of education in London and we want good facilities for education, community centres, hospitals and welfare facilities of every kind. Above all, we would like to see a situation in which the people are being told what is happening as soon as possible.
My hon. Friend has long experience of local government and social questions. He knows very well how anxious people become when they are not told the facts. It is good government to tell people the facts as soon as they are known in as much detail as they are known. Accordingly, it is along these lines that I trust my hon. Friend will address his remarks tonight.
§ 10.19 p.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) for allowing me time to make a very brief intervention. There are two points which I wish to bring to the notice of my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.
First, can my hon. Friend give us some idea of the position concerning the River Thames flood barrier which will be alongside this development? Secondly, 543 I wish to draw attention to the concern felt in my constituency about the area of the sewerage works. If we include the reserve land and the tree barrier land plus the extension of the sewerage works, one-third of the total acreage fo the development, the whole of this reserve land is within my constituency. We are concerned with the odour which is sometimes associated with this type of development and wish to be assured that this will be cleared entirely from the site before the development is completed.
I wish to express very serious concern at the sterilisation of almost 50 per cent. of the area within my constituency. We believe that the land being reserved—100 acres of reserve land and 100 to 130 acres of land for the tree barrier—should be used for non-housing purposes. My view is that there should be no extension of a sewerage works in close proximity to an important development like this.
I welcome in general this great and imaginative scheme. There are other points which could be made, but we cannot deal with them at this time.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Robert Mellish)
I should deal straight away with the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) who properly expressed anxieties on two aspects—one concerning the sewerage problem on this site and the other the problem of possible flooding. He will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, replied to a Question on this matter on Tuesday last. I ask my hon. Friend to look at that because it answers some of the Questions which he raised. Those dealing with this tremendous plan are not unaware of the point which he made.
On my hon. Friend's point about sewerage, which is a vital one, I understand that the Greater London Council is considering representations which his borough, the London Borough of Bexley, has made. I hope that as a result it will be possible for the two authorities to reach agreement. There is no disagreement on the problems involved. I hope that there will not be any disagreement 544 on the way in which they should be resolved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) deserves the gratitude of the House for enabling us once again to discuss this great project, which is of such vital interest to many thousands of Londoners. I hope to touch on a number of the points which he has made in his speech. But he will appreciate that, since the planning of this scheme is still in progress and the draft master plan is currently the subject of consideration by the committees of the local authorities, I could only give general indications on a number of points.
The scale of this development is hard to grasp. So often housing authorities in inner London have been trying to cope with their problems by using to the fullest extent small sites of an acre or two. Here we have an area twice the size of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and with a river frontage three miles long, which in itself presents a wonderful opportunity for the planners and designers. On the other hand, apart from this river frontage and the view to the south across the hills of Bostall and Abbey Woods, the site itself has few natural advantages since it is low lying and much of it is marshy.
To make the most of this unique opportunity in London's planning history, we need the greatest measure of cooperation and imagination from all concerned. The primary responsibility is that of the Greater London Council. But it is doing this in close collaboration with the two boroughs of Bexley and Greenwich in whose areas this land is situated and the Inner London Education Authority. Both London Borough Councils are represented on a special submittee of the Greater London Council's General Purposes Committee and there is a parallel liaison group of officers of all the local authorities.
We in Whitehall are also ensuring that the different Government Departments concerned can collaborate in the planning. There is a special liaison group of officers of the Departments concerned which meets from time to time with officers of the local authorities and of the public transport undertakings, British Railways and London Transport. The special subcommittee and the two officers' liaison 545 groups are working to reinforce the normal central and local government machinery and processes of consultation with others concerned. The aim is to ensure full and timely consultation and co-ordination of effort and to give impetus and direction to the whole operation, but without detracting from the statutory and delegated powers of the councils and their committees. In this way every effort is being made to proceed with speed in settling a master plan which will have the greatest possible degree of agreement among the public authorities and other interests concerned.
When I spoke in the Adjournment debate —aised by my hon. Friend last April, I said that the Greater London Council's officers and those of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence were already in negotiation about the transfer of land from Government ownership to the Greater London Council.
I am now able to tell the House that most satisfactory progress has been made in planning for the relocation of Government uses from the land concerned. As a result, my right hon. Friend is now able to release to the Greater London Council about 500 acres at the eastern end of the site during the present year; and a scheme for releasing the remainder of the 1,020 acres is being worked out in consultation with the Greater London Council with a view to it all being released within the next five years. Taken together with adjacent undeveloped land which the Greater London Council already owns, there will thus be 1,300 acres for development.
But the release of land in itself is not enough; we must make the earliest possible start on building the houses. Here again, there is good progress to report. The Greater London Council has plans for beginning the first stage of the development, which can be carried out without prejudice to the implementation of the comprehensive plan now being prepared. The Greater London Council hopes to begin the first 1,000 houses by the end of this year.
I understand that progress with the preparation of the master plan is approaching a stage where it can be published in draft form—fairly soon. I agree with my hon. Friend that the more publicity we give to this, the better. I 546 cannot anticipate the details of the draft plan, but I think, from my discussions with the council, that its key features are likely to be variety and balance. No one wants to see a great development of this kind which is completely uniform in type of dwelling or in type of construction. I feel sure that with a development of this kind, which will house some 60,000 people, there is scope for a variety of forms of housing enterprise. There will, of course, be council housing. But we do not want to see nothing but council housing on this site. I am sure that there will be scope for the appropriate use of housing associations and provision for owner-occupation.
Equally, I am sure that there will be variety in the type of accommodation provided as between houses and flats, high rise and low rise and in the number of bedrooms per dwelling. The sort of points which my hon. Friend has made about the need to provide for the one-bedroom household will, I am sure, be borne in mind by the Greater London Council as housing authority.
This development provides a wonderful opportunity for substantial use of industrialised building. We must have an immense increase in industrialised building if we are to achieve our housing targets. Our national target is to reach 500,000 houses a year in five years' time and over the country as a whole to build one in five dwellings by industrialised methods. To reach that target will mean an immense increase over the present output of industrialised building; and there is the capacity to achieve this. I do not, of course, envisage, nor I am sure does the G.L.C., that every dwelling built at Woolwich will be built by industrialised methods. Traditional building will also be used for some of the development. Variety and other considerations come into the picture here, too.
It has been suggested that staff and buildings of the Royal Ordnance factory might be used for an industrialised housing factory to serve the Woolwich development, and indeed new building in south-east London generally. This, it was suggested, could attempt designs not tied to existing systems and capable of extensive variation of finish. The factory would be on a large scale and operate by direct labour under a consortium of 547 local authorities. A preliminary discussion of this project was held at a meeting of officials of the Greenwich Borough Council, the G.L.C., the Government Departments concerned and the National Building Agency.
This is a proposition for a factory on an altogether different scale from anything we have envisaged so far. Moreover, there is no shortage of productive capacity in the country as a whole and it is difficult to see where a factory of this magnitude would find its market.
The officers of the Greenwich Borough Council, who were present at the meeting, will be reporting to their authority on the discussions. If the borough would like further discussions on the proposal I shall be happy to arrange for these between the borough and experts in the Departments concerned and the National Building Agency.
The G.L.C., also, is urgently considering the best way of introducing industrialised building into this site. This might possibly be by a value-cost form of a contract under which the council would finance the construction and operation of a factory—to produce components for 1,500–2,000 dwellings a year—through a joint operation with a firm of contractors.
This idea for a factory to produce specifically for the site is a very different proposition from the major proposal I have mentioned. It may well be the right answer, but it needs to be looked at against a background of the production facilities in this part of the country. This the Ministry officials are doing as a matter of urgency in concert with the National Building Agency and the G.L.C. itself.
So far, I have discussed this scheme in terms of housing. But, immense though this aspect is, much more than this is involved. I am sure that the master plan that the G.L.C. is preparing will be a balanced one and will make the most of the opportunities which the three miles of riverside present, both as an amenity and to provide views for those who will live on the site.
To plan an area of this size gives an opportunity to introduce the very latest techniques of segregation of pedestrians from vehicles on Buchanan lines and to create traffic-free oases in which people 548 can walk and live in quiet and freedom from the noise, fumes and dirt of the motor vehicle and yet, at the same time, be able to enjoy its usefulness. A site of this kind will have its open spaces which can be planned in relation to the riverside and the water amenities which the site affords. Landscaping consultants have been appointed to work with the G.L.C. Parks Department. An early start is to be made with tree planting. A whole range of educational services will be needed and are being planned in close consultation between the Inner London Education Authority and Bexley Borough Council.
There will, of course, be shopping facilities for those who live on the site, but I am sure that Greater London Council will, in collaboration with the two borough councils concerned, be anxious to see that the new development's central area, while being substantial and lively, will complement rather than rival the shopping, employment and other facilities at Woolwich, Erith and Bexleyheath.
The employment and transport needs of the new community are, of course, two of the most difficult problems to be solved. I can assure my hon. Friend that all concerned in this great development are very much aware of these problems. Experience in other parts of London is being taken into account, but the area generally has its own particular problems. Every opportunity will be taken to minimise the need for people to travel to central London to work. Further detailed work is being done to establish clearly what will be needed in provision of employment, both locally and in the neighbouring district, and what transport facilities will be required for those who travel to work. The G.L.C. is pursuing this, in consultation with the boroughs, British Railways and London Transport, the Board of Trade, Ministry of Labour and the Location of Offices Bureau, and my own Department. The relocation from inner London of firms tied to London and which have been planned out will undoubtedly play a part in these solutions.
My hon. Friend also mentioned social and community services. Among these is the plan for the medical care for this area. The medical planning for a new development of this kind presents a 549 unique opportunity for research into the problems of general practice. I am glad to say that research on this is being undertaken by the General Practice Research Unit at Guy's Hospital Medical School in full consultation with the three councils. A full report on their proposals should be available later this year.
Much as I am interested in every aspect of this new development, the medical services are of special interest to me because of my long association with hospital management in south-east London. I can assure the House that while this is not my Departmental responsibility but that of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, I shall be following with the greatest personal interest what is proposed in the medical field.
This whole development at Woolwich presents innumerable problems, not the least serious being the interlinked problems of transport and employment. But I feel sure that these problems can be overcome by the closest possible collaboration between all concerned. Machinery has 550 already been set up, as I explained, for securing this collaboration between the local authorities themselves and between them and the Government Departments and the public transport undertakings.
I can give the House the assurance that I shall be keeping the arrangements for consultation under constant review and that anything that the Government can properly do to ensure the smooth working out of this scheme will be done.
I said in another debate that this was perhaps the greatest chance London is offered to build a new town within London itself. It would be the gravest crime if we did not plan this new town in the best possible way, bearing in mind that it will be a site for our children of tomorrow, not today, a site which I hope people will look on and say that, whatever we did or did not do, this was our finest achievement.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes to Eleven o'clock.