At a more practical level, the expansion of the financial services sector in the City and Docklands and the development of the new businesses London needs for the 21st century will only be possible if we tap in to the enormous reservoir of talent and labour that lies in the Gateway now, and that can be housed there in the future. In simple terms, the future of London lies in the east.
The mayor and I also agree that the key to successful regeneration in the Gateway is investment in infrastructure. Specifically, I do believe that a new river crossing between Beckton and Thamesmead could do much to reduce the social and economic exclusion that so blights that part of London – particularly on the south bank. It is perfectly possible to do this in conjunction with the provision of improved public transport over the crossing so as to avoid the danger of it just generating more car travel.
It is high time we stopped talking about CrossRail and got on and did it. The last government spent £140m on the line before finally killing it off. For me personally it was desperately disappointing then, as now, that the government seemed so in the grip of the Treasury beancounters that we could not generate the enthusiasm to fund decent infrastructure. Mind you, considering the fight I had to get the Jubilee Line Extension through I shouldn't have been surprised. I still remember Treasury officials telling me nobody would ever use it. Tell that to the tens of thousands who rely on it all day long, never mind during the peak hours.
Ideally, CrossRail needs to run from Heathrow in the west via Paddington and Liverpool Street to Canary Wharf and then on, either to Charlton or east through the Royals, and south to Woolwich or Abbey Wood. I would personally split the line after the Isle of Dogs and take a spur up through Stratford and the Lea Valley to Stansted – the Lea Valley is desperately in need of regeneration and it is clear that the next major London runway will be at Stansted. The line south of the river should galvanize key areas around Northfleet out to Ebbsfleet where there are few transport links to the jobs of central London and Docklands. As John Prescott and Livingstone have correctly pointed out, this is also a prime area for building affordable homes for key workers.
The trouble is that ministers are wary of Livingstone. Gordon Brown hates him and Blair is just glad he’s no longer in the party
North of the river, we need to look to the continued extension of the Docklands Light Railway and the reprovisioning of rail services through Shenfield, together with the possible additional links that are needed east of Barking and out to Thurrock. It may sound like a tall order, but a comprehensive regeneration plan will need a big and imaginative vision, lengthy sustained investment and a united political agenda. Livingstone is sensitive to ways that this might be delivered. The government favours a unitary development corporation model – perhaps two, north and south of the river, not least because they are privately persuaded that the London Docklands Development Corporation did deliver the coherence and dynamism that the local authorities in the area had failed to deliver. Livingstone, of course, takes a contrary view.
I worked in the mid-1990s with the LDDC and the Labour-controlled councils of Newham, Tower Hamlets and Greenwich, and I recall excellent practical working relationships with all of them, not to mention a sense of excitement and common purpose rare in public life.
The trouble is that ministers are wary of Livingstone personally. His antics over the Tube public–private partnership have not endeared him to Alastair Darling; Gordon Brown hates him, and Tony Blair is only grateful he is no longer in the Labour Party.
This is unfortunate because local involvement at every level from outline to detail is not merely nice to have, it is necessary if we are to achieve a successful strategy. My own experience is that although there are understandable differences over priorities and timing between the individual communities in the Gateway area, there is actually a high degree of agreement on the fundamental need for drastic change.
Steve Norris is favourite to become the Conservative Party's candidate for mayor of London.