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Tories would freeze Thames Gateway spending

A new Conservative administration would hold spending on the Thames Gateway regeneration project a senior shadow minister said this week.

Shadow Thames Gateway minister Stewart Jackson broke the news at a conference fringe meeting, where it had a hostile reception from delegates, most of which were elected Conservative representatives from the Thames Gateway region.

"There is no leadership on the Thames Gateway, and we still do not know what we have from the £7bn invested in regeneration since 2003. There is no detail," said Jackson.

"Unless we can test, with information from the Office of National Statistics and others, where we are on things like housing and immigration to the area, we are flying in the dark.

"To go forward, we have to go back to basics, and we will conduct an audit and moratorium on spending from Tower Hamlets to the Isle of Sheppey," he said.

Thames Gateway stretches for 64km along the Thames Estuary from the London Docklands to Southend in Essex and Sheerness in Kent. The government is committed to a £9bn transformation of the region by 2011. By 2016 government targets for the Gateway include 160,000 new homes, supported by high quality transport infrastructure and a high quality transport system.

Jackson could not put a figure on how much money would be held-up under the plan. "This is the reality of what will happen in the summer of 2010, and it will look at the totality of projects.

"Ongoing projects will most likely be honoured, depending on how big they are. We have a responsibility to look again at new funding," he said.

Laing O'Rourke chief executive Tony Douglas said the moratorium would kill off plans for vital new infrastructure for the region. "Infrastructure is the key. We can dance around the topic as much as we like, but that’s the fact of it," he said.

Chair of the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation, Lorraine Baldry said the announcement was a: "Complete surprise", but she agreed with Douglas, that transport should be the first investment to make. "In the EU, they put infrastructure in first, and then everything else later, and we have not followed that model in this country.

"It would be good to know developments are ongoing, and spending money [on infrastructure] now."

Chair of the meeting, Conservative councillor for Essex County Council, Stephen Castle, turned to Jackson, and commented, "I'm not sure I can vote for you based on that announcement."

The Thames Gateway was damned by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of MPs in their report, published in November. PAC chairman Edward Leigh then said, "At the moment this ambitious vision is looking more and more like an expensive daydream."

Stewart said 67 separate bodies in the Thames Gateway received development funding, but this money was not coordinated. He said a new body somewhere between local and national government would be set-up to coordinate the Gateway, but had no detail on this proposal: "It is not sustainable to keep supporting an entity the PAC say has failed. We have a responsibility to see what has been achieved," he said.

The Conservatives have already pledged to abolish the 'regional' tier of government in any new administration.

Chair of the Castlepoint Conservative association Vera Partidge's reaction was typical of other delegates at the meeting. "Our local infrastructure is appalling. We are looking to ease congestion in our area by dualling Canvey Way, an £80M project. Is this project now up in smoke?"

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