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Blair steps in to oversee London regeneration strategy

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Tony Blair and John Prescott have asked civil servants to draw up a strategy for the future of London. The move has been prompted by increasing worries about the capital's escalating population, the AJ has learnt.

The cabinet's strategy unit will assess the implications of a population that has grown by 350,000 in the past 10 years and is predicted to increase by a further 700,000 by 2016. It will also examine how to maintain London's 'global city role', provide housing for key workers and tackle high levels of deprivation.

The move is also an acknowledgement of the growing importance of a number of London issues influencing wider government policy. The prime minister is already chairing a cabinet committee into the Thames Gateway, the proposed linear city stretching eastwards from the capital.

This new cabinet committee - recently named 'Misc 22' - was set up five weeks ago following the launch of Prescott's sustainable communities plan.

A senior government source told the AJ that Blair will lead it for three months, aiming to coordinate rail links, roads and rail crossings as part of a £450 million commitment to the region.

'The Sustainable Communities document we published one month ago contained an allocation of £450 million for the Thames Gateway, but the critical decisions about new rail links and rail crossings were acknowledged with no firm commitment', the source said. 'So the PM has decided to establish a steering committee. It will look at how far and fast we can push ahead on infrastructure.'

These will include probably two extra river crossings for the Thames - one 'certainly' in London, the other likely to be in Kent.

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