That said, we've only just made a start on the beginning of the problem. Particularly where the main prize is concerned: the regeneration of the 43-mile stretch of post-industrial no man's land known as the Thames Gateway, first ringed on the map by Michael Heseltine in the 1990s. Some members of the urban taskforce are concerned that the agenda has moved on too quickly from urban renaissance to "sustainable communities" – that is, a shift in emphasis towards increasing unit numbers, even if they are built on greenfield sites. But with housebuilding at its lowest levels since the war, and 93,000 families living in temporary accommodation, the government is right to put its foot to the floor.
Attitudes may have changed, but as delegates at last week's Building conference on the gateway concluded, not all the ingredients are yet in place to turn dereliction into desirability. The good news is that English Partnerships is assembling a tranche of publicly owned land, and is doing groundbreaking deals with housebuilders. It is confident that 55,000 homes will be pushed into the pipeline during the next few months. That is encouraging. But nobody really wants to live in an area that you can't reach by rail – Dickens may have regularly walked from London to Rochester and back, but you and I want to be in the office an hour or so after we brush our teeth. Five years after the urban taskforce report underlined the necessity of fast and reliable transportation, this is still a distant prospect. The Thames Gateway is crying out for Crossrail. Let's hope this is finally in the chancellor's Comprehensive Spending Review.
The provision of land, shelter and transportation is not the end of the story, of course. We still do not know who will pay for the utilities infrastructure. And how do you reconcile developers' desire for lots of two-bedroom flats with the never-ending council waiting lists for three-bedroom family homes? Perhaps, the biggest concern is that the gateway has no overarching vision, nothing to make pioneering gatewayers proud to be part of an exciting new experiment in modern living. It hardly gets a starring role in the mayoral elections, either (see pages 26-28). The government's view is that because it is building in seven boroughs and five councils, each area retains its own identity. That said, we all need champions to capture our imagination and the gateway is surely missing a high-profile figure. Speaking of which, Tony Blair chairs Misc 22, the Cabinet committee overseeing the gateway development. Now, how many of you knew that?
Denise Chevin, editor