Can we deliver the Thames Gateway – and what will it look like in 2026?

Public eye

Jackie Sadek

I am a great fan of the vision behind the Gateway, and the broad-brush policy of building homes where people want to live is exactly right.

So hats off to Prescott (unfashionable, moi?) and let’s question why Ruth Kelly has not expressed much support to date. I believe that the Gateway is deliverable, but we need a rapid reality check to deliver it by 2026. In the words of The Stranglers, “something’s gotta change”.

First, it will hurt, but let’s scrap the mess of organisations charged with “overseeing” the Gateway: the UDCs, URCs and LDVs mistakenly established while the old structures remained, and without defining the relationships with the local authorities. Did we learn nothing from London Docklands and the first and second generation UDCs? We need one sufficiently resourced Urban Development Corporation for the Gateway with planning powers, CPO powers and tight terms of reference. Then let’s leave them to it.

Second, let’s face facts: certain developers (north and south of the Thames) enjoy monopoly positions and are tempted to land bank. Sure, developers need to manage risk, but they are not acting decisively enough or with sufficient leadership. These cartels need to be broken up. Sometimes urban regeneration objectives are at odds with those of developers who must account to the city – surely it is not beyond the wit of man and woman to find a solution.

Third, let’s not pussy foot around about the flood plain – it will not just go away, and commissioning yet more reports is not the answer. The threat needs proper engineering solutions, and Terry Farrell’s water park concept goes a long way towards providing an answer. Let’s commission him and a team of engineers to turn this whole problem into an exciting opportunity.

Now to some of the big questions about the future. What will the homes be like in 2026? I do not know. But I do know that English Partnerships chief executive John Callcutt is a man with a mission, and if we really listen to him, then we stand to considerably improve the current dreary stock.

Developers’ land bank cartels need to be broken up

How much development will actually be delivered? There’s been little so far, but with a change of strategy, the entire target can be delivered.

Will arguments over funding for infrastructure rumble on? Indubitably. Let’s get real; it’s naive to expect developers to provide hospitals and schools.

And will the whole plan have been rendered obsolete by flooding? Provided we’re clever, we could show the way for the rest of the South-east.

Jackie Sadek is chief executive of Park Royal Partnership and former chief executive of Kent Thameside

Private eye

Jane Staveley

It’s 2026. The residential targets have been successfully delivered. The housing crisis in the South-east, statistically at least, has been alleviated. 50% more residents are based in the key development areas. Huge doubts remain, however, as to long-term sustainability.

Architects and planners bemoan the fact that the Gateway was never designed around one coherent strategy, and that the residents are suffering from a lack of connection with any kind of local identity. With the original push for housing density and an acute shortage of education facilities effectively ruling out families, government officials anxiously analyse warnings that the area is becoming little more than a sink housing estate for transient, young workers.

The Gateway has become the waste capital of the world

London is still the business capital of Europe. But the South-east, and the nation as a whole, has become more, not less, reliant on the capital as an economic powerhouse. Young people have relocated by their thousands to the Gateway zones in east London and Kent, attracted by the promise of affordable houses. But they are still commuting into the City, the promise of the Gateway as an alternative job centre still struggling to make real ground.

In hushed tones, the Thames Gateway has been designated the waste capital of the world. New industries are quietly relocating there to process the UK’s, and perhaps even the EU’s, industrial waste. Where there’s muck, there may be brass, but it is not the right brass to attract a sustainable community to the area.

Although extensions to the Docklands Light Railway and upgrades to the rail network have improved connections into the City, car use has still rocketed, making the area one of the most congested in the UK. The increased emissions and the fact that the area remains a key target for expansion of London’s aviation industry makes a sad mockery of the initial vision, articulated back in 2006, that this region could become a green exemplar of urban development.

Carbon neutral development, the mantra of early 21st century policy gurus, is working well, but it is beset by commercial pressures. Green spaces have been created to offset development, but arguments persist as to who is maintaining them.

To the relief of the green lobby, most of the key bird sanctuaries in the Gateway have been protected. It’s a small victory for a project that promised so much potential, but where economies of scale and profit overpowered visions of sustainability.

One can only wish that, back in 2006/2007, those visions had been moulded into a more coherent plan. Then we might – for once – have achieved an exciting, sustainable community from the start.

Jane Staveley is a partner at Beachcroft LLP