Broad stretches of the Thames estuary that are now closed to the public could be opened up in a radical approach to urban regeneration that emphasises community involvement
A "visionary brief" for Thurrock in south-west Essex, one of the most deprived communities in the South-east, has been drawn up by an international panel of 23 artists, architects and writers, including Chris Moller of Dutch architect S333 and Ken Warpole of the Demos think tank. It emphasises that the outline of any masterplan must draw on and enhance the local culture.

In three whole-day workshops, the panel agreed that regeneration should respect local culture and ecology, engage the community, inject innovation and creativity, and ensure sustainability.

The initiative will involve five demonstration housing projects that show how such a "culture-led" approach can raise design quality. These projects will form part of the 17,000 homes that Thurrock is developing as part of the sustainable communities programme for Thames Gateway, the largest regeneration programme in Europe.

It puts Thurrock on the cultural map and leverages millions of pounds in funding

Neville Baldwin, Thurrock council

The brief also proposed that the area's 18 miles of riverfront, which has been monopolised by industry and shipping, should be reclaimed as public realm.

The approach has been backed by 13 public agencies brought together by the Arts Council and endorsed by Tessa Jowell, secretary of state for culture, media and sport and Keith Hill, minister of housing and planning.