With the Homes and Communities Agency poised to take forward day-to-day delivery responsibilities for the Thames Gateway, Joe Montgomery looks at progress to date
The economic case for developing the Thames Gateway and the government’s commitment to creating wealth, jobs, homes and improving the quality of life in the greater South East remains as strong as ever.
We have seen the Gateway progress over the last fifteen years, stretching across different governments and ministerial changes. This is a venture that transcends short term ups and downs – a programme which, because of its scale, location and history is unique in the UK. In fact it is a project of European significance.
The Big FourFour potentially transformatory developments are set to re-shape the economy of the Gateway.
The global finance centre at Canary Wharf has continued to grow and now employs 90,000 people. Its excellent transport connections through London City Airport, the Jubilee Line and Docklands Light Railway will be boosted by Crossrail, which will make it much easier for Gateway residents to the east of London to benefit from jobs in Canary Wharf and its planned further expansion at Wood Wharf.
The decision to build the Olympic Park in Stratford is a fantastic opportunity – making the western most part of the Gateway a focal point for renewal. It is the UK’s largest ever mixed-use regeneration project and will confirm Stratford’s position as one of London’s major commercial centres, creating 5,000 jobs by 2016 and up to 9,000 new homes. The investors and tourists the Olympics will attract to East London will only add to the economic vitality of the Gateway.
Ebbsfleet Valley is being developed as a new community for work and living, built on sites around the new Ebbsfleet International rail station - international trains to Paris and Brussels are operating now and from 2009 high speed domestic services will offer journey times of less than 20 minutes into St Pancras.
And in May 2007, planning permission was granted at Shellhaven to provide the largest deep-water port in Europe. The 1.5bn investment by DP World is the second largest ever inward investment into the UK and will create 12,000 new jobs. The London Gateway will also include one of Europe’s largest business and logistics parks – its position beside the port providing an opportunity to establish an integrated supply chain with road, rail and sea connections.
The scale of potential is immense.
InvestmentThe government is investing over £9 billion across the Thames Gateway because it believes in the economic potential of the area. Our goal - to raise the economic performance of the places and communities in the Gateway – maximising the contribution to the Greater South East economy and UK plc, while increasing the range and quality of opportunities for local residents – is as strong as ever.
This may be a long term goal – but working with our partners we are seeing this goal turning to reality; our plans becoming progress. Notably, this progress has seen:
• Town centres being regenerated – including places such as Basildon town centre where masterplanning is now complete and a development partner has been secured for redevelopment.
• Major housing sites under development - an estimated 48,500 new homes were built between 2001/2 and 2007/8. Planning permissions have been achieved for the development of Eastern Quarry (6,250 homes) and Barking Riverside (10,000 homes).
We must not overlook the ‘quality of life’ issues which can make the difference between places that are vibrant and attractive rather than cold and functional
• Skills advanced – there has been a 60% increase in adults getting access to Level 2 and 3 qualifications – over 13,000 more people since 2003
• Further Education opportunities improved – there are now 6,000 students at the universities at Medway
• Jobs created - nearly 49,000 additional FTE jobs between 2001 and 2006 ie an almost 9% increase, compared to 4% increase for England as a whole.
• And crucial transport links progressed – such as planning permission for Crossrail and improvements to the A206, opening up Belvedere for further housing development
This progress is testament to the hard work of all the private investors and public bodies involved in the Gateway.
This is vision turning into reality.
But success will require more than bricks and mortar responses. Strengthening the attraction to private sector investors and building sustainable communities go hand in hand. You can invest in jobs and housing, in transport and business, but if you neglect public spaces – whether marshlands or town squares, open fields or children’s playgrounds – then you overlook the ‘quality of life’ issues which can make the difference between places that are vibrant and attractive rather than cold and functional.
The environmentThat is why the Spatial Framework and the Parklands programme is so important. It is central to the economic regeneration of the Thames Gateway – it will help encourage investment and it will make a real difference to everyone that lives there.
We also need to match our growth ambitions with environmental constraints and climate change challenges. We must use the opportunity of the Thames Gateway investments to be at the forefront of sustainable development.
These are challenging times, but the government’s ambition to unlock the full potential of the Thames Gateway remains undiminished. No one organisation can deliver this single-handedly – it depends on effective co-operation of both private and public sectors to deliver success.
I have seen the spirit of this partnership during my many site visits across the Gateway – whether at Southend Airport, Barking Town Centre or the Thamesmead Estate.
I am confident, looking to the future as the Homes and Communities Agency takes forward day-to-day delivery responsibilities for our regeneration programme, we will continue to see great progress in 2009 – and continue to see the Gateway vision turning into reality.
Joe Montgomery, director general regions and communities, Department for Communities and Local Government