Deputy prime minister orders regeneration agency to select key sites and get housing projects under way.
Deputy prime minister John Prescott has called in regeneration quango English Partnerships to end the 30-year wait for the development of the Thames Gateway in east London, Europe's largest brownfield area.

Prescott believes the housing crisis could be tackled by the construction of 200,000 homes in the 4000 ha zone but has been frustrated by the lack of development.

The deputy prime minister has now told the agency to select the sites it believes are best suited to starting the regeneration of the area. It is in the process of selecting these from the 212 available and will start work at the end of the year.

A source at the agency said: "Ministers have asked EP to get heavily involved in delivering sites in the Thames Gateway framework. We are pinpointing a series of sites to get it going. The deputy prime minister wants swift action."

One problem has been the lack of a single body to manage the development of the area. Those competing for a say include the Greater London Authority, the London Development Agency and the Housing Corporation.

Ministers have asked EP to get heavily involved in the Thames Gateway

English Partnerships source

English Partnerships has had little to do with the Thames Gateway so far, although it does own land in Basildon, Essex, and is working on the redevelopment of the Greenwich Peninsula in south-east London. The agency is not a member of Thames Gateway London Partnership, one of the groups attempting to co-ordinate the scheme, although it is expected to join.

Tony McBrearty, deputy chief executive of TGLP, welcomed Prescott's decision. He said: "If EP is another vehicle for bringing government money into the area, we are perfectly happy. We would want to be involved in discussions of which sites they could undertake."

Project observers believe that Stratford, the "Royals" (site of the former Royal Docks) and Barking Reach are ripe for development. One observer said: "The biggest gains will be at Barking Reach. Regeneration would be easy to get off the ground there as Bellway Homes has already begun development work."

Stratford is to get a railway station as part of the proposed CrossRail development, as may the Royals.

A source close to Prescott confirmed that the deputy prime minister has asked Alistair Darling, the transport secretary, to release money for infrastructure development at the Thames Gateway. The money for this would be brought forward early from the 10-year transport plan.

The gateway’s role in solving the UK’s housing crisis

  • The Thames Gateway covers 4000 ha of derelict land from the the City of London eastwards. Redevelopment plans are divided into six zones.
  • The zones are divided into 212 sites, following recommendations made by consultant Llewelyn-Davies in the late 1990s.
  • London mayor Ken Livingstone targeted the gateway as the key area of development to tackle London’s housing crisis.
  • Prescott said in July that 200,000 homes could be built in the area.
  • The London Development Agency is masterplanning the Thames Gateway, a role it appears likely to retain, even if EP does become involved.