Withdrawn transport schemes, impending recession and renewed tensions over the investment plan: the future for the Thames Gateway never looked bleaker. So what’s to be done? In the run-up to next week’s Thames Gateway forum, the leaders of the programme tell us how it can be delivered.
At last year’s Thames Gateway forum prime minister Gordon Brown, launching a £9bn government-wide investment plan for the region, joked that it was nice to be associated with some good news for a change.
Unfortunately, the good news did not last long. Within two weeks, the chief executive of the regeneration programme had been forced to step down over problems in preparing the investment plan, and the beleaguered scheme slipped back into chaos. Now, two months into the Brown bounce, it looks like the Thames Gateway is more in need of association with the prime minister than the other way round.
For the most part, 2008 has been a year of stagnation for the project, which aims to build 160,000 homes and provide 225,000 jobs in a corridor stretching from east London to south Essex and Kent.
In January, the government announced that the proposed Homes and Communities Agency would be in charge of meeting these targets and managing the Gateway, and civil servants looking after the scheme prepared to move to it. There were some signs of progress – the construction of the Shell Haven port near Tilbury in south Essex was finally given the go-ahead. But the story was largely one of reaction to the changing economic climate. Plans for the homes looked ever further off as builder after builder cut staff and reduced output following catastrophic sales declines.
In September, Stewart Jackson, the shadow communities minister, said an incoming Conservative government would freeze spending on the project if elected, pending a full review of the programme.
A further blow has been struck in the past few weeks as London mayor Boris Johnson announced that transport schemes vital to the project’s success – the Thames Gateway bridge and the Docklands Light Railway extension to Dagenham – would not be funded.
So what hope is there for the project now? And what needs to be done to get things back on track? Building asked Jackson, and five other leaders of the Thames Gateway programme, what the plan was.
Eamonn Boylan, deputy chief executive of the Homes and Communities Agency. He is responsible for meeting the Gateway targets
There’s a clear need to respond quickly to a difficult marketplace. We need to review schemes. After such a sharp adjustment, some of the assumptions on which the financing is based look challenging. If we agree that schemes are vital and, in the current circumstances, unlikely to proceed, we need to find ways to invest the money we have to get the schemes going. We must have a structural review of what is clearly a complex set of delivery bodies.
Ros Dunn, chief executive of London Thames Gateway Partnership, which represents councils in the area
Now is the time for delivery, not more strategy. The concern remains that central government will spend time changing and refining policy, when those on the ground just want to get on with it.
The other worrying development is the mayor’s announcement that several key infrastructure schemes aren’t in Transport for London’s business plan. This is likely to have a profound impact on development. Boris wants a review of longer-term transport needs in the Gateway, but this has to be real and quick, not a way of delaying decisions.
Gary Sullivan, managing director of construction logistics company Wilson James and chair of Thames Gateway South Essex
There needs to be a reduction in the number of organisations involved – take funding bodies like the regional development agencies out of the loop and make local authorities responsible for delivery.
We have this kind of “chase the pound” where you have to go around to all these bodies putting funding together, and it’s unwieldy and bureaucratic.What is needed is a leader with political weight who can cut across the funding departments.
Stewart Jackson is wrong; he’s got his wires crossed. The Gateway doesn’t need a fundamental review – it just needs streamlining. If we stop it dead, we’ll never get it started again.
Alan Cherry, chairman, Countryside Properties, has nine schemes in the Gateway
It would be daft to have a full review of the programme now. It’s easy for the politicians to say but you have to think what the impact would be of abandoning the plan – it’s a nationally important programme, and much has been achieved. The most important thing is that we can’t let the infrastructure that is supporting the housing growth be delayed. We’re suffering a housing downturn, but it’s important that essential infrastructure is not delayed. The Thames Gateway needs co-ordination from the centre – let’s hope the move over to the Homes and Communities Agency can provide it.
Stephen Jordan, managing director London & Continental Railways and acting chair of Kent Thameside London still needs what the Thames
Gateway can deliver. But the market has changed. The model of using housing land to pay for social housing and infrastructure has collapsed, so a radical review is needed, looking at how you can separate the construction of houses from the financial model that produced them. It’s about
how we use the construction capacity of builders and the management expertise of social landlords without relying on their financing it. If the chancellor is looking at adopting a Keynesian approach to public spending, then the Gateway would be a good place to start.
Lower Lea Valley
(Stratford, Bromley-by-Bow and Canning Town) Plans for Bromley-by-Bow include the creation of 3,840 homes, 31,000m² of commercial space, 925 jobs and community facilities including a primary school. Developments at Stratford are expected to produce 3,100 homes, 2,800 jobs and a college campus. This is in addition to the 9,000 homes planned as the legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games. The revamp at Canning Town should deliver 3,900 homes, 57,000m² of commercial space and 6,700m² of open space. In 2007, 4,275 houses were completed.
This 190-acre site is being developed by Lend Lease. The scheme is expected to provide more than 10,000 homes, 38% of which will be
affordable. Plans also include the creation of 373,000m² of commercial space. To date 1,094 homes have been built.
The key project is Berkeley Homes Royal Arsenal redevelopment, which is expected to provide 3,700 homes by 2016. About 1,250 have been built so far. The development of Woolwich town centre is to create 2,500 homes, a cinema and a hotel.
Developments at Barking should provide 6,300 homes, along with a 13km bus route and 660 jobs by 2016. Plans for south Dagenham include the provision of 1,250 homes and 90,000m² of commercial space; developments at Rainham Village should deliver 3,200 homes. In 2007,
2,339 homes were built in this area. Work is also expected to begin on 5,000 homes at Barking Riverside over the next eight years.
The flagship project in this scheme is Basildon town centre. It is expected to provide 3,650 homes, 49,000m2 of retail and leisure space, 55,000m2 of commercial floor space, a train and bus station and a college within the next 25 years. About 1,000 houses have been built so far.
This development is expected to provide 12,200 homes by 2016; 1,000 have been built so far. The regeneration is being delivered by Thurrock Development Corporation, which aims to have 18,500 homes built in the area by 2021.
This 1,000 acre site is expected to deliver 10,000 homes and 20,000 jobs over the next 25 years. There will also be 557,000m2 of commercial space, five primary schools, one secondary school, healthcare facilities and 400 acres of parks, lakes and open space. About 3,700 of the homes are to be completed before 2016. Homes built so far: 70.
A £6bn regeneration programme aims to deliver 16,000 homes and 20,000 jobs in the next 20 years, with 8,100 homes built by 2016. The Rochester Riverside scheme is the first stage of the development, but is not expected to begin until 2010. Here, Crest Nicholson plans to deliver a community of 2,000 homes, one primary school, two parks and health facilities.
Kent Thameside waterfront
This project is focused on the boroughs of Dartford and Gravesham. The Kent Thameside delivery board has set a target of 30,000 homes and 20,000 jobs by 2021. Only 40 have been built.
The shadow communities minister last month said he would temporarily halt public spending on the Thames Gateway if elected. This caused a storm – not least within his own party. Stephen Castle, a Tory member of Essex council, said he was wondering whether he would vote Conservative at the next election.
Stewart Jackson maintains that the comments were blown out of proportion – he never meant that spending should be halted, just that it should be examined. He says: “Clearly it’s not appropriate to stop spending half-way through major capital projects. But what is clear is that the present programme has not worked.
“We’ve spent £7.4bn in the past six years on the Thames Gateway and any responsible administration would want to know it was spent responsibly. There is a lack of demonstrable output for the money.”
Public expenditure in the area, he alleges, has been characterised by opacity and double-counting, with the focus on housing numbers encouraging a tick-box mentality.
So what is Jackson’s plan for the Gateway? He says: “We need to do is a forensic audit, looking scheme by scheme at every aspect of the programme. The government has tried to work by diktat; there’s been too little local accountability and too much focus on housebuilding.”
This audit, he says, will include an analysis of whether the government’s policy of building 160,000 homes in the area by 2016 is workable. “We’ll look at whether we’re building the right properties in the right areas, and whether the private sector is actually going to do it.”
Jackson will not be drawn on specifics, though. He cannot guarantee what priority funding for the area will get, or whether the structures of delivery organisations will change. Like the current government, he is keen to use the Homes and Communities Agency as a catalyst to get schemes off the ground. The two urban development corporations in the Gateway will have to wait until the end of the month – and the Tories’ review of local government by Eric Pickles – to determine whether they have a future under a Tory administration. Jackson admits, however, that their existence runs directly counter to current Tory rhetoric on localisation.
“This government’s top-down approach has meant their ambitions bear no relation to the individual circumstances of localities,” he says. “That has to change.”
The Thames Gateway Forum will be held at the Exel London on 26 and 27 November. Go to www.thamesgatewayforum.com to register