For decades, governments have attempted to
redevelop London's Docklands and the Thames Estuary, but ambitious
plans have consistently fallen short. So argues Go East: Unlocking the
Potential of the Thames Estuary a new collection of essays
published by the Centre for London, which makes the case for a more
focused and staged approach.
London's population is set to grow by 2 million over the next
twenty years. If so, homes and jobs will have to increase
proportionately, and 200,000 of the extra homes and half a million
jobs could be provided, it is estimated, in London's eastern
riverside boroughs and the Thames Gateway. But while small parts of
East London have been successfully transformed over the last
decade, housing growth across the wider East Thames area has been
Comparing the area's success stories - the Isle of Dogs, North
Greenwich and Stratford - with elsewhere, including the
"grand stuck sites" at Ebbsfleet and Barking Riverside - Go
Eastdraws the lesson that "you need to concentrate intensively and
sequentially on a series of tightly defined, high potential
development zones". Development across the wider Thames Gateway has
failed because funding and focus have been spread too thin.
Part of the problem has been the sheer complexity of
co-ordinating the work of the 16 local authorities, 3 government
regions and multiple government departments and quangoes involved
in the Thames Gateway area, each with a distinct agenda and
priorities. The "quest" to manage all this was never going to
succeed, it is argued, but was remarkably successful in diverting
attention from the real challenge of delivering in the most
promising areas. Indeed, the quest has largely been abandoned since
2010, leading Michael
conclude that "existing arrangements for development of the
Thames Gateway are wholly inadequate".
Successful areas also benefited from large amounts of public
infrastructure investment, including extensions to the Jubilee Line
and Docklands Light Railway and construction of the Olympic Park.
Other parts of the area have not seen spending on anything
approaching this scale.
In the absence of effective public intervention, private
housebuilders have had little success in moving forward with the
development of some of the largest sites. Ebbsfleet and Barking
Riverside were each expected to deliver 10,000 homes over the last
decade. So far completions have barely topped 1000 across both.
Go East recommends that the quest to co-ordinate the development
of the East Thames areas as a whole should be abandoned in favour
of a focus on selected smaller high-potential areas. It proposes
that Ebbsfleet should be taken forward as a New Town with its own
Development Corporation. Local authorities should take the lead on
smaller sites, which are estimated to make up 60% of the area's
potential for new homes, using CPOs to buy up stalled sites where
necessary. But councils will also need access to infrastructure
funding if this approach is to work, argues the report, and
proposes a Mayor's Challenge Fund to which they can bid.
There are lessons here for the rest of England, too. One of the
most important is that the expansion in housing supply we need to
see will not be achieved without a significant increase in public
investment on the infrastructure and services that are needed to
make sure that we build not just new homes but thriving