The Cockney Siberia: The Thames Gateway Development Is the Largest Urban Regeneration Scheme Ever Attempted in Britain. If It Fails, the Area Risks Becoming a Vast Wilderness Robbed of Its Rich Natural Landscape and Cultural Heritage

By Platt, Edward | New Statesman (1996), March 8, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Cockney Siberia: The Thames Gateway Development Is the Largest Urban Regeneration Scheme Ever Attempted in Britain. If It Fails, the Area Risks Becoming a Vast Wilderness Robbed of Its Rich Natural Landscape and Cultural Heritage


Platt, Edward, New Statesman (1996)


Appendix 2, Figure A2.1 on page 98 of the delivery plan launched by Gordon Brown in September 2007 is called " Governance of the Thames Gateway". It is intended to encapsulate, in diagrammatic form, the structure that the government has devised to ensure the regeneration of an area that stretches 40 miles along both sides of Thames Estuary, from Tower Hamlet in London to Southend in Essex and sittingbourne in Kent.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The colour-coded diagram features a bewildering variety of government offices, including the Thames Gateway Cross-Government Board, the Thames Gateway Strategic partnership and the Thames gateway Executive. It attempts to illustrate, with a series of directional arrows, how these state organisations variously "influence, advise, direct or collaborate with" the equally bewildering number of agencies "tasked", in the government's language, with "delivering" the desired changes.

To those unschooled in the ways of government, it looks a mess.

Philip Cohen, formerly of the University of East London, is co-editor of London's Turning: the Making of Thames Gateway, published in 2008, which collects essays on aspects of the government's scheme. He lost souls wandering in those places." The Brentwood and Ongar constituency of the Conservative Party chairman, Eric Pickles, lies on the edge of the Gateway. He ought to be able to make sense of it if anyone can, yet he says the diagram is the Westminster version of a Sickert painting: "Look at it for long enough and you'll go mad."

Perhaps the complexity is not surprising. The Thames Gateway scheme, to develop the vast tracts of brownfield land that begin in east London and extend far beyond the city's borders, has been described as the largest urban regeneration project in the world. It is certainly the largest of its kind that has ever been attempted in the UK. "Not since the Great Fire of London will the capital city have been subject to such an enormous and concentrated process of change," writes Cohen in the introduction to London's Turning.

The Department for Communities and Local Government is in overall charge, but many other government departments, including those for health, education and transport, are also involved. The area covers 15 local authorities, home to some of the most deprived wards in England, and three regions of England. It is home to 1.6 million people at present, but planners believe it has the capacity to absorb half a million more: the government aims to create 160,000 new houses and 225,000 new jobs in the region by 2016, as well as the additional infrastructure, in the form of schools, hospitals and transport links, that will be required to support the communities emerging on the banks of the Thames.

There are six "strategic locations"--Stratford, Lower Lea and Royal Docks; London Riverside; Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich; Thur rock; Kent Thameside; and Medway--and five areas of "urban renewal"--Barking; Basildon; Erith; Sittingbourne and Swale; and Southend. There will be major investments in education, including two new universities in Southend and Medway, and [pounds sterling]1.4bn has been allocated for new or improved hospital provision.

Even the government concedes that there is much to be done--as one of its recent "vision documents" notes, the Gateway consists of "rundown town centres, poor transport links and uninspiring business areas". Anyone who has driven down the blighted corridor of the A12, ushered eastwards by pylons and puddled wastelands, will have formed an even less favourable impression. The Guardian's architecture critic Jonathan Glancey has described it as "the cockney Siberia". Steven Norris calls it "the land that God forgot". Yet, as Ken Living-stone said in one of his last published documents as mayor of London, the city's economic centre of gravity is shifting eastwards, and the Thames Gateway is the place where London's "needs and opportunities meet". …

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