In the south east corner of mayor Boris Johnson’s City in the East plans is the borough of Bexley. Running along the south side of the Thames, the borough has been earmarked to provide up to 21,500 homes and 8,500 jobs towards the grand totals of the City in the East expansion, under the Bexley Riverside nomination.
However, further examination of the numbers suggests that these are, compared with other City in the East zones, less well planned. They appear to consist of long term aspirations, with few developments actually mapped out in any detail, and little development activity in sight at this stage.
The council is, however, still keen to attract developers to put schemes forward. Speaking in mid 2015 as she launched a “Direction of Travel” document, councillor Linda Bailey, the council’s cabinet member for regeneration and growth commented: “We know that proposals for new development will come forward while we are working on the Growth Strategy.”
“We want developers and landowners to engage with us and the Mayor of London’s office as early as possible so that we can work with them to explore new opportunities. The word ‘quality’ is key to our thinking, as is a diverse offer in terms of homes, particularly for first time buyers, jobs and investment in our town centres. Bexley is uniquely situated within an hour of central London, major airports and the coast, including Eurotunnel and the Port of Dover. It is already a great place to live and do business.”
Sir Edward Lister, deputy mayor for planning was also attending the document launch, and commented: “Bexley is set for significant growth and by working closely with the council we look forward to putting the building blocks in place to deliver the improved transport, housing and economic prosperity that will benefit local residents, businesses and London as a whole.”
One substantive item is in place. To the west of the borough, up against the border with Greenwich, is one of the mayor’s 20 Housing Zones. Here, a 13.42 ha site close to the Abbey Wood Crossrail station has been earmarked for a housing-led regeneration to be developed by Peabody. This is a long term site, with the intention of delivering 1,300 homes over the first ten years, followed by further development providing up to 10-14,000 homes ultimately.
Moving downstream and east from Abbey Wood, there is Belvedere where the mayor’s plans envisage 11,000 homes and 5,000 jobs being created. The Belvedere district takes in Belvedere, Thamesmead East and Lesnes Abbey, with a large volume of housing originally built in the 1960s and 70s now needing renewal. One issue for the area is flood risk, with the northern land towards the riverside designated to be at risk.
Expansion in Belvedere does not appear to have been developed beyond a wish list, which includes major infrastructure improvements such as further potential extension of Crossrail services to Gravesend via Belvedere station, and a new river crossing linking with Rainham on the north of the Thames.
Further east is Erith, where the potential for a further 2,500 homes and 1,000 new jobs has been identified. There will be the need to improve local roads to relieve congestion, and Erith town centre will need regeneration. Similarly Slade Green, the next centre downstream, is viewed as potentially supporting 2,000 new homes and 1,000 jobs, supported by an extension to Crossrail.
Finally, the easternmost part of the borough is Crayford, where a further 1,000 homes are pencilled in for development. Flood risk is noted as one barrier to further development in this part of the borough.
Further clarity on all the potential development sites in Bexley is promised with the adoption of a Growth Strategy for the borough, which is already in draft and working its way through consultation; publication and adoption is expected later this year. A local plan for Bexley will then be developed, with the intention that this document gets to be adopted in early 2019.
LPA Perspective: The City in the East is a collection of ideas, developments and – in a few places – vague lines on a map. While there are plenty of sites being developed further in towards the centre of the capital, Bexley’s thoughts tend toward the ill-formed thoughts, at the moment. But it is work in progress, and promises to deliver medium term space for expansion.
The arrival of Crossrail will undoubtedly create a hot spot for development. Were the hoped for extension of Crossrail, or the dream of a river crossing linking with Rainham actually delivered, those too would help spur development in an area where a lack of transport infrastructure remains an issue.
There are other, major strategic issues to consider, too. The north boundary of the borough faces onto the river Thames, downstream of the protection afforded by the Thames barrier. Currently it is industry that sits on the vulnerable low lying land close to the river; any future housing development will need to take account of not just flooding likelihood today, but the potential for greater flooding in future. It’s a big issue, but one that could potentially be tackled in imaginative ways – just ask the Dutch.