Regeneration grandee Lord Heseltine has launched a call for ideas, to help drive innovation in the Thames Estuary.
Heseltine is heading a new Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission, which has been set up with an initial target of producing a “clear and affordable delivery plan for achieving its vision” by autumn 2017.
The commission aims to pick up on what is already happening in the region, but to add impetus and pick out ideas that can reasonably be taken forward to reality. It brings together a region including London boroughs Barking and Dagenham, Bexley, Greenwich, Havering, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets; in Kent the councils of Canterbury, Dartford, Gravesham, Medway, Swale and Thanet; and in Essex the councils of Basildon, Castle Point, Rochford,
Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock.
“This government is determined to ensure every part of the country benefits from a growing economy and all the evidence suggests that the Thames Estuary has incredible economic potential,” said Heseltine at the launch of the commission. “We have brought together world-leading industry experts and would urge others with an interest in the region and good ideas to now come forward and contribute.”
The commission has set itself an initial six workstreams covering the creation of high productivity clusters, increasing connectivity, creating new homes and communities, securing investment, harnessing innovation in the built environment, and creating centres of excellence.
Joining Heseltine on the 17-strong commission are a raft of experienced experts on the built environment, including Sir Stuart Lipton, Lord Foster, Sir George Iacobescu ans Sir John Armitt, alongside government ministers including Lord Adonis, who heads the National Infrastructure Commission.
The commission has said it will not in any way interfere with existing initiatives that are under way. And it points to a number of successes recently in the region, from the opening up of Southend airport and the growth of the London Gateway Port, to the development already taking place at Ebbsfleet.
One key element in the connectivity of the region is an improved north-south connection, downstream of the existing Dartford crossing. Highways England is currently working through the responses to a consultation that closed in March 2016, which was the largest ever public consultation for a UK road project. Work is progressing on the creation of a new tunnel under the Thames, between East Tilbury and Gravesham and linking in with the existing motorway network on either side of the river.
The creation of the commission has been welcomed in several quarters. Rob Bennett, chair of the Thames Gateway Kent Partnership, commented: “The Budget announcement is a recognition by Government of the vital importance of the Thames Gateway to the UK’s long-term growth. In the North Kent part of the Gateway alone we estimate there is scope to deliver an additional 58,000 homes and 59,000 jobs. But for those new homes and jobs to be provided we need to find ways of securing new investment, especially in transport infrastructure. We will be very keen to work with Lord Heseltine and the new Commission, together with our partners in South Essex and London, to make this next phase of our long-term ambitions for the Thames Gateway a reality.”
The commission is asking for submissions of ideas by early September, and has said it will reveal its vision for the region in spring next year. It will give the chancellor a report on how to deliver on the vision, ahead of the autumn 2017 statement.
LPA Perspective: Lord Heseltine continues to be in robust form, and it is hoped he has lost none of the energy that he effectively deployed to help transform the London Docklands and Liverpool, in past decades.
He gets his way after publishing a document, No Stone Left Unturned , that in 2013 declared: “Existing arrangements for the development of the Thames Gateway are wholly inadequate”.
He picks up where previous bodies such as the Thames Gateway Development Corporation left off, dissolved in the name of localism – something that now looks unable to deliver strategically. In its place, the commission has much to do – and some big battles to win, in order to get essential infrastructure projects such as the new Thames crossing under way.