1. BBC News, "Thames Gateway head leaves post", 11 December 2007, posted on http://news.bbc.co.uk
2. 24dash.com, "Thames Gateway chief 'fell out with housing minister' ", 12 December 2007, posted on www.24dash.com
3. House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, The Thames Gateway: Laying the Foundations, London, TSO, 15 November 2007, p 5, posted on www.parliament.uk
4. Government News Network, "£6 billion action plan transforming Thames Gateway to create thriving Sustainable Communities", ODPM, Press Release, 31 March 2005, posted on www.gnn.gov.uk
5. Communities and Local Government, Thames Gateway Review, London, TSO, 5 May 2006, para 1.4
6. National Audit Office, The Thames Gateway: Laying the Foundations, London, NAO, 23 May 2007, p 12, posted on www.nao.org.uk
7. Office of the Deputy Prime Minister,ODPM Annual Report 2004, 4 May 2004, p 8, posted on www.odpm.gov.uk
8. James Heartfield, "People, Not architecture, Make Communities", in Ian Abley and Jonathan Schwinge, Manmade Modular Megastructures, Helen Castle, editor, AD Magazine, Chichester, Wiley-Academy, January and February 2006, p 20 to 23
9. Communities and Local Government, Thames Gateway Interim Plan, London, TSO, November 2006, p 4
10. Communities and Local Government, Thames Gateway Review, London, TSO, 5 May 2006, para 1.34
11. Communities and Local Government, Thames Gateway Interim Plan, London, TSO, November 2006, p 1
12. National Audit Office, The Thames Gateway: Laying the Foundations, London, NAO, 23 May 2007, p 3, posted on www.nao.org.uk
13. Ibid, p 33
14. Jonathan Leake, 'Ten-mile barrier to stop London flood', The Sunday Times, 9 January 2005, posted on www.timesonline.co.uk accessed 25.04.05
Thames Gateway - Closed
The former chief executive of Medway Council, Judith Armitt, ceased being the chief executive of the Thames Gateway in December 2007. She was made head of the "growth area" in August 2006, but the job of opening the gateway to "growth" has passed to Joe Montgomery, for now, as another careerist with a wealth of experience in regeneration and local government. (1)
Much of this is about career. It was said that Armitt had fallen out with the then Housing and Planning Minister Yvette Cooper. (2) Cooper, or Mrs Ed Balls, has since moved back to the Treasury to try to put inflation back in the existing housing market that Britain's mortgage lenders depend upon.
Caroline Flint seems happy to replace Cooper at Communities and Local Government, to preside over another national decline in new house building, perhaps to levels not seen since the First World War, and a forced "consolidation" of the construction products and materials manufacturing "supply chain".
Whatever the excuse Armitt went. Maybe never to be seen again.
Armitt's unceremonious departure and Cooper's embarrassment came after the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee warned the gateway promised to be a public spending calamity if management was not improved. The PAC complained that ' there are over 100 organisations involved in the Thames Gateway programme across central, regional and local government and the private and voluntary sectors. There are multiple funding streams channelling into projects and multiple lines of reporting.' (3) The gateway is an organisational mess, but the PAC missed the point. It was never meant to produce "growth".
Government has spent £673 million since the gateway was announced by Tony Blair and John Prescott in 2003, which they later described as ' one of the world's largest environmental initiatives.' (4) That money has effectively been an environmental job creation scheme for the 100 organisations talking sustainababble and communitwaddle to each other. The PAC seems surprised that ' the economic benefits of regeneration will not reach existing residents.' (3) The 600,000 households who already live in the affected districts could have each been given £1,000, but then government's tame regeneration professionals would have been out of work. Public money supports many careers.
The Thames Gateway Planning Framework, published in 1995 as a supplement to the South East Regional Planning Guidance, had identified the area as one of substantial growth potential with a number of large development sites. (5) The National Audit Office calculates that the Thames Gateway covers almost 100,000 hectares with a population of 1.45 million. (6) The true figure is more like 80,000 hectares.
However any idea that the Thames Gateway was ever about "growth" was killed on 30 June 2004. Richard Rogers spoke at a deperatment of Culture, Media and Sport event attended by James Heartfield, in Thurrock. He suggested that 304,000 households could be crammed into the 38,000 hectares of derelict land, running along 43 miles of the Thames at 80 homes to the hectare. This sounded radical, because the ODPM were only initially planning 120,000 additional homes in total by 2016, which they admitted was an addition of only 40,000 to older planning targets. (7) As Heartfield pointed out in Manmade Modular Megastructures, Rogers ' had his sums wrong: at that density 38,000 hectares would house three million households, not three hundred thousand.' (8) This would be laughable if it were not so pitiful.
The Thames Gateway is large enough to double the size of Greater London, at a range of densities, to create a small megacity of 14 million people. Yet by 2006 the official target had fallen to a mere 100,000 new homes. (9) Targets ranged between 100,000 and 200,000 in total, but never got to anything that might approach a multiplication of London.
Terry Farrell had been busy since 2003 proposing ways in which the muddy estuary landscape could be turned into a National Park, and the houses and jobs squeezed into existing settlements. No stranger to lucrative "masterplanning", Farrell volunteered a "sustainable vision" in the absence of an official one.
This "intellectual framework", to keep the mud, first proposed with English Heritage, the CPRE, and DEMOS, gained commercial backers and influenced policy proposals for the Thames Gateway region. The masterplanning process found funding. For Farrell the Thames National Park proposals show that The Thames Gateway is not just about urban growth and regeneration - it must also be about a "rural renaissance" where the Thames itself, "the bluefield", is as important as "the greenfield" or "the brownfield". Easy money.
Farrell's "vision" won, because it meant doing nothing. The Thames Gateway today is only talked about as the building of 160,000 homes and, according to the PAC, the provision of 180,000 to 225,000 jobs by 2016, depending whose figures you can stand to read by suspending disbelief. This was paper job creation.
Thanks in no small measure to the likes of Rogers and Farrell the directionless and self-serving professionals needed to do little for their money. In 2006 the Thames Gateway Forum charged with coordinating the "growth area", chaired by Cooper's predecessors, had not met for at least two years. (10) With Armitt's support Cooper refreshed the professionals with the Thames Gateway Strategic Partnership to encourage ' some £38 billion of private sector investment', (11) but a year later this was also seen to have failed.
The failure was evident to The National Audit Office, who reported that ' government estimates that total government investment in the Thames Gateway has been £7 billion since 2003, including all capital investment in Housing, Health, Education and Local Government.' (12) Yet only 24,000 new homes were built between 2001 and 2005, and if the slow build rate were continued to 2016 only 95,000 of the promised 160,000 new homes would be built. (13)
To build 3 million new homes in 60,000 hectares keeping 20,000 as landscape would be a noticeable Thames Gateway, blowing a hole east through the Green Belt out into the redundant farmland of south Essex and north Kent. On that scale it would fund the tidal barrage that the Thames needs between Sheppey and Shoeburyness, called project TE2100. (14) A major piece of potentially transport supporting, tidal power-generating, flood defence infrastructure for the whole of London which Farrell fatuously imagined as a luxury marina.
Farrell's environmentalist "vision" of an estuarine playground for the rich is on www.terryfarrell.co.uk/projects/sustaining/, while the sensible project TE2100 was consulted upon, and the records of that consultation may remain on http://te2100.dialoguebydesign.net
None of that will ever be. Manmade Modular Megastructures was a subscription magazine with a map of London of 14 million people. Rogers and Farrell are close to local and national government. This is Britain, and we don't plan to build. Masterplanners argue to build less on an epic scale, and without fee at first. Hiding behind the "do-nothing-vision" swiftly judged to be "sustainable" planners are paid to stop building.
The regeneration parasites will move on to their next misnamed "growth area", and are sniffing around the funding for the proposed "eco-towns" being sloshed around by Flint. At the Treasury the Chief Secretary, Cooper, is desperately trying to lubricate the financial system so that they will get back into the business of inflating the housing market, which is predicated on a nationalised planning system devoted to not building housing. A system that actively works against people building.
British house price inflation will return, and the cost of housing will never reconnect with wages. The gateway is closed by those, like Armitt and Montgomery, who were and are still paid handsomely to open it.
Ian Abley 11.07.2008
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