1. Daniel Dorling and Bethan Thomas, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, People and Places: A 2001 Census atlas of the UK, Bristol, The Policy Press, 2004, p 183
2. Ian Abley and Jonathan Schwinge, Manmade Modular Megastructures, Helen Castle, editor, AD Magazine, January-February 2006, Chichester, Wiley-Academy
3. 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
4. Frank Lloyd Wright, The Living City, New York, Mentor Books, 1958, p 54
5. Kenneth Frampton, Introduction to Bruce Brookes Pfeiffer, editor, Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, 1949-1959, Volume 5, New York, Rizzoli, 1995, p 7
6. Antonio Sant'Elia, The Manifesto of Futurist Architecture, published in Lacerba, Florence, 1 August 1914, in Umbro Apollonio, editor, Futurist Manifestos, Museum of Fine Arts Publications, Boston, 2001, p 160 to 172
7. Frank Lloyd Wright, When Democracy Builds, Chicago, University of Chicago, 1945
Double the population of London - serious growth in the Thames Gateway
Thanks to the availability of satellite photography on the Internet it is not hard to get a sense of the conurbation of Greater London. It is mostly a low density place, with the exception of the historic core and a few clusters of higher density development. In 2008 Greater London clearly has a "clumpiness" that follows from it largely being the sprawling and leafy suburban home to over 7 million people.
That conurbation is itself at the centre of the wider megalopolis that extends from Felixstowe to Ipswitch, round Cambridge and Oxford, down to Salisbury, and across to Weymouth with the island of Portland. That megalopolitan region is home to 19 million people, or nearly a third of the population of Britain. This political and economic region is evident for anyone who wants to see London as more than an historic pre-industrial city. It is mapped too by Daniel Dorling and Bethan Thomas:
At the start of the 21st Century, the human geography of the UK can most simply be summarised as a tale of one metropolis and its provincial hinterland On each side of the divide there is a great city structure with a central dense urban core, suburbs, parks and a rural fringe. However, to the south these areas are converging as a great metropolis, while to the north is a provincial archipelago of city islands. (1)
The historic cores of Westminster and The City of London, and the concentrations of economic activity that now pepper the capital city, are dependent on the daily commute to work by the majority. A majority who tend to like their gardens, if they have one, tree-lined streets, parks, and easy access to the surrounding landscape. The commute to work might be by public transport for many, but access to the extensive Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and places of specific interest in the South East and southern Essex is by car. Some of the places to visit are within the Green Belt, but most of the AONBs are a short drive beyond.
The conurbation of Greater London has to grow as a population. Unless London gets larger it has to increase in density. That means no longer being largely leafy and suburban in the outer boroughs. Even the evidently pro-containment and Green Belt loving administrations of New Labour had to agree to the administratively named "Thames Gateway" as a designated "Growth Area". If only to avoid pressures for the expansion of London in other directions, north, south and west.
The Thames Gateway contains a mix of industrial and logistical business parks, shopping centres, deindustrialised estates, run-down post-war housing developments like Thamesmead, numerous historic towns and villages, semi-rural suburbia, alongside neglected and undeveloped areas of estuarine landscape and floodplain. It is squeezed between the A13 to the north, as far as Basildon, and the A20 to the south to Maidstone. It extends east of Greenwich through this transport corridor, to splay out to the North Sea between Shoeburyness near Southend in Essex, and the island of Sheppey north of the Kent coast and Sittingbourne.
Government could not have identified a less appealing "Growth Area" for the conurbation of Greater London to extend into. Countless planning consultants and regeneration quangos have talked the "Thames Gateway" to death. While the policy has been a tremendous middle-class job creation scheme, there is little growth in evidence. Indeed, when the government allocated this land as the only direction in which London might expand every landowner abandoned any previous development plans for hopes of larger property speculations later.
To poke fun at the self-serving Thames Gateway "talking shop", and to be published in Manmade Modular Megastructures, (2) I produced a double-spread map of London projected to 2030, as if the Thames Gateway had become part of a conurbation of 14 million people.
My fantasy doubling of Greater London was predicated on the excellent idea, being raised in 2005, of building a tidal barrage at the mouth of the Thames estuary. Government formally called the possibility of a barrage the Thames Estuary 2100 (TE2100) Project, (3) and along with other measures it is an initiative of the Southern, Anglian and Thames Regions of the Environment Agency to develop a Flood Risk Management Plan for London and the Thames Estuary for the next 100 years.
That would be public sector planning worth supporting, and would of course be a literal "gateway" between the Thames and the North Sea. Making sense of the 80,000 hectare "Growth Area". Even if 25% of the Thames Gateway were retained as public landscape a 60,000 hectare site could be developed at densities between 20 and 120 homes a hectare, with enough land for all the other facilities 3 million households require. That would double London even without additional development through the Green Belt to the east of the existing conurbation.
The need for the engineering of a barrage is obvious. The Thames is one of Britain's major east-coast estuaries. It extends from the tidal limit at Teddington Lock in the west, through the heart of London, and flows into the North Sea. Throughout its extent, the tidal Thames is subject to coastal processes, tidal surges and sea level rise, as well as the inflow of freshwater rivers and urban drainage. All of these elements are a source of flood risk to people and property in the estuary floodplain. The government's flood risk strategy area extends from Teddington to a notional line between Sheerness on Sheppey, and Shoeburyness east of Southend. It covers the estuary, its tidal tributaries and floodplain. A strategy from TE2100 is required as the replacement of the Thames Barrier, currently at Greenwich, has to be considered.
Yet TE2100 may never go ahead as a single 10 mile barrage from Sheerness to Shoeburyness. It could easily be funded by levying the development value of in excess of 3 million homes for an additional 7 million Londoners in a much larger conurbation. More than simply protecting 14 million inhabitants from effects of flooding, a permanent barrage would transform mud flats into a habitable landscape, provide a transport link between north Kent and south eastern Essex, and raise the possibility of a tidal power station. However such major engineering is decidely out of fashion amongst environmentalists, including those consulting on TE2100, who prefer the muddy Thames estuary to stay as it is. For development to be minimal, and for strategic flood defences or mitigation measures to be low key, and nothing to do with engineering.
TE2100 as a major piece of infrastructural engineering could inform the scale of thinking needed in the architecture too. The January-February 2006 edition of AD magazine also featured a cluster of mile high (1610m) towers, drawn by Jonathan Schwinge, situated off the barrage near the coast of Sheppey, at the end of a Maglev shuttle line to the east end of The City. While imagined towers in the estuary seem of interest to the readers of AD, there is less stomach for the idea of doing away with the Green Belt that contradicts the Thames Gateway, which would need to be developed to fund the infrastructure of the barrage.
That would be to entertain "sprawl", which, if architects and planners can agree on anything, is a bad thing. Professional opinion has it that London should build up as an imagined "compact" city, and not be allowed to spread out. More people in the same area of land. Against this nonsense the AD edition Manmade Modular Megastructures marked the fiftieth anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright's less than buildable Mile High Illinois, the centre piece of his Broadacre City, dating from the 1930s. A sketch of a greater London which might be built east of the old one, to move into, because our '... mobilization has only just begun!":
'Like some hopelessly inadequate old boat or building, the city itself is still in use, inhabited because we feel we cannot afford to throw it away and allow the spirit of Time, Place, and Man to build the new ones we now so much need. Soon we will be willing to give all we have to get on with the well-planned city of our own freedom. Inevitably this new city is underway for our posterity if not for ourselves.' (4)
Kenneth Frampton points out that Frank Lloyd Wright was not advocating mechanised mobility without his naturalistic romanticism, (5) in contrast to the more belligerent machine age romanticism of the Futurist architectural avant garde prior to the bitter experience of the First World War. (6) Also his ideas of The Living City were largely a repetition of When Democracy Builds of 1945. (7) A city of our own freedom...
Sadly there is little that is democratic in the Thames Gateway, the imposition of Green Belts, or in the denial of development rights dating from the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act that allows planning processes to be sustained as executive talking shops in 2008.
Which is a pity, because London could be greater without loss of any Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, or attractive heritage. It is not hard to map all the things that are seriously special along the Thames estuary. Such a map would reveal the vast areas that could be developed by some projected population growth in 2030, or 2100. Wouldn't that be planning our own freedom?
Apparently planning it is not that simple, because the Green Belt would need to be called into question. Where would that stop?
That is easy to answer. Deliberately ease out the Green Belt without getting into AONBs, and open it eastwards to allow the London conurbation to double in size to complete the Thames Gateway.
The Medway towns would still be where they are, except they would be linked as a conurbation to old London, which would still be where it is today. Only getting between the two would be a transformed journey of minutes by Maglev, stopping at an additional airport in the estuary, linked north-south by a tunnel under a managed tidal Thames, bristling with new bridges, some of them like old London Bridge - inhabited.
No, No! We must have a compact London with a distinct identity to the Medway towns. The suburbs are too thinly populated and waste space on gardens and car parking. Densify everything within the sacrosanct Green Belt. It does not matter what sort of a worthless mess the Green Belt is in, as an area several times greater than the overvalued space the growing population is to be contained within.
It is better to contain London and sterilise the land for miles around than accept a twenty-first century mobilization of the people.
No more London! That's a proper planning policy. A planned city working against "our own freedom". If the Green Belt were not there where would London end? It would be chaos...
Ian Abley 17.04.2008
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