More than two decades ago the Tory Government announced that Thames Gateway would become the focus for expansion in the South East of England. This area, to the east of London along the Thames Estuary, would become the solution to pressure for new housing and jobs. Since then armies of consultants have been engaged to study how we might deliver the 200,000 homes and infrastructure that the current Labour Government says is required here.
Three years ago we started thinking independently about what a future Thames Gateway would look like in the absence of any clear vision for this place. It became obvious early on that housing targets could be met largely within east London, near existing infrastructure, with only a small requirement to grow in the towns of North Kent and South Essex. The future in the latter was more about rural regeneration than anything else. We developed a vision for the area of a ‘new kind of national park’ which draws on the spirit of place – the river, its rich maritime traditions, the area’s landscape and its ecology.
In collaboration with an independent multidisciplinary consortium consisting of Farrells, Battle
McCarthy, Biodiversity by Design, Experian, Halifax Bank of Scotland, Future Foundation and Scott Wilson we have developed our thinking further. London is famous for many things. We believe that it could become famous with Essex and Kent as the world’s first truly sustainable eco-region. Our concept can be summarized as follows:
• Our vision for a new kind of National Park is the best response to the challenges of climate change and rising sea levels in this area.
• We believe that it is the best way to enhance the area’s valuable and fragile eco-systems.
• A new kind of National Park is the best way to confront major sustainability issues faced by the region.
• A new kind of National Park is the best response to economic decline in East London, South Essex & North Kent .
• It provides an environment that will help to reinvigorate the area’s depressed historic towns and villages.
• London’s economy will be enhanced by a new kind of National Park
• This is the perfect place for creating the jobs of the future – the ‘Thames National Park’ must be a focus for environmental industries in the UK.
• The ‘Thames National Park’ will work creatively with nature to deal with the challenges of flood control.
• All waste generated here should be converted into energy and by-products – there must be no landfill in the new national park.
• Infrastructure in the new Thames National Park must integrate flood mitigation, new habitats, energy creation and physical connectivity.
• There should be new connections between different areas in the ‘Thames National Park’ to create a unified place.
• All new development within the new Thames National Park must be carbon neutral.
• Create 10,000 hectares of new woodland and other habitat - the Thames National Park then becomes
a carbon sink.
• The Thames National Park should be made a showpiece for implementation of the U.K. Biodiversity Action Plan.
• Initiate a major restoration of salt marshes in the area.
• Maximise agricultural and maritime food production in the new Thames National Park.
This vision now enjoys extremely broad support and a strong will to progress. It has been described in the media as, “Not only the best idea for the Thames Gateway but the only idea”. Similarly, Ken Livingstone has suggested that “London could have its own Lake District”.
What we are now seeking is more committed Government and independent backing to take forward this singular vision. To be developed, this widely supported concept needs funding and collaboration between the public and private sectors. Much energy and effort is currently being directed to the Thames Gateway, yet so little has happened. We believe our proposition is now sufficiently developed to take it forward with confidence as a ‘live project’.
Farrells , London
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