The Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission published its vision today, consummate timing from the Ministry three major announcements re planning on the same day so it got no publicity. Also not being announced on the same day as the Budget, contract Cam-MK-OX it doesn’t have the implicit backing of the Treasury. Sir John Armitt chair of the National Infrastructure Commission took over as Chair after Micheal Hesiltine was sacked from government roles.
The challenge of course is to avoid the failure of the Thames Gateway project which we have talked about many times over many years on here. All high aspirations, no spatial plan, no specific infrastructure projects and no delivery mechanisms. Despite it being described as a ‘growth area’ my analysis of census data shows plan target in the area to have been well below household formation, therefore rather the being a growth area in effect it was a restraint area.
Its a good report – with Arup’s logo (its Chairman was on the commission) discretely on the back cover. its comprehensive, it even has a sectiom going back to the ice age. Oh how many local plans have I read so long it feels like they go back to the ice age.
It divides the area up into the familiar South Essex, North Kent and London sub categories. But describing South Essex as South Essex Foreshore, a daft title as it includes Brentwood and Basildon which have no coastline and Rochford whose foreshore is mostly on the river Crouch not the River Thames. (note: The Commission seems unaware that Brentwood recently joined with the Thames Gateway South Essex Authorities to prepare a joint spatial plan ).
In terms of vision it promotes North Kent as a medical research corridor. Though Pfizer are pulling out of Sandwich there seem to be many other takers at Discovery Park so this is a good concept South Essex is less clear. It talks of a national resiliance centre. Its former oil depots are becoming logistics centres so perhaps a ‘post oil economy’ focus on renewable, resilience and advanced/added value manufacturing/entrepot should be promoted to avoid reliance on low wage logistics growth (which is explosive around Thurrock).
On housing it promoted a housing target of 1 million new homes by 2050. Adding up the existing government based OANs with addons for employment growth aspirations exceeds this slightly. Notably their forecast is entirely demographic and does not include and additions for additional in migration caused by growth aspirations in development plans. So the 1 million figure should be seen as a minimum. The commission says:
The standard methodology for calculating objectively assessed housing need provides a figure by each local authority. If this distribution is adhered to, around two thirds of these homes will need to be delivered in east London. The Commission believes that solely focusing on homes in London is unsustainable and that more of these homes should be provided in Kent and Essex. The one million homes figure should be viewed as an Estuary-wide total.
Clearly the London numbers are not deliverable requiring a more than doubling of completions, which the Mayor of London now acknowledges will not happen. How much of this though should go eastwards? The Essex part of the area being incredibly constrained. If this broad figure is to be reached radical options such as redeveloping Thamesmead at higher densities, espanding Canvey Island through land reclamation, building a flood wall east of Gravesend and developing New Setttlements at possible locations such as Hooe, West Hordon, and RAF Marston.
As the technical report states
If these Plans demonstrate sufficient growth ambition – going above the minimum threshold set out by Government for local housing need; and given statutory status – Government should reward this ambition with substantial infrastructure investment and freedoms and flexibilities.
So heres the deal – take some of London’s growth and get infrastructure dosh. But how much and will it be sufficient incentive. Why not such an offer in a 360 degree arc around London? Also you have to recognise the sheer scale of the London need overwhelms surrounding areas. So for example if South Essex were to take only 10% of the Thames Gateway London need it would require tripling of the Greenfield (all Green Belt) land take. This just isn’t on in such a highly urbanized and constrained area. The overspill needs to be spread further and wider to avoid a bloody political fight.
In terms of public transport proposals
The Commission is supportive of the proposals for the Lower Thames Crossing.
However, in order to future-proof the proposed crossing, the Commission believes that the design should, as a minimum, not preclude the future delivery of infrastructure to support rail transport links and/or autonomous vehicles. Highways
England should also work with the relevant local authorities to ensure that the design and location of the crossing and connector roads minimise impact on traffic flows, unlock jobs and homes growth in the surrounding area.
Great. Exactly what I proposed on here yesterday.
It also proposes something it calls Thames East Line
Delivery of new multi-modal (including rail) crossing east of the Lower Thames Crossing combined with the second Thames Barrier. Potential interchange points could be Basildon and the Medway Towns.
To maximise the benefits arising from a second Thames Barrier (which will provide world-class standard of flood protection) including improved north south connectivity, enhanced linkages with other high productivity corridors around London, agglomeration
opportunities at interchanges and improved access to
England’s high speed railway network.
How: Government should consider a multi-modal crossing as part of its planning for the next Thames Barrier. This includes the financing models, which
could be used to deliver the project by 2050.
Sorry this does not make sense in engineering, planning or transport terms. It is a reheating of the Thames Hub proposal put forward by Fosters (yes he is on the commission) as part of Boris island.
The first problem is you cant put road or rail on top of a retractable flood barrier, you can in part but then you have to dip down and tunnel in areas where you have locks. The model for the Thames hub being the St Petersburg Barrier.
This however wont work on the Thames. least of all well up river east of Tilbury. At St Petersburg it bridges across 10km and is road only. The flood gates notable to take full size tankers or container ships. Rail would require a much less shallow gradient. The various potential locations for a Thames Flood Barrier two are all 1-2 km wide. It simply doesnt work in section. If it was a dam like structure it would cause the Thames to silt up (like all large dams do to their rivers. In any event the Environment Agency correctly models no need for a second barrier before 2070. If no added value rests of bringing it forward there is no BCR case for this.
If you are going to build a rail link Essex to Kent you do it as part of the Lower Thames Crossing. If you are going to build a second flood barrier you do it as a restractable structure like the existing and make it further downstream such as at Swanscome, so as to avoid block navigation to Tilbury and London International Ports and to avoid European protected sites. If you are going to do tidal power do it as part of tidal lagoons that don’t block navigation, such as part of land reclamation/flood walls work around Canvey Island or the Isle of Sheppy, where it could also create intertidal salt marsh habitat countering rising sea levels.