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A million new homes, two development corporations… and a very special friend to make it all happen


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Tilbury Fort: one of the many joys of the Thames estuary (pic Thurrock Council)

Back in September, we wrote: “If you thought development pressure on Essex could not get any worse, there is some sobering reading from the Thames Estuary Growth Commission.
“This advisory body to the government is urging ‘joint spatial plans’ to be created in both Essex and Kent to support the building of more than a million homes.
“The two counties should take more of London’s housing need, says a commission report.”
And last week (Monday, March 26) the government published its response to the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission report. Unsurprisingly, it is not an attractive read, either in style or substance.
The commission had been announced in the 2016 Budget and was tasked by government to “develop an ambitious vision and delivery plan for north Kent, south Essex and east London up to 2050”.
Sadly, the word ‘ambitious’ rarely spells good news… and, sure enough, a sift through the bureaucratic spiel reveals that the intention to target the estuary for mass housing development shines as bright (or as dark) as ever for this government.
You might recall that the 2050 Vision report, published in June last year, said “a minimum” of one million homes would be needed to support economic growth in the Thames estuary by 2050, equating to 31,250 homes a year.
It also called for greater strategic planning and the creation of development corporations “with planning, and compulsory purchase powers to drive the delivery of homes and jobs aligned to major infrastructure investment”.
Responding, the government noted progress in developing a joint spatial plan for south Essex and welcomed “joint planning to help coordinate solutions to cross-boundary issues, to use strategic level planning to meet the national challenge of delivering more homes in a more integrated way, whilst also grasping the opportunity to use precious resources more efficiently in the process”.
However, it noted that “geography is not always easily defined across the area outlined in the Commission’s report”.
We are told the government “supports joint planning arrangements as defined by local partners and stands ready to offer support to places seeking to engage in developing compelling proposals which support housing growth over the longer term.
“These proposals or joint working arrangements should not be limited by the geography of the Estuary and we would encourage cross boundary working.”
Further, the commission “also recognised the importance of housing delivery both in East London and within the wider Estuary”.
It response says government “expects all local authorities to plan for the number of homes required to meet need in their area” and “would encourage cooperation between the London boroughs and neighbouring authorities in Kent and Essex and welcome further engagement with those places, including with groups of London boroughs, in exploring how we might support them to plan for and deliver significant increases in the provision of homes”.
The government is “committed to exploring the potential for at least two new locally-led development corporations in the Thames Estuary”, “subject to suitable housing ambition from local authorities, and we encourage local areas in the Estuary to come forward with such proposals”.
The government response also includes:

  • a commitment of £1 million to establish a new Thames Estuary Growth Board to “oversee and drive economic growth plans for the area”
  • a commitment of £4.85 million “to support local partners to develop low-cost proposals for enhancing transport services” between Abbey Wood and Ebbsfleet. The response says that any decision on future transport enhancements “would require a detailed evidence base that demonstrates that the scheme would be both technically feasible, offer value for money … and deliver ambitious new housing in the area.”
  • a commitment to create a Cabinet-level “ministerial champion” to act “as an advocate and critical friend for the region within government”.
    With friends like that…

Monday, April 1, 2019

 

  • To read the 2050 Vision report, click here
  • For more on this story, see here