A Different Way Ahead?

There was an interesting article in today’s Times, by Camilla Cavendish. She was saying that we don’t need to build so many homes in this part of Essex , and that more quality homes could be built closer to London in a quality environment. Here are some extracts:

Some people think that we could build enough new homes without bulldozing green fields. They are not skyscraper fanatics or conservationist bores. They are urbanists and architects eyeing the huge tracts of land that runs east from Canary Wharf to Margate.

You could build a city the size of central London between Dartford and the River Lea, largely on former industrial land, and still have space to spare.

This area, the ?Thames Gateway?, is not a blank sheet. To imply as much would outrage the 1.45 million good citizens of places such as Barking and Ebbsfleet. But it does contain some blankish spaces that might be improved, rather than marred, by development. Three thousand of its 100,000 hectares are brownfield, a fifth of all such land in the South East.

Policymakers know this. But they seem paralysed by the immensity of the task. The National Audit Office (NAO) last week issued a scathing report on what it billed as the biggest regeneration project in Western Europe. This ?project?, which includes 160,000 houses, has been going for 12 years. But it has no clear overall plan, according to the NAO.

…. ?They have handed out the jigsaw pieces,? says the architect Sir Terry Farrell, ?but there is no picture on the box.? Sir Terry has a powerful vision of a national park that would emphasise the beauty of parts of the Estuary, create a carbon sink of eight million trees and provide an amenity for Londoners that would raise the value of new housing.

Sir Terry has long been interested in what the planners miss out. He can see that you need the upwardly mobile to regenerate places. And that you do not lure them with more cramped, soulless barracks.

Sir Terry also believes that all of the housing in the Government?s target should be built within the M25: at the left-hand side of the map, if you like, where there are better transport links and fewer flood risks. Homes further east, he thinks, could then develop naturally with the economy.

He believes that Greater London could accommodate up to a million more homes if we built at the density of Kensington & Chelsea rather than Bromley. And all at the highest environmental standards.

It should not be difficult to convert such intelligent thoughts into a plan. But there is no plan. Instead, there is a complete institutional impasse. In situations like this, you either have to give up and go home, or take charge. It is in the nature of Whitehall to persist with hare-brained schemes in the face of overwhelming evidence. Unlike the Olympics, the Gateway project has no deadline

….. there is an opportunity to do something spectacular there, something that could become an environmental and design model for the rest of Europe and that would avoid the otherwise inevitable dribble of car-dependent ugly boxes.

Maybe councillors and planners in this part of Essex should take more notice of Sir Terry Farrell.

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