Connectivity was the dominant theme of the plenary sessions of the TEP Annual Forum: “London’s Lifeline- Past, Present and Future” that took place on 16 November at the Crystal, Royal Docks.
The day started with Chris Baines, TEP’s President extending a warm welcome to the delegates and highlighting the importance of the Thames on people, the environment and economy of London.
TEP Chair, Anusha Shah then spoke about how TEP has been working hard towards the sustainable future of the estuary by providing an independent and an intelligent forum for the huge variety of opinions, interests and aspirations of all those connected to the river.
With the imminent threat to the river from population growth and climate change, Anusha said: “TEP’s role has never been more important and relevant in enhancing the life of the river and making it a thriving working river for future generations”.
The Rt Hon Nick Raynsford’s keynote speech focussed on the role of the Thames as a connector. In the context of Britain’s imminent detachment from the European Union, he advocated the continuing and increasing importance of the river as an “open channel of communications to (continental) Europe” as well as recognising the need for additional connectivity north-south across the river.
He emphasised the need for integrating land use, transport and environmental issues within an “overarching plan” for coherent growth eastwards from Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks to the mouth of the estuary not “opportunistic and low-value piecemeal” development.
Michele Dix made the case for Crossrail2 which will create better connections across the south east by linking south west and north east London.
She explained this will “unlock 200,000 new homes across the route” and caught everyone’s attention with the statistic that “London needs to build a home every 10 minutes” to meet anticipated demand.
Matthew Yates, Head of Projects Director, at TfL echoed Michele’s views on the importance of easing the traffic on London roads by implementing projects such as the Silvertown Tunnel.
Tim Jones of Highways England discussed the emerging strategy for a new Lower Thames crossing to relieve the Dartford bridge congestion. Relief is needed on both sides of the river to enable the ambitious employment and housing development targets, notably at Ebbsfleet and London Gateway east of Tilbury.
Preliminary consultation has revealed the exceptionally high environmental value of the riverside and hinterland as the predominant issue. The need for an overarching planning framework is clear and forums to study future transport modes and regional integration will play a crucial role.
Connectivity is also critical for Ebbsfleet Garden City described by Ian Piper, its Interim CEO. The plan is to have green corridors and public transport linking a planned 15,000 new homes plus university and health campus, connected via the HS1 station to Stratford, Kings Cross and the Channel Tunnel.
Phil Askew of Peabody described the primary shortcomings of 1960’s/70’s Thamesmead development as poor access, place making and connectivity; but in its favour is the inclusion of 5 lakes, multiple parks and 7km of canals giving it great environmental value as a starting point for development of potentially 20,000 additional new homes.
Nicholas Boys-Smith, Director of Create Streets, challenged architects and developers to create “homes not housing” and to understand better what people want in terms of their homes and communities. He called for “a series of high density, low rise Thames towns that reflect the existing local character of the place”.
In the penultimate session before lunch, Robin Mortimer, Chief Executive of the Port of London Authority spoke about their vision and progress against their goals for the Thames, including increases in freight and passenger numbers. The PLA is also carrying out the first survey in years on water sports participation on the Thames.
In concluding the morning session of the forum, the TEP Director, Pat Fitzsimons talked about the three C’s reminding participants of the mission of the Thames Estuary Partnership to “communicate, catalyse and connect”.
After lunch people joined one of the four sessions – flooding, river freight, environment and training & future skills – each with a range of speakers and opportunity for Q & As.
Continuing the theme of connectivity, Martin Gettings from the Canary Wharf Group urged people to not just adopt Sustainability Development Goals in their own companies but to connect these throughout their supply chains to ensure they are met. As an example all the wood his company now uses is from sustainable sources.
Mark Jenkinson of Siemens highlighted the world class sustainability aspects of the Crystal, a sustainable cities initiative, then focused on ports and how to make them more competitive, eg with electrification and renewable energy at the port. A full report is available.
The forum concluded with Tim Beckett’s alternative vision for the Thames. He set out what he described as a “visionary but deliverable” vision which started with addressing the key issue for the Thames – London’s future flood defences.
For example, once the Tideway Tunnel is built, preventing most sewage overflows into the river, the need for tidal flushing will be reduced and a half tide barrage is a possibility. This barrage could include a flotsam collection facility to prevent waste, particularly plastic, from reaching the sea.
Neal Landsberg, Chair of the Sustainable Water Industry Group, spoke over drinks about many aspects of water and river management highlighting the importance of taking into account ecological factors in order to understand the whole ecosystem. Then there was time for some final networking and to enjoy the Crystal with its views of the river at night.