More than 170 delegates came to TEP’s Annual Forum at 15Hatfields last month to tackle the question How do we ensure the Thames is ‘fit for the future’? According to TEP’s Chair of trustees Anusha Shah, four clear themes emerged from the discussions:
- The need for a diverse workforce to optimise use of talent by employers
- Joined up governance and breaking down of silos from policy to practitioner level
- Integrating natural capital in development, investment and implementation
- Putting communities at the heart of development by ensuring local stakeholders are engaged, especially ethnic minorities and marginalised communities in the eastern estuary.
Chris Baines, TEP President, opened the forum and reminded us that the Thames is now one of the cleanest inner-city rivers in Europe. He urged participants to share the recent TEP-funded documentary, The Living Thames, with their own networks.
Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission and the key note speaker for the event, enthused his audience with the inspiring vision from the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission report: asking for a change of thinking to move us from ‘an underperforming river region’ to ‘a tapestry of productive places along a global river’ based on a structure of five ‘productive places’ and their assets.
He believes this needs a tight focus on priorities: creating up to 1.3m new jobs, improving connectivity between population centres and creating thriving communities. “Fragmented governance is a key challenge for delivery”, he said, and to support this, the Commission proposes a new coordination office to ensure a joined-up approach.
Chris Baines Anusha Shah Sir John Armitt CBE
The Forum then turned its attention to infrastructure along the Thames corridor with Peter Hogg of Arcadis leading a lively discussion. Alistair Gale of the PLA and Dr Paul Gilliland of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) spoke about the importance of joined up planning: Alistair identified how the goals from the PLA’s Thames Vision 2035 are now integrated into the mayor’s strategies and the Thames Estuary Growth Commission 2050 report, while Paul reported that the MMO is working with 25 local authorities to develop the South East Marine Plan to integrate marine and land planning.
According to Roger Bailey, Tideway is “challenging the norms in the construction industry” with their creation of seven landscaped areas along the riverside as part of the development of the super sewer.
Then David Manning of Highways England argued persuasively for the Lower Thames Crossing, asking for the audience’s support for this “essential connection for East London”. The public consultation closes on 20 December (earlier Sir John had urged everyone to “keep the pressure on” to ensure initiatives like this secured funding and government support).
(From left) Peter Hogg, Alistair Gale, Roger Bailey Dr Jon Davies, Angela Gorman, Prof. Chris Rapley CBE,
Ian Dickie, Dr Ben Milligan
Picking up on the increasing use of the natural capital approach, the next session saw Dr Jon Davies of Defra advocating this methodology as key to the ambition in the government’s 25-year environment plan to leave the environment in a better place for future generations.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals document was also held up as “transformative”, in providing a common language and recognising that the environment underpins development.
Angela Gorman of the Environment Agency promoted ‘working together’ for future resilience in the Thames Estuary. Angela shared details of their collaboration with the Met Office and Defra on a shared set of UK climate projections. In terms of adaptation, she recommended that companies need to understand their risks in order to make their buildings and services resilient and put climate change resilience into their business plans. There was also promotion of major consultations for flood risk and river basin management plans.
In two parallel workshops later in the day participants had the opportunity to tackle key questions through in-depth discussion of making the business case for natural capital, and flooding and resilience.
Smart Cities: Flooding & Resilience workshop Natural capital: Making the business case workshop
Skills development and talent management was also a theme running throughout the day: TEP was complimented for putting this key topic at the heart of the Forum.
Carol Jackson of the Prince’s Trust quoted a finding from a recent Accenture study that “65% of children at school today will do jobs that don’t currently exist”. She stressed the need to help people in the estuary area to get not just a job, but a good job and a career.
In similar vein, Jean Duprez of The Thames Skills Academy showed a video illustrating the breadth of career opportunities available on the Thames and invited businesses to contact her to discuss the skills they need.
The key message from this session was however the need for a diverse workforce. Both Scott Young of Tideway and Matt Kuhn of TEAM 2100/Jacobs talked about the importance of recruiting diverse teams – with people of different ages, gender and ethnicity – for more imaginative and creative problem-solving.
While skills are critical, Scott also emphasised the importance of identifying the attitudes and behaviours people need to be a good fit within their organisation.
Companies were also urged to consider taking on an apprentice, if they are not already doing so.
Scott Young Anusha Shah, Jean Duprez MBE, Carol Jackson Matt Kuhn
Of course, the best planned development can fail if we don’t fully engage with local communities, and the Forum shared a couple of telling case studies of this working well in practice.
InsightShare’s Zoe Young asked everyone to start projects with community needs and use a design-thinking approach to help them explore and find solutions for issues they face. She said they have used participatory video as a powerful tool in many countries successfully to help unheard voices be heard and to bring about change.
Rachel Shairp spoke about the #OneLess campaign, which is another great example of creating the systemic community change required to keep London hydrated without the need for single-use plastics including: catalysing the installation of water fountains in London and establishing a Pioneer Network of organisations who have pledged to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles in their workplaces.
TEP’s Amy Pryor valiantly battled against losing her voice to show how TEP works with partners from across sectors in an integrated way using current projects as examples: Estuary Edges – building terraces into flood defence walls to provide semi-natural habitats requires partnership and integrated working between regulators, developers and third sector; developing five interconnecting priorities for the North Thames Fisheries Local Action Group and the challenge of leading the group through partnership working; chairing the Coastal Partnerships Network allows dissemination and learning across 50 similar organisation throughout the UK.
Humphrey Walters (Humphrey Walters Associates) then regaled us with his thrilling account of taking part in the 1996-7 BT Global Challenge – the world’s toughest round-the-world yacht. He explained how this helped him to further his studies in leadership and teamwork in a hostile environment. He also talked about the importance of ‘followship’, ie supporting the leader, and particularly individuals’ responsibility to work as a team and get along with others.
“The passion for the river in the room is clearly palpable,” said Anusha whilst summarising the day’s events. She concluded by saying “I am confident if we are able to break down all silos and social barriers, we can turn challenges such as climate change, urban population growth and Brexit into opportunities and transform the Thames into a thriving river for future generations.”
The forum closed with drinks and a final opportunity for networking and to see the wide range exhibitors’ stands.
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