Thames Estuary: Parklands Masterplan

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Thames Estuary: Parklands Masterplan
Over the last ten years Farrells has become increasingly involved in the design of large scale landscape infrastructure at city and regional scales. The importance of ‘landscape as the first infrastructure’ was crystallised when we put forward the idea that regeneration and growth in the Thames Gateway should be based on the creation of a continuous high quality landscape. In 2009, Sir Terry was appointed by the Homes and Communities Agency to refresh the Thames Gateway Vision for the 21st Century. The concept for the Parklands Vision is that regeneration within Thames Gateway should be based on landscape and environmental improvement as the first step in attracting investment and improving the quality of life for its one and a half million residents. This approach has gained widespread support amongst the many partners within the Thames estuary. Many of the projects we have advocated are now being implemented with fifteen major projects underway in London (in collaboration with Design for London), South Essex and North Kent. These are all due for completion by 2011. They include a magnificent new pedestrian structure connecting Rainham Station and town centre with the River Thames, a nature park in Thurrock connecting with the historic forts at Coal House, Three Mills Green in the Lea River Park and the creation of new landscapes at Erith Marshes. An initial government investment of £32m has doubled thanks to match funding and there is now 637 hectares of new green space, 95km of new and upgraded cycle paths, 10 new bridges, 5 new visitor centres using sustainable construction methods, 7km of new links to the Thames estuary path…the list goes on. We are very proud of the fact that our vision is being turned into reality. This work builds on Parklands and the eco-region concept to put forward the idea that success in Thames Gateway is critical to the long term health of UK plc. The Core Vision is intended to inform the growth and regeneration strategy for the whole area, shape the funding and delivery strategy, and form the basis for future policy at sub-regional and local level. It is intended to help communicate the initiative to a wide audience including inward investors and local people. What makes Thames Gateway a place? What has the Isle of Dogs got to do with Southend or Medway? Many people continue to ask this question, and it is important to grasp that it is a place for two reasons. First of all, it is a coherent natural landscape: it is the salt-water tidal part of the Thames Estuary. Its defining character has been recognised by poets, painters, and writers including Hopkins, Turner and Dickens. It has a very strong identity just like the Fens, or the Lake District, or Dartmoor, though this is no longer obvious (though it will be made so through implementation of Parklands). Geographically and geologically, this is quite definitely one place with a definite ecology. It’s also a coherent place which has shaped millennia of human activity. It is the downstream part of the metropolis. It’s where navigation and exploration was based in places like Greenwich and Woolwich and Chatham. The estuary saw great waves of emigration and immigration and this is where the large docks were located, initially in East London and eventually Tilbury and Medway. Then, it became the engine room of the world’s first metropolis. It became a place where waste was discharged and power generated. Almost 10% of UK’s power is generated here, because power stations are located near to where commodities were landed. The activities of places along the estuary’s length share common origins. This coherent landscape has shaped a ‘constellation of places’ and in many these origins are powerfully expressed by the remnants of built heritage from this maritime past. There is differentiation between the communities of East London and those located further east within the estuary landscape in that the former are also part of the metropolis, but they share a geographic relationship with the River Thames and its tributaries, and so a common set of challenges (for example flooding and climate change) as well as opportunities. Creating an exceptional Parklands landscape is critical in transforming negative perceptions of the Thames Estuary as a place. The long term aim is to create a landscape quality comparable with the Thames Valley. It will be seen as not only an economic hub, but also a landscaped area of quality, just as the Thames Valley is today. It should become a place for tourism and recreation, where people from the UK and internationally visit to experience a landscape that’s as good as a national park. By 2040-2050, we can envisage 10,000 hectares of new forest and woodland as well as new marshes and wetlands; we can easily imagine up to twenty new National Nature Reserves, and local food and materials produced in the estuary on a large scale; and we can aim for environmental tourism perhaps attracting up to two million visitors. In urban landscapes we can imagine that no resident lives more than 300 metres from a high quality local park. We can imagine a complete Thames Estuary Path, restoration of piers and promenades and new walkways and nature trails. The world’s largest wetland estuary could be created. All the Thames tributaries could be restored as local amenities and nature reserves, and a natural flood management system put in place. The vision for Thames Gateway is based on its natural character and its identity. These give it a potential that is unique within the UK’s Greater South East. Its aim is to create growth in order to maintain London’s status as a world city, and to help the Greater South East to compete internationally as Europe’s wealthiest region. It can only do so if we can transform its quality of life, and therefore its economic prospects. It must offer, in its own unique way, what the Thames Valley already offers today.


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