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Thames Gateway; looking to the future

Experts claim three locations hold the key to the Thames Gateway’s future. Which will typify the area’s character when the regeneration is over?

When I wrote about Barking Town Centre two months ago (AJ 13.09.07), a key player in the Thames Gateway regeneration effort told me that the three most important locations east of London right now are: North Greenwich, Barking, and Ebbsfleet.

In North Greenwich the Millennium Village, with Ralph Erskine’s masterplan; the Millennium Dome; the attempts to use modern methods of construction in the housing; and Ted Cullinan’s Greenwich Millennium School have all had the full attention of the press for the last 10 years.

Barking has architects from English Partnerships’ framework agreements; the attention of Design For London; and a reasonably enlightened borough council trying to influence the quality and coherence of the urban realm.

Ebbsfleet, on the other hand, is private sector-led and much more pragmatic than either of these. The first packages of housing have already been delivered, in the ‘Kentish vernacular’ style on housing estates without pubs or local shops, and with little discernible coherence or urban ambition.

This is not an Urban Task Force-style (sub)urban village, but a potential housing ghetto – a dormitory equivalent to the Victorian suburbs that grew up around the outer reaches of the Tube lines in the 19th century. Where are the pioneers of Ebbsfleet going to work? In King’s Cross? Where will they socialise? Stratford? One answer is revealed in our article on pages 22-27: the people of this new town will get in their cars and shop at the nearby Bluewater Shopping Centre.

This transport node is not creating a Richard Rogers-style sustainable community, but is speculative development of the kind that has always existed on the periphery of London. And that may well be fine. But the next question is: which of the three – Barking, Greenwich or Ebbsfleet – do we want as the legacy of the next decade of regeneration? Which of the three will be most typical of the design legacy of the Thames Gateway?

We will be watching closely to bring you the answer.

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