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Thames is no Med, but Rogers is right to raise Gateway alarm

Okay, it's time for a little honesty: do you fancy living in the Thames Gateway? Do you hope that one day your children may aspire to buy a home there? I bet you don't, and I'm sure Richard Rogers doesn't either. This once most on-message of Labour peers has damned the methods of delivery and argued that 'this could be an absolute disaster'. Seven years after he chaired the government's Urban Task Force, he feels that the lessons are not being heeded. 'I have urged planners and politicians to treat London Thames Gateway as a piece of a compact city, like Manhattan, Barcelona or indeed central London, rather than as a disconnected series of new towns, ' he has written.

Oh yes, why can't everywhere be more like Barcelona?

Rogers contrasts its '6km of stunning beaches and vibrant neighbourhoods, epitomising the sustainable live-work-leisure mix to which all modern cities aspire' with the mess he believes we will make 'along the glorious River Thames from the Isle of Dogs to Southend'. Well, up to a point Lord Rogers. The muddy, grey Thames estuary doesn't have quite the appeal of a palm-fringed beach on the Mediterranean. And whereas our weakness has for too long been urban sprawl, in Barcelona many feel their compact urban residences are actually rather cramped and too cheek by jowl.

But if it is easy to be dismissive of Rogers' unceasing enthusiasm for Barcelona, his underlying point still has resonance. However much we talk about the way in which we want to raise standards, we seem doomed to sink into the quagmire of poor delivery. In this week's Ajenda, Andrew Mead compares artist Andrew Cross's film about England now with Ian Nairn's impassioned outcry half a century ago against the encroachment of 'subtopia'. Despite Nairn's invective, the situation has become worse, not better - and if we can't sort out our delivery issues, the Thames Gateway could become a giant subtopian example. Rogers believes we have to ensure that more architects are appointed to competition juries. This would be laudable, but probably not enough. If we get this wrong, Rogers will be sorry, and so will the rest of us.

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