A blighted land to be reborn: Matthew Brace looks at plans to create an economic miracle in the East

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The Government has finalised its vision for the regeneration of London's blighted eastern flank, Independent London can reveal.

At the forefront of the Department of the Environment's strategy is an attempt to give the East Thames Corridor a more positive image, with logo, and new name, Thames Gateway.

On Wednesday a document will be launched mapping out the Government's dream of a new boomtown with an integrated transport network and thousands of jobs in an area which has been the city's dumping ground for centuries.

The corridor stretches from Stratford and Greenwich to Tilbury in Essex, and Sittingbourne and the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. It contains miles of river frontage, many heritage sites and the northern end of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Rejuvenation, the Government believes, will take London into the 21st century on a par with other European economic powerbases such as Paris and Frankfurt.

David Curry, the local government minister, will today meet members of the East Thames Forum, which includes the boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Newham, Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Greenwich and Bexley plus Essex and Kent county councils and the district authorities of Thurrock, Dartford, Gravesham, Rochester, Gillingham and Swale.

The talk is likely to focus on how to provide maximum benefit for the community and for business. But the big unanswered question is funding. Although government money has been fed into transport links, other development is likely to depend on the private sector. Some projects, like the Lewisham extension of the Docklands Light Railway, will be totally dependent on private funding.

However, the task of turning round this deprived area to create a centre for industry and tourism as well as an attractive place to live, is a mammoth one. Three years ago, the outline plans were described by a government advisor as 'mindboggling'.

The area is dominated by heavy industry, while the skyline is marked by power stations, gas works and warehouses. In the depth of the recession parts of the region had unemployment rates of more than 25 per cent. The legacy of continual environmental degredation is that one fifth of the land is contaminated.

However, the Department of the Environment reports that between 1980 and 1992 the number of businesses in the area grew by 52 per cent, compared to an average for the South-east of 44 per cent. There are now 40,000 businesses there, while industrial rents in the eastern quadrant of the M25 are between pounds 1.50 and pounds 2 per square foot lower than in west London.

The Thames Gateway project will focus on two areas: the Royal Docks, and Stratford and Kent Thames-side (covering Dartford and Gravesend north of the A2). The Royal Docks will become the western focus of the Gateway, hopefully gaining the impetus to spark regeneration in the rest of east London, while emphasis in Kent Thames-side will be on using damaged land to provide employment to reduce Kent's reliance on London for jobs.

The other two main areas of change are the Greenwich Peninsula, under which the Jubilee Line extension is being dug, and Barking Reach, where new communities will be centred.

Greenwich Borough Council, one of the first to respond to the Government's vision, should benefit due to its wealth of heritage sites, especially in the run-up to the millennium celebrations which they hope to stage. The Old Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark are all major attractions for visitors to London and would be highlighted under the Gateway scheme.

Len Duvall, leader of the council, said: 'Thankfully there is no suggestion of imposing an LDDC style quango to take over from local councils and local partnerships. But how much money is the Government prepared to invest in these vital areas?'

The report also mentions the need to care for the natural environment of the East Thames corridor with its sensitive wetlands and numerous colonies of water birds.

Six new river crossings are proposed, three each by road and rail. Officials say a third Blackwall crossing would ease congestion, and an east London river crossing would give access to the Royal Docks from a wide area of south London, including the new town of Thamesmead, and would improve access to the Medway towns. These plans are likely to be controversial, with many residents already opposed to the new bridges.

The project is also looking to capitalise on the river frontages which run the length of the corridor. The Thames handles 10 per cent of the UK's shipping trade and dealt with 50 million tonnes last year.

Homes: Over 110,000 new dwellings, 70,000 by 2006.

Leisure: A new green grid to join main open spaces with river frontages. New walkways, cycle routes and parks. Opportunity for museums and theme parks.

Transport: pounds 4.5bn of investment in new roads and international and domestic rail services; six new river crossings; better links with London and South-east.

Environment: industrial wasteland will be cleaned up and landscaped; over head power lines put underground.

Employment: Thousands of new jobs as companies relocate.

Trade: Improved port facilities and access to national road and rail network. Potential for business and conference complex and shopping centres.

Educ ation: Development of science park and architecture centre.

Town Planning: Re-use of historic buildings, razing of eyesores.

(Photograph omitted)

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