High hopes for a new 'Hezzograd': Ministers say the planned east Thames development is not just a glossy PR exercise

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What's in a name? Ministers were looking for something sexier than the East Thames Corridor to describe the 4,000 hectares of development sites, pounds 4.5 billion of transport links, and about a million people in East London, Essex and Kent when they launch the detailed development plan.

They have not been short of suggestions. The idea of a development area which stretches from Greenwich east of London into Kent as far as Sittingbourne was the brainchild of Michael Heseltine when he was at the Department of the Environment. That immediately led to the ETC being dubbed 'Hezzograd'.

So what are the planners intending to call it? David Curry, the Minister for Local Government, was coy. 'Curryville, perhaps?'

'No,' he says. 'I'm not going to tell you.'

The name - along with a logo - is going to be unveiled when the DoE publishes the plan, but an official gave a hint. 'It's more conceptual. . .'

Mr Curry speaks lyrically about the concept. 'It's a plan for a generation. It's not Centrepoint or Canary Wharf. It's gradualist.'

As it contains the route for the new high-speed rail link to the Channel Tunnel, he sees it as a 'gateway to Europe'.

The heart begins to sink, sounding as it does like a large-scale repeat of the glossy PR exercise applied to Docklands.

A Yorkshireman, who sounds like the Ray Illingworth of Whitehall, Mr Curry denies in earthy terms that it is going to be a grandiose disaster, a sort of Mega-docklands.

'If it were all piss and wind we would not have broken our necks to make sure that we got a station on the Jubilee Line at Greenwich,' he says, hinting that the decision to cancel a station at the Cutty Sark, Greenwich, might be reversed.

Transport links are being given high priority. The planners are determined not to repeat the mistakes of Docklands.

There will be no urban development corporation with a big budget. They are not planning to create overnight a New York skyline that no one can get to. The ETC will be developed gradually, over 30 years, hand-in-hand with local authorities. Mr Curry says that local people will be directly involved.

Neither is it to be a 'linear city', he says. The aim will be to direct all new large-scale development there.

Some of it resembles LTTF - Land That Time Forgot. The plan seeks to transform the outer east side of London which has been the dumping ground for centuries of London's waste.

'Historically all the great development has gone on the west, because people did not want to be downwind of the City. What we are trying to do is put together an overall framework for regeneration.'

It is estimated that there is potential for 110,000 new homes and thousands of jobs.

A total of pounds 3.1 billion will go on rail transport - the Jubilee Line extension, the Docklands Light Railway to Beckton and Lewisham, the Kent Link modernisation and LTS refurbishment; and pounds 1.1 billion on roads, the A13 improvements, M11 link, a new Blackwall Crossing, A249 improvements, M25 junctions 30 and 31, M2 widening, Medway towns relief road, and A2-A282 improvement.

Some of the schemes will cause upset and protest, but the aim is to develop the area by consent.

Not all land will be for development - the Wetlands around the Medway, Thames and Swale, some of the most important habitats for wading birds in Britain, will be protected.

The expansion will take place around established communities and the aim will be to create jobs close to homes.

'We are working with the local authorities, not taking their powers away,' Mr Curry says.

The regional plan was revised in March to encourage a shift of development away from congested areas to the west and south of London towards the east. The planners hope it will relieve pressure on the remaining green belt to the west.

The speed of the development will depend on the private sector. It will not be driven by taxpayers' money. The recession could still make the whole concept, even with a new name and logo, something a damp squib, but ministers are confident that by closing off the option of large-scale building elsewhere in the South-East and with the opportunities on offer in the ETC, the scheme will work.

Much play will be made of the heritage sites: the former Royal Palaces, dockyards and forts at Greenwich, Woolwich, Tilbury, Gravesend, Chatham, Rochester and Sheerness.

The big development opportunities are identified as: the Royal Docks, Stratford (a terminus for the Channel Tunnel rail link), Deptford Creek, Greenwich peninsula, Woolwich Arsenal, Thamesmead, Barking Reach, Havering Riverside, Erith Reach, and the Medway towns. One big out-of-town shopping complex is planned at Bluewater Park, a former Blue Circle quarry, at Dartford.

Mr Curry hoped to win more money for the regeneration of the ETC from the European Union, but all he got was a grant for Stratford, as an unemployment blackspot.

'The plan is colour blind, politically,' said Mr Curry. But he is scathing about Bruce Millan, a former Labour MP and the European Commissioner who turned the ETC down for development grants.

'Commissioner Millan comes from a previous generation of industrial problems.

'He was wedded to the view that unemployment is something that only happens in the industrial heartland of northern England. I think the Commission made a very great mistake. This area should have qualified,' Mr Curry says.

But the minister's optimism knows no bounds. He has all sorts of ideas for the ETC.

If London makes a bid for the Olympic Games, the Olympic village would be built in ETC. If Baroness Thatcher returned with the ill-fated idea of a theme park in Essex, it would also be considered. The ETC could become a Disneyland dedicated to Essex Man. Perhaps it will be called Kevin and Karen Country.

(Photograph omitted)

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