Budget 2016: With the appointment of Lord Heseltine to lead Thames Estuary Growth Commission is the government finally taking the Thames Estuary’s potential seriously?

Nick Vose
Crew sit on British Royal Navy helicopte
Source: Getty

Asking someone to agree on the parameters of the Thames Estuary, one of the largest inlets on the coast of the United Kingdom, is almost as hard as asking someone to decide on the best way to unlock its economic potential.

The 146 mile Estuary, once the launching place of England's great ships of exploration and colonisation, has long been overlooked and under-appreciated by government.

Back in 2009 more than £9bn was earmarked for projects along the Thames Estuary, with the then housing minister Yvette Cooper declaring that there would be 160,000 homes built and 225,000 jobs created.

Back then the Conservatives said the scheme was "another example of top down heavy handed management".

Fast forward seven years and the 40 mile stretch has arguably failed to live up to its potential, with communities hearing a lot about aspiration and vision and not much about action.

On Wednesday Osborne singled that he is ready to embrace the heavy-handed approach his colleagues once derided through the appointment of Lord Heseltine, who will lead the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission.

The first item on Heseltine’s desk will be delivering new infrastructure, which is already a pressing issue with a region that is undergoing considerable change, experiencing significant inward investment and having sizeable housing needs.

Early signs are not promising. The Lower Thames Crossing, which has the potential to transform the lives of millions, and at circa £7bn, is as major a piece of infrastructure costing seven times the amount of the Northern Line extension, is for whatever reason, to catch the public imagination.

It is absolutely right to highlight that the Lower Thames Crossing will profoundly change distribution patterns, commuter flows, and relieve pressure on the existing Dartford Crossing/QE2 Bridge for the benefit of the wider south east. What has yet to be articulated is the potential shot in the arm a Lower Thames Crossing could have for the Thames Gateway as a sub-region, and those communities that reside within it.

This nationally significant project is shaping up to become the first in a long line of political battles that lie ahead, pitting national priorities against local communities. Reminding us all that the ability to unite a plethora of interests will be the key to unlocking the regions potential.

Heseltine may well be the man to ‘bang heads’ together, but the devil will be in the detail.

Regeneration is a long-term process – it does not happen overnight. There is much to be done and Osborne is not the first politician to have noticed the Thames Estuary’s potential.

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