Thursday, November 15, 2007

Commons public accounts committee slates Thames Gateway

The view of the Public Accounts Committee on the Thames Gateway is that:
Without significant improvement in the overall management of the programme it will remain a series of disjointed projects and is unlikely to achieve its potential to make a major difference to economic regeneration and sustainable housing.
That is just an excerpt from a relentlessly critical report on the huge Thames Gateway project, which is the largest regeneration project in Europe. Now I have an insider view on this: I sit on the Basildon Renaissance Partnership and I chair the Thames Gateway South Essex Economy and Inward Investment Board and I think that the MPs do and don't have a point. First of all the Thames Gateway project is a worthy one, and without it the growing prosperity of the area will still leave areas of deprivation and inadequate infrastructure. Unfortunately, the scale of the endeavour is matched by its difficulty. Regeneration that works across numerous local authorities and communities is hard to organise and the professional talent that is needed is scarce. The project did not get off to a good start either, with John Prescott running it under the now defunct Office of the Deputy Prime-Minister. He was not a good leader and his department made numerous mistakes, not least in grossly complicating the planning system, which then made delivering regeneration on the ground a tortuous process. That having been said, from my lowly viewpoint things are happening. Basildon at least has a thriving regeneration programme that has been enabled by carefully targeted funding from the Thames Gateway organisation. In Thurrock there is a port project that will eventually handle half of the UK's container traffic, and there are other schemes elsewhere in the Gateway. It is when you step back and look at achievements in aggregate through the Thames Gateway that things start to look uneven. In particular, there are issues with housing delivery and the CLG seems to be under pressure from other government departments. One point in the report is on how local MPs have been engaged, and I know that there are certainly issues there in other parts of South Essex. Here in Basildon we make a point of meeting with our local parliamentarians, and both John Baron and Angela Smith have been very supportive.

What will be interesting is how the Thames Gateway project's leadership reacts. I hope that they push through the strident tone of the report and look carefully at each point in turn, because there are some things to fix.


Anonymous said...

SOME things to fix. Steve - that's the understatement of the week.

The Thames Gateway has been promis after promise... and the only reason the container port came off was a foreign firm saw the money and to hell with the environment.

C'mon, I remember Prescott waddling and sweating his way into Basildon to boost Angela's last election campaign and having the then Tory candidate (Dominic Schofield wasn't it) yell at him by megaphone from a car. It was a wonderful "drive by barracking". Anyway, the point is, he's popped into the town, as did Tony and what's been the result. I think if the pair of them didn't hate Andew MacKinley so much then perhaps the Gateway would've had a better chance.

Wasn't Heseltine involved somewhere at some stage or am I confusing him with someone else?

Steve Horgan said...

From the Basildon's point of view we have seen the project to redevelop Craylands, which as you know desperately needs it, and funding for the new Sporting Village, the Basildon Town Centre procurement. That level of public sector activity has attracted other investors to Basildon District and I am not sure that virtuous cycle would have started without the overall context of the Thames Gateway initiative. So, we are seeing real progress on the ground, but success is more patchy elsewhere in the Gateway area and that is a major problem. The Public Accounts committee delved into some of the causes, and I hope it is taken seriously because otherwise regeneration in the Gateway area may be inconsistent, with pockets of underdevelopment or real deprivation remaining in the shadow of shiny new buildings.

I am not sure what people's supposed opinions of Andrew MacKinley have anything to do with this.