Thames Estuary 2050 Vision Report

I’ve started to read the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission’s ‘2050 Vision Report’.

I’m struck by the following on page 6:

“Without a coherent and integrated vision and associated priorities, this important part of the country will not deliver ‘business as usual’ outcomes, yet alone more ambitious ones”.

So 30 years or so after the Thames Gateway/Thames Corridor was identified as a location for growth there is still no coherent and integrated vision!

Incredible and shocking but due to, in my view, a common denominator.

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How do we develop an industrial strategy when we don’t know what works?

Recently I went to a conference on ‘Designing effective local industrial strategies: why, how and what works for local areas’.

This was organised by the ‘What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth’, who’s work I like, although so far most of its studies more or less say ‘we don’t actually know what works – nobody does’.

As they go through their program of work they intend to change this and their document ‘Developing effective local industrial strategies’, which sets out 10 things to consider when developing a Local Industrial Strategy, is a useful start.

However, we can’t sit back and do nothing until we have the evidence as to ‘what works’. We have to do our best to do something, whilst avoiding the ‘something must be done and this is something’ scenario.

Whilst going through some old papers at the weekend I came across my thoughts, dating back to 2010, about economic development which I think still makes sense and helps us decide what to do until we have more specific evidence about what actually works.

In reality, however, no one can really plan in detail how an economy will succeed, or how a city or a town can be successful, because they sit in a complex system where you cannot separate out the correct levers to pull.

What you can do, however, is to set the scene and do what is ‘right’ such as:

  • recognise the need for agglomeration (whilst also understanding that modern agglomeration is different to what it was in the past);

  • build on what you already do and have;

  • encourage mixed use and vibrant areas;

  • set up networks;

  • set up finance networks;

  • ensure there are good communication networks (both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’);

  • ensure there is good education and training (at all levels, and of all sorts for all people);

  • ensure your area is a good place to live, and that it looks nice and cared for;

  • be the best version of yourself that you can be;

  • have a vision and an ambition which says we can improve things rather than say that our best days are over and we are managing decline;

  • all thinking and actions must integrate Social, Economic and Environmental sustainability.

If you have a vision, and people who try to implement it, you are likely to be wrong in many aspects but others will build on it and do so because there is a vision rather than no vision You also need to have people with the right attitude for others to talk to.

A feature of my thoughts and approach, which seems to be missing from the Government’s thinking on Industrial Strategies, is that Spatial Planning, Economic Planning, and Environmental Planing need to be considered together and must be fully integrated from the beginning, and I am shocked that too often this isn’t happening. We shouldn’t (and can’t) do one without the others.

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City of London – getting too crowded for pedestrians

I was reading that the City of London Corporation is getting worried about overcrowding of the streets in and around its ‘Eastern Cluster’ – the cluster of tall towers between Bishops Gate and Fenchurch Street which is sometimes called London’s ‘Manhattan’.

There are so many office workers in the area – estimated to be around 480,000 per day, with more to come, that the streets are overcrowded at lunch time and in the morning and evening with commuters going to and from the tube stations, with the streets being overcrowded and getting dangerous. The City Corporation is concerned that this could damage future growth prospects so, in response, are thinking about widespread pedestrianisation of the area.

Although there are concerns about how offices and shops will be serviced if the whole area is pedestrianised I think pedestrianisation is a good idea. Many of the streets between the main roads are small and narrow anyway and the whole area is so walkable that all traffic should be banned (including cycles), and certainly between, say, 08.00 to 19.00.

However, this issue of overcrowding brings to mind something I have said before: there is no reason why development in the City of London needs to be concentrated in such a small area at such a high density. The tall towers seem, to me, to be posturing, and we could have smaller towers (which we would struggle to call ‘towers’ perhaps) spread across and around the City, and even outside of the official ‘Square Mile’. It seems to me that the City Corporation is too intent on maintaining its prominence and is not willing to spread the work around just a little bit – I am not talking about miles away – and in doing so risks harming itself. In addition, I dislike the idea of one owner being the landlord to so many businesses which is what happens when we have a few mega towers. I’d much prefer more smaller new buildings owned by different landlords in order to provide just a little more competition for rent (and service) levels.

Interestingly the real Manhattan is having a similar problem. At a recent conference on Active Roads for London (‘Under Pressure: the way ahead for London’s roads and streets’) Kate Ascher, of BuroHappold Engineering, told of plans for ‘Reinventing Lower Manhattan’ because the area is too crowded and becoming ‘uncomfortable’ to move around in as a pedestrian. The increase in tourists post 9/11, and the increase in mixed use which has brought residents into the office areas, has led to tourists, residents and workers competing for a limited amount of street space. So, the authorities are looking to pedestrianise parts of the area. Just like the City of London.

My overall point is that the City of London seems to be making a bad job of thinking in a integrated way and is just thinking about how much development they can obtain. I have mentioned this in a earlier post, where the issue of energy efficiency in tall towers in London will deliver knock on problems because the planners are only considering them one at a time see –

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Ramsgate – reflections on a recent visit

It has been a few years since I have been in Ramsgate, but a visit there last week with Gibbs and Partners @TheGestalter  has reminded me what a nice place it is.

Loads of very nice houses and buildings abound, such as

Ramsgate June 2018 (4)

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But also a number of empty buildings which really have no business being empty

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There are empty sites, right in the town centre, which have been empty for years

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Local Authorities ought to have a policy of not allowing any building or site to be left empty and used for over (say) 2 years, and take aggressive action against owners who are willing to leave them empty and unused.

What makes a large utility company think that it is OK and acceptable to leave a building like this empty for year after year?

Ramsgate June 2018 (18)

It can’t be lack of money. This could be turned into studio space for artists, for which there is great demand in the town.

Over the years some buildings which were empty and in a bad way some years ago have been brought back into alternative use and renovated

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Others are being renovated and redeveloped

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Ramsgate June 2018 Corner

But if you are renovating a pretty Regency style villa, pay more attention to the sort of fencing you use

Ramsgate June 2018 Fence

 it can spoil what is otherwise a good job.

So, Ramsgate: a nice place but the town centre, like many town centres, needs a bit more effort put into it so it is not spoilt by empty buildings and sites. Nearby Margate gets more attention in the press, but in my eyes Ramsgate is a better place.


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Housing – why we must not go back to playing the numbers game.

When we finally get around to properly addressing the housing crisis we mustn’t only look at, and deal with, the number of homes built.

Recently I came across some homes which have been built within the last 5 years or so which have been fitted with a heating system which the occupiers cannot afford to use.

In an effort to be low-carbon these homes have been fitted with a heat pump which is supposed to take excess heat from within the home to provide hot water (which is used for washing, as well as space heating via a hot water storage tank when temperatures are low).

The problem is that there isn’t enough waste heat to bring the water up to a high enough temperature, resulting in the ‘back up’ electric immersion heater doing most of the work – thus expensive electricity is used to such an extent that the energy bills are vastly more than what the Energy Performance Certificates say they should be. In turn this means that the electricity bills are so high that some occupiers cannot afford them, and all are paying more than they should be.

So, in an effort to be ‘green’, and low-carbon, what has actually happened is that homes are unaffordable to run. It is pointless to build new homes which people cannot afford to run and which actually use more energy than more traditionally serviced homes. The new homes we build must be affordable, not only in rents, service charges, and mortgage payments but to heat and to run.

This is just one example of it not being as simple as: number of households = number of homes = problem solved.

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The Businesses of the Old Kent Road (are being ignored)

I have blogged in the past about the Old Kent Road  – see here   and here and here

For those who are interested I recommend the work on the businesses of the Old Kent Road by Cass Cities – work which has been done in the context of plans for the redevelopment of the Old Kent Road area which are forcing out existing businesses. Indeed the existing businesses, their need for growth, and future businesses are, and have been, ignored by those responsibe for making these Plans.

Cass’s book can be found below – it makes interesting reading. For me, it is shocking (but not surprising) that the local council has a very poor grasp and understanding of what businesses are in their area and how their citizens earn their living.

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Graz Gyrations – thoughts on a visit to Graz

Towards the end of 2017 we went to Graz, Austria, on a business combined with pleasure trip.

Here are some brief thoughts and observations from that trip.

Blimey – Frankfurt Airport seems big. Is it as large as it seems or do you just have to taxi a long way?Graz November 2017 (1)

The River Mur goes through the centre of Graz Graz November 2017 (233)and down stream it is dammed to create an hydro-electric power station Graz November 2017 (8) At one time I got the impression that the energy supply company in Graz is owned by the municipality (or the state in some way) – does anyone know if this is the case? Let me know.

The arrivals hall at Graz Airport with an advertising display of local and regional businesses. Note that nearly all of these companies actually make things, adding and creating value. Quite a contrast with what I saw at London City Airport on our way home – it was all accountants, management consultants and banks – value extractors rather than creators. And note that the one bank which is advertised at Graz Airport is actually a cooperative. Graz November 2017 (12) Graz November 2017 (13) Also note the regional Clusters – for example the Styria Autocluster.

Much is made of the region – Styria – and there are two farmers’ markets in the city centre which operate everyday of the week except Sundays, with local farmers (the actual farmers, running small market gardens it would seem) selling their own produce. Local Styrian produce included Pumpkins, Pumpkin Oil, Giant Beans, and Apples. Graz November 2017 (258)Graz November 2017 (17)Graz November 2017 (18) Saturday was the main market day, with many more stalls, and shoppers, than weekdays, but each market was operational every week day with a reduced number of stalls plus the permanent booths.

I liked the metal clad doors and shutters which were a feature of old buildings in the city centre Graz November 2017 (43)Graz November 2017 (56)

The tallest building in the city centre (but across the river from the old city) is the A1 Telekom building. This telecoms, satellite, broadband, TV Satellite company seems to be at least partly state owned – 28% of the shares as far as I can make out. Graz November 2017 (66)

The Kunsthaus Graz November 2017 (75) and a general view across the city Graz November 2017 (76)

They are not afraid of mixing up contemporary and traditional architecture.

Much of the residential development in the city centre is made up of courtyards Graz November 2017 (84) but it is not unusual to find small business amongst the homes – a mixed use we don’t see much of (if any) in the UK. Graz November 2017 (85)

I visited the Botanic Gardens with its new glass-houses Graz November 2017 (120) but it is a shame the old green-houses have been left to deteriorate Graz November 2017 (115) An example of where it is ‘easy’ to get funding for a new capital project but not to cover the running costs of an existing facility?

A nice example of attention to detail – Graz November 2017 (123) individual flues grouped together to form a sculptural effect.

An Art Nouveau district Graz November 2017 (127)It was interesting to see ‘home made’ scaffolding erected on site from timber rather than metal scaffold tubes Graz November 2017 (132)Graz November 2017 (133) Can you imagine this in the UK? Someone would throw a fit.

I liked the rawness and sculptural form of the Technical College Graz November 2017 (135) The photos don’t show it well but I loved the idea of turning the rainwater drainage system into a water feature (when it is raining that is). Graz November 2017 (138)

Another example of new and traditional next to each other without any problem or fuss  Graz November 2017 (139)

There are still examples of run down buildings next to well maintained and renovated ones Graz November 2017 (140)

A new residential estate near the exhibition grounds – at first sight I thought this was a new prison!

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The nearby Exhibition site was not much more than an industrial estate – but perhaps that’s all you need for a local exhibition ground Graz November 2017 (146)

An example of a traditional shopping street  Graz November 2017 (158)

New and traditional mixed up and next to each other Graz November 2017 (171)

Another view of the Graz Kunsthaus Graz November 2017 (176)

The Museum of Archaeology Graz November 2017 (183)  – a modern structure in the grounds of a Schloss Graz November 2017 (182)

Traditional houses in the hills Graz November 2017 (203) with new homes in a more contemporary style built in their grounds and amongst them  Graz November 2017 (205)

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Typical new apartments being built – note the large balconies Graz November 2017 (217)

There is still industry in the city Graz November 2017 (220) Siemens bogie plant. The bogies for London’s Thameslink Trains were made in Graz –

Simple but effective – Grasses in small bags being used to demarcate public and private space outside a coffee shop Graz November 2017 (226) – an idea to steal and use in UK town centres.

We were in Graz as the Christmas decorations were being put up – upside down Christmas trees above the main shopping street Graz November 2017 (246) One shop sold nothing but glass Christmas decorations Graz November 2017 (29)

A modern office building Graz November 2017 (250)

In Graz they are not afraid to put a modern box on an old building Graz November 2017 (261)

The leisure gardens, often seen in Europe, which help to make high density city living work – something which we, in the UK, are ignoring when we say ‘the continentals live at high density in their cities, so why shouldn’t we?’.

Another new building in the heart of the old city – it was noticeable that many new buildings have had to provide underground car parks beneath them Graz November 2017 (273) Graz has a bit of a bike culture (quite a few times we heard the squeal of bike breaks as one just avoided hurtling under a car), but it is not ignoring cars as a necessary means of transport.

Sometimes it is useful to learn how others see the UK  Graz November 2017 (277)

Traditional and new again Graz November 2017 (278)

An example of traditional courtyard housing in the old town Graz November 2017 (281)

This part of Graz, redeveloped after the Second World War, is considered by locals as the rough part of the city, and is looking a bit run down in places (a nice little find whilst exploring the back-streets was the Bauer distillery – we highly recommend the Hazelnut Schnapps). Graz November 2017 (69) We noticed that even the local SPAR shops had a section for regional produce ‘From Styria’. I don’t see any of our local co-ops in the UK having, say, a Kentish Produce Section – perhaps it’s about time they did.

Graz has a lot of small ‘squares’, each one setting up the Christmas booths which seem to have much more of a social function that the copies which we have recently introduced in the UK. We really need to made our own traditions, and do them in our own way, instead of trying to copy them (badly) from others. Graz November 2017 (45)

A view of the fields from which the produce for the farmers markets came from Graz November 2017 (9) A nice little reminder of how different UK fields look from those on the continent.

So, to end, some quick thoughts and observations on spending a week in Graz:

  • a city with a population of 230,000 (in a metropolitan area with a population of 430,000), can be a centre for manufacturing;

  • there is a strong regional influence with industrial clusters and a strong tradition of regional food and produce;

  • A city of 230,000 can have two farmers’ markets, selling fresh food, every day of the week, except Sundays;

  • 230,000 is the population of a small London Borough -so there is no reason why London Boroughs (or a grouping of them) can’t have their own industrial cluster strategies; nor why they can’t link with their rural hinterland to promote regional and traditional food and produce;

  • we (in the UK and London) shouldn’t be frightened of building new and modern next to old and traditional, but at a small and local scale rather than the large scale which intentional investors want;

  • there are different ways of running our businesses; we in the UK could have locally owned and controlled utilities and banks.


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