How the Thames Gateway Seeks to Tackle Land Remediation

By Stephen Joseph, Deputy Chief Executive, Thames Gateway London Partnership.
The Thames in East London was, in the not too distant past, the docking and industrial engine room of the nation. This has left a legacy of often redundant land containing environmental problems from an era predating modern regulation of ground contamination.

The scale of the problem can be appreciated by noting that within the Thames Gateway London Partnership sites database (which seeks to quantifies the available development and redevelopment sites for the zones of change areas within the London Thames Gateway), 56 potential development sites are identified by our member Boroughs as contaminated in some way, some 1,506 ha in total. Often this contamination is to such a degree that alternative uses become unprofitable.

Combined with this problem is a tremendous challenge. Thames Gateway London is Europe’s largest and most ambitious regeneration initiative and is Europe’s largest brownfield development area located close to a major urban centre.

The Mayor of London has stated that 97% of all new development in London will be on brownfield land, probably the highest percentage of brownfield use for this scale of development of any city in the world. The densification of the urban area, as opposed to the normal growth agenda which involves expansion onto the urban periphery, results in more compact cities with better public transport and more sustainable patterns of travel. Remediation and reuse thus serves a wider purpose than site specific gains and should be a priority for all levels of government.

The TGLP strategy to facilitate remediation and bring these contaminated sites into use falls into six distinct areas:

  1. Promote the creation of institutions that can assist with direct remediation or gap funding where market failure will likely result due to site contamination. To this end, TGLP has promoted new Urban Development Corporations for London and Thurrock to complement existing efforts by the London Development Agency and English Partnerships.

  2. Promote the Olympics as a way of levering money from the government and Greater London Authority into the remediation agenda for many sites in the Lower Lee.

  3. Encourage the participation of large dense development proposals for complex sites so that heavily contaminated sites can be remediated through cross subsidy from the profitable parts of a development. The Stratford Rail Lands and Greenwich Peninsula proposals are examples of this strategy.

  4. Encourage specialist remediation firms to work actively in the gateway and make full use of the Chancellor’s 150% tax break for decontamination as part of their business model. Collaboration with Landcom Holdings PLC is an example of a firm with such a business model which we are actively brokering to connect with suitable sites.

  5. Encourage our Local Authority members and the Mayor to take into account remediation costs in negotiating planning gain so that development can remain profitable.

  6. Facilitate academic collaboration to help quantify remediation costs on Gateway sites and to identify new technologies that can result in more efficient remediation. The Centre for Contaminated Land Remediation at the University of Greenwich Chatham has offered to advise and TGLP is part of a formal consortium on a Sustainable Urban Brownfield Regeneration project with The Universities of Cambridge, Reading and Sheffield and the Forestry Commission Research Agency who amongst others who will choose gateway sites for investigation using government research grant monies.

With these six initiatives, TGLP hopes to accelerate the remediation agenda within the Gateway and help deliver quality new communities, services and work spaces for the next generations.

Stephen Joseph is the Deputy Chief Executive: Strategy – Thames Gateway London Partnership. He has worked as an urban planner in Canada and the United States and has advised national governments on best practice for community, environmental and urban planning, including developing a best practice guide for the Inter-American Development Bank for environmental risk assessment.

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