Thames Estuary plan aims to bring green development and create jobs for communities in south-east UK

THE UK government is backing the Thames Estuary as Britain’s biggest growth opportunity.

With the claimed potential to create 1.5m jobs and add value of up to £115bn to the nation’s economy, the development is being hailed as “integral to growth and recovery post-Brexit and post-Covid”.

The Thames Estuary Growth Board, led by government-appointed envoy Kate Willard, launched an action plan called the Green Blue. Setting out plans for the next two years, looking ahead over the next decade, it aims to fulfil the potential of the region, comprised of East London, north Kent, south Essex and the Thames itself.

Thames Estuary, Kate Willard
Kate Willard, with a Thames Clipper passenger boat in the background

Willard said the fully formed private/public Growth Board was working to leverage significant amounts of private sector investment and make the estuary a compelling investment proposition.

“Each board member possesses a high level of expertise in their area and is fresh to this type of project,” she said. “Working as one unified voice, we will deliver the greenest and most productive estuary in the world.”

The board is working to increase freight and passengers moved on the river by 25 and 50 percent, respectively, over a five-year period. It is also establishing a hydrogen production, storage and fuelling infrastructure to support a shift to green vessels and support green, land-based transport.

“This will enable the region to deliver on the government agenda of jobs, clean air, productivity, and international trade,” Willard says.

There are some 30 projects in development across sectors including transport, infrastructure, leisure and culture. This includes the Lower Thames Crossing — a 2.6-mile tunnel (the longest in the UK) connecting communities in Kent, Thurrock and Essex. It is touted as “the most ambitious UK road project since the M25”.

The Thames Estuary is well placed to become one of 10 freeports proposed for the UK and will have different customs rules to other UK ports. As well as tariff flexibility, customs facilitations and tax measures, the freeport will offer wider benefits for businesses such as planning reforms, funding for infrastructure improvements and innovation incentives.

It is hoped that the freeport will generate jobs and opportunities for the area, benefitting communities along the estuary.

The London Resort in Swancombe, Kent, will be one of Europe’s largest construction projects — three times larger than any other UK resort park. It will transform 535 acres into two theme parks, a water park, and 3,500 hotel rooms, creating a claimed 30,000 jobs.

The historic London markets of Smithfield, Billingsgate and New Spitalfields are being consolidated into one market, located in Dagenham Docks, by 2023.

This 42-acre site will be the country’s largest wholesale food destination, bringing a huge economic boost to the area and creating employment opportunities for local people.

The board is supporting creative and cultural projects to position London and the south-east. It is working with Arts Council England to implement its new strategy, Let’s Create, develop the Thames Estuary Production Corridor, and oversee the Estuary Festival in spring 2021.

The Growth Board is collaborating with Transport East, Transport for South East and Transport for London for a co-ordinated approach.

The Thames Estuary website is now live, with information and updates on projects, blog posts from Willard, news and events, backgrounds of board members, and contact details.

The Green Blue includes plans to attract business and investors, boost connectivity to and in the area, bring clarity to the housing debate, regenerate infrastructure, and create jobs.

“We are here to get things done,” promised Willard. The Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, Simon Clarke MP, said the plan would drive growth by prioritising jobs, better infrastructure for transport, investment and the expansion of housing.

“The UK is open for business and the Thames Estuary Growth Board’s plan makes this clear,” he said.