Barking Riverside

Barking Riverside
London borough of Barking and Dagenham
12 February 2007

With a generous helping of private investment, the government plans to remedy England’s housing shortage with a massive building programme in the south-east of the country. The Thames Gateway, as this vast new suburb will be known, will stretch over great swathes of former industrial land, across east London, Essex and Kent — thus not infringing on the precious green belt.

The slowly materialising Crossrail train service and Britain’s first truly high-speed railway line (using the Hitachi bullet trains bought for the Olympics) should eventually take the hordes of Thames Gateway commuters from their new “affordable homes” to jobs in the City and the Docklands.

Within London, the largest of these developments is to cover 350 acres between the A13 and the Thames by Barking Creek and Dagenham Docks. Barking and Dagenham council had originally identified the land — formerly three disused electricity power stations and a LCC landfill site — for a development of 6,000 homes, then called Barking Reach.

Having bought the land from National Power in 1999, the developer Bellway has since coupled with the government’s regeneration body, English Partnerships, and are now organising construction alongside the council. Renamed Barking Riverside, the planned development has burgeoned to a far higher density of 10,800 homes within seven different neighbourhoods.

Because of its previous usage, half of the area cannot be built on; the other half will need around 11 years of land remediation before construction can even begin. The power stations need to be cleared, along with the massive electricity pylons that stride across the site, and the ground needs to be “capped and filled” (using spoil left from boring the Channel Tunnel Rail Link). Furthermore, a “balancing pond” is needed, rerouting surges of water into local streams and preventing the flooding of what is essentially marshland.

Maxwan, a Dutch firm, has been contracted to draw up a masterplan for the site, with the landscape designers Karres en Brands. Maxwan are known for a similar, albeit much larger scheme outside Utrecht, and Karres en Brands for their public-space designs, including Federation Square in Melbourne.

As well as houses and flats, they propose schools, shopping centres, a riverside boulevard, a business district and an “ecology park”. The development will be home to 26,000 residents of so-called “affordable homes”, some of which will be set aside for “key workers”, ie doctors, teachers and police officers.

Although currently out on a limb, the streets are to be served by Transport for London’s east London transit, initially a fancy-named bus but potentially a tram. By 2016, this should be joined by the Docklands light railway, planned to be extended through here to Dagenham Docks.

Criticism of the Thames Gateway is widespread, mostly concerning its environmental impact, the strain on an ailing transport network and the continuation of building in a crowded part of the country.

Taken as an example of what is yet to come, the modest housing estate already built at Barking Reach has fallen foul of the Guardian’s architecture critic, Jonathan Glancey. He has described it as “dismal, cul-de-sac stuff”,1 “cynically designed and unimaginatively built”2 and “a horrid new ‘sustainable community’ made up of rabbit-hutch houses under pylons along the sewage-scented banks of the Thames.”3

Disastrous Barking Reach is just the tip of a slag heap of grim new housing. Without a glint of imagination, and nothing like a plan, thousands of asinine new homes are being built at breakneck speed in every direction.4

The scheme has also attracted local opposition, including from Barking and Dagenham’s newly elected British National Party councillors. The BNP addressed the area’s housing shortage in their election campaign, but blamed it not on a lack of new building, but on asylum seekers who “jump the queue” and “Africans” who are supposedly paid grants to move into the borough. It is therefore doubtful, they will be very welcoming of the immigrants likely to be drawn to Barking Riverside’s “affordable homes”.

But in an interview for Property Week, the party’s London leader, Richard Barnbrook, criticised the development for another reason: simply that building on the land is “stupid” because of the likelihood of flooding.5

In spite of Barking Riverside’s bad press, the development ploughs on. By 2010, the first 2,000 homes will be completed, along with a community centre and a primary school. Bellway envisages construction to continue up until 2025. (Last edited: 20 May 2008)

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