RCA Society

Thames Gateway Forum, 3 - 4 November 2009

Venue: Indigo2 London

This year's Forum took place at the Indigo2 (aka The Dome) - a move away from it's original venue at the spacy and impressive Dockland's Excel Centre. The squeeze into a new environment was almost reflective of the financial squeeze of the 'world banking crisis' has brought up us. Not that anyone would admit as much. In acclimatizing to the reduced size and attendance at the show the forum took on a more intimate and human ethos than the "flash corporate land grabbing money grubbing" approach seen in previous years.

There were a number of representatives on hand from the local authorities that line the Thames Gateway; environmental organisations, Homes and security agencies, infrastructure and architectural groups, developers, builders, and of course industries and companies associated with the Olympic development - all of whom provided key information on what they have achieved so far in the transformation of the gateway and what they are aiming to achieve in the future.

There were also a number of excellent speakers from industries and agencies covering virtually every aspect of development - from building infrastructure - economics - ecology and environment: Natural England to Norton Rose, Environment Agency to Land Securities, Quintain to Olympic Park Legacy Company...

A star turn was the ever popular Ken Livingstone - former Mayor of London. Livingstone attended the forum whilst 'in office' so it was interesting to see whether his position had changed on the direction of the Gateway's development but more especially to hear and see his response to comments made by the man who toppled him from the mayoral plinth - Boris Johnson. Johnson was not there 'in the flesh' but he appeared hugely enlarged on screen sending greetings and platitudes to his audience. It was intriguing to observe both Livingstone and Lord Falconer (Mr Dome) having no choice but to "look up" to Boris. At a previous Forum meeting (2007), at a time when the gateway was being rapidly filled with ticky tacky Barrat boxes, and trees as plastic as the ones adorning Indigo2, Mayor Livingstone stated that 'the old industries' that lined the Thames were dead in the water and he predicted that the gateway would be transformed by new glossy hi tech industry imports from China... channelled through his new GLA office in Shanghai. This intention drew a gasp from the then audience as the comment burned into the collective memory Since then there has been a marked change of intention in the direction of the Gateway. Although there is a predominance of residential and no-one seems able or willing to challenge the scourge of 'flatpack house building' located on flood plains there are a few bright spots. The creative industries will be well served with the inclusion of a site for the Royal Opera House storage near to a new University campass for design and creative technologies. Certainly transport links (Railway and River) will be massively improved - whether or not an airport planted on an important eco area at the mouth of the Thames will ever go ahead remains to be seen.

In fact whether or not much goes ahead in the next decade remains to be seen. As Shaheed Malik (Government Minister) said " ....where we thought we would be two years ago we are not - where we would like to be two years ahead we wont be - things are slowing down because of the recession - what is important is that we are keeping the momentum going...."

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