A Gateway Forum fit for purpose

This week’s Thames Gateway Forum at the IndigO2 was a much leaner affair than previous years. Gone are the vast halls lined with exhibition stands and bulging conference bags that give you chronic backpain if you carry them from more than half an hour. In its place was a more focused series of speeches and presentations, with just a handful of exhibitors surrounding the conference hall.

And the signs from those on the podium suggest that the streamlined forum is very much a reflection of the current approach to the Thames Gateway programme. While the recession and a possible change of government should not derail plans to develop the Gateway, it looks like that in future the project will be much more focused on key priorities.

The innovation of allowing delegates to text questions from the floor was a useful way of monitoring the audience’s hopes and fears for the Gateway. Concern about the future of the whole programme, should there be a change of government, was clearly evident from those texts. But politicians were on hand to assure them.

Firstly former planning minister, Lord Falcolner, stated his belief that both parties were committed to the Gateway, then Stewart Jackson, the Conservative’s DCLG’s spokesperson, agreed that cross party backing for the programme was vital to give developers the encouragement they need.

But there are signs that there may be changes to the programme under a Conservative government. Mr Jackson also said that the Conservatives are planning a ‘forensic audit’ of the programme, which would look at local government engagement, community infrastrructure and sustainability, among other things. And Sir Bob Kerslake, chief executive of the Homes and Communities Agency (which Mr Jackson says would work with the government on the audit), predicts that by this time next year, a smaller number of agencies will be overseeing and delivering the programme – the result of funding cuts.

The prospect of a tighter funding regime is one that few regeneration professionals would relish. But for architect Sir Terry Farrell, the current climate could actually help to bring forward more lasting regeneration projects. He notes the success of projects planned in recessionary times include Newcastle’s Quayside and Birmingham’s Brindley Place. The results of projects conceived in boom times are more mixed, he claims.

On the subject of regeneration – a word the DCLG director general Richard McCarthy told delegates should be removed from their minds in the context of the Thames Gateway – the O2 has surpassed many people’s expectations as a venue, including mine. It was interesting to see Michael McIntyre fans arriving for a night of comedy at the Dome, as the men in suits were leaving with their delegate bags. OK, so Iron Maiden fans would have been a more interesting contrast, but still.

After years of schleping over to Exel for the Thames Gateway Forum, I for one welcomed the Forum’s relocation to a truely world class venue – not bad for a project conceived in boomtime!


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top