A 40-mile concrete shore along the Thames in Kent and Essex will
provide 200,000 new homes, including affordable accommodation for
key workers in the South East – while presumably exacerbating the
depopulation of the North.
“The money I am allocating willÉkick-start the process of
turning Europe’s largest collection of brownfield sites into
living, breathing communities,” deputy prime minister John Prescott
said last week.
Note the words, “living, breathing communities”. Those among us who
once believed in flower power will no doubt have a sense of
d’j… vu. Clear away the tenements, knock down terraced houses
and replace them with soulless estates, homes of strangers with no
point of contact – no shops, no play area, no nothing. That was the
reality of the 1960s town planners’ dream.
But now, we’ve learned the lessons, haven’t we? Sure Start, for
instance, emphasises the need to consult and work with, not for,
“ordinary” people on the ground. Empowerment, decentralisation,
enablement are the politicians’ buzzwords.
So, of course, Prescott’s massive housing expansion will
incorporate shops and good, affordable, accessible child care and
buses and doctors’ surgeries and meeting halls and extended schools
and children’s centres from the outset. Or will they?
The Times last week carried a report from Ingress Park, a
72-acre redevelopment in Kent, reclaimed from a contaminated
industrial site. Prescott says Ingress Park “cries out quality
living”. A local taxi driver called it a “a big blob of cement
filled with 1980s-style yuppies”.
One resident says: “We’re Middle England with a manicured twist.”
The area will not have a shop for three years and most residents
commute to London, extending an already long day. Not so much a
community, then; more an incubator for wage slaves.
This insular kind of development affects the young, the poor, the
elderly, the vulnerable and newly arrived immigrants, who are on
the margins of the earning economy. They deserve to live in real
neighbourhoods with decent housing, handy shops, reliable transport
and where community means contact with others, not a shopping
If sitting in solitary splendour in Ingress Park, watching your
three-foot plasma TV screen, king of a des res castle, drawbridge
up, moat in place is a glimpse of the “new” community of the
future, Prescott should think again.