London Cityscape with Canary Wharf in the distance skyline; London Cityscape with Canary Wharf in the distance skyline;

Thames Estuary: The 2050 Vision that will transform the Thames, South-East

Developing a vision to transform the Thames Estuary

The Thames Estuary is an area with great potential. It has sizeable economic power, a strong feeling of collaboration and a ‘can do attitude’ from London right out to the sea. The Estuary has an important brand and status, which makes a significant contribution to the UK economy and UK plc.

However, over the past few decades it has consistently been unable to deliver the same levels of economic growth as other parts of the UK. Whilst there are recent success stories, including Canary Wharf and the Thames Estuary’s ports, the benefits of these pockets of growth have not necessarily been felt across the area. This has resulted in a large disparity in wealth and opportunity.

The UK Government commissioned Arup to ensure that this is not an enduring problem. A multi-disciplinary team of city economists, town planners and urban designers developed a long-term vision based on the area’s key challenges and opportunities, alongside future trends.

Project Summary

1million homes

1.3millionnew jobs

190billionadditional GVA by 2050

Understanding the Thames Estuary 

The Thames Estuary presents a complex challenge given the size, scale and diversity of the place; it is urban, rural, coastal, suburban, a commuter belt and more. It has significant potential as an economic area, but there is not a clear economic or spatial framework to realise this potential. Recognising that the area includes a diversity of economic areas, places and people, we structured the vision into five interconnected but distinct ‘productive places’ based on existing areas and their assets with a clear vision for each area, a tight focus on priorities and stronger, streamlined governance.

The five areas are:

  • City Ribbon

  • Inner Estuary

  • South Essex Foreshore

  • North Kent Foreshore

  • The River Thames

priority projects drawing design priority projects drawing design
Priority projects by sector identified in the study area

Setting clear objectives to guide the vision 

To provide further direction on how the Thames Estuary can boost productivity, make a greater contribution to the UK economy and deliver a series of positive outcomes by 2050 - we set six objectives for the visions success.

  • Productive places: support the sustained growth of the Thames Estuary high value, healthy wage sectors, achieving up to 1.3 million new jobs by 2050.

  • Connected places: improved connections between and within cities, towns, villages and industries be it for people or goods. This will support improved productivity through increased access to jobs and services. New and improved rail, bus, cycle and pedestrian links will reduce car dependency and increase the use of the area’s integrated public transport systems.

  • Thriving places: the growing communities which will be home to 4.3 million people by 2035, will pride themselves on their rich cultural and
    economic activity.

  • Affordable places: a further 1 million high-quality homes, balanced to suit the affordable needs of the community, will be provided by 2050. They will offer a diversity of choice to all parts of the community, including ageing populations, and ensure that supply keeps pace with demand.

  • Adaptable places: infrastructure investment will be integrated and multifunctional, maximising the benefits to people, places, and ecology. This will assist in the creation of nearly 900 hectares of new habitat by 2100 to replace the 1,200 hectares lost to tidal flooding.

  • Deliverable places: the Thames Estuary will complete what it has started; delivering the homes and the balanced jobs it has planned, at the required scale and pace. This will be achieved through robust, locally-led governance structures, which build on existing partnerships and bring together, as needed, the area’s local authorities.

Visual representation for the priorities that should be pursued simultaneously to provide ‘whole place’ solutions Visual representation for the priorities that should be pursued simultaneously to provide ‘whole place’ solutions
Visual representation for the priorities that should be pursued simultaneously to provide ‘whole place’ solutions

Identifying priorities for the Growth Commission

With advice from Arup, the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission identified fifteen priorities critical to achieving its vision and objectives for the Thames Estuary by 2050. The Commission argued that the priorities for each ‘productive place’ should be pursued simultaneously so that their impact is maximised, and they work together to provide ‘whole place’ solutions.

Government recognition 

Following the publication of the Thames Estuary 2050 Vision, the government provided a positive response to it, recognising the significant economic potential of the area and promising to support and deliver growth in the Estuary by working in partnership with local partners. Specifically, the government has committed to strengthen governance, deliver homes and improve mobility and infrastructure, amongst a long list of measures.