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Blog: Unlocking large sites with transport is key to boosting regeneration

Fiona Fletcher-Smith, Group Chief Executive
Published on 09/06/2022

The Elizabeth Line opened last month to much fanfare and excitement. 20 years in the making, this is a huge feat that is revolutionising journeys from Reading and Heathrow in the West, through 42km of tunnels under central London, to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the South East.

For developers and housing associations, this regional milestone speaks to the heart of our social purpose. That is, it reaffirms the critical importance of wider infrastructure in our placemaking pursuits.

A great example of this is Barking Riverside, a landmark development and joint venture between the Greater London Authority (GLA) and L&Q.

One of the largest and most ambitious regeneration projects in Europe, the 15-year development programme will deliver nearly 11,000 homes, commercial and leisure facilities, and new schools on the site of the former Barking Power Station.

It was understood early on that the success of the project hinged on delivering new transport infrastructure, but funding was elusive.

The game changer? L&Q’s long-term patient capital model that supported the partnership to fund parts of the infrastructure upfront.

Whilst this type of investment is slow burn, it can reap significant social dividends.

Larger housing associations can take a long-term view and invest over a longer period of time: we don’t have the short-term challenges that some private home builders do.

Think of it as putting your money somewhere where you get a return, but not in a rapid turnaround way. The journey of the investment takes the time it needs to build a radical solution to a local problem, whilst also enabling investment into social and community infrastructure

Not every housing association will have the capital to deploy this model, but that’s where joint ventures can come in. Public private partnerships with investment from the likes of the GLA and Homes England mean we can open up these larger, strategic sites.

Now is the time for genuine collaborative and holistic spatial planning. We must look at investment in terms of people, homes, jobs and infrastructure, and through the lens of a shared commitment to delivering maximum value to our communities.

To unlock the Barking Riverside site, Transport for London built the £260m extension with the support of £172m from Barking Riverside Limited, loaned from the GLA and L&Q.

The extension – which includes 4.5km of new track – is one of several transport measures designed to serve the emerging development area. Alongside the rail link, a new Barking bus service embarked on its first journey in 2021. The new East London Transit route is being subsidised by the partnership and takes passengers from Ilford to Farr Avenue on the Thames View estate by way of the town centre.

Complementing efforts above ground, April saw the first passenger boat dock at Barking Riverside’s new pier, marking a major Eastern expansion on the Thames.

Historically an underserved section of the river, the new Uber boat Thames Clipper stop creates a link across the Thames to Woolwich in just six minutes, and up the river to Greenwich and Canary Wharf within 20 and 35 minutes respectively.

Serving the wider Barking and Dagenham community, and combined with the rail extension and bus route, it has made a relative outlier a well-connected hub.

London is not the only city that requires such an approach. Manchester is a haven for start-ups and the fastest growing tech city in Europe. One of the country’s most successful city-regions, Greater Manchester has areas of dense population, rising levels of homelessness and an evolving transport system.

L&Q’s acquisition of Greater Manchester-based Trafford Housing Trust (THT) underscores our ambition to use our financial strength to be part of the solution.

When THT joined us in 2019, it was for a clear reason. By combining their local knowledge and relationships with our ability to deliver at scale, together, we can do more.

From delivering 20,000 much needed new homes, to investing in jobs, opportunities and communities across the North West.

THT has a great reputation as a builder of places and is already scaling up their growth ambitions.

Last year, we reached an agreement with Far East Consortium (FEC) and Manchester City Council to deliver 128 new high-quality homes as part of the Victoria Riverside development - THT and L&Q’s first major project in Greater Manchester. Situated in the Red Bank neighbourhood of Victoria North, this new scheme will be one of the largest developments of affordable homes in the city centre for many years.

The housing crisis remains a grave concern – with the number of builds falling far short of the Government’s UK-wide 300,000 homes a year target. Affordable housing has also become scarcer, leaving many households with no choice but to rent – often paying more than they would for a mortgage.

Unlocking larger, strategic sites that increase the number of affordable homes will be vital in the delivery of the national levelling up agenda.

Barking Riverside and Victoria North are some of the most significant regeneration schemes of our time. This major development of affordable housing in London and the North West is a marker of our plans – with much more to come.