Challenge and Opportunity
With a population of over 600,000 people and a workforce of around a quarter of a million, Thames Gateway Kent is an ethnically and socially diverse sub-region with areas of prosperity and dynamic growth, but also has some of the most deprived localities in the South East.
An Industrial Legacy
A generation ago, the decline and closure of many staple industries left a legacy of unemployment, a damaged environment, worn out and inadequate infrastructure, below-average educational attainment and under-investment in skills - an area with few expectations.
By the turn of the 21st century, the economy had recovered, grown and diversified, but the underlying legacies were still evident.
Unemployment, though greatly reduced, remained above the regional average, and much of the area’s growth had been in consumption related sectors such as logistics and retail, rather than in ‘knowledge’ industries with their potential for sustained high value-added growth.
With fewer jobs in wealth-creating industries than elsewhere in the Greater South East, many people commute to London and elsewhere, while fewer graduates and other skilled people stay within the area.
As a result, like the Thames Gateway as a whole, North Kent still lags behind London and the wider Greater South East on many key indicators of economic and social well-being.
A Place of Opportunities
But North Kent is also a place of huge potential. With superb assets, a great location and tremendous opportunities, it is well-placed to transform past legacies.
Some of the Potential –
- Extensive tracts of brownfield land being readied for the market (see Opportunities)
- Excellent high-speed rail and motorway links to London and Europe (see Connectivity & Infrastructure)
- Magnificent riverside locations, countryside and heritage assets (see Environmental Improvements)
- Excellent Higher and Further Education facilities, including four universities, three FE colleges and two University Technical Colleges (see Education & Skills)
- Good value business accommodation and relatively low housing costs compared to London
Some of the Challenges –
- Fewer people have a degree compared with in the wider greater south east.
- But they are increasing proportionately faster so the gap is closing
- A lower proportion of the private sector jobs are in high-value knowledge-based industries compared with the wider greater south east region.
- But these are growing faster than the national trend
- More people are employed in the lowest skills occupations and fewer are in Managerial and Professional occupations.
- But those in Associate Professional and Technical occupations are growing and those in the lowest skills occupations are decreasing.
Unlocking the potential
North Kent’s renaissance is focussd in three locations that hold the key to unlocking its great potential.
Dartford and Gravesham:
The “Golden Triangle” of major sites, bounded by the M25, the A2 and the high-speed rail link between London and Europe, provides a tremendous opportunity for a new urban community linking the historic towns of Dartford and Gravesend.
Bluewater is already Britain’s most successful regional shopping centre. Nearby, Ebbsfleet Garden City is set to be a major economic driver for North Kent, with up to 15,000 new homes and commercial development planned around the high speed railway station at Ebbsfleet (the only station in the country served exclusively by high speed rail).
Along a 15km stretch of the Thames riverside, a string of major developments - including The Bridge, with its science park and innovation hub and Northfleet Embankment - complement the continued town centre regeneration in Dartford and Gravesend.
The creation of a cohesive, modern waterfront city is fundamental to Medway’s future role as an international city of culture, tourism, learning and enterprise.
Chatham Centre and Waterfront with its maritime heritage, university campus and strategic location is set to be the heart of this resurgent city.
Medway Waterfront spans 11km from Strood to Gillingham, with superb riverside sites offering huge potential for high-quality residential, business and leisure developments.
The flagship mixed-use development of Rochester Riverside offers iconic new vistas. Residential development has already started, served by the new Rochester railway station which opened in 2015. Important strides have also been made towards realising the potential of other key sites at Gillingham Waterfront, Strood Riverside and Centre, and at Temple Waterfront, with its superb views of Rochester's castle and cathedral.
In addition to the waterfront areas, the opportunities on the Isle of Grain, at Chattenden and at Kingsnorth will play a key role in the transformation of Medway.
The Sheppey Crossing and related transport infrastructure form the backbone of Swale’s 'corridor of opportunity', opening greatly improved access to strategic links for once remote communities.
Running along the A249 from Sheerness southwards via Queenborough and Rushenden to Sittingbourne and the Eurolink business estate, this corridor has huge economic growth potential.
South of Sittingbourne, the Kent Science Park provides a focus for high-tech, fast-growth life science and ICT businesses for Thames Gateway Kent as a whole.
And with Sheppey’s maritime and aviation history, its creek-side towns surrounded by magnificent landscapes and wildlife, Swale’s potential as a gateway to heritage and eco-tourism in North Kent provides another dimension to the area’s rich tapestry.