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«March 2008 Executive Summary The Green Cluster studies set out an ambitious vision for the Green Grid public realm and provide an Action Plan to ...»

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Green Cluster Studies

Thames & Medway Canal

Technical Report

March 2008

Executive Summary

The Green Cluster studies set out an ambitious vision for the Green Grid public realm and provide an Action Plan to

support its delivery across north Kent. Seven Green Cluster Studies have been undertaken to date, and a further

Cluster Study is planned for the Isle of Sheppey.. Each one focuses on areas of intensive regeneration and change

where there are superb opportunities to create strategically sited new greenspaces which will raise expectations, add value to existing investment and create high quality green infrastructure for future development.

The Cluster Studies have adopted a partnership approach to co-ordinate discussions amongst key stakeholders in each cluster. Many are engaged in developing ideas and drawing up plans for individual sites and the Cluster Studies' workshops have provided a valuable opportunity to focus attention on the relationships between projects and the wider landscape setting.

Originally constructed in the early C19th, the Thames & Medway Canal was a speculative venture to provide safe passage for ships between the Thames and the Medway Rivers during a period when this strategic maritime gateway to London was perceived to be at risk of attack from the French. Today the Canal is a dramatic landscape feature, linking the urban fringe of Gravesend with its rural hinterland and its heritage. Gravesend's historic Riverside Leisure Area, the Canal Basin and canal will be the focus for a distinctive sequence of urban public spaces, a range of new and enhanced wetland habitats, a superb recreational facility, and sustainable links to the Shorne Marshes, Higham Station and the flagship RSPB Cliffe Pools nature reserve.

The Green Cluster Studies' vision for the Thames & Medway Canal draws together and expresses a common vision for the Cluster as a whole. It is an ambitious vision, which will lead to the restoration of Gravesend's Riverside Leisure Area, a sequence of distinctive urban spaces, a restored canal, a 8km greenway extending right from Gravesend town centre to Higham Station and a new public open space with car park picnic area and wetland habitats at a natural hub in the network of public rights of way which links the Canal to the Thames shoreline and Cliffe Pools. Key stakeholders responsible for leading and influencing the ongoing projects and activities in the Thames & Medway Canal Cluster include Gravesham Borough Council, Kent Thameside Delivery Board, the Environment Agency, the RSPB, Natural England, Sustrans, the Inland Waterways Association, the Thames & Medway Canal Association and local landowners.

The Thames & Medway Canal Green Cluster Study makes the case for strategic, targeted investment in the Green Grid places and connections which link Gravesend and the new Cliffe Pools reserve to their wider landscape hinterland. The restoration of the Thames & Medway Canal is the key to unlocking the potential of this part of the North Kent Marshes. It could provide an unrivalled network of connections which enhances the accessibility and appreciation of this key gateway to the Cliffe Pools reserve. By lifting land values, the Canal will also be the catalyst for a sequence of major urban regeneration projects, but early investment in the infrastructure of the canal, in the form of structures, remediation, environmental enhancement and connectivity, will be required to realise the full scale of these opportunities.

The Green Cluster Vision for the Thames & Medway Canal Cluster is accompanied by an Action Plan for its delivery.

The Action Plan demonstrates how the delivery of various components of the vision can be facilitated - by Greening the Gateway Kent & Medway and by a range of other partners. It also sets out broad capital costs for the investment required to achieve the vision and an overall timetable for its implementation which demonstrates the inter-relationships between proposed and ongoing projects throughout the cluster.

–  –  –

'Clusters' or groupings of planned and aspirational green space projects were identified during the Green Grid stakeholder workshops held in Kent Thameside, Medway and Swale in 2007 and the areas selected for the Green

Cluster Studies take account of this earlier work. The Green Cluster Studies have:

• identified a coherent sense of place for each cluster area

• captured what is already happening

• identified stakeholder aspirations and updated existing studies

• identified inter-dependencies, gaps and opportunities

• articulated a common vision for each cluster area

• developed an outline action plan which set out actions, governance and phasing for delivering the vision

• made the business case for investment

Green Clusters

2 The Cluster Studies have adopted a partnership approach to co-ordinate discussions amongst key stakeholders in each cluster. Many are engaged in developing ideas and drawing up plans for individual sites and the Cluster Studies' workshops have provided a valuable opportunity to focus attention on the relationships between projects and the wider landscape setting. Two workshops were held for each cluster: the focus of the first workshop was to collate information, define objectives and understand stakeholder aspirations; the second workshop was a creative session in which the stakeholders worked together to develop a common vision for the cluster.

The area to the east of Gravesend town centre, extending out onto the North Kent Marshes has the potential to contribute to the achievement of a number of regeneration objectives - social, economic and environmental. The overarching Green Clusters vision for the Thames & Medway Canal Cluster captures stakeholder aspirations and visions and inspires an ambitious and creative approach. It is not a proposal or a bid, but is intended to be a helpful tool to prompt creative discussion and joined up thinking in future discussions between stakeholders as the various projects in the cluster are taken forward. Ultimately the Green Cluster Studies will increase confidence, make the case for investment and provide a lever to bid for further funding.

–  –  –

familiar - estuary expanse - Essex skyline - engineered - artificial - transformation working fringe - power - seclusion - microcosm - slice - isolation - route - overlook 10 12 The Thames-Medway Canal was constructed in the early C19th to provide safe passage for ships between the Thames and the Medway Rivers, avoiding the potentially hazardous journey around the Hoo Peninsula, during a period when this strategic maritime gateway to London was perceived to be at risk of attack from the French. The military advantages of such a route were also important when the scheme was originally conceived, as it provided a means of transporting supplies from the protected waters of the Thames, adjoining the New Tavern Fort, to those close to Chatham Dockyard and Upnor Castle, on the Medway. Ships entered the Canal via a series of lock gates connecting to a canal basin close to Gravesend's historic New Tavern Fort. The straight alignment of the canal, which slices eastwards across the Shorne Marshes, was designed to ensure that the Fort could protect the ships as they traversed the marshes en route to Higham and the secure harbours along the River Medway. Whilst the link to the Medway was lost in the 1840s, with the construction of the Gravesend to Rochester Railway, the remainder of the canal to Higham continued in use until abandoned in 1936/7.

Today the Canal connects Gravesend with its rural hinterland and its heritage. The Thames & Medway Canal Basin is the focus for a new mixed use waterfront development, a natural extension of Gravesend's town centre heritage quarter which adjoins the historic New Tavern Fort and Riverside Leisure Area. This nationally important site is synonymous with the life and work of General Gordon, when resident in Gravesend, and the most important recreational area supporting the Town Centre. Constructed on the edge of the historic town and the adjoining marshland in the late C18th, the New Tavern Fort was a key element in defending the maritime Gateway to London. Today this site is locally valued and within an area identified as being multiply deprived. It has the potential to support both the regeneration of the Town Centre and act as a gateway to new development to the east and the open countryside beyond.

The Canal is the primary environmental asset and catalyst for economic regeneration in this part of Gravesend. The area immediately to the east of the Canal Basin is a semi-derelict industrial zone which has enormous potential for regeneration, with new development fronting onto the continuous secluded 'secondary' waterfront of the Canal.

Development of a marina and mixed use community around the Canal Basin is already under construction and this 4 industrial zone will be phase two of the ongoing regeneration in north east Gravesend. The restoration of the Thames and Medway Canal is the logical third phase, building on the existing investment and rediscovering the Canal as a unique asset - the focus for a distinctive sequence of urban public spaces, a superb recreational facility and a sustainable link to the surrounding countryside.

The length of canal immediately to the east of the Canal Basin is currently filled in and developers are being encouraged to come forward with proposals for waterfront development which will reopen this section and re-connect the canal to the basin via a new lock gate. The balance of uses and how this area will be regenerated is still under discussion through the planning process although it is likely that additional public funding will be required to create an alternative access across the railway. Beyond the semi-derelict industrial area, the canal is in a good state of repair. It runs due east through an area of traditional riverside industry, including the Port of London Authority operations at Denton Wharf, along with the Metropolitan Police Public Order and Firearms Training Facility at Mark Lane. Sustrans' National Cycle Route 1 runs along the northern canal towpath, but is underused by members of the public, who are likely to be intimidated by the surrounding industrial areas and unaware of the canal's existence.

Beyond this point, the cluster has a remote rural marshland character, dominated by the River Thames and big open skies. It is a dramatic flat open landscape, dissected by a complex pattern of drainage ditches, many of which are medieval in origin. This landscape was much loved by Charles Dickens, who lived at Gads Hill in Higham, and used the marshes here and at Cooling as the setting of his novel, Great Expectations. The railway line between Gravesend and Higham runs directly alongside the Canal, along the route of the southern towpath. It is a barrier to rights of way to the south of the Canal, but there are a number of crossing points which allow circular walks back to Gravesend and southwards to the sheltered woodlands and meadows of the Shorne Wood Country Park. There is also a connection northwards across the Shorne Marshes to the Saxon Shore Way along the Thames estuary shoreline. But here the military range presents a partial obstacle to public access - people can cross the range on the public right of way provided the officers on duty are aware of their presence and give the order to 'hold fire'.

In common with many transport corridors based on the canal and railway system, industrial development has been attracted to sites around Hoo Junction on the boundary between Shorne and Higham parishes. These sites include the Network Rail depot at Hoo Junction itself; the former Nuralite Asbestos Works, now used for a variety of industrial uses;

Beckley Hill Works, a series on smaller industrial units set within a former quarry; and the Viking Industrial Estate, a former concrete products works linked to sand and ballast extraction to the south of the railway, also now sub-divided into a variety of industrial and open storage uses. At a central point between Gravesend and Higham, the Canal skirts around the Nuralite site, this former asbestos factory is now a general industrial estate partially enclosed by woodland which has regenerated on the industrial tips. The Canal is overgrown and contaminated in this zone, but the area is of relatively high biodiversity value with a range of transitional wetland habitats, from dense carr woodland to open water.

To the east of the Nuralite site the canal bends southwards and continues in a very overgrown state to the village of Higham, where traces of the former canal run alongside the station platform.

To the north of the Nuralite site, Higham Marshes is a fascinating and distinctive area, steeped in heritage.The ancient route along Higham Common links the site of the Benedictine Priory at the medieval village of Church Street to the coastal path and there are attractive views across to Cliffe Pools from Barrow Hill. Higham Station will serve the new RSPB Reserve at Cliffe pools and the Thames and Medway Canal will provide a key link in a network of potential cycleways which connect the reserve to the station, Gravesend and a network of routes and destinations within the wider area.

In looking at the marshes today, it is sometimes difficult to appreciate that the underlying landscape pattern has strong medieval origins - an irregular mosaic of salt and fresh marshland pasture divided by deeply incised drainage channels which was won from nature by human hands. The marshes now seem 'empty' as the economic rationale and agricultural practices which originally supported their creation have largely disappeared. However, it is a dramatic landscape that requires careful management of assets and investment if it is to contribute in a meaningful way to the future regeneration of this part of the Thames Gateway.

–  –  –

Such a strategic site merited military protection and fortifications were built both in Gravesend and Tilbury in the C16th to defend the river approaches to London and the Royal Naval Dockyards at Woolwich and Deptford. These were subsequently upgraded and additional defences constructed at Shornemead, Cliffe and Coalhouse Forts as part of an integrated network of gunnery positions to the north and south of the river.

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