Barking & Dagenham: Housing need as a driver for the creation of an ecologically and socially rich and diverse neighbourhood

Barking Riverside: New Community for All.

Building a sustainable and cohesive community based on environmental principals.

In 20 year’s time, Barking Riverside is an ecologically sustainable neighbourhood that provides a range of tenures from social to owner-occupied housing. Community-managed assets are bound up with informal cultural activities and public spaces, the most prominent of which is the community tended network of unique and ecologically valuable green spaces that include the regenerated riverside.

What are we dealing with?

Unmet housing needs on a degraded site inmidst a diverse but disadvantaged community

The growth of London leads to housing development pressure being directed to degraded former industrial sites that have developed a unique biodiversity. The quick development of a large number of housing units leads to a potential lack of cohesion between existing and new communities.

Barking and Dagenham is also affected by the high population pressure and an overheated housing market in the capital as a whole, with many decisions concerning its future being made at higher governmental levels. While Central Government, itself highly susceptible to political priorities, allocates 85% of the available municipal budget, the London regional authority has overarching planning powers mainly in the shape of the London Plan, a 20-year vision conceived with little input from local authorities. With the London Plan earmarking the Thames Gateway and Barking and Dagenham in particular for providing a quarter of the planned 100.000 houses for London each year, the borough is facing large-scale urban development and demographic change that will dramatically affect its future. 

A large part of the residential development will be carried out at Barking Riverside by Barking Riverside Ltd. (BRL), a joint venture between a private developer and the Greater London Authority. It is set to develop 10,800 homes on a 179 ha site over the space of 20 years, of which 40% are to be in the affordable bracket. The new development is located in the former industrial area at Barking Riverside, a site highly affected by the former industrial activities and still surrounded by industry. Currently, access to the river Thames is blocked, and much of the land is contaminated with heavy metals and chemicals or fragmented by overhead pylons.

At the same time, the prolonged period of disuse and inaccessibility of the site has allowed for the establishment of a unique flora and fauna rich in biodiversity, which is now threatened by the developments ahead. However the amount of unbuildable land due to overhead pylons and other restrictions makes up around 41% of the total site (around 73 ha), which presents a huge potential for ecologically and socially balanced development. 
There are challenges and opportunities in keeping Barking Riverside to its sustainability roots (with Hammarby SjÖstad as the stated role model), in terms of governance with regard to changing private developers and the roles of regional (GLA) and local (LBBD) governments, as well as the many existing community associations and networks within and around Barking Riverside and the new and growing Barking Riverside population itself.

What systemic problem led to sustainable development projects in Barking Riverside? 
"London has a growing population that requires substantial new housing. We have responded to this in a number of ways, including the facilitation of the development of Barking Riverside. From the very start, we wanted to ensure that this was not just any housing development but a development which addressed sustainability, health, and well-being - TURAS has been key in this. A strong start has been made with the first 800 units. Barking Riverside is a new community and our actions have been aimed at supporting the community dimension to this development." David Harley - London Borough of barking and Dagenham

What is the vision for the region?

By 2025 the opportunities for growth will have been seized. The new in Barking Riverside will have helped address housing need through the provision of quality, design led, new housing development and a significant proportion of these will be family sized. Many of these new homes will have been provided through the Council’s ground-breaking Local Housing Company. These new communities will provide a vital and vibrant mix of employment, leisure and recreation, shopping, culture, health, and education uses. New communities will be integrated with existing communities so that Barking and Dagenham will be a sought after place to live, comprised of a constellation of neighbourhoods each with their own distinct character and offer, inspired by the Borough’s rich heritage. These neighbourhoods will be served by a network of bustling town centres, providing a vital mix of shopping and community services in an attractive and welcoming environment which are the focus of community life.

Measures to reduce carbon emissions through development, including both housing and transport, will have been successful. Barking Riverside will have measures in place to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Water management and flood protection and resilience measures will ensure that new existing communities are safe and sustainable. The Riverbank will be rich in biodiversity and offer quality opportunities for recreation and leisure and spectacular views will be enjoyed from inspiring high rise waterfront apartments.

Partnership working and citizen engagement are the keys to achieving these ambitions. Barking and Dagenham has excelled at partnership working in order to promote better public management and community sector delivery and is a customer-focused provider that is respected within and outside the Borough for the quality of individual services and joined-up solutions. Change must meet the aspirations of the community and meet their needs. The local community will be engaged as an essential part to achieving these ambitions and will be treated as full and equal partners in the regeneration process.

How did the collective vision for the project form?
"The Barking Riverside Community Interest Company does not 'start from scratch', but is based on the years of experience of community engagement that has evolved across the municipality over the preceding years." -  Jo Sinclair, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.

What is the strategy for the region?

Ecosystem-services-led planning and new institutions for community asset management

Within the formal planning process, conditions are set for developers. These include sustainability targets such as all rainwater needing to be managed on site, the provision of a range of tenures from social to owner-occupied housing and the handover of 73 hectares of unbuildable land and other community assets to a community interest company.

Barking Riverside site itself is held 51% percent by a private housing developer and 49% by the greater London authority, which leaves the formal planning process, including resident participation, as a key tool for the borough to realize its vision for the site. The existing master plan has been developed with the consultation of residents across the borough and already provides an overarching vision and guidelines for the development of Barking Riverside. However, changes in the management structure of Barking Riverside, as well as transport decisions and other developments, mean that a new set of plans for Barking Riverside (albeit based on the existing master plan) are being developed. These will need to undergo community consultation. 

The current strategy for the Development of Barking Riverside includes the handover of the 73 hectares of unbuildable land and other community assets as a planning condition. This open space, as well as other community assets, will then be managed by the Barking Riverside Community Interest Company (BRCIC), a social enterprise which, aside from asset management functions, will also act as an interface between the new and existing communities in the area. It will be run by residents in the community interest (although in its initial phase the borough and developer will be operating the CIC on the community’s behalf until a critical mass of residents enables full control), with any surplus being reinvested in the community. As well as the management and maintenance of physical assets (including open spaces and community buildings), BRCIC will undertake social inclusion functions with an aim to contribute to the creation of a sustainable and cohesive community. The CIC will work alongside other programmes and delivery institutions such as for sustainable transport, biodiversity, social inclusion, health and wellbeing, education, affordable housing, maintenance and management of social and community infrastructure, sport and play space and generally creating a community in which people want to live.

What strategies can get local residents more engaged in the project?
"Wild flowers do look the part at the moment, we get an especially good view of the green roof on the school and that looks fantastic. I think the idea of a community garden for residents would be a great idea, there is a lot of green space that only gets tidied up every few months so if the residents could take over and do something that we can be proud of that would be a great strategy." - Alex Sweeting - Barking Riverside Resident, External collaborator. 

How do we implement the transition?

Initiating community activation and green infrastructure projects

Enabling a new development to grow into a cohesive and sustainable community is a long-term process. The initial steps aim to activate residents and find out about their interests, experiences and possible future activities of the Barking Riverside Community Interest Company (BRCIC). This includes public information events, community surveys, collaborations with schools and resident’s associations as well as the foundation of a preliminary "shadow" BRCIC (made up of Barking Riverside representatives as well as councillors representing the current and future community members).

To move from vision and strategy to implementation, a number of London partners within and beyond TURAS will need to engage in activities across the life of the development. The role for TURAS is to identify how to support the establishment of good processes to ensure inclusive, sustainable and resilient outcomes. The shadow CIC will be the first port of call for residents within the community to contact with any concerns, issues, and suggestions. It will facilitate and start discussions between existing charitable organisations and the potential users of new community interests (e.g. managing the biodiversity of open space). In the long run, by working in partnership with LBBD to pro-actively manage sport, leisure, and culture, it will provide open and useful space as a destination in their own right (e.g. for art, cultural,.. uses). In addition, Green Infrastructure tools developed by TURAS will feed into revised master planning, planning, and plot development guidance. In the mid- and long-term, they will also support the delivery and maintenance of high quality, biodiverse Green Infrastructure. Many TURAS tools and learning will also be utilised in the emerging plans for Barking Riverside as a "Healthy New Town" - a National Health Service designation focussed on ensuring health and well-being are central addressed through planning and development.

Who supported the implementation of this project in Barking Riverside?
"The opportunity to carry out research in partnership with Barking Riverside Ltd and the London Borough of Barking Dagenham provided a unique opportunity to develop and test locally-contextualised green infrastructure design and to feed results directly back into the design of the development. This ensured that benefits for local biodiversity were maximised, green infrastructure was multifunctional, and that mitigation for the development was truly targeted." - Stuart Connop - University of East Lonon

Key lessons learned

Greenroof experiment - Barking Riverside
Boosting ecosystem service performance through green roof design in Barking Riverside.

Pallet Pavillion - Barking & Dagenham
Transfoming an undersused town square into a pavillion of possibilities.

Nature-based stormwater management
Managing stormwater risks by bringing multifunctional green infrastructure to tower hamlets.

Barking Riverside Ecomimicry
Informing Barking Riverside's green space by incorporating regional biodiverersity.

Community Interest Company Barking Riverside
Establishing a resident-run enterprise to manage Barking Riverside's community assets. 

Research Impact Geo-analysis for UEL - London
Developing a Twitter dashboard to increase collaboration between stakeholders on green infrastructure.

Creekmouth Heritage Trail
Promoting sense of place through the collaborative celebration of local heritage.