Review: Masterplan seeks to extend town to the Thames

A masterplan for Purfleet in Essex proposes major Thames-side development, but film studios to the rear of the site need to be carefully integrated, says Stuart Willsher.

Extensive Thames-side development is proposed with film studios at the rear of the site (PIC Thurrock Council)
Extensive Thames-side development is proposed with film studios at the rear of the site (PIC Thurrock Council)

Plans to regenerate 140 acres of Purfleet in Essex offer a potentially visionary example of placemaking and planmaking, and demonstrate the benefits of a clear commitment to strategic planning. Late last year Thurrock Council approved a masterplan drawn up for it by architect and urban designer Will Alsop of consultancy aLL Design, which proposes a new film studio complex alongside 2,500 homes and a new town centre, mostly on brownfield land.

Extending the town centre

The masterplan aims to extend the town centre to the Thames, with new homes and a hotel close to the river edge. Elsewhere, it proposes a new urban centre, which would include a supermarket, leisure and health centre, rail station and a five-storey cinema. Large areas of public parks and green corridors would link the various phases of development.

Purfleet is home to High House Production Park, which features live events rehearsal space, theatrical production workshops and artists’ workspaces. The success of this park encouraged inclusion in the masterplan of four studios and post-production facilities. It would be the first purpose-built studio complex to be built in the UK for 50 years. It is considered important that the film studios at the rear of the site are integrated into the rest of the development through good urban design and landscaping.

The proposals include a relatively low number of affordable homes, with the scheme focusing on high quality houses and apartments with three and four bedrooms to meet local need for larger market homes. While Thurrock generally has lower than average house prices, the quality of the scheme and the setting of the Thames will justify higher value properties, bringing additional investment into the area.

Moving the proposals forward

The council has set up a company involving private sector partners to take the development forward. It has also been purchasing land in the area to give it control over the development process, and drive its ambition to create a sense of ‘place’ in Purfleet. Currently about 60 per cent of the site is in council ownership and a potential issue remains with the remaining 40 per cent, which may require the use of compulsory purchase orders.

Funding has been secured for the first phase of development, including some of the housing, the infrastructure, a supermarket, schools and leisure facilities. Implementation of the other eight phases of development is reliant on the success of the first phase for funding.

The masterplan offers a clear commitment to creating a sense of place and regenerating an area to foster growth, as well as demonstrating to local authorities what can potentially be achieved by taking a proactive approach to regeneration. The question will be whether the economy can remain strong enough over the next 10-15 years to ensure that the development is delivered, in accordance with the masterplan.

Stuart Willsher is a principal planner with planning consultancy Boyer, based in its Colchester office.

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