Mayor unveils plan to turn Thames Estuary into creative industries hub

13 February 2017

The Mayor has today unveiled a bold vision to transform the Thames Estuary into a hub for the creative and cultural industries, and bring jobs and growth to benefit London and the wider South East.

The proposal, produced in conjunction with the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), spans seven London boroughs of different political parties as well as the counties of Essex and Kent, and builds on the region’s huge success as a cultural and creative powerhouse – worth £35 billion per year to London’s economy alone.

It would see the Thames Estuary transformed into a global centre of excellence for the creative industries, with several large-scale developments proposed.

The Mayor urged ministers to put the creative industries ‘at the heart’ of their industrial strategy.

The creative industries are the UK’s biggest growth sector, with 1.3 million people working in the creative economy across London and South East. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills predicts 1.2 million new workers are needed in the sector over the next decade. However, rising land values, rents, business rates, the lack of large scale, cutting-edge production space and artists’ studios and a skills shortage threaten the sector’s future growth and competitiveness.

Building on the manufacturing legacy of East London and the Thames Estuary, the Mayor’s plan outlines a future where the Thames Estuary becomes an internationally-renowned centre for major creative production facilities for building, innovating and testing new ideas – supporting growth, championing a low carbon economy, providing job opportunities and investing in a skilled workforce. The creative industries are much less likely to be impacted by automation than other sectors and so represent a prime investment opportunity in the region1.

The vision document, which has been submitted to the Lord Heseltine, head of the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission, identifies the potential for several large-scale national hubs which add up to one of the largest investments in industrial infrastructure since Canary Wharf was built in the 1980s. These proposed developments include:

  • London’s largest film studio complex in Dagenham
  • A national theatre-making studios complex in Bexley
  • A state-of-the-art facility and foundry for manufacturing large-scale artworks and sculptures, including the UK’s biggest 3D printing centre in Silvertown
  • A new national centre for experiential arts in Woolwich
  • Quartermaster Studios in Purfleet, the UK’s leading proposed independent media production facility
  • Building on the success of Turner Contemporary, a creative and digital hub will support opportunities including digital knowledge, skills and training, and studios
  • A home for digital creativity and gaming at the University of Essex, Colchester
  • In Kent, a new industrial research laboratory, for prototyping, skills development and production across multiple creative disciplines, a hub for our freelance workforce

The Thames Estuary already supports a number of existing studios, production centres, workshops and centres for innovation, including High House Production Park in Thurrock and Here East in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford and Resort Studios in Margate. The Mayor has already recently co-commissioned a feasibility study into building the capital’s largest film production studios for 25 years in Dagenham East. London City Island, situated on the Leamouth Peninsula, will have a vibrant cultural hub as the heart of the development – and will soon be home to English National Ballet’s production and training centre and the London Film School.

The Mayor welcomed the inclusion of the creative industries in the Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper. However, he pointed out that this creative district “will require committed support from central and local government. And it will need investment in infrastructure that catalyses the market”, and he urged Lord Heseltine to “capitalise on the value and importance of the creative industries to the UK”, as the country leaves the European Union.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “London leads the way across the whole of the creative economy – from fashion to film, design to gaming, performing arts to the visual arts. It’s only right that we build on this success and transform the Thames Estuary into a world-class centre for creative production – leading global innovation, developing the talent of the future and cultivating world-changing ideas.

“I urge Lord Heseltine to recommend our vision and ensure that the creative industries are at the heart of the Government’s industrial strategy.”

Christian Brodie, Chairman of South East Local Enterprise Partnership, (SELEP) said:

“The creative industries are one of the south east's biggest success stories.  As the UK competes on the world stage, we must harness the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of the creative sector - enabling its growth and extending its global reach.

“To realise the vision we have set out, we must recognise the unique needs of the creative sector in the policies we shape and the investments we make.

“The South East LEP is looking to build upon the connectivity with London, building a unique, self-sustaining, infrastructure to support creative businesses in a way that has not been seen before.”

Cllr Kevin Bentley, Essex County Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Economic Growth, Infrastructure and Partnerships, said: “We have been very clear in our support of the development of the Thames Estuary – an area that offers huge economic potential to both Essex and the UK as a whole.

“The cultural sector is crucial to the Essex economy and our digital strategy will help to drive this. I am looking forward to seeing the Commission’s vision implemented in the coming years.”

Sir John Sorrell, chair and founder of the Creative Industries Federation, said: "The Thames Estuary offers an exciting opportunity to ensure that the creative industries remain the fastest growing part of the UK's economy. Backing creative districts through wise investment and improvements to infrastructure will be fundamental to securing the productive workforce the UK needs. And this scheme offers communities in this area a chance to share in the prosperity the creative sector generates."

Victoria Pomery OBE, CEO of Turner Contemporary, said: "Turner Contemporary's world-class programme has driven the growth of a creative cluster and led the regeneration of Margate. The investment so far has yielded significant economic and social impact, exceeding all expectations. Going forward, our ambitious plans will build on Margate's creative and natural assets and further develop a thriving ecosystem of artists, creatives and entrepreneurs, providing exciting opportunities for future generations."

Sarah Dance, Co-Chair South East Creative Economy Network, said: "Over the last ten years, the South East has witnessed significant change in the digital, creative and cultural sector, driving growth, innovation and the visitor economy. As a result, the region boasts a rich and vibrant creative scene with an imaginative approach to place making. Continued investment in the South East's creative and cultural sector is required and makes business sense for the UK economy."