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Open to question

Analysis - There were signs that the Thames Gateway could be heading for a rethink at last week's MIPIM property fair.

More than 25,000 paying customers - plus countless thousands more sneaking in the sides joined the annual investment bunght that is MIPIM in the South of France last week.

UK regions, cities and towns were eager to showcase their attractions to hungry developers from around the world. All were ercely competing for inward investment against cities across Europe, Russia, Asia and the Middle East and this sense of competition was prevalent even at a very local level.

Inghting for cash was most evident among towns from the nation's most overcrowded region, the South East.

The hames ateway, hich covers north Kent and south Essex, has long been considered the solution to the shortage of quality housing stock in the South East and is the largest regeneration scheme in Europe.

However, the long-promoted benets of pouring £38bn into the area were questioned at MIPIM by leading architect Ken Shuttleworth (see news).

His practice is masterplanning developments in Elephant and Castle in central London and in Croydon, centred on East Croydon station.

Shuttleworth said it made little sense to develop in places that could only be reached by car, when there is room to expand towns such as Croydon or Reading which already have well connected rail stations, are near major airports, and have major businesses based locally.

His argument is also backed in part by the South East England Development Agency's (SEEDA) economic strategy.

While it remains supportive of the Thames Gateway, it is increasingly pushing the idea of more self-contained 'Diamonds for Investment and Growth' - areas surrounding Milton Keynes, Oxford, Reading, Crawley, Southampton and Portsmouth which are well outside the Gateway - plus Ebbseet in north Kent, which is inside it.

At MIPIM last year, SEEDA representatives sported Thames Gateway badges. This year, there were none - a signicant development say supporters of these Diamond towns.

Regeneration centred on these areas is certainly the best solution as far as Reading council leader David Sutton is concerned.

New developments planned for the town include a tower block opposite the station, and major Thames-side schemes.

These are backed by a thriving electronics industry.

Adding further weight to Shuttleworth's argument, transport secretary Douglas Alexander is expected to give the go-ahead for the expansion of Reading station next week (News last week).

Those that argue in favour of the Thames Gateway say that nowhere else in the South East is there the opportunity to turn around deprived areas on such a massive scale. There is nowhere else with the space for 160,000 new homes by 2016.

With Stratford and Ebbseet International stations on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and Shell Haven Port there is also the infrastructure to act as catalysts for economic recovery. Plus there's a small thing called the Olympics.

The hames ateway cludes parts of London and as such, say promoters, is best placed to absorb and aid the economic growth of the capital. This, according to government, is why there is no real conict between building on browneld sites along the Thames and expanding other towns in the South East.

London is the driving force behind the UK's economic health, and if the capital is allowed to expand eastward, then the economies of places such as Reading and Croydon will benet indirectly and their expansion plans will still be fully justiable.

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