As plans for Crossrail speed along, Havering is set for a transformation; also spurred by the council's masterplan for Romford and sites across the borough ready for development. Noella Pio Kivlehan went on a walkabout with the council's senior representatives to see what's in the pipeline.
Walking out of Havering Town Hall, past the award-winning horticultural crown designs and planted Union Jack, the official contingent from the council's hierarchy pass through the subway to embark on a tour of the borough’s regeneration areas.
Entering the Liberty shopping centre from the market square – founded in 1247 – the visitor embarks on a time travel expedition. The first part of the mall encountered remains largely unchanged since the 1980s, but around the corner, the modernised section exits onto South Street, where 21st century retail park, The Brewery, sits on the site of the former Ind Coope brewery.
The short walk sums up a problem with central Romford the council aims to address: piecemeal retail development has left the town disjointed.
"South Street is the older part of Romford," says Roger Ramsey, council leader, who has worked at the local authority for 36 years.
"It was the historic shopping area before the malls: The Liberty, The Mercury and The Brewery, came on the scene. But it's lost its shine since they opened. This is now the focal point of regeneration where we would like to link the malls through South Street with the prospect of building apartments over businesses."
Pointing to the flat roofs of the parade of shops, Ramsey says: "It seems ridiculous to have a row of single storey shops within a hundred meters of a Crossrail station. It is crying out for something."
Steve Moore, director of neighbourhoods, puts it more bluntly. "This area screams opportunity in a major way. When you look around, it's attractive to investors who can see those opportunities. They can see what can be built. And retail is one of the major factors pushing the need for regeneration."
Ramsey adds: "Romford does need regeneration because we have older parts, which are past their sell-by date. There's a need for comprehensive regeneration of some parts, whereas other parts, like this, are still quite buoyant."
Making a Masterplan
On the tour with Ramsey and Moore are Neil Stubbings, regeneration consultant for the council and Chris Hilton, assistant director of development, who joined the local authority two months ago.
Hilton is currently working on proposals for a new masterplan which he says "will ensure Romford fulfils its potential to become one of the most sought-after residential locations in London".
A lot of housing development is planned, which will be desperately needed to meet the borough's growing population: in Romford alone, the population is predicted to grow significantly, having already gone from 238,000 to 250,000 in the last seven years.
Havering's housing target in its draft Local Plan is 1,170 units per year, with the expected number of 17,500 over 15 years. Over the next 10 years, the council aims to redevelop 12 designated sites under a £1 billion scheme launched earlier this year.
Havering Council cabinet members have approved plans to carry out work on improving the borough's air quality between 2018 and 2023.