This case study will look at Peabody’s green infrastructure project in Thamesmead.

Peabody is one of the oldest housing associations in London and is responsible for just under 72,000 homes around the City and the South East. [1]

We heard from Dr Phil Askew, Director Landscape and Placemaking at Peabody who discussed the history of Thamesmead and how an emphasis on a green future is driving the planning project.

Thamesmead

Thamesmead was built as a new town in the 1960s in order to address the housing crisis of the time. This crisis was not down to numbers, but the quality of housing, with many in post-war Britain living in a very poor standard of housing.

The South-East London town was hailed as a vision of future living, with large apartment blocks, new roads, and green areas. At the time it was transformational for the area.

Some key figures on Thamesmead today:

  • Home to 45,000 people
  • Has around 16,000 households (5200 owned by Peabody)
  • Covers an area of 7.5² km
  • Around 65% of land is owned by Peabody[2]

Peabody’s Plan for Thamesmead

Peabody set out five goals in 2018 that they wanted to achieve over five years.

1. Lived Experience

There is a renewed emphasis on sorting out the basics. This means ensuring that the residents of Thamesmead feel well managed and cared for.

There is a history of underinvestment in the area which Peabody is attempting to rectify to improve the overall quality of life of those living in the area.

2. Growth and Regeneration

Revitalising the built environment is another key goal for Peabody. This will include building new homes, leisure and commercial spaces, and investing in underdeveloped areas.

By building a variety of both leisure and commercial spaces, Peabody is hoping to broaden the town’s offering and attract more people to the area.

3. Landscape

Peabody also wants to ensure that the quality and use of natural spaces around Thamesmead are improved.

This has formed a large part of the project and planning, which we’ll go into more detail in shortly.

4. Culture

Making great culture part of everyday life and helping put Thamesmead on the map is also a key part of the plan.

Ensuring libraries are well-stocked, facilitating community choirs and theatre groups, as well as putting on festivals form a strategy to help people feel at home.

5. Community

There is a lot of emphasis on helping the people of Thamesmead, enabling them to be happier, healthier, and wealthier.

This includes regular communication with the residents to make sure the plans take into account the views of those who are going to be directly affected by them.

In a longer-term vision, Peabody expects over 20,000 new homes to be built in over the next 20 years.

There are also plans for a Crossrail station at Abbey Wood, a Docklands Light Railway (DLR) station in the town centre, as well as a new and improved town centre.

Making the Most of Green and Blue Spaces

Thamesmead has significant areas of green space, over 250 hectares worth, Phil Askew’s team’s mission is to make them fit for purpose and work for the people in the area.

There is also 32 hectares of water space, as well as 5 lakes, 7km of canals, and a 5km waterfront along the River Thames, providing huge opportunities for great landscaping.

Thamesmead is also hosting 14 sites of Nature Conservation Interest, containing:

  • 11 designated nature conservation sites
  • 22 habitat types
  • 188 plant species
  • 13 species of dragonfly
  • 32 species of Nationally Notable beetles
  • 17 species of Nationally Notable bees and wasps
  • 6 species of bat
  • 3 species of reptile
  • A London stronghold for the Water Vole

The long-term strategy to protect and make the most out of these areas and assets has been coined ‘Living in the Landscape’ by Peabody.

Over the next 30 years, using evidence and a policy-based approach, Peabody wants to use the landscape to unite the residents and those who visit Thamesmead.

The plan aims to put people at the heart of all that is going to be carried out, with public sentiment dictating the direction of the project.[3]

5 Themes for Thamesmead

There are 5 themes running throughout the overall strategy of the Thamesmead project.

The Big Blue

Making the most of the water bodies in Thamesmead is seen as a huge opportunity to increase the wellbeing of residents, as well as tackle climate issues such as flooding.

Peabody will be aiming to improve accessibility to all waterfronts in the town, simultaneously maintaining and nurturing the rich habitats found in these areas.

In terms of climate action, the flood defences are both effective and aesthetically pleasing, providing functional protection for the area without being an eyesore.

There are also good practices when it comes to water cleanliness, allowing recreational sailing and swimming to take place in the water.

Rain gardens and sustainable draining systems ensure that all rainfall is managed in such a way that it reconnects to the water cycle, improving sustainability and mitigating the environmental impact.

Wilder Thamesmead

Peabody is aiming to create and maintain good natural habitats through its Biodiversity Action Plan.

This will involve ensuring protected areas remain so, and wildlife is accounted for throughout the planning process.

A Productive Landscape

Many residents in Thamesmead grow their own food, whether it be in window boxes or using hydroponics. Some go on to sell the locally grown produce at markets and food stalls. Peabody is keen on maintaining and expanding these interests.

Again, using an approach that integrates people and the environment, Thamesmead’s green waste is put to good use. There’s an emphasis on creating a credible circular economy of production, consumption, and recycling.

Other avenues to explore include further education on Thamesmead’s landscape, with outdoor classrooms being able to make the most of the green and blues spaces to learn environmental skills.

Active Thamesmead

A fundamental part of the work Peabody are carrying out is getting residents involved in an active lifestyle.

The landscape has been used to create a network that connects schools, nurseries, and community centres through its playful and playable areas.

The unique natural settings throughout Thamesmead have also meant free-to-do outdoor sports are easily accessible to many residents.

Sports such as kayaking, wild swimming, and fishing are all enjoyed by many along Thamesmead’s various bodies of water.

The aim is to get thousands more children and families involved in outdoor lifestyle activities as much as possible, especially after the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

Connected Thamesmead

Prioritising active travel; walking, cycling, and public transport is high on the agenda. Peabody is aiming to make these methods of transport the easiest options available to residents and visitors.

Gallions Reconnection is a new stretch of the canal that should enable better access across Thamesmead to the waterfront.

There is also a 6km cycleway and footpath, creating a new artery into Thamesmead. This should allow many more residents to cycle or walk to the shops.

Public transport has also been reinvigorated with Central Way becoming Thamesmead New Street. This has been rebalanced to suit buses, cyclists, and pedestrians. In keeping with the theme of nature and the town being one, these new routes are framed by wildflower planting.

Two of the ideas that were floated for the waterfront and canals.[2]

If these various avenues for development are carried out successfully, Peabody is hoping it should result in:

  • 700m of new canal
  • 6km of car-free routes
  • 10km of new canal and tump walks
  • 100 black poplar trees
  • 1 new beach

Working with the Community

Given the scale of what is being planned, stewardship is an area that is growing in importance. Resources are being dedicated to ensure Thamesmead’s parks and waterways will be self-sustaining in the long term.

All of the plans are being co-designed with community members, who are paid to help the team at Peabody design a place that works for the entirety of the community.

An example is in a new development in South Thamesmead, where floating islands and new vegetation have been planted in the lake in order to deal with algal blooms in the summer months, making it nicer for both residents and the wildlife.

Other examples include the planting of trees in previously purely concrete areas outside of schools, as well as in courtyards in social housing areas.

During the pandemic, in order to get more people out and about and feel better in the place they live, sunflowers were planted in available green spaces.

Throughout all planning processes, and execution of the plans, the community are front and centre of the thinking. Peabody is committed to this approach and maintains they will continue to be so.


[1]Peabody.org.uk. 2021. Peabody: About us

[2]Askew, Dr Phi. 2021. Ensuring Access to Green Space: Thamesmead Making Space for Nature

[3]Thamesmeadnow.org.uk. 2021. The Plan

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Peabody is one of the oldest housing associations in London and is responsible for just under 72,000 homes around the City and the South East. This case study will look at Peabody’s green infrastructure project in Thamesmead.

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