Thamesmead: A late 20th century New Town

A New Town Within a City

Unlike other outlying new towns such as Milton Keynes, Thamesmead benefited from its central location, which meant that people were more willing to move to it. In addition, excellent transport facilities meant it was very easy to get to and from central London. Uniquely, although Thamesmead was a ‘new town’ and built on the scale of the early post-war towns, it was a new town built within a capital city. It may seem hard to believe it today, but when Thamesmead was being built and even long after the first families had arrived, coach loads of professional visitors would descend on the area to consider the architectural and sociological aspects of the development.

Surveys have revealed that 47 per cent of residents in the town worked in Central London, emphasising this point. The plan for Thamesmead was that it should be a self-contained, balanced community with facilities for such things as recreation, housing and education fully provided for within the town itself.

However, by the end of the development of Stage III Greenwich Council were finding it hard to fill vacancies in the high-rise blocks and accusations of the dumping of anti-social tenants in Thamesmead by other councils were already beginning to surface.

By 1980 these empty dwellings were becoming a serious problem and vandalism and graffiti were becoming rife. The GLC tried several ‘offers’ to fill this housing – to single people or groups of single people willing to share or on a first-come, first-served basis to people willing to take on a property in need of repair. These had some success, as have the efforts by Thamesmead Town Ltd in attracting people, but they have inevitably compromised the initial vision for the community.

Thamesmead was developed and managed by the Greater London Council up until the abolition of the GLC in 1986. A referendum was held in October 1985 to find out how local residents wanted Thamesmead to be run after the council’s abolition. The majority of voters wanted the area to be managed by a private company run by residents, so in March 1986 Thamesmead became the first residential estate in the country to be run by a private company controlled entirely by residents. Thamesmead Town is a company limited by guarantee, it has no share capital and is non-profit distributing. The board of 12 manages not only the residential development but also the commercial areas, open spaces, recreational facilities and industrial estates.

There are ambitious plans for the development of a proper town centre and also riverside housing development. Thamesmead Town now has about 45,000 residents.