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GondolaNow here’s some radical cutting-edge thinking from John Redwood (Chairman
of the Economic Competitiveness Policy Group): let’s build cities on the sea in
Essex and The Wash. (Click on image to enlarge)

The coverage of this story has focussed on images of a new Venice in Essex:
a sort of Canvey Island with gondolas and piazzas.  Pause for a moment while we
contemplate white gondolas nipping out and cutting the vaporettos at the
junctions between canals.  I suppose we’d end up with wretched floating speed
cameras snapping everyone going at more than 5mph.
 
Actually, the model isn’t Venice at all, but the polders of the Netherlands
which have been gradually filling in the old Zuyder Zee.  As you would expect
from John Redwood there is a certain inter-locking cunning involved in the plan:
there is massive pressure for new building in the south east (apparently); there
is a need to undertake expensive coastal defences any way; reclaim land from the
shallow coastal areas and sell it to developers to fund the coastal defences. 
How to deal with climate change?  Privatise it. 
 
PoldersCritics have already pointed out a number of potential flaws: the already
high risk of flooding, and a severe water shortage in the South East: see, for
example, Dizzy’s blog. 
It’s not our place to speak for Mr Redwood, but in fairness he has seen the
water issue already by supporting the plans for a desalination plant at Beckton
and presumably the
Dutch have worked out how to build dykes and will be willing to provide
assistance and advice for a suitable fee.  And this neatly solves – or appears
to – part of the problem of the hated South East Development Plan: less
overcrowding in the current space by acquiring new space out of, er, dehydrated
sea.  Starting the support infrastructure from scratch means that we might get a
few towns where things actually work.


So this is an ingenious response to some of the modern environmental
issues, without muesli.  Although this is just a piece of personal kite-flying
it bodes well for the likely contents of the Economic Competitiveness Study when
we get it eventually.  It’s hardly surprising that the Lib Dems have pulled out
of the cross-party co-operation on green issues, still stuck in the past with
old-style thinking such as ever-higher petrol taxes (although as Guido comments
here
, the
split was probably caused by Ming realising he’d been outsmarted tactically by
Cameron).
 
What could possibly go wrong?  Most obviously: New Orleans – building a
major city below sea-level next to a large lake turned out to be a duff idea
when an abnormally-large hurricane struck and they hadn’t been taking care of
the defences.  They don’t get hurricanes in Essex (I assume; enlighten me
otherwise) but it’s worth remembering that the Great North Sea Flood of 1953
killed 300 in England, just where this building would take place, and a further
1,800 in the Netherlands.  Higher, stronger sea walls would presumably just
divert any such flood elsewhere to Kent or Holland – we could end up with a
faintly ridiculous arms-race situation with countries on opposing sides of the
North Sea trying to outbuild each other’s sea defences.
 
Why do I have this nagging feeling that there’s a reason why the coast-line
is where it is?

William Norton

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