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Canvey Island Urban Framework

Essex, UK

Studio Engleback worked with Urban Initiatives to produce an urban framework for Canvey Island. Castle Point Borough Council and EEDA in 2005-6, who looked to provide an additional 4000 homes in the borough as part of the wider provision for development in the Thames Gateway. Some of these homes were to be located on Canvey Island to attract investment for infrastructure.Canvey is low lying, 2m below high tide, with a major flood defence wall surrounding it, so it is very vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change. Before Al Gore had published his ‘Inconvenient Truth’ we set out the fundamentlas about climate change in some detail, promoted the need for both sustamable drainage, which initially upset the politicians, who fell into line after the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. We promoted a grid of safety towers no more than 3 minutes walk from residents as a potential new skyline for the island to head off the probelms they experienced in the big floods of 1953.It’s landscape has much in common with the heavily defended islands in the Rhine delta floodplain.Originally a ‘place in the sun’ sought by East-Enders, development grew piece meal in the middle years of the 20th century.        


The estuary also supports major energy industries with some storage facilities on the island and the Shellhaven refinery adjacent to it. Canvey Wick is a site that had been prepared for a new oil refinery over 30 years ago that did not materialise, resulting neglect that served to make it a wildlife haven. It is now the first brown field Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in the UK. The island is also surrounded by major wetlands and mudflats used by migratory birds of international importance.Our work includes liaising with the Environment Agency, English Nature and the Thames Gateway Partnership at one level, and with local stakeholders at the other, to feed into the Urban Framework. The stakeholders have been engaged in design workshops and in playing a ‘planning board game’ specific to the island to understand the effect of different development outcomes. Our environmental advice seeks to combine a multi-functional green grid with a design language that rises above mundane or mediocre to celebrate the local distinctiveness and sense of place.

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