Thames Gateway chief 'fell out with housing minister'
Published by webmaster for 24dash.com in Housing
Judith Armitt quit her job after just over a year
The head of the Government's flagship Thames Gateway regeneration scheme has left her post amidst speculation that she had a series of clashes with housing minister Yvette Cooper.
Judith Armitt's departure as the project's chief executive comes less than two weeks after Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched a £9 billion Delivery Plan which he said would make the area a global leader in environmentally-friendly economic development.
The scheme, intended to deliver 160,000 homes and 225,000 jobs by 2016 along a 40-mile corridor of east London, north Kent and south Essex, is a cornerstone of Mr Brown's plans for a dramatic expansion in England's housing stock.
But there have been frustrations at slow progress on Europe's largest regeneration project.
A scathing report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee last month said that the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) was "manifestly not up to the job" of leading it.
Committee chairman Edward Leigh said the project had the potential to become a "public spending calamity" if the Department did not "vastly" improve its management.
In a letter today to the project's "stakeholders" in the public and private sectors, DCLG permanent secretary Peter Housden announced that senior official Joe Montgomery was taking over responsibility for the Thames Gateway Executive.
He added: "Following the successful launch of the Thames Gateway Delivery Plan a fortnight ago, we are now discussing Judith Armitt's next move. Judith has made a tremendous contribution to the progress we have seen in the Gateway."
DCLG spokesmen refused to discuss Ms Armitt's departure, on the grounds that the department never comments on individual members of staff.
But a report in development trade website building.co.uk suggested that the former Medway Council chief executive, who took up the post last November, left following clashes with housing minister Yvette Cooper over her draft for the Delivery Plan.
An unnamed senior Thames Gateway source was quoted as saying: "It has been a fiasco. Yvette is unhappy. The plans from a week ago had to be torn up."
Shadow local government secretary Eric Pickles branded the Government's handling of the scheme a "shambles".
"Hot on the heels from a scathing Public Accounts Committee report, this is yet more evidence that the Government's handling of the important Thames Gateway has been a shambles," said Mr Pickles.
"This regeneration project is vital to ensuring more homes in and near London. But, like the flawed Pathfinder scheme in the Midlands and the North, it seems everything the Government touches is doomed to failure and fiasco.
"There is a continuing lack of leadership and direction from the confusing mix of Government regional offices, regional assemblies, regional development agencies, development corporations and regeneration partnerships. Amid this Whitehall blame game, this is a catastrophe of Labour's own making."
Mr Montgomery, DCLG's director general for regions and communities, has worked in the department since 2001 and was previously executive director for regeneration at Lewisham Council in London.
Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay, whose Thurrock constituency is within the Gateway area, said the departure was "is not a surprise and is not a solution".
"A change of personalities at the top won't make any difference; they need a total reorganisation of their strategy," he said.
"The real lesson of the failure of the Government, to date, to make any advance in its Thames Gateway objectives is their failure to heed warnings from MPs like myself.
"Ministers need to listen more to MPs rather than here-today-gone-tomorrow officials and members of the countless Thames Gateway quangos.
"They must reduce the numerous quangos, agencies, supposed 'co-ordinating bodies' and so-called 'partnerships'. We need less buzzwords.
"Ministers could start by ensuring that within the Department one section talks to another and that they work much more closely with the Department for Transport."
There should also be a cut in the number of funding streams and the various regions involved should be brought under one umbrella, he suggested.
Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts, who chairs the Thames Gateway London Partnership, said he did not believe the departure would have a negative impact on the project.
The "substantial success" of the Thames Gateway was down to local-level delivery mechanisms and it was not being driven from Whitehall, he said.
"It is a collection of different schemes that are being delivered locally. It's not being driven from the top down," he said.
"We consider this to be a great success."
He welcomed the appointment of Mr Montgomery who had worked "at the coal face of local government" in developing the Government's neighbourhood renewal programme.
"If they have given him the job in the meantime then that is very good," Mr Roberts said.