The lessons of Dubai? Let s build some more British isles

Article by John Blundell in The Business

THE conventional view is the oceans are rising and marginal land will be swamped and lost for ever. We are warned the Maldives and other low lying land will eventually disappear under the waves. But the reality is that man is slowly creating more land and even spectacular new islands to great pleasure and profit. So is it time to make Britain bigger too? We can build artificial islands. We can reclaim tidal land. Every coastal city could be expanded in a way that could transform them.

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard a property man say of land, “they are not making it any more”, I would be rich. Perhaps all clichés invite contradiction. I think it time we confounded this stale estate agent’s banality. By this I mean start constructing new islands. Artificial land construction is a benevolent option that our planners barely consider.

There are plenty of examples of sizeable infills but they are so long established we almost forget them. There are thousands or acres reclaimed from the North Sea between Spalding and Kings Lynn. Some of the prettiest towns are ports that have atrophied as the coast was extended. The Dutch helped enhance the size of Lincolnshire in the 18th century. They could help us again. Previous reclamations have been for agricultural use but I envisage far higher future value in buildings – new homes and new workplaces. Could the entire Wash not be barraged and poldered as they have reclaimed the Netherlands?

I am thinking of adventurous extensions. Some of the most precious acres in London were captured from the Thames when Bazalgette erected the London sewers in the 1860s. The Embankment, in this sense, was a side effect of the cholera scares. The Strand, we forget, is where the Thames used to reach. Strand is Saxon for shore. The lower reaches of the Thames, its estuary on the Essex and Kent shorelines, are rich in opportunities. What would have been an impossible challenge in the past would not daunt hydraulic engineers. The trick is to look beyond our own rather tame shores. The “Eighth Wonder of the World” is the three Palm Islands off the coast of the Emirate of Dubai. Palm Jumeira, Jebel Ali and Deira will create 74 new miles of beach when they are finished.

Israel is considering erecting four large artificial islands off Tel Aviv, Haifa, Herzliya and Netanya jutting into the Eastern Mediterranean. This is not an original idea. Caesarea was itself a great civil engineering venture by King Herod. The Japanese have been infilling coastal land for generations but an entirely new island is a leap of the imagination. Osaka has a new airport isle, resolving a problem not otherwise easily answered. Tokyo has constructed two vast islands in Tokyo Bay. More are planned.

Brave sportsmen play cricket on the Dogger Bank in the North Sea in summer at low tide. With little more than the waste from Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Hull and some concrete blocks an entire new town could emerge. Perhaps we could consult the Prince of Wales to create a Poundbury out in the sea. Port Grimaud in France is a dynamic community built on newly created real estate.

Hong Kong’s new international airport has been constructed by quarrying out an existing island and extending it. It is a triumph. It has reconfigured the entire shape of the city-state. We could do the same for diverse British cities.

Civil engineers can achieve far more than we usually let them perform. We can juggle the priorities for the extra acreage. I might stipulate no new council estates with their mysterious blights. Indeed much of the rubble needed could be derived from bulldozing Britain’s grottier municipal schemes and creating parks. What I think would be fascinating would be if the conventions of the Town and Countr