Purfleet-on-Thames is in theory the perfect commuter town.
Surrounded by major roads, including the A13 and M25, and a major train station, going to and from the town and into London is simple.
Couple this with easy access to essential shops, giant retail and out-of-town shopping centres, and relatively cheap housing, the settlement should have everyone getting excited.
But Purfleet-on-Thames, it seems, is struggling to live up to its potential.
Now, as an injection of cash hoped to regenerate the area hangs in the balance, the future of the town is in doubt.
Three years ago, Purfleet, in Essex, changed its name to Purfleet-on-Thames in a push for a major rebrand.
While the town had a healthy population with a few things to do, locals knew more could be done to make it a place for people to visit, a star attraction just a stone’s throw away from London.
Housing was already, by neighbouring London standards, relatively affordable. While average flat prices linger at the £200,000 mark, terraced properties sell for an average of £327,143. Semi-detached properties regularly go for £372,714.
A two-year campaign set in motion by the Purfleet-on-Thames Community Forum was eventually successful in pushing to change the name.
It was hoped its rebrand would return the town back to its heydays when, the group claimed, 1,500 tourists a day would arrive by boat or train to enjoy the sights during the Victorian to late Edwardian era.
The plan was two-fold: to add ‘on-thames’ to the name to make the town sound bright and hopeful, as well as secure the funding for a costly regeneration project.
The name-change worked and a whopping £1billion was secured, everything was going to plan.
Now, however, all is uncertain after the government-sponsored Homes England said it was planning on pulling its funding because of delays by Purfleet’s council in finding more investors for the project.
The council has since agreed to terminate the funding agreement in order to avoid paying back the £25million it has already spent.
Much of the money went into building new housing in order to attract more people into the area.
Work on 61 new homes began in 2021 as part of the first phase, due to be completed this year — although only 34 will be completed by the end of December 2023.
The original number was a planned 2,850 new homes, meaning an influx of people and a boost to the local economy may well be missed.
Other things the regeneration scheme was destined to deliver included a “world-class creative hub”, a new town centre with shops and restaurants, an integrated medical centre, improved transport infrastructure, a new primary school and over 1,000,000 square feet of film and TV production studios.
Purfleet Regeneration, the outfit responsible for the project, also said later phases would deliver a new university campus providing high calibre education, “with a focus on health and the creative arts”.
‘It’s a bitter pill for Purfleet-on-Thames’
While the project is currently clouded in doubt, locals and councillors alike were given a glimmer of hope late last month after the English Cities Fund — a regeneration company that works with local councils — reportedly expressed strong interest in stepping in. Nothing has been officially declared, however, leaving everything up in the air.
Lee Watson, a Labour councillor for West Thurrock and South Stifford, speaking at a recent meeting regarding the regeneration scheme expressed frustration over the fallen plans.
He said: “It’s a bitter pill for the residents of Purfleet on Thames. Why I’m so disappointed is that the scheme was designed by the residents. They were promised how the station would look, how the riverfront would look, and the shops that Purfleet lacks so badly.
“I’m grateful we are holding those other conversations with English Cities Fund to get them on board because it is the jewel in the crown. It is on the riverfront. We could get an Uber there. There is so much potential sitting there that it could regenerate the whole entire Purfleet on Thames.”
Despite this the drama and uncertainty, Purfleet-on-Thames remains a relatively picturesque gem in an otherwise industrial area with bags of potential.
It has a rich history: first mentioned in 1285, Purfleet went on to become a focal point for the British military, being the main hub for things like gunpowder.
Later, it was transformed into a military heritage centre complete with scheduled ancient monuments and other old buildings that hint at its rich past.
Away from the military side of things, Purfleet-on-Thames has also flirted with the literary, mentioned in Bram Stoker’s genre-defining novel, Dracula, in which Count Dracula buys a house in Purfleet next to a lunatic asylum.
Its Circus Tavern was the venue of the PDC World Darts Championship between 1994 and 2007, Purfleet-on-Thames in the process becoming the spiritual home of the darting world.
Amazing Grace, the song by the Rev John Newton, was inspired by his near-death boating accident along the town’s stretch of the River Thames, and artist J.M.W. Turner’s sketches of the place are now a part of the Tate Britain collection.
Not only this, but Purfleet-on-Thames boasts areas of natural beauty, including the two Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Rainham Marshes and Purfleet Chalk Pits.