In an impassioned interview, leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Darren Rodwell, speaks about the borough’s recent triumphs, its chequered past, and why public-private partnerships are delivering the housing, jobs and infrastructure that will see the area continue to flourish.

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As a councillor in Barking and Dagenham for close to ten years, and leader of the Council for the past six, Darren Rodwell is best placed to have seen the local authority’s impressive journey over that period.

“Just over a decade ago, we were fighting the BNP,” he reminds us. “Today, we are known for transformation, inclusive growth, but more importantly, representational politics.”

Rodwell argues that driving this growth sometimes requires new ways of thinking about funding.

Using the example of the Becontree Estate – the largest public housing project in the world when it was built in 1921 – he points out that this was built using private money due to public finances being in dire straits following the First World War.

“If we wanted to do that same estate today with all the parks, all the social infrastructure, shops and jobs, you would be looking at around £20 billion,” he argues.

“That’s why two years ago, I started working together with the private sector for Opportunity London.”

This is a partnership driven by the City of London, London councils, and the Mayor of London alongside a growing consortium of public and private sector industry partners committed to attracting the next £100 billion of capital investment into London’s low carbon real estate, energy and infrastructure.

There are two projects underway in Barking at the moment that use Opportunity London funding, including the Barking Riverside regeneration scheme, and a mixed-use development on the Thames Road.

One of the industries that Rodwell hopes to support via new investment is filmmaking.

“We used to be known for the Ford factory,” he notes. “We’re now going to be known for making films. We’ve got the largest film studios built in 25 years and another studio here as well already. And that’s going to produce thousands of jobs.”

In championing Barking and Dagenham’s regeneration, Rodwell has taken a unique perspective. “I look at the borough as a PLC, but every shareholder is the resident,” he explains.

“And my job has been to set up a company that we as shareholders can invest in.”

One of the vehicles to deliver this mission is Be First, a pioneering urban regeneration company wholly owned by Barking and Dagenham Council, that nonetheless operates independently.

“It’s allowed us to bring in £4 billion worth of investment of international private money into the borough with another £6 billion in train,” he notes.

Doing so, he argues, is a key reason why the borough was able to build 20 percent of the entire capital’s affordable housing stock.

Rounding off the interview, Rodwell offers a pithy slogan for members of his party as they prepare for the upcoming general election: “We’ve got to build for Britain.”

LISTEN to this podcast via Apple, Amazon, Spotify or SoundCloud (and many other platforms) or just use the player above.