Board member shares experience of Barking and Dagenham regeneration

Computer generated image of the planned film studios building in Dagenham with people and cars in the foreground
How the Dagenham film studios will look Picture: Be First

Caroline Harper joined Be First, the ambitious council-owned company driving regeneration in Barking and Dagenham as Chief Planning Director. Now Deputy Managing Director, she wants to support women in planning and encourage cross-working between the public and private sectors.

When Caroline Harper told her private sector colleagues that she was joining Be First, the regeneration company set up by LB Barking and Dagenham, her news was met with polite puzzlement.

“When I announced that I was moving into the public sector, I got a lot of questions. People thought it was a really unusual move” she says.

“I still get that sometimes, but I think it’s important to experience both sides. There’s a lot of positive collaboration between public and private sector, but I think there is still a way to go.”

After ten years in planning, first at CBRE and then JLL, she left her role as Director of Planning, Development and Heritage to become Be First’s Chief Planning Director, in 2018, and has since become its Deputy Managing Director.

Colour head shot of Caroline Harper
Caroline Harper of Be First

Transforming the planning service

Be First is LB Barking and Dagenham’s wholly owned urban regeneration vehicle and, Caroline explains, we have a lot of hats. We are a developer, a property consultancy and we also undertake statutory services like planning and building control on the Council’s behalf. Barking & Dagenham is a hugely ambitious borough. In 2021 20% of London’s affordable homes were being constructed in the Borough, and our new Designer & Contractor Framework looks to procure services to deliver 3,500 new homes over the next four years.

So why move to Barking and Dagenham in the first place? Put simply, the local authority and its development company are going for growth at scale.

Post-industrial development opportunities

Arial view of Industria, a high-tech business park in Barking
High-tech business hub Industria. Picture: Be First

“Barking & Dagenham has development opportunities aplenty. It’s open for business with strong, clear political ambitions. We’re the number one performing planning department in the country, with an innovative approach to tackling post-industrial challenges.

“In September, Industria launches, a new multi-storey industrial scheme. Round the corner is 12 Thames Road, a co-located residential and industrial scheme that will complete next Summer and is the first step in transforming Thames Road into a new neighbourhood. At Dagenham East, Hackman Capital Partners is building London’s largest film and television production centre, and in a couple of years the City of London will have moved its wholesale markets to the Borough on a site close to Thames Freeport” says Caroline.

“It’s been exciting since I got here because of the sheer scale of opportunity; there are huge regeneration areas that will become new neighbourhoods.”

Bringing public and private sector experience to Future of London

Caroline joined the Board of Future of London to share her experience of working on major regeneration programmes in both sectors. She will also draw on the skills she developed leading major cultural transformation within the team.

Caroline has been a mentor for our Future London Leaders development programme. With her private and public background, she particularly recognises the value of helping future leaders to make connections across all sectors in the built environment.

So, what does she hope to bring to Future of London as a board member?

“I want to contribute to developing the network and particularly to support women and diversity. I think it’s important to give something back when you get to a certain level of seniority. I want to challenge some of the subtler gender and overall diversity disparities, utilising the opportunities afforded from lockdown and hybrid working, for example. I have so much time for the work that Future of London does, with its excellent mentoring and leadership programmes, and also its fantastic networks across all elements of the built environment. I look forward to supporting this work and its growth.

Find out more about the Future of London board and member steering group here.