Kate Willard will be the driving force behind ambitious plans to transform the Thames Estuary – the UK’s next major growth area – following her appointment as its first Envoy.
Kate, who has a successful track record delivering complex regeneration and infrastructure projects in the UK and Europe, will lead a vision to generate billions of pounds of investment, create thousands of new jobs, improve transport and digital infrastructure, and deliver substantial housing in the Estuary.
In addition to becoming the region’s national and international champion, Kate, who is Director of Partnerships at Stobart Group, will chair the Thames Estuary Growth Board, a multi-agency partnership, responsible for delivering a programme that will breathe new life into the area.
Kate said: “This role is an extraordinary opportunity and I’m honoured and proud to have been selected. The Thames is one of the world’s most iconic rivers flowing through an internationally important city with fabulous towns and landscape on either side of it. It’s clear that the Estuary has enormous growth potential and this new Board will work with colleagues across the Estuary to ensure that there is consensus on strategic growth opportunities, that we deliver on these opportunities and that we ensure growth has a positive impact not just on the economy but across all communities in the Estuary.
“I’m certain my background delivering complicated, multi-agency infrastructure projects, the networks and relationships I’ve built in Government and across sectors, and my genuine desire and passion to deliver something amazing, will mean we can move forward at pace to realise the ambitions of everyone involved – and report on these clearly to our stakeholders.”
Kate’s immediate priorities will be to appoint members to the Growth Board, so it can begin working with local businesses, residents, councils and other key partners to develop its programme of work. The Board will receive £1 million in Government funding to support its work programme.
Kate is going to ensure that the Growth Board is clear, accessible and communicative about its intentions, role and plans, doesn’t duplicate work already happening or planned, and adds real value. Most of all, she is adamant it will think creatively to find solutions to some of the long-standing Estuary challenges.
Kate added: “This means approaching some issues in a different way. People often refer to the Thames as a barrier to growth; but can we think positively about its potential? We need to help improve air quality, so what role can this major artery play in supporting freight and logistics operations to lift truck movements off our already congested roads. A solution easy to conceptualise but one which will require innovation and collaboration between a number of operators and sectors to deliver.
“There may be some difficult conversations along the way – consensus isn’t always easy – and so building a close and robust set of partnerships and relationships across the Estuary will be key. I am going to work super hard to bring everyone with us because not all our wins will be quick. We will need to be absolutely clear about the end game and keep that in our heads. It will be my job to keep that end game in sight, keep us all standing shoulder to shoulder, and ensure we have a clear route to delivery.
“A key focus for the programme will be inclusive growth. It’s important that in considering what we do and how we do it, we make sure that no one is left behind. That will mean looking at complex issues like the education and skills agendas and, working with partners, making sure that they deliver on the needs of businesses and our communities.
“We expect to be held to account and to hold to account where promises have been made and expectations have been raised.”
The Thames Estuary has been hailed alongside the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine as the UK’s next major growth opportunity. Kate said: “We can learn from both of those and from other brilliant regeneration schemes across the world. Wherever we see amazing things happening or brilliant ideas, we’ll be happy to look at them. However, the Thames Estuary is a very unique place with specific challenges and extraordinary opportunities, so we will need to look at bespoke solutions to respond to these.”
Born in Hertfordshire, and now based in part in Cumbria, Kate has had a colourful career with roles across Europe.
She went to drama college in Bexley, and is a trained actress and director. She is passionate about the arts and an expert on the role of creative industries as a catalyst for growth. She has lived and worked in Hungary, France and Belgium working as an independent regeneration expert with the European Commission on major transnational projects in employment, social cohesion and regional development.
Kate was CEO of the UK’s first rural regeneration company, Rural Regeneration Cumbria, and during that period was headhunted by Stobart Group where she has now been for 12 years.
During her time with Stobart Group, Kate has had a number of roles and was recently responsible for re-launching commercial services from Carlisle Lake District Airport for the first time in over 25 years. Kate will remain working with Stobart, albeit in a reduced capacity in light of her work with the Estuary Growth Board, including close working across national government departments, local authorities and other partnerships.
In addition, Kate has a number of non-executive roles, including Chair of Arts Council North and also sits on the Arts Council’s National Council.
Kate Willard is available for interview. Please call Paul Morris on 07888852492 to set-up.
Notes to Editors
- The Estuary Envoy will chair the Thames Estuary Growth Board and will be crucial to its success. Thurrock Council is accountable for the appointment of the Envoy.
- To find out more about the Government’s ambitious vision and delivery plans for the Thames Estuary read our response (25 March 2019) to the Thames Estuary Growth Commission report here
- You can read the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission report here