But that opportunity has been there for years and, although progress has been made, it has not been fully grasped. What makes the difference now? Years of discussion about how best to develop this area, which could deliver 80,000 much-needed homes, are coming to a head. It is one of the key areas, perhaps the key area, for regeneration in my draft London plan, and a major priority for John Prescott.
An announcement on government plans is imminent. Two elements are crucial if this area is to fulfil its potential, and fulfil it fast: funding and the force to drive through change among the myriad organisations involved. The government has to commit enough resources – and this is not just resources for homes. As Building pointed out in its feature on the Gateway last year (26 July), money must be spent on the infrastructure, in particular transport, if the area is to become a thriving and permanent addition to London.
My transport body, Transport for London, wants five issues to be addressed: the barrier effect of the river, the area's accessibility to the rest of London and beyond, public transport capacity, linkages between the individual Gateway zones and the management of traffic. A programme is under way to address these, notably the progression of plans for CrossRail and the building of a bridge between Beckton and Thamesmead.
As for delivery, there has been speculation recently that the government is to set up a cross-departmental cabinet committee, or a new unitary development corporation. Whatever is decided, it must not simply be a case of rearranging the organisational furniture or imposing a delivery agency on the existing organisations and community. The Docklands Development Corporation taught us the problems that arise if the latter route is followed.
It would also be foolish to dismantle or ignore the work that has already been done by the boroughs, Transport for London and the London Development Agency. The LDA owns 600 acres of land in the Gateway and is planning £700m of investment. It is the largest owner of development sites in the area. The laborious effort of transferring staff or resources would be pointless. There's also my architecture and urbanism unit headed by Lord Rogers. It is already masterplanning key areas of the Gateway and its expertise should not be overlooked. In other words, don't reinvent the wheel.
The new arrangements must also have the ability to drive change. I am therefore proposing the creation of a Thames Gateway Partnership Board to oversee the work of the delivery agencies and carry out an overall strategic and co-ordinating role. Another layer of bureaucracy? I don't think so. With a chair working on behalf of the Greater London Authority and the government, and a membership drawn from the boroughs and other partners, a partnership board would have the consensus to act. It is a difficult balance to strike, but it is one that must be struck carefully and decisively.
Finally, a lot of nonsense is printed about political rivalries. There is no disaffection between John Prescott and me that would obstruct our ability to work together and achieve what everybody wants – the proper development of the Gateway at the fastest pace possible.
In 20 years' time, I want to be able to hop onto a CrossRail train or on an East London Transit bus and take a trip through a new area of London called the Thames Gateway. I want to see tired town centres revamped and revitalised; I want to see developments that blend the old with the new at a high enough density to build proper communities. I want to see satisfied residents who have access to decent schools and healthcare. A place that Londoners from other parts of London will visit because of its attractions. Let us grasp this opportunity and make it happen.
Ken Livingstone is mayor of London.