All ambitious projects face serious challenges, but the Gateway's are of an unprecedented scale and complexity. Almost every facet of urban life will be affected – housing, healthcare, education, infrastructure, commerce and leisure. Every London borough and several layers of central and local government will be engaged. Development agencies for London, the South-east and east England will have their say. Much of the private sector is, understandably, seeking involvement. Add a plethora of special interest groups, from local communities to environmentalists and Thames Gateway risks becoming bogged down in a bureaucratic morass. The sheer volume of parties involved is contributing more confusion than constructive action. Yet such is its scale that the combined resources of the public and private sectors and local communities must be mobilised if Thames Gateway is to be more than the sum of its parts.
To mitigate this and create an environment for success, a number of practical steps need to be taken now. The first and most essential should be the appointment of an inspiring, practical leader. No major project ever succeeded without one.
This is a world-class project, so a world-class team must be hired. The team's establishment, procedures and project management must be programmed. Written procedures must be applied intelligently, concentrating on action, not bureaucracy. If it cannot be described on paper, it cannot be delivered.
Time and patience will be vital. Expectations should be realistic, or disillusionment will set in. Steady, sustainable progress is better than the extremes of undue haste or a painstakingly slow quest for perfection.
Here are my 12 key ingredients for the success of Thames Gateway:
- Make sure that the vision is clear and worthwhile. It may seem obvious, but the Millennium Dome showed us that even in major projects these attributes can be overlooked. Major projects need support from all quarters or enthusiasm drains rapidly.
- Learn lessons from other projects. There are few to compare with the sheer scale of Thames Gateway. Yet the extraordinary success of London Docklands' reinvention as Canary Wharf contains some valuable lessons. This "overnight success" was some 25 years in the making.
- Keep sight of the vision despite the mass of detail. Projects usually fail because it is not always easy to see the wood for the trees. Clear thinking and conviction will be required.
- Use people with the right blend of skills. Thames Gateway must be adequately resourced with team members who are capable of clear decision-making, flexibility, the ability to deal with all types of people and a positive attitude.
- Identify the interfaces between organisations. Define organisations' respective roles and present this in a way that everyone can understand.
- Ensure that development is sustainable. This involves a long list of "dos", including being more profitable and competitive, focusing on quality and customer satisfaction, respecting all stakeholders and enhancing the environment.
- Encourage everyone to think outside their immediate interests. Genuine commitment to the vision is the best way of ensuring success. The private sector must take responsibility for partnering.
- Build momentum from "quick wins". They encourage greater participation, enhance values and, crucially, encourage the release of finance.
- Say yes quickly. Any proposals that fit within the agreed parameters should be allowed to proceed quickly. Regeneration is a fragile process that requires trust and confidence, making good decision-making and rapid responses vital.
- Be prepared to say no constructively and confidently. Thames Gateway must be seen to be fair and open, while not being a hostage to bureaucracy or pressure groups. Poor proposals should be rejected with firmness and diplomacy.
- Recognise the scale and importance of financing. The sheer scale of the Gateway will influence the financial markets and the availability of capital. The private sector must therefore make financing arrangements as soon as possible and involve the markets in a way that facilitates the smoothing of financial phases.
- Make all communications precise and fast. Good information packs and websites will be vital if staff at the centre are to cope with the demand for information.
Thames Gateway is a magnificently ambitious project that is vital to the future prosperity and success of London and the South-east. We will know that it is truly under way when the action starts and the conferences – so vital in the early stages – are no longer required.