Olympic delivery chief

Niall McNevin is proud that planners have played a key role in supporting London's bid and is taking forward massive construction plans for the 2012 Olympics, reports Christina Papas.

Niall McNevin, head of town planning at the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), is a busy man. I have secured a strict one-hour slot in his diary before his next appointment and he is already late for ours.

It is hardly surprising. Bringing forward the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games through a 10,000-page masterplan, alongside the regeneration of a long-deprived area of east London, represents an immense task.

Plans for the 24ha of sporting venues, roads, bridges, open space and river works have been agreed in principle by the ODA planning committee and have been waved through by the Government Office for London and the Greater London Authority.

McNevin, who has been on secondment from the London Development Agency since 2004, has played a major role in securing the Olympic venue and legacy planning permissions. Last year, he managed the submission of the two main outline applications, which were submitted in February. The team's efforts were recognised by the 2005 RTPI Planning Awards and London mayor Ken Livingstone's award for excellence.

His team, working under ODA director of design and regeneration Alison Nimmo, has turned its attention to the legacy masterplan due to be finalised by autumn next year. "Some of the venues will be temporary and others will be permanent, so we have to stitch the communities in to what remains once the games have finished," he explains.

"The big driver is what local communities and landowners feel should happen, as well as enhanced open space and the idea of permeability and connectivity of the site. Some people describe it as a tear in the urban fabric because it has a river valley with two sets of communities either side. The games will be right at the centre of that."

McNevin says the most challenging part of his job is handling the sheer volume of complexities that the project presents. "I have heard it compared to creating two Heathrow Terminal 5s in half the time," he says. "It is important to draw out the team's quality. Because this is a world project, it has the best people and they are seriously motivated."

He has a team of seven planners working beneath him who offer an impressive portfolio of skills. They have worked on projects such as Crossrail, Terminal 5 and London Docklands. "This has given us great breadth," he insists. "We certainly need that because we are talking about implementation and not policy planning. We are actually making sure that things get constructed."

The burden of delivering a project with a fixed timeline also weighs heavily, he admits. Most of the programme is due to be complete by 2011. "The challenge is to make certain that we communicate and hear the messages from people," he says. "Things will happen quickly."

McNevin stresses that the ODA is keen to learn from previous experience and ensure that sustainability and legacy are the linchpins of the games. Shying away from Beijing's lack of community engagement, he says a trip to Barcelona unveiled an "example of successful regeneration" following the 1992 games.

"When you look back at those games, you can see that they were integrated well into the open fabric," he notes. "But all Olympic venues are different. The opportunity we have in Stratford is a compact site and a focused area. Other sites, such as Athens, are very dispersed."

The ODA has faced criticism from all corners of society, whether relating to meeting timetables, clarifying transport plans or bringing forward legacy proposals. But none have attracted more brickbats than the revised budget, announced by culture secretary Tessa Jowell in March, which revealed that costs have rocketed to some £9.3 billion.

McNevin seems unfazed by the jibes. "This has not had much of an effect on our work," he says. "It is something that we don't get heavily involved in. I would emphasise the value of bringing forward previously used land and delivering opportunities from a sports perspective."

He is no stranger to high-profile schemes. In his role as head of town planning at Land Securities, he managed the delivery of the Eastern Quarry project, a 300ha site next to the Bluewater regional shopping centre earmarked for 7,250 homes, commercial space and 81ha of lakes and parks. He also played a key role in securing planning permission for the 790,000m2 Ebbsfleet development in north Kent.

His experience in managing complex projects has been good preparation for the Olympic role. "We have four planning authorities and we needed to get endorsement and permission to support London's candidacy, so it was agreed that all parties would work together," he says.

This collaboration has been a vital ingredient in keeping the project on track. "Offices were rented and planning officers were put together," McNevin explains. "It was a very creative way of working. Some people had not previously worked outside their host authority, so it was a very stimulating environment."

Since then, many others have drawn on the team's unique way of working. "We have had a lot of enquiries from elsewhere in the country on cross-border projects where boundaries create difficulties," he comments. "Our way of working across four local authorities has won awards and it is something that planning spearheaded. Now there is a whole new planning authority in this area."

Age: 43
Family: Married with two children
Education: Degree and diploma in planning studies, Oxford Brookes
Interests: Rugby union coaching
2006: Head of town planning, Olympic Delivery Authority
2003: Project executive, London Development Agency
2003: Director, Paragon Regeneration Associates
2001: Head of town planning, Land Securities
1999: Planning director, Whitecliff Properties
1997: Associate director, Lawson-Price Ltd
1995: Senior planner, GL Hearn & Partners
1992: Senior planning officer, Kent County Council
1987: Planning surveyor, Gerald Eve

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