The Bartlett School of Planning


Megaprojects: The Bigger Picture

6 December 2011

Harry Dimitriou and Christian Wolmar (2011) In 'Ten Years with the FUT Programme', Volvo Research and Educational Foundation (VREF)

Ten Years with the Future Urban Transport Programme is an edited volume published by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundation (VREF). The VREF is focusing on one coherent programme: Future Urban Transport - How to deal with complexity.  The programme emerged in a context of increasingly rapid urbanization and heavy motorization of cities, and the intention was to contribute to the development of sustainable transportation systems that also meet the needs of the entire population of a city, including those with the least resources.

VREF invited proposals for research programmes within this overall framework and the selected organisations within the book were designated Centres of Excellence. The OMEGA Centre based at the Bartlett School of Planning is one such centre and has contributed the chapter "Megaprojects: the Bigger Picture" to this publication.

Analysis of the success and failures of mega urban transport projects (megaprojects) have been surprisingly flawed, despite the large sums of money and considerable resources that go into building such projects.  By interviewing a wide range of stake holders involved in 30 projects in ten developed economies, the OMEGA Centre investigated the very critical question of what constitutes a 'successful' megaproject.  In so doing, the OMEGA team highlighted the importance of planning and appraising such projects by employing a much more holistic framework that considers factors well beyond Cost Benefit Analysis and project management concerns of completing schemes on-time, within budget and according to specifications. 

Drawing from a careful examination of case studies and the analysis of the narratives of some 300 megaproject stakeholders, the OMEGA team arrived at a number of generic and context-specific lessons for future megaprojects.  Among these, include recommendations that: broader stakeholder consultation is needed at the earliest possible stages of megaproject planning; such projects typically need 'time-to-breath' with the result that 'fast-tracked' efforts can pose much higher risks; and that there should be a far wider analysis of the 'agent of change' impacts of megaprojects employing a multi-criteria policy-led appraisal framework that look to broader sustainable outcomes, especially in the long run.