I’m possibly in a minority here, but I really liked the ill-fated stylised tailfins that British Airways introduced in the late 1990s.

Sadly, not everyone shared my opinion of the so-called ‘ethnic liveries’, most famously Mrs Thatcher who made her displeasure known with a swift swish of her hanky.

Despite my fondness for the result of our national carrier’s moment of zaniness, I concede that the exercise was an expensive failure. Ultimately, it failed because it was at odds with BA’s rather conservative image.

Perhaps the partners making the Thames Gateway delivery plan a reality ought to bear in mind BA’s tribulations. Several of the participants at last week’s Thames Gateway Forum seem to think the Thames Gateway brand might need a rethink of its own.

One described the Thames Gateway as ‘a whole cacophony of ideas’ and warned against binding it together ‘in some new identity that people don’t recognise’.

Designer Wayne Hemingway, puts it more bluntly. He argues that people will never come from the Thames Gateway – they will come from Dartford, Southend or Basildon. No stranger to the concept of branding, he thinks the Thames Gateway is ‘a tainted brand’.

Instead of lumping the Thames Gateway together as one homogenous mass, he’d like delivery partners to give more attention to each individual part.

For Jones Lang LaSalle’s head of professional services, Andrew Gould, regeneration projects have to be packaged in small bundles that are easily imagined. If a place doesn’t work on an imaginative or a civic scale, people get ‘genuinely puzzled’, he claims.

So four years into the programme, we are now told the concept of the Thames Gateway is flawed. Many would question whether it matters. After all, having a successful brand does not mean that housing will be of higher quality or infrastructure delivered quicker.

But a toolkit recently launched by the EU appears to suggest that branding does matter in regeneration. The neighbourhood branding toolkit says you can describe a place through its key values, and if well defined, these can inspire the direction of the regeneration process.

A knowledge of a place’s values can help establish what will happen when the process is finished and who it will benefit.

Of course, this toolkit does not have the answers, but it raises important questions that must be kept in mind as the Thames Gateway communities are developed. And if we get it wrong, it’ll take more than a handkerchief to cover our blushes.

Rosie Niven, reporter, New Start Online magazine

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