Britain's biggest engineers have been asked to develop plans to protect London and £200bn-worth of property from flooding until the end of the century.
Atkins, Halcrow, Arup and Hyder Consulting will be up against engineers from all over Europe for the work, that will ultimately include revamp of the Thames Barrier, which was built after the 1953 floods that killed more than 300 people in the UK.
Launched at an industry event at the Thames Barrier today, the project is said to be the country's biggest ever flood management contract. The winning engineering team will work on the first 10 years of what is known as Thames Estuary 2100; it will include building pumping stations and refurbishing tidal walls.
The first 25 years of work is valued at £1.4bn, while the most lucrative job of replacing the Thames Barrier is unlikely to come up until after 2050. The barrier was built to withstand dangerous floods that were assumed to appear once every 1,000 years; but the pace of climate change has meant that there is an increasing frequency of torrential rain.
Peter Quarmby, Thames Estuary's flood risk programme director, said: "This is a major investment which will create jobs and protect future generations of Londoners from tidal flooding and the impacts of a changing climate. In London, every £1 we invest on protecting communities saves £38 in damage repair."
An industry source has previously told The Independent on Sunday that this was a "key contract" and "one of the most important bids" coming up in environmental engineering.