For now the eyes of the world are filled by afterimages of Beijing, but they will shortly begin turning expectantly towards an area of waste ground in east London.
What can Britain do to follow China’s dazzling performance? Well, if the London Games do top Beijing, it probably won’t be because the architecture of the venues is more spectacular. Cabe may have given the Vol-au-Vent the thumbs up, but it hardly competes with Herzog & de Meuron’s Bird’s Nest. And after its design revisions, Zaha’s aquatics centre is unlikely to finish ahead of the shimmering Water Cube. Money did not matter to China, and
design did, because the venues functioned as much as political announcements as places to do sports. This is not the case for Britain, constrained as it is by a stagnant economy, a falling currency and a population thoroughly browned off by the rising cost of everything.
So, now that the original fag-packet estimate for the budget has tripled, Tessa Jowell has stated in every way short of semaphore that there is no more public cash to be had. But is that just wishful thinking? Let’s look at it for a moment: the single most important goal of the London Olympics was to regenerate a pretty squalid bit of east London. If the Games are to be a success, that’s what they have to do.
The key to that is the quality of the 3,000 homes bequeathed by the village. So it was disturbing to hear that Ian Ritchie Architects has left the project over concerns about its design quality (page 7). We don’t know whether this is hubris or principle, but it does make you wonder why 11 signature architects were hired to design blocks that have been largely standardised. On the other hand, we are faced with the credit crunch, which has left the project with a £400m shortfall in funding. As with Northern Rock, the response has been to temporarily nationalise the problem, and with the contingency fund gobbled up by inflation there’s a good chance that the govenment’s housing development pot will have to be plundered. And if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. It would be a false economy to do otherwise.
Cabe may have given the Vol-au-Vent the thumbs up, but it hardly competes with Herzog & de Meuron’s Bird’s Nest
You can’t do business with thugs
In most professions it is taken for granted that intimidation is not part of the working day. Sadly, as we report this week (page 22), the same cannot be said for many sites in Scotland. In some parts of Glasgow, site managers have to deal with firms that muscle their way in to provide “security” – and resort to violence if they don’t get their way. The Security Industry Authority (SIA) has finally begun to tackle this, but firms now face a tough choice: do they report the thugs, or do they keep their heads down (and their staff safe)? Many would consider taking a stand as naive. However, it is worth considering two points. First, to date, clients have been happy to swallow the cost of a second-rate security service. Even if a rival “security” firm is careless with matches, insurers are there to bail them out. In a declining market, contractors can no longer rely on this, particularly as the premiums faced by their clients are rising. Second, who would want to work in an industry where thugs are also employed? If the SIA and police are offering the industry support, it should take it.
Denise Chevin, editor