London’s euphoria at snatching the Olympic Games from the jaws of Paris has been washed away by a steady flow of news stories about the problems of delivery.
At present we’re engaged in a bizarre argument over VAT and Jack Lemley’s claim that costs are rising exponentially. Inevitably, memories are revived of those other totemic national projects that went wrong, from the Scottish parliament to the British library, and the industry could be forgiven if its confidence is being just a little bit shaken.
But let’s get a bit of perspective here. In a project as complex and politically charged as this one is, these stories are as natural as the rain, and some of the apparent problems aren’t really problems at all.
First, are we up with the schedule? David Higgins, the chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), has said the planning has to be got right, and in a supplement to be published with next week’s magazine, he will argue that the ODA has met all its milestones. Of course, they stretch as far as the eye can see, but that’s no reason to panic. The real trouble would start if Team McAlpine decided to walk away from the stadium – the ODA has no plan B.
Assuming all goes well there, the principal problem would be the Olympic village. What’s exercising the ODA is how to make the scheme stack up. Putting 3,000 flats on the market the day after the Games would depress their value. And if the accommodation is offered to as many social groups as possible, it will need public subsidy. Which brings us to the second point: money.
Regeneration plans for the lower Lea Valley have become ever more ambitious and construction costs are soaring even before we add on VAT. KPMG is in the process of comparing estimated out-turn cost against the original budget of £2.4bn. We don’t know the answer yet, but it would be surprising if it were less than £2bn. For the sake of all concerned, the sooner the figure is published the better – then the chancellor can decide how it’s going to be paid for.
Finally, the departure of Jack Lemley. By all accounts this would seem a good thing, as Lemley and Higgins didn’t get on. Lemley made his considerable reputation as a troubleshooter, but was not the visionary leader that this project needed. He claims he came here to build things not sit about talking – but that was precisely what the job entailed. His replacement should be somebody who can do the politics, stand up to the culture secretary and let Higgins and his delivery partner get on with running the marathon ahead.