Forget all the media carping. London is on track to host a fantastic Olympics and to leave a legacy of construction best practice that will reach way beyond Stratford
The London Olympics have already generated a huge volume of media comment. Some of this has been sensible and constructive but, sadly, as happens so often with coverage of construction issues in the national media, a high proportion of the column inches and soundbites have been worthless speculation.
We have had the usual crop of claims that the UK will not be capable of delivering the necessary infrastructure and a steady trickle of self-interested plugs for particular causes that have, allegedly, been overlooked by the Olympic Delivery Authority and the London organising committee.
Few commentators have grasped the obvious point that if the ODA was constantly chopping and changing its plans to accommodate all these interests, that really would pose a serious risk to the delivery of the Games’ infrastructure.
Similarly, we have had contradictory stories about skills training (insufficient skilled workers vs floods of Eastern Europeans), inflation (uncontrolled construction inflation vs little or no evident impact) and the Thames Gateway (giving a real boost to a flagging initiative vs sucking all the energy away from the rest of the Gateway).
In reality, London is widely recognised to have made good progress in the 12 months since we won the right to host the Games. Most importantly, the focus is now on ensuring that the plans are viable and the appointment of the ODA’s delivery partner is imminent.
The other significant event in recent weeks has been the publication of the 2012 Construction Commitments. This document sets out ambitious but attainable objectives to ensure that the build programme meets the highest standards. The fact that all the main players have signed up to the commitments is a clear indication that the government, the industry, the ODA and the other key partners are serious about best practice.
At the launch of the document, both Tessa Jowell and Margaret Hodge were emphatic about using the 2012 Construction Commitments not just to achieve exemplary outcomes on the Olympic project but to spread best practice more widely. The real gain from the focus on delivery of the Olympic sites will be the opportunity to demonstrate the value of best practice and to ensure that this is taken up more widely.
The fact that all the main players signed up to the 2012 commitments is a clear sign that they’re serious about best practice
The commitments, put together skilfully by the Strategic Forum task group, led by Peter Rogers, are well and simply expressed, easy to read and understand and not impossible to sign up to. They include all the key issues that contribute to successful construction contracts, including client leadership, best procurement practice and the benefits of effective integration of the team.
There is proper emphasis on the importance of high-quality design and the achievement of sustainability objectives, including a best-practice approach to resource use, waste minimisation and low-carbon performance. There has been much discussion about achieving better-quality design and carbon-neutral developments in the Thames Gateway and the 2012 commitments will certainly help promote this.
Health and safety naturally features prominently, as do wider Respect for People objectives. While the industry’s record in this field has improved in recent years, we still have a long way to go to reduce unnecessary deaths and injuries, as well as cutting adverse health impacts to the absolute minimum. There will inevitably be a real spotlight on health and safety performance on the Olympic sites. So it is crucial to the industry that the highest standards are achieved.
London 2012 really does present us with an unparalleled opportunity – and not just to deliver an exemplary Olympic Games in settings that will bring great credit to the country. They also allow us to ratchet up expectations and standards, so that best practice becomes the norm rather than the exception in future.
That way, not only can we silence the carping voices of those who always want to highlight failures in British construction, but we can also give new impetus to the construction industry’s improvement campaign, which achieved so much in the aftermath of the Latham and Egan reports.
Above all, we can leave behind not just a legacy in east London and the other Olympic sites, but a more lasting legacy across the industry and the country.
Nick Raynsford is a former construction minister and deputy chairman of the Construction Industry Council