Margaret Hodge flew back into the country this week, only to spend the day at another airport - touring Heathrow’s T5 site. She was impressed, but will there be the same smooth operation for the 2012 Olympics?
It was back to school for Margaret Hodge earlier this week. The minister responsible for construction was visiting Heathrow’s T5 having just returned from a three-week holiday. She wasn’t prepared to say where, but the healthy tan suggested it was somewhere very hot and very sunny.
This was the minister’s first visit to a building site since she had been reshuffled into construction in the summer. If Hodge had that dreaded new-term feeling, she didn’t show it. She was more enthusiastic teacher than nervous child. Perhaps she wanted to win over the surly journalists asking awkward questions.
Head boy for the day was Tony Douglas, BAA’s managing director at Heathrow. During his extensive tour Douglas took care to show the minister all his workings. The new six-platform station, the shell of Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant and the £290m baggage-handling system were all on the itinerary.
There was an awkward ‘staring at your shoes’ moment though, as Douglas confessed that small handbags were just as likely to block the shiny new conveyor belts as they were on existing baggage handling systems. Apparently this was one of the reasons for the delays at airports during the recent terrorist alert at Heathrow. With hand luggage temporarily banned everything had go in the hold including handbags, which had a tendency to work their way into the nooks and crannies of the system and jam it up.
Never mind, there was much else to encourage the minister. She was impressed by Richard Roger’s gull-wing roof, the sustainable rerouting of two rivers and the women riding forklift trucks. Women in construction is an issue close to the minister’s heart. Before her holiday, the MP for Barking found time in her busy schedule to visit a local college in East London where she met women on a construction training course.
With the Olympics works around the corner Hodge wants to train up local people for the job. The minister was less willing to chat about the possibility of bringing in Romanians and Bulgarians workers. They will be able to legitimately work in the UK in 2007 and this will not be a vote winner in some parts of East London where the BNP have a worrying presence.
Hodge saw a lot at T5 to encourage her that the Olympics would be delivered on time and on budget. One of the T5 stars, Laing O’Rourke, was chosen as the Olympic delivery partner last week as part of the CLM consortium. Hodge will be hoping that the lessons at Heathrow have been learnt.