ODA chairman vows to be less hands-on than Lemley as he faces the press for the first time

John Armitt, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) chairman, has been given his first taste of what life will be like for him in the run-up to the 2012 Games.

Last Thursday morning Armitt, along with Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the organising committee, and Sir Roy McNulty, deputy chairman of the ODA, put on a hard hat for a press conference at the site of the Olympic park. After that he faced more of the nation’s media at the ODA headquarters at Canary Wharf in east London.

Armitt’s diplomatic approach to the press conference, which was the first since his appointment was announced two weeks ago, was a distinct contrast in style to his predecessor Jack Lemley. During his time in the role Lemley was renowned for his candour: he caused a storm last October when he told the world that he quit because he was frustrated at delays to the programme.

Instead, Armitt, who is currently chief executive of Network Rail, was careful in the words he chose to talk about delivery, but emphasised that quick decisions and action were essential. He said: “There is only one date and that adds to the pressure, but it makes people quickly focused on what the priorities are.”

The role of a chairman is to enable others to get on with their jobs

John Armitt, ODA chairman

He later told Building that his approach would be to stand back and allow others to deliver, while he gave an overview and guidance. Again, this is the opposite approach to that apparently taken by Lemley.

Armitt said: “The role of a chairman is to enable others to get on with their jobs, to provide an oversight to the board, and to facilitate relationships with all our stakeholders.”

The PR machine was at full throttle during the press conference, but it was hard to avoid some awkward truths.

While Armitt was making the point that 2012 was a chance “for UK Ltd to show the rest of the world what we can do”, the ODA announced a shortlist of three contractors for the aquatics centre. Two of them were foreign companies – Eiffel and Hochtief. That left it to the third choice, Balfour Beatty, to enlighten the world as to the prowess of UK Ltd’s construction sector.