The Olympics are about training, dedication and beating the odds. The 2012 bid team need the same qualities as the athletes – and vision besides …
Sitting in their office on the top floor of Britain’s tallest building, One Canada Square in London Docklands’ Canary Wharf, two key players in the London 2012 Olympic bid team overlook the east London sites that their work could help to regenerate.
James Bulley and Iain Edmondson are London 2012’s director of infrastructure and sports infrastructure project manager respectively. Their roles in the bid involved fine-tuning the infrastructure and post-games legacy elements of the bid ahead of the International Olympic Committee’s final decision in July. Now that their work is done, the duo can fully explain their plans, rebut criticisms and express their confidence in the construction industry’s ability to deliver their ambitions.
The Paris question
London’s main rival, Paris, has been widely praised for the quality of its visitor infrastructure, due to its impressive road, rail and Metro networks. But Bulley, seconded to the 2012 bid from property agent Drivers Jonas and with experience in planning stadiums for Charlton Athletic and Euro 2004 in Portugal, says that Paris has no real advantage: “It’s a misapprehension. All the infrastructure is as much in place in London as it is in Paris.” On top of what is already available, more than £6bn will be invested in improving road and rail networks between 2005-12.
A major criticism has been that Crossrail, the £10bn west-to-east London rail link project which would run adjacent to the Olympic Park, will not be ready in time for the games. Edmondson argues that this would not be a critical issue, as there would be 10 train lines to take spectators into the Olympic Park. And there’s little risk of overcrowding: the bid team estimates that peak rail demand would be 15,000 spectators per hour and the trains could take up to 22,000. There would also be four dedicated Olympic lanes on nearby roads, which would hopefully mean that spectators and athletes alike would avoid traffic jams.
But Crossrail does bring other headaches, as it runs close to the Olympic Park and cannot be allowed to hinder the games. “From a logistics point of view, we must make sure that the timing of construction is seamless. The regime of works around the Olympic Park needs to be worked out,” says Bulley, who has already spoken to the Crossrail team about phasing its project appropriately.
The next concern is whether the construction industry can cope with the amount of work that the Olympics would provide. The pair are quietly confident, pointing out that at its peak Canary Wharf had 8000 workers on site, while the Olympic hub in the Lower Lea Valley would require 5000 at the most at any one time.
Fortunately, the timescales of Heathrow Terminal 5, Wembley national stadium and Arsenal Football Club’s new ground are in the Olympics’ favour. The trio will all be complete by about 2007, freeing up workers in time for the bulk of the Olympic-related construction work. Only the velodrome and Zaha Hadid’s aquatic centre, which will go ahead whatever the outcome of July’s decision, will be built earlier.
The capacity of construction in London is greater than that of most previous host cities
James Bulley, London 2012 bid team
Not that the bid team has taken any chances on the capacity issue. Bulley has met the Office of the Government Commerce, which has set up the Kelly Review to calculate construction capacity over the coming years. From these meetings, Bulley is confident that the construction industry will be ready for the work the Olympic Transport Authority is poised to offer. He has also discussed the programming and sequencing of works with project manager Mace. “The capacity of the construction industry in London is in fact greater than that of most previous host cities,” declares Bulley.
One of the IOC’s major concerns with all the bids is that cities will not pay enough attention to the post-games use of new facilities. The legacy issue is vital to Edmondson. A rower who has trained with Cambridge University’s crew, Edmondson says he was inspired to work in sports projects consultancy after watching Steve Redgrave win his fifth gold medal in Sydney nearly five years ago. He now wants London to be as successful and inspiring as the Australian showcase, and that means ensuring that the structures built will work to the long-term good of the nation. “We won’t have any white elephants,” says Edmondson.
After the games, the main stadium will be reduced from an 80,000-seat capacity to a more usable 25,000. But for special events, such as a prospective bid for a major athletics championship, this will increase to 45,000. This will provide London with extra space for sports events, which struggle to books slots in arenas like the Millennium Dome due to commercial competition. The bid team has secured a £300,000-a-year funding deal with London Marathon Trustees to ensure that the stadium and a new arena dedicated to basketball training will keep running after 2012.
Even the four temporary arenas, which are to host events like volleyball and badminton, will live on after the games. “They will be taken down after the games and relocated to other cities that bid to re-erect them,” Bulley explains. “Seventy-five per cent of the materials in the arenas will be reusable. Steelwork, for example, can be bolted on and off and seating will be precast.” Bulley plans to set up a committee to decide what exactly will happen to them.
If London does not win the race to host the games, the bid team’s efforts will not have been in vain, as Edmondson has guarantees that several projects – including the velodrome and aquapark – will be built whatever happens. Edmondson says that these are essential if the UK is to produce stars in these sports. “We know that we need more 50 m swimming pools to compete at Olympic level,” he says.
On 6 July, we will find out if London itself has the necessary talent and commitment to compete at Olympic level.