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London 2012: Getting on track
Written by Graham Buck
Many challenges have been overcome but security, transport and the long-time legacy are still major risk issues that will determine the success of the 2012 London Olympics, reports Graham Buck
Doubts over London’s ability to host the 2012 Olympic Games should have dispelled this summer. The ‘Big Build’ project at Stratford, which has been Europe’s largest construction site engaging more than 12,000 workers, finished at the end of July. The following month saw a series of test events ranging from cycling to beach volleyball successfully mounted as a ‘dry run’ one year ahead of the real thing. So it was unfortunate timing that the eyes of the world have been drawn more to scenes of rioting and looting across the capital and other British cities, and have revived the question of whether security at the Games venues will be adequate.
The disturbances have revived concerns despite a security budget for the Olympics set at £600m, with 12,000 police officers allocated to be on duty each day at the site. Spectators have already been told to expect airport-style searches and, with a total of 8.8m tickets sold, an average queuing time of 20 minutes to gain entry to venues.
Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympics Games (Locog), insisted that rioting would not impact on London’s ability to host the Games. As he noted, security has been a major issue of the Olympics since the Munich Games in1972, when Palestinian gunmen killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.
However, the police subsequently revealed that during the unrest they thwarted a planned attack on the Olympic Park, after intercepting messages on Twitter and Blackberry smartphones that it was a target, by sending extra officers to guard the site. Paul Deighton, chief executive of Locog said following the revelation that arrangements for security are “evolving all the time”.
There were already new concerns over security earlier this summer as the phone hacking scandal that erupted at Rupert Murdoch’s News International claimed among its victims Metropolitan Police commissioner
Sir Paul Stephenson and counter-terror chief John Yates. Locog acknowledged that their resignations were ‘far from ideal’, as arguments over Sir Paul’s successor erupted and
US ‘supercop’ Bill Bratton was touted as a possible candidate.
At least plans to mitigate another major Olympics risk – that of traffic gridlock – have made progress. Some of the pressure will be taken off London by a number of events being held away from the capital; such as sailing at Weymouth, rowing at Windsor and football at various venues around the country.
In addition, from next March until the autumn utility companies will be barred from undertaking any work on the 109-mile Olympic Route Network, which will be used to transport athletes and VIPs to the Stratford venues. Transport for London has announced that 30 miles of ‘Games Lanes’ will be reserved for 5,500 specially accredited vehicles only during the 30 days of Olympic and Paralympic events, while other restrictions will apply to the capital’s entire network of main roads. Any emergency roadworks that become necessary will be completed as swiftly as possible.
Nonetheless the potential for transport disruption remains a major concern. As the Olympic venues do not have car parks, spectators coming from any great distance will be relying on public transport. Stratford has been transformed into a major public transport hub in recent years, serving a total of 10 tube and rail lines of which the ‘Olympic Javelin’ shuttle service from St Pancras station is the centrepiece.
These improvements will alleviate some of the strain on the system, but not remove it. As London’s regular commuters are all too aware, a signal failure or broken-down train could easily cause serious disruption, and heavy use will limit the opportunities for maintenance. Both the government and Transport for London have begun applying subtle pressure on workers to change their usual commuting habits by walking or cycling, considering alternative routes or temporarily working from home.
“Around £6.5bn has been invested in upgrading and extending transport links, which is already providing an early legacy of better transport options,” says Mark Evers, TfL's director of Games transport.
“This work will enable spectators to get to and from the Games each day and ensure we keep London moving. However, the Olympic and Paralympic Games are the largest sporting events in the world and will obviously present a huge logistical challenge with transport in the city being severely affected.
People will need to change the way they travel – including considering walking or cycling as an option – or working in different ways during the Games. Businesses will also need to plan for how and when their suppliers make and receive deliveries during summer 2012.
Rick Cudworth, head of business continuity and resilience at Deloitte, cites transport minister Norman Baker’s call for a 30 per cent reduction in commuting and other non-Olympics travel over the period. London’s public transport system struggles to cope at the best of times with the 12 million journeys made on a typical weekday and this total will be increased by up to three million during the Games.
Road traffic will also be affected. “Take the London-Surrey cycle race that took place in August as a run-through ahead of the Olympics,” he adds. “As a sports event it went very well, but key roads were closed off and this had a definite impact on local communities.”
Deloitte has been carrying out ‘Games readiness’ research, to see how prepared UK companies are for the London 2012 Games. As the firm notes, businesses in previous Olympics and Winter Olympics host cities such as Sydney, Beijing and Vancouver admitted that they underestimated the event’s impact on demand for their products and services.
CIR reported last February on a BT Global Services survey that suggested many British firms had themselves done little risk assessment. However when Deloitte reported in June – with less than 400 days left until the opening ceremony – the picture was a little more encouraging. Of the firms surveyed, 42 per cent had examined the opportunities and challenges facing their businesses as a result of the Games. A similar survey last summer had produced a figure of only 15 per cent.
A further 53 per cent of companies reported that they planned to carry out an assessment before July 2012, but had yet to get started. Only 5 per cent believed there was no need to carry out such an assessment, against 56 per cent in 2010. More than half (55 per cent) of the companies surveyed believed that their preparations for London 2012 were on track, but 38 per cent acknowledged that they were not as advanced that they needed to be.
“It would appear that many more businesses are now alert to the potential impact of the Olympics, but still a large proportion hasn’t started their preparations,” notes Cudworth.
“While it’s not a huge task as regards the allocation of money and people, a contingency plan is complicated to work through and may impact on company policy.
“The survey also indicated there is a much broader understanding of the Olympics’ range of potential impacts, from staff availability to resource scarcity, changes in business demand and supply chain disruption. Businesses are far more alert to these than they were a year ago – indeed anecdotal evidence suggests that even more recently the riots have focused minds and more organisations want to discuss their readiness.”
Another issue still to be fully resolved is whether the London Olympics will provide long-term value for money on the £9bn invested. After Birmingham and Manchester’s failed attempts to host the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Games, the British Olympic Association decided to put its support behind the UK capital.
It has been suggested by economic commentators that the 2004 Games in Athens, which cost a total of around $11bn, was a major contributor to Greece’s current financial problems. Worse still, the lasting benefits have been limited. Many of the venues are no longer in use and have been left to fall into disrepair. Protests from residents’ groups and complicated planning regulations have thwarted plans to transform many of the sites for recreational use.
A number of measures have been taken to ensure that the east London site does not meet a similar fate; indeed, the Olympic Delivery Authority promises that for every £1 spent on new construction, 75p will be on venues and infrastructure that are still around in 200 years’ time.
The government and its predecessor have promised that the 2012 Games will be used to regenerate one of the capital’s most deprived areas. In August a Qatari-backed consortium bought the Olympic Village in a £557m deal and will use the 1,400 homes that will serve as athletes’ accommodation next summer as rental homes after the games, as well as constructing more units. West Ham United will make the Stadium its new home and this month Europe’s largest urban shopping centre, Westfield Stratford City, opens its doors.
Add to these successes Locog meeting its £700m sponsorship target in the face of an economic downturn and, despite criticisms of the ticketing system, the sale of the vast majority of the seats. What perhaps is still lacking is a more comprehensive plan for what the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park area, as it will be known, becomes after 2012. It could develop into a thriving new area for businesses and the government envisages an east London ‘Silicon Valley’ developing out of the media centre. Time will tell whether or not these plans make it through the cut.