Who says Britain can’t deliver the best?
Posted on 2 June 2009 | 8:06am
You can have all the factual analysis
you want, but sometimes major government decisions have to rely on the instinct
of the major figures in the government. Whether or not to go for the Olympics
in 2012 was one such decision.
As I record in my diaries (page 657) we
were getting all sorts of conflicting advice and ‘people were blowing hot and
cold not according to hard fact and analysis. Tessa [Jowell, now Olympics
minster] had definitely moved towards yes, others had moved away. The worry I
sensed was that we would say no simply because it was easier than saying yes,
and then regret it.’
It was all the more easy to say no
because at the time the government’s agenda was dominated by Iraq. The short
record I made of the Cabinet discussion on the Olympics points out that the
main mood was ‘yes but’, with heavy emphasis on the buts.
But there was another important moment
in the decision-making process, which for length reasons only did not make the
edited version of my diaries, but will one day see the light of day. That was
when ‘Team GB’ presented us with a huge folder full of letters, mainly
hand-written, from sportsmen and women pleading with the government to go for
TB spent part of the weekend reading
through them. Already keen to over-ride the scepticism of some of his
colleagues, the entreaties of the athletes ran with the grain of his instinct,
and had a big impact on the way he subsequently won the sceptics round.
I thought about all that yesterday, and
of the role he played in persuading the IOC to opt for London over Paris, when
I was lucky enough to get a personal tour of the Olympic Park. People talk a
lot about legacy in politics. Yesterday it was actually possible to see the
legacy of that decision in 2003 being built.
Put to one side the fact, as visitors
here know, that I am obsessed with sport. What was fantastic about the place
was simply the scale of evidence unfolding before your eyes that when people
say UK PLC is not up to big projects, they are talking rubbish.
Ok, Wembley took too long and cost too
much. The Scottish Parliament took too long and cost too much. The Dome –
another decision where TB’s instinct led the way – was widely deemed a disaster
at the time but is now reckoned to be one of the best music venues in the world
(and will host gymnastics and other sports in 2012).
But the Olympic Park is on a scale far
bigger than the lot of them put together. It is the size of Hyde Park. And it
is coming together at an extraordinary pace. Why else, you might ask, do we
hear next to nothing about it? Because it is going fine. There are very few
negatives and steady progress towards the meeting of objectives doesn’t make
for good headlines.
The stadium is beginning to look like a
stadium, and they only started building it a year ago. An extraordinarily
ingenious engineering project is well underway to pave the way for the roof of
the aquatics centre to go on. The foundations of the velodrome are going down
in an area that for the previous century was a landfill tip. Several of the
planned thirty bridges are being built. Huge lift shafts are now clearly
visible where eventually 17000 athletes and officials will be housed in the
Olympic village, which afterwards will house London families.
There is some impressive action on
sustainability going on too. Ninety per cent of the materials from demolition
of the 250 buildings that were here before has been re-used on site. There is a
giant soil cleaning operation going on to decontaminate the poisoned land that
was here before. Half of the materials arrive in the Park by rail or water (the
river Lea dissects the park). They have their own concrete batching plant on
site. And the legacy plans are already being talked about with every bit as
much enthusiasm as the centrepiece stadium, including the new school that will
be built when the stadium is reduced from 80000 t0 25000 capacity after the
Fears that the credit crunch would lead
to loss of confidence in the massive Westfield shopping centre project on the
edge of the park (a billion pound investment) have proven unfounded. That too
is emerging visibly, and quickly, from the rubble.
Construction will provide 30,000 jobs
between now and July 27 2012 when the Games begin. There is a strict health and
safety policy which so far, touch wood, has seen few injuries and no deaths
despite the mass of heavy vehicle, crane and engineering activity.
The Lower Lea Valley is in the process
of total transformation thanks to these Games. But the whole of London, and the
whole of the UK will benefit – from the Games themselves, the sporting and
social legacy, the image Britain can show to the rest of the world, and the
hope and confidence that will come from being seen to take on such a challenge,
and meet it. Each year, the Olympic Delivery Authority is publicly setting
milestones to be met in the next 12-month period so that people can follow and
judge progress for themselves. They are on track to complete the next set on
target by July 27, three years out from the opening ceremony.
As we toured the site, my eye kept being
drawn to the half laid white piping at the top of the main stadium. In two
years’ time, the stadium will be completed, and will quickly become one of the
iconic images of London. In a little over three years, 80,000 people will be
screaming themselves hoarse as acts of sporting greatness unfold.
And as they do, I for one will be very
grateful that a decade earlier, despite ‘the worry that we would say no simply
because it was easier than saying yes, and then regret it’ we didn’t say no, we
said yes, let’s go for it, so go for it we did, and we got it, and the Games
will be a resounding success. I’m more sure of it after yesterday than ever.
Take a look for yourself at http://www.london2012.com/index.php