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Delays will make 2012 'white elephant' fear a reality

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Adrian Warner | 12:11 UK time, Tuesday, 6 July 2010

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We keep hearing West Ham talking about moving into the Olympic Stadium and stories in the media about entertainment companies running the 2012 Park after the Games.

But let's take a reality check: the company responsible for doing all the financial deals to make all of this happen is simply not being given the tools to do the job.

I have been talking to Baroness Ford, the head of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, which was set up more than a year ago.

I've known her for some time now. She's an experienced and tough businesswoman who rescued the Dome from financial disaster and has huge amounts of energy and enthusiasm for her Olympic role.

But when I talked to her this week, she was just angry and frustrated about the future of the Olympic Park.

The problem is that the last Government promised to hand over ownership of the Olympic Park to the OPLC, debt-free, so that it could do the financial deals to sell or rent out the venues to the private sector after 2012.

It's a pretty fundamental action to take. Would you be able to sell your house if you didn't have ownership of it or possess the deeds? No chance.

But the new coalition Government has now put that decision on ice, while the Treasury reviews financial decisions taken by Labour.

So the OPLC is trying to negotiate with companies about taking over the Park but it's unable to tell them that it has ownership of it.

The danger is that many of these companies will walk away because of all these complications. There are plenty of other projects to invest in in London at the moment and they are cheaper because of the recession.

Ford believes the problem has to be solved by the end of the this month when parliament goes on holiday. She fears, if it's not sorted out by then, it may never get sorted out.

I get the feeling, that after spending a year working the market hard, she is running out of patience with all this.

She told me she wasn't thinking of resigning but I wouldn't be surprised to see her walk away from the project if she is not allowed to do it properly.

And who would blame her?

She's been given the toughest job of all. Olympics in the past have been left with white elephants. Look at Athens 2004 which I have reported on before.

The experience from Athens is that you cannot wait until after the Games to do these financial deals. They need to be done in the next two years when the magic around the Games is there. Once the Games are over, it's much harder.

Ford keeps telling the Government this but nobody seems to be listening at the moment.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    For a Government that is supposed to be pro business and had criticised the previous adminsitration on how this has been handled it really is not on for it to drag its feet in this way.

    Adrian, as you say this should be sorted out NOW so whoever does take over the venues can have a good long period to plan what they need to do after the games to convert venues and adjust the other infrastructure. It really does need to be able to 'go' the moment the games finish as the sooner it completes the sooner it will be operating and making money.

    After the Games it will be too late.

  • Comment number 2.

    Are you saying that the government SHOULDN'T be reviewing financial decisions made by Labour? If your answer to that is, as I expect, 'No', then why should the Olympic project be exempt from that process? Get real!

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm very much in favour of the Games and the potential for a new park in London is exciting indeed; the latest aeiral images released by the ODA are awe inspiring (you just have to replace all the dust with new parkland in your mind's eye!)

    I'm worried about this new coalition government however. This is a Labour project really; started by Livingstone and Jowell. Even Boris Johnson came into it too late to have any real impact on it. My worry is that the current administration will be all to happy to receive the glow from an Olympics they've had little hand in planning - and the potential boosts this could give them as a mid-term government, but will take none of the responsibility of ensuring the park is properly converted and used post-2012. There's little point regenerating such a massive area if it has to be regenerated again in 20 years time because of poor planning; but I'm worried this could happen.

    I'd love nothing more than to be proved wrong, so let's hope I am.

  • Comment number 4.

    Brian

    If the new Government wants to review decisions then it can - the new Secretary of State is not new to the Olympics as he had been shadowing the brief for a long time and is well versed in all the issues - but he should be aware of the consequnces for delaying its reviews and decisions.

    The OPLC has a statutory remit and it appears that Baroness Ford is carrying out that remit.

    She will be the one that will be castigated if the OPLC 'fails' to meet its statutory duties.

    And who will lead her castigation? It will be the ministers who cause the delays.

 

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