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Behind the scenes at the One Great George Street 2012 Media Centre

Costain graduate engineers Fiona Dixon and Ian McMillan have been given behind the scenes access to the goings on at the London 2012 Media Centre housed in the ICE headquarters in Great George Street. Latest reports..

Fiona Dixon writes on 23 August

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“Opening with an impressive overview of the games – the successful delivery of a huge construction project, the GB teams performance, the 80,000 volunteers – Boris Johnson clearly thinks the games have been a great success to date. But how can we ensure the momentum is kept going?

Obviously there has been a big drive towards encouraging sports and Boris wants to build on this. He stressed the importance of swimming, something which many in the city are missing out on, and suggested mobile pools as an alternative. He even, perhaps a tad ambitiously, recommended that all children should do 2 hours of compulsory exercise a day! Whatever the regulations, the government has seen the socioeconomic benefits of sports and Boris is sure that the drive will continue.

So what of the physical legacy i.e. the venues constructed to house the games? Although there is current no plan for the Stadium, 6 out of 8 of the venues already have their futures secured. The temporary buildings are being sold on and the permanent structures have future owners. Take for example the IBC. Gavin Pool, CEO of iCITY, explained how this 1M sq. ft. centre will be converted for digital and creative services and will soon house data centres, a college, an incubator for start up companies and much more. It is hoped that this new hub will eventually link up with the emerging Tech City in Shoreditch. This and the other venues are all contained in the regenerated Lee Valley – the environmental legacy of the games. The area has been transformed into a biodiverse habitat creating a 22 mile stretch of interlinking waterways and paths through the region.

As for the social legacy, Boris explained how the games have led to the creation of 5 new neighbourhoods generating affordable housing for locals as well as thousands of jobs. The athletes village is going to be converted to provide housing for 3000 families, 50% of which will be affordable, as well as a new school, health centre and over 30 shops and cafes. Stuart Corbyn, Chairman of Qatari Diar Delancey East Village, explained how the games provided the catalyst for regeneration in an area that many companies were already looking into. Similarly, as explained by Taylor Wimpey CEO Peter Redfern, a further £250M is being invested over at Chobham Manor where 900 new homes will be constructed over the next 8 years. As well as housing, other sectors have also been encouraged to invest. John Burton, Director of Westfield London, explained how the location, transport links and accessible market convinced them to invest £1.5M into the Stratford shopping centre, generating over 3000 jobs for young unemployed people in the area.

Finally we have the transport. Extensive upgrades in the lead up to the games allowed the tube to cope with a record breaking 4.5M passenger journeys in a day, showing that the investments have paid off. Following the games the works will continue on Crossrail, Thameslink and tube upgrades. And some good news for us – Boris confirmed, very unofficially, that the government is committed to supporting Crossrail 2, something which he views as ‘indispensable’ for the capital.

So unlike previous games, things are looking bright for the legacy of the 2012 Olympics. Plans are already in place for the re-use or conversion of the Olympic park which will uplift East London. The government and private companies are already seeing the benefits of their investments and as this continues, London is expected to keep growing faster than any other city. Apparently we are even due to hit 9M people before New York. But Boris was keen to point out that it’s not all about growth and jobs. What he wants London to take away from the games is a sense of what we can achieve. With proper planning we have proved the doubters wrong and provided a great advert for British enterprise, industry and engineering. He already views the games as a great success which will have a lasting legacy. Therefore he is now setting his sights on the next project – the Thames hub airport. Something to aim for at least.”

 

Ian McMillan writes on 12 August

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Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014

Scott Taylor, Chief Executive of the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, and David Grevemburg, Chief Executive of the Organising Committee for Glasgow 2014 delivered a concise briefing that seemed to be aiming to reinvent the reputation of the city rather than reinforce it. As a native Glaswegian, I empathise with the predicament of the organisers - Glasgow, the industrial and commercial powerhouse north of the border is forever in the cultural shadow of Edinburgh. Although this perception may be easily lifted domestically, there is certainly a lot of work to be done worldwide.

The city does however, have excellent credentials as a European City of Culture, a UNESCO World Music City and boasts world-class international air connections. The 2014 Commonwealth Games provide the perfect stage from which Scotland can showcase their largest city.

With such a pertinent emphasis from London 2012 on their Legacy, I questioned the panel on their plans to ensure that the Glasgow Games have a tangible positive impact on local communities for years to come. “The Glasgow Games will build a strong foundation from which the success of our legacy can be measured”, answers Scott Taylor. Taylor stressed the importance of job creation in the run-up to The Games with upgraded facilities, new hotels and improved infrastructure all having a huge social impact – building that ‘strong foundation’ for legacy. 

The London Olympics have been praised for using existing venues rather than building facilities that are destined to become seldom-used relics in a decade or two – Glasgow have taken things a step further, by only building venues they need and utilising their existing facilities. A shining example being the Tollcross International Swimming Centre – built nearly 20 years ago and currently Scotland’s premier aquatic sports centre – having a modest £13.8m upgrade with its seating capacity temporarily boosted to 5000. The warm-up pool, which many cities erect temporarily for their Games, will be a permanent feature and further enhance the already world-class venue. The majority of the new venues will open their doors and be in public use before The Games begin in 2014 – proving that the facilities are being constructed as a result of existing demand for sustained long-term use.

The panel, which was supported to Team GB Olympic swimmer, David Carey, portrayed Glasgow’s approach to the games with an air of confidence and optimism, spring-boarding off the organisational success of London 2012, ensuring a sustainable and brighter future for Scotland’s first city.

Heston Blumenthal – Future of Food Q&A

I rounded up my week with Heston Blumenthal’s ‘Future of Food’ Q&A session chaired by Square Meal, which understandably proved to be far removed from any engineering theme (or Olympic for that matter!) but was highly engaging none-the-less. As a pioneering entrepreneur with no formal training in his field, Blumenthal acted as an excellent ambassador for British scientific innovation (albeit culinary) to an international media audience. 

 

Fiona writes on 8th August

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A handful of us gathered for the official release of Sight & Sound magazine’s ‘Greatest Films of All Time’, led by Editor Nick James. The magazine, published by the British Film Institute, has been running an international poll once a decade since 1952. Chere critics are invited to submit their top 10 films with the definition of ‘greatest’ being left open to interpretation. Each film submitted is given a point and these are added up to make the list. This decade saw the system open up to the online community and consequently received over 800 responses from critics in 68 different countries, allowing a much better global representation than the 150 critics who responded to the last poll. This hasn’t had quite as marked an affect as one might expect but did lead to at least one surprise…

The top 100 list can be found in this month’s magazine but the the top 10, in reverse order, goes as follows:

10.        Federico Fellini’s ‘8 ½’ – the title refers to the number of films the director has made to date and the film follows the process of filmmaking.

9.         Carl Theoder Dreyer’s ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ – a new entry and the first silent film in the top 10, this follows the struggles of Joan, a teenager condemned to death in 1431

8.         Dziga Vertov’s ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ – another silent film and the only documentary in the top 10, this charts urban life and society in Moscow, Kiev and Odessa

7.         John Ford’s ‘The Searchers’ – a character study and also the only western in the top 10, although a slightly unconventional one at that.

6.         Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ – the highest sci-fi in the poll, Kubrick’s ‘futuristic’ film charts a crews exploration of the alien origins of mankind

5.         F.W. Murnau’s ‘Sunrise’ – the third and final silent film, this late bloomer first entered the top 10 in 2002, 75 years after it’s original release. It follows a man contemplating murdering his wife after falling for a city girl.

4.         Jean Renoir’s ‘La Regle du Jeu’ – this marks the first time this film hasn’t been in the top 3 since 1962. The film shows the different layers in French society by following a hunting weekend in a country chateau.

3.         Ozu Yasujiro’s ‘Tokyo Story’ – not appearing in the top 10 until 1992, possibly due to a lack of availability, this is a story all about family and follows an elderly couple as they visit their disinterested children.

2.         Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane’ – it’s finally been done, Welles’ masterpiece about reporters trying to decipher the meaning of a newspaper tycoon’s last word (“Rosebud”) has finally been knocked off the top spot after a 50 year reign. Which leaves the top spot open for…

1.         Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ – with a substantial 34 vote lead Vertigo, following a acrophobic man’s obsession with a somewhat odd woman, has finally taken the top spot. First entering the top 10 at 7th in 1982, the gradual climb to the top spot shows how Hitchcock has only grown in popularity since his death in 1980 and is now regarded as one of the great masters of cinema.

Nick James expressed delight at the fact that someone had finally knocked Citizen Kane off the top as he felt this was a big weight on the poll that was preventing people from looking at other greats, including some of Welles’ own. Even so, the list remains remarkably similar to previous decades. Despite the large increase in responses, the list still seems a bit stuck.

Despite, in my opinion at least, some incredible films coming out in the last few decades, the most recent film in the top 10 was ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ made in 1968. In fact only three 21st century films make it into the top 100 – Wong’s beautiful ‘In the Mood for Love’, Lynch’s disturbing ‘Mulholland Dr.’ and Yang’s ‘A One and a Two’. This could be due to the availability of films these days – with the arrival of video films came within easy reach to everyone, making it harder for new films to make a name for themselves. Or perhaps the critics are just stuck in their ways – they are paid to have a long memory of films to compare recent efforts against.

As well as an age gap there seems to be a bit of a gender divide with only two films directed by females making the top 10 – Akerman’s ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles’ and Denis’ ‘Beau Travail’. With more and more female directors entering the industry, perhaps spurred by Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first female director to win an Oscar with ‘The Hurt Locker’ in 2010, hopefully this will change in the next 10 years.

Another surprise, for me at least, was the lack of British films with only three making the top 100 – Reed’s ‘The Third Man’, Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and Powell & Pressburger’s ‘A Matter of Life and Death’. Perhaps the worlds focus on London this year, and particularly following Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony with its many film references,  will lead more to British film, not least ‘Chariots of Fire’

I will be interested to see the results again in a decade’s time to see how the industry and attitude towards film has changed. Perhaps piracy will have taken its toll on the industry and we’ll only be left with Kane or maybe, just maybe, a 21st

 

Fiona writes on 27th July:

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Over the Olympic period 1 Great George Street has been converted into a media hub, playing host to a wide range of events and conferences. Ian McMillan and I attended our first of these: “The preferred destination for Chinese inward investment, growth and innovation”…

In his economy manifesto, Mayor of London Boris Johnson stated that he would help London’s economy grow and generate new jobs. One way in which to do this is to attract new businesses. So the focus of the conference, led by Colin Stanbridge of the London Chamber of Commerce, was simple – why should Chinese companies set up in London?

Firstly, why China? As second only to the US in terms of business investment in London, they are clearly a big player with the potential to generate a lot of jobs in the region. So why should they come to London? David Slater, of London & Partners, highlighted the following advantages of setting up in the capital:

- Provides a gateway to Europe and a market with 500million consumers

- Multi-lingual city

- Excellent transport links both to UK and Europe

- High quality academia

- Good track record based on previous investments

- Open and transparent legal system

To put it simply, in his words, “London is open for business”.

Garry Pass of NVC, a Chinese lighting company who set up in the UK in 2009, went on to explain some of the other advantages. For example, London is an incredibly diverse city and is therefore very welcoming to newcomers.

Also, UK labour tends to be much more flexible than European – working longer hours and accepting temporary positions. Something is clearly working for NVC UK who are now looking to take 2.5% of the national commercial and industrial lighting industry only 3 years after starting up.

Having already established our financial services sector, the panel saw the next areas for growth as being: Technology (expanding East London’s Tech City to the Olympic Park), Retail, and, most importantly for us, Infrastructure. Things are already looking promising with the Chinese Investment Corporation having recently bought almost 9% of Thames Water.

Aman Wang of KMPG stated how a UK move to nuclear energy could really stir things up as this would encourage not only commercial investment but also skills and resources as the Chinese already have a good reputation for building power plants and would be keen to bring this over.

The only thing really holding us back, we were told, is on-going visa issues, which the government assure us it is looking in to. After that we just need to ensure that we ride the wave of the 2012 Olympic Games and use the opportunity to its fullest to showcase our capital and what we have to offer.

My next visit to the London Media Centre will be to attend Sight & Sound film magazine’s press conference on 2 August where they will be announcing the results of the their once-a-decade international critics’ poll of The Ten Greatest Films of All Time.

 

Ian McMillan writes on Friday 27 July:

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The question under discussion at this London 2012 business media briefing was straightforward:  how suitability is London as a prospective home for the inward investment for Chinese businesses and how can the UK enabling these firms to establish a foothold in the European market?

The discussion panel was chaired by Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce, who opened with the forthright message that Chinese companies are the most desirable to attract to open-shop in London. He was adamant that the London Chamber of Commerce is in a strong position to fully support and guide businesses, making them feel at home in the city.

David Slater, Director of Global Sales for London & Partners, continued in a similar vein with an excellently delivered presentation outlining the advantages of choosing London over other European cities and the subsequent benefits that London & Partners can offer, including the following points:

London & Partners is a client-led organisation which works to help potential investing company by providing the information and support to make the correct decisions as they strive to gain a foothold in UK markets. Slater highlighted the fact that London is an excellent gateway to the European market but also had the confidence to hold the Olympic Games despite the current economic climate and delivered the Olympic Park on-time and within budget, underlining the capital’s commitment to global trade

Garry Pass, director of NVC UK, followed Slater’s focused pitch with an account of his recent experiences of setting up a Chinese business in the UK. Pass described NVC as a relatively young Chinese domestic and commercial lighting company, which after starting from scratch 14-years ago, is now valued at over £1bn. He added that although NVC has only had a UK presence for the last three years, it had already built a turnover of over £30M.

The key elements of his success were summarised as follows:

-The market choice is paramount – although relatively saturated, with 300 companies having a share of the £1bn UK lighting market, the largest company only commanded a £100M share, indicating that it was definitely a viable market to penetrate.

-All the UK staff have local experience and know the market in which they are operating, prequalifying them with the expertise to compete immediately.

-Labour resources in the UK are far more attractive to investors compared to those of competing European countries, as personnel work longer weeks, are more flexible, and are well educated.

There was agreement from the panel that London’s role as a business city will now have to adapt to the needs of emerging economies as the global economy evolves. The city has the key attributes needed to sustain this strong position, and maintain an advantage over European competitors: a proven track record in financial services; independence from the Euro, while remaining highly influential in European market; and having excellent infrastructure and public transport.

On the latter point, I feel that the airport capacity issue was somewhat overlooked when praising London’s world class infrastructure – it was unidentified (or hidden) as a threat to increasing Chinese investment – is this really not on the international radar as a potential off-putter?

The Q&A session identified immigration and cultural differences as potential blockers, but most interestingly one journalist highlighted that Chinese public opinion is more favourable to the German business ideal over the British.

The Chinese perception is that the quality of German manufacturing and industry reigns supreme over European competitors – an opinion that the London market place must work hard to compete with.

However, as pointed out by David Slater, there are notable advantages to choosing Britain over Germany including its fair and transparent legal system, flexible labour, lower taxes and superior financial services.

It therefore seems that London has to prove to China and other emerging economies that it is worthy of their trade by changing perceptions – there is no better way to do so than by hosting an unforgettable Olympic Games.

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