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Debate | Learning from the 2012 Olympics: Improving property projects

olympic park

According to many, the success of the London 2012 Olympics owed a great deal to the way in which it was procured.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games drew on best practice from existing organisations and built them into a bespoke framework, with sustainability integrated into its methods and processes. 

At a recent roundtable, convened by New Civil Engineer and Bam Nuttall, development experts came together to ask how this approach could be replicated for the benefit of developers, the public, and the private sector.

Here is a summary of the key points from the event, at which a number of London case studies were discussed.


olympic park

olympic park

Olympic Park

Common goal

“It’s about getting all parties working as one seamless team for a common goal, starting with procurement and continuing through the delivery phase,” said Bam Nuttall business development director Malcolm Stephen. 

“This should include the customer, the contractor, commercial team, the designer and supply chain partners to deliver the most efficient solution.

“There is the point that the Olympics’ procurement had a finite end date, but that doesn’t mean that other projects shouldn’t adopt the same approach and see similar benefits. 

BNP Paribas Real Estate corporate real estate director Johnny Dunford agreed and stressed the importance of early collaboration and trust.

 “I think the theme of collaboration and trust and getting in the discussion early to nurture various parties is important,” he said. “I think it’s much more productive to have a meaningful conversation even if it takes some time. It’s much more of a risk, because you don’t earn any money out of it in the short term, but I think it’s a much more valuable way to go.”

Adding value

Stephen said there is desire among policy makers to add value to projects and for the industry to take note and think of the wider issues.

“When you talk to the policy makers, whether government or major delivery organisations, their business case is to achieve something more than an end product,” said Stephen . “They are looking for added value and they want the industry to think of the wider issues. This includes whole life costs and the overall sustainability of a project and not necessarily the cheapest price.”

Clearing the red tape

Bam Nuttall divisional director Richard Prime said that the red tape surrounding large developments can make it hard to get projects off the ground.

“There are some valuable lessons from the Olympics with regard to the five neighbouring boroughs each with their own drivers and requirements of how they would interact with this huge development on their doorstep,” said Prime. 

“I think what the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) did exceptionally well was to clear the path in terms of setting up the combined Planning Decision Team and going to the boroughs with one clear voice that removed a huge amount of red tape and got things happening quickly.”

However, as Old Oak & Park Royal Development Corporation chief executive Victoria Hills pointed out, this isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

“I can say that having taken the planning powers from three London boroughs, it’s not popular to do that,” she said.

The Corporation is developing a new centre and community for west London on brownfield land around the new High Speed 2 and Crossrail interchange. 

Land owners

Crossrail was hot on the agenda, and participants were keen to delve into both the successes and not so successful aspects of the scheme.

Weston Williamson founding partner Rob Naybour thinks that the cheapest and best value underground Crossrail station is Woolwich because its savvy developer made the most out of its own land. 



Naybour: Woolwich Crossrail sets standard

“Berkeley Homes designed it to accommodate an oversite development, and it has a massive basement,” said Naybour. “They were able to do that because it was all their land. So those groundworks include car parking, structure and servicing for the residential towers. It is a truly integrated project.”

But he contrasted this with the Victoria Underground upgrade project which is located right next to a Land Securities development site.

“No partnership was formed [between Land Securities and the Victoria upgrade plan] because of huge challenges involved in the approvals process, and this process was almost exclusively transport-based, hence the issue. 

As a result, we are constructing Victoria on a sliver of land, meanwhile, and perhaps a happy coincidence, the whole of the Land Securities site was empty at the same time. They were an objector to the scheme, yet the station upgrade supports their development.”

Infrastructure investment

Silvertown Partnership development manager Steve Eccles said that the regeneration of the Royal Docks was a case in point where the Greater London Authority had recognised the amount of up-front infrastructure investment required for major redevelopment schemes.

“Schemes such as Silvertown and Royal Albert Dock have been able to take a much more strategic view,” he said. 

“Local planning authorities need to also adopt this strategic approach and agree mechanisms which facilitate development while also ensuring that the local authority receives the contributions that it needs.”

Infrastructure and growth

London Underground programme director Miles Ashley said that more needed to be done to recognise the role that infrastructure plays in the growth of an area.

“The business case [cost benefit ratio] for the Jubilee Line Extension was 0.96, so the business case was under water, but imagine a London without Canary Wharf,” he said. “We need a better articulation of how infrastructure drives growth.

“Infrastructure creation in London today always drives growth. For example the Tottenham Court Road upgrade is presenting a unique opportunity for retailers and developers to create value in Eastern Oxford Street.”


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