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Engineers set the pace

Cover Story - Andrew Bolton spoke exclusively to the consultants behind London's bid to find out what needs to be done to bring the Olympics to the capital.

London's bid to host the 2012 Olympics is not just about building the signature 80,000 capacity stadium and accompanying sports facilities.

That is the easy part of the £2.3bn plan to deliver venues and infrastructure.

Proposals put before the International Olympic Committee earlier this month and made public last week will harness a huge array of civil engineering, architectural and project management skills.

Construction professionals from all disciplines will be needed to transform a vast, largely derelict 200ha area of the Lower Lea Valley into the Olympic Park.

Over the last 15 months the London Development Agency's master planning consultant EDAW has marshalled a vast team of consultants, project managers and architects to work on plans for the Olympic Park. They have also decided how the hundreds of thousands of spectators, athletes, VIPs and media personnel are to arrive and leave.

Water engineers from consultant Buro Happold have worked out how to realign the River Lea to make room for the western edge of the Olympic stadium footprint while working up a flood defence strategy.

The firm's ground remediation specialists and environmental geologists have also developed plans to level the area's largely artificial landscape. This has been created by a mixture of Second World War demolition waste and other dumped material, while the river has been canalised and made inaccessible to the public. Mace is project managing the Olympics planning application and providing construction logistics advice.

Meanwhile transport engineers at Mott MacDonald and Capita Symonds have been working out how the combined might of London Underground, Network Rail and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link will deliver most of the spectators to the Olympic Park.

'We can move 240,000 people per hour to the Olympic Park, ' says London 2012 bid committee chairman Sebastian Coe.

The pressure has also been on the London bid team to produce a robust defence of London's transport infrastructure following initial criticism from the IOC (International Olympic Committee).

As a result extensive work has been undertaken to ease road travel for officials and media between hotel accommodation in central London, the Olympic Park and venues like the Dome, Wimbledon, Eton and Lords Cricket Ground.

For the Olympic Park, Buro Happold's bridges team has worked up detailed plans to build a total of 46 bridges to link to surrounding transport infrastructure.

Tied up in preparations for the formal submission of the bid to the IOC was work on the biggest planning application ever lodged in Britain, underpinned by an environmental impact statement produced by Capita Symonds.

The planning application had to be approved by four London boroughs - Hackney, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Newham. It was developed and approved within 13 months of the decision to launch a bid for the Games.

Work on the planning application required focus and an ability to develop proposals without getting embroiled in local politics. 'There was a lot of politics but the London Development Agency handled that because it didn't want the team to get distracted, ' says Buro Happold project manager Ian Austin.

Delivering the Olympic Park and its contents is not especially difficult from a technical point of view, says Buro Happold partner Andrew Comer.

'It is similar to many urban development projects, ' he says.

'A lot of the technical problems are solvable. It's programming, planning and legislation which have to be thought of and managed to get successful delivery.'

While attention has been heavily focussed on what is needed for the two weeks of the Games, a major effort has gone into delivering the legacy use of the park post 2012. This is an increasingly important factor in the eyes of the IOC and could influence its decision on whether to give the Games to London or one of its competitors - New York, Paris, Moscow and Madrid.

The IOC is conscious of the need for Olympic events to leave behind something useful rather than a cluster of derelict white elephant venues.

For London, the Olympic legacy will include a new urban park along a cleaner, more accessible river. Energy and water efficient housing and sports facilities will be installed within a converted media centre, alongside factory units.

The park will be enhanced by the removal of some of the Olympic venues, which will be temporary structures.

At the same time two corridors of electricity pylons are to be demolished with the cables buried in tunnel to free up development land.

London's 2012 bid has given impetus to slow moving plans to develop one of London's largest and most neglected areas in a sustainable way.

Those involved have developed their plans with a view to the area's redevelopment with or without the Games.

It remains to be seen whether the political commitment and the promise of government cash that have driven the Olympic bid will remain in place if London loses out in July.

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