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Bold infrastructure policy is a key 2012 Games legacy

Antony Oliver

The sight of Isambard Kingdom Brunel directing the birth of the industrial revolution at the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony certainly made my heart leap.

It was fitting yet so unexpected that this celebration of British culture, achievement and values should have been underpinned by such a high-profile nod to engineers of the past.

Significantly too, the inclusion of the teams that constructed the 2012 Olympic venues underlined the key role that modern engineers continue to make to society.

While we cannot all match the athletic achievements on display - and by the way, well done to structural engineer Freya Murray who represented Team GB in the marathon last Sunday - engineers can watch in the proud knowledge that engineering has been at the heart of this fabulous cultural event.

As you might have guessed, I have been transfixed by the Games for the last two weeks and will continue to be as we move into the Paralympics.

Who could not be in awe of the performances, the stories of individual sacrifice and struggle or the demonstration of skills perfected over years of dedication?

Who could not be in awe of the backdrop - the magnificent velodrome, aquatics centre, stadium and the park, or the temporary venues at Greenwich, Horse Guards and beyond?

But for me one of the most impressive and unexpected things about the last couple of weeks has been the transformation of London from its usual overcrowded, congested chaos. Instead we have comparative calmness on the roads, a functioning public transport system and public spaces that are a joy to be in.

Reprogramming

It is almost as though the capital has taken the Olympic opportunity to reprogramme its vital functions.

As Alex Jan points out this week, much of this improvement in London’s working has been the result of “breathtaking” policy decisions and changes that ordinarily would have been consigned to the “too difficult” or “too politically undeliverable” basket.

Yet here we are benefiting from a fairly draconian approach to road space allocation and traffic light phasing, a major shift in thinking around parking and delivery vehicle timings and of course roadworks have been unilaterally banned. And I like it.

Add to that the largely unprecedented, single minded planning process that kicked in to enable the Olympic Park to be planned, constructed and commissioned in less than seven years. There are huge lessons to embrace.

Legacy means ensuring that London 2012 “inspires a generation” to boost the health of the nation while also continuing the transformation of the long neglected Stratford area.

But the wider legacy must also be to continue, just as we saw in Brunel’s day, to invest and make engineering decisions that really transform society. London 2012 shows the impact that bold thinking, bold visions and bold policy can have - let’s not stop.

n Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor

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