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Olympic fall guys

Comment

Among the mass of unknowns that still surround the London 2012 project one thing is certain - if the costs go up or the delivery is late, construction will get the blame.

And right now it looks like a pretty fair bet that collectively we are heading for a fall.

It's largely unjustified of course, but UK construction has the public and media reputation for being unable to deliver public projects on time or to budget. All the evidence so far presented would suggest that, as far as the man in the street is concerned, this project will be no different.

We need to see some action right now from the 2012 team to protect our professional reputations from the ever increasing band of politicians and vested interests queuing up to pass the increasingly inevitable buck.

Of course there is little new about the news reports this week that the budget is set to double from the £2.37bn quoted in the original bid document.

But until the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) publishes its corporate plan later this month we will continue to operate in the realm of speculation.

However, it would seem fairly certainly that the cost of the project will rise at least by the £900M mentioned last year by Tessa Jowell and most probably by a significant amount more.

Despite the work that we are assured has been going on to de-scope and value engineer the project, the budget remains a political concern.

Judging from the Public Accounts Committee performance last month, there are still a huge number of fundamental project management problems that seem to remain outstanding. Six months after CLM was handed the delivery partner contract - a role that was intended to smooth the project start up - the government and ODA cannot agree either how much it will pay for this service or precisely what the role encompasses.

For construction professionals it is frustrating situation.

Not least because, compared to most other major infrastructure projects, this should be relatively straight forward.

Compared with, say, construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, planning Crossrail, delivering Heathrow Terminal Five or keeping the railways running, creating a few venues on a brownfi eld site plus some transport links is not a massive operation.

But of course it isn't quite that simple. The constant battle is matching the needs of the Games with the needs of the legacy. And achieving this balance costs money. We all want an Olympic event to be proud of but we recognise the need to simultaneously create something for the future.

And while stadiums and swimming pools are cheap, it's the future that costs serious money - mainly because politicians continue to redefine their view of what the future should be.

The industry wants to make a success of the Olympics and is keen to ensure that the nation will be proud of the Games and of the legacy that remains. And it will be finished on time.

But fundamentally we also know that the key to overall project success is having a client who knows from the outset what he wants, when he wants it and how much he has to spend.

For the sake of our own reputations we must make it very clear publicly that government must now sit back, allow the ODA team to lock down the project scope, commit the cash, and let us get on with it.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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