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Olympics get out of the starting blocks

The Olympic ball is rolling at last. The announcement this week of the two key positions at the Olympic Delivery Authority will be greeted by the construction industry with a mix of excitement and relief.

We should now see some real progress towards procuring the services needed for the vast amount of work required ahead of the 2012 Games.

It was perhaps a little unrealistic to expect a wave of procurement awards to suddenly follow the 6 July announcement of London's win, but nevertheless there has been a certain amount of uncertainty and worry around the industry at the rate of progress.

Maybe this is more to do with an appreciation of the scale of the task ahead. Experience of projects the size of the London Olympics suggests that getting the Games up and running by 2012 will require a monumental effort by all.

Speakers at the Civil Engineering Forum held at Civils 2005 this week highlighted the scale of the task to create the infrastructure needed not just for the Games, but to secure the legacy beyond 2012.

'It's the Rubik's Cube of planning, ' said Janet Thomas, director of the Olympics Joint Planning Authorities Team. 'It's a 10 year project that has to be undertaken in five years.' And undertaken properly.

Effective transport to and from the Games will be crucial and will, of course, require some radical and challenging infrastructure. 'It will be the largest peacetime transport project ever undertaken in the UK, ' according to Mike Slinn, director of consultant MVA. 'We don't need whiz-bang solutions, everything simply must work and be cost effective.'

Certainly the new ODA chairman Jack Lemley and his just-appointed chief executive David Higgins will understand the task ahead. Monumental is a good description. They must balance the need to hit the tight but immoveable deadline with the need to absolutely maintain the quality of the delivery while controlling costs.

This will be particularly challenging for a construction industry which traditionally thrives on situations in which the client faces a tight deadline.

And we must also bear in mind that the 2012 Olympics is not the only show in town. As part of the great Thames Gateway development, the transformation of the Lower Lea Valley into an Olympic Park is really quite small in planning and regeneration terms.

Docklands Light Railway director Jonathan Fox told the Forum that successful infrastructure delivery requires not just expert technical skills but excellent communication skills.

It is about 'doing' - but it must be the right 'doing'.

This column has previously highlighted the fact that the organisation structure for those charged with the Olympics delivery programme is fiendishly complex and vulnerable to political interference. Yet making the 2012 Olympics the greatest show on earth will require seamless communication between the ODA - the body constructing the theatre - and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) - the body putting on the show.

In Lemley and Higgins we appear to have the core of a team which will be more than capable of delivering London's Olympic dream. They will be looking for the highest quality partners to work with. Are you ready?

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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