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Olympics infrastructure will not be built in time, admits Greece

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SPORTS AND transport infrastructure for the 2004 Olympics in Athens will not be built in time, Greek government officials and construction industry experts said last week.

And the cost of preparing for the 2004 games will soar from £3.1bn to£5.6bn.

With less than 1,000 days to go before the games begin - and just 20 months until trial games are scheduled - key projects are bogged down by in-fighting between the seven ministries overseeing preparations and the Athens Olympic Committee (Athoc).

Just over 30% of core Olympic projects worth £945M are still in bid evaluation or preliminary design phases. These include the Olympic village, media centre, equestrian centre and racetrack, shooting ranges, three stadiums, aquatic centre, gymnasium, and canoeing and sailing centres.

Many must still go through planning and public consultation processes, gain financial and environmental approvals and win a construction licence, said Ministry of Environment, Planning & Public Works general secretary for jointly funded public works, George Ganatis, speaking at the Major Construction Projects conference in Athens last week.

The delays have been lengthened by conflict between the ministries of the Environment Planning & Public Works, Sports, Culture, Labour, Education, Public Organisations, and Transport & Communications.

Some projects put out to tender by one ministry are being withdrawn by another. Commercial attache to the British Embassy in Athens Sotiris Leontaris said that one scheme has so far been put out to tender three times.

Construction of outstanding Olympic projects should be getting under way now if Greece is to build high quality facilities rather than being forced to use temporary structures, Sotiris said.

But contractors, which already employ 8% of the Greek workforce and are stretched by major construction schemes being done with the aid of European Union finance, will be unable to deliver the Olympic infrastructure work outstanding, predicted chairman of major contractor Aktor Engineering, Dimitris Koutras.

'What should be a great opportunity may, by the end of 2004, be a lost opportunity, ' said Association of Construction Companies chairman Constantinos Kouvaras. Plans are 'over ambitious', there has been too little prediction of workload and there is now 'too little time', he added.

The combination of rushed design and hasty construction will have huge implications for the final cost of putting on the games, Koutras said. It is expected costs will almost double.

He urged ministers to draw on foreign project management and construction supervision skills in a bid to get construction schedules on track.

However, UK consultants with offices established in Greece said they would be wary of getting involved in Olympic projects unless contracts are changed. Most UK firms questioned at the Major Construction Projects conference said the level of risk involved made Olympic projects commercially unviable.

INFOPLUS www. athens. olympics. org Greece struggles to cope with building boom 'Greece ties with Ireland as the largest recipient of European Union 'cohesion' funding, aimed at bonding member states through transport and communications infrastructures.

With an expanding economy - growth this year has been 4.2% and is expected to continue at 3.8% in 2002 - the domestic construction industry is looking forward to a decade or more of full order books. But right now, the £3.1bn-£5.6bn being spent on staging the 2004 Olympics is sending workloads skyward.

There is more work to be done than the domestic construction industry can, at the moment, manage alone - 40 contractors merged earlier this year to create just seven firms capable of tackling the gargantuan projects now emerging.

The cost of the Olympics is being borne by the state and sponsors. It does not include transport projects associated with the games, financed through 80% European Union community support funding and 20% state or private sector capital.

These include:

The Athens-Halkida suburban railway line upgrade and extension to the new Spata airport costing £1bn.

A 30km tram system, worth £418M. The project is being overseen by metro operator Attiko Metro SA.

The port of Piraeus, serving Athens, will need to be upgraded for the largest passenger cruisers expected in 2004 and for mooring ships that will accommodate many of the 6M extra visitors during the games. £80M has been earmarked for upgrading Piraeus. Six regional ports will be upgraded at a combined cost of £40M.

As well as major arterial road projects, including the 730km north-south Pathe corridor and the 680km Egnatia Odos highway running east-west, the government has secured £4bn of community support framework funding from the EU for more national roads.

Fifteen railway upgrade and extension schemes worth £2.4bn were launched in 2000, but have been seriously delayed.

A £575M construction binge is being launched to replace several of the 100 year old ministry buildings occupied by the Greek government in and around Athens. Work will be 58% financed by a loan from the European Investment Bank, 25% by the state and 27% by private finance.

The government wants to realise a national natural gas distribution pipeline and must upgrade power generation and distribution infrastructures.

Ministers say they want to embrace the Private Finance Initiative and Public Private Partnerships. Experiments with build operate transfer concessions on the new Athens airport and ring road, both delivered by German contractor Hochtief, have to date proved an unqualified success in the government's view.

INFOPLUS www. british-embassy. gr

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