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On the starting blocks

Engineering 2012 - Last month, the Olympic Delivery Authority submitted planning proposals to redevelop the 246ha Olympic Park site in East London. Antony Oliver speaks to chief executive David Higgins about what has to happen next.

Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) chief executive David Higgins describes submitting Europe's biggest ever planning application last month as 'a significant moment in delivering our vision' for the London 2012 project.

The submission follows six months of intense work by the ODA and its delivery partner, CLM. In that time they have totally rescoped and redened the project.

'We have consciously redesigned the whole project, ' explains Higgins, flicking through the Programme Plan, a 25mm thick book of A3 gant charts.

CLM has spent six months reviewing these, and they now show precisely what has to be done where and by when. 'We could not have delivered the original scheme, ' says Higgins.

When Higgins took over at the ODA back in December 2005 he could see that major changes were needed to the plans. He had to ensure that the right balance was struck between short term investment in facilities for the Games and long term investment for regeneration of the area.

The results are clear.

'There will be a few iconic structures but in reality nearly everything that you see will be temporary. It is about creating infrastructure that will be relevant to the East London community in the future.' This new Programme Plan was nalised on 2 February and presented to culture secretary Tessa Jowell by CLM chief operating ofcer Bob Card last week. It was presented to the Treasury a week earlier as part of ongoing discussions to fix the project scope and confirm the budget with government. Latest unofficial estimates are £9bn as predicted by NCE (NCE 23 November 2006).

Higgins won't be drawn but says: 'the budget has been signed off by CLM and the corporate plan is going to be resolved. We are way ahead of other cities that have hosted the Games in the past, ' he says.

He describes a recent warning from public spending watchdog the National Audit Office that having no fixed budget was a 'major risk' as an 'obvious thing to say.

'Yes, agreeing the budget is very important, ' he says. 'But the most important thing is that the budget is transparent and ensures that what we are planning does not waste money.' The project redesign, while time consuming, was, he adds, vital from this perspective.

Higgins reiterates that focus and expenditure have been moved away from the needs of a four-week Olympic event and towards the needs of future generations, who will inherit this huge redeveloped stretch of land.

If something is more expensive to run than to pull down afterwards, then why build it to start with, he asks?

'I am very aware that it is public money we are spending, ' he says.

'But we must get this into perspective: compared to any other regeneration project of this size we will achieve far more.

The Olympics will allow us to regenerate this area far faster than we could have otherwise achieved.' Higgins uses the recent Turin Winter Olympics to highlight how, by using colour and quality graphics, you can transform existing buildings into spectacular venues - without actually having to invest in new concrete and steel.

'It is about creating economic sustainability - about not having to come back afterwards to rip it all down and start the regeneration process over again.' So, having submitted the planning application, Higgins says he is ready to set a new batch of milestones across the whole project for the next 18 months.

And while he insists that the plan is still to nish construction one year out from the Games, he maintains that this is not 'oat' but part of the planning.

'There is no question that it will not be built, ' he says, producing his laminated copies of letters from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown committing the nation to the Games.

'The question will be 'is the work nished in a mad shambles and costing a fortune or in an orderly and planned fashion?', ' he explains.

'The difference between these two scenarios is planning and getting everyone behind the milestones. While we will not perhaps see a lot happening on site over the next 12 months we will have thousands of people doing a massive amount of design and planning.'

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