Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Out of the blocks

Simon Wright relishes the challenge of getting most of the Olympic Park's infrastructure ready by next summer. He spoke to John McKenna.

Despite reports in NCE and the national press of radioactive contamination and Japanese knotweed overrunning London 2012's Olympic Park site, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) remains condent that cleaning up the site will be straightforward.

'Contamination is relatively light and the site investigation has proven that facts in the ground do match up with the desk studies that have been completed, ' says ODA infrastructure and utilities director Simon Wright.

'We are reasonably condent that we do know what we are going to find. Of course you can always get surprises in the ground, as we all know.' Wright has been involved with high-prole regeneration projects before. Between 1997 and 2000 he worked for government regeneration agency English Partnerships, overseeing the clean up of Greenwich Peninsula, one of the capital's highest profile brown eld schemes.

'There are lots of similarities with the Olympics, ' he says.

'We had a lot of contaminated land. So there was the clean up, riverworks, highways - we had the A12(M) widening and improvement - and the imperative deadline that we had it ready by 2000 [for the Millennium celebrations at the Dome].'

However, that is where the similarities end, he adds.

Greenwich Peninsula was less challenging than the Olympic Park because it was smaller ?140ha compared with 202ha. It was also free from the networks of rivers, canals, railways and roads that criss-cross the 2012 site. It was also clear, with the exception of an industrial estate.

On the other hand, says Wright, Greenwich was far more polluted. A former British Gas depot occupied 120ha of the development and required decontamination.

Past businesses also included foundries.

By comparison, says Wright, the Olympic Park has historically been used by less polluting light to medium industry, which produces petroleum related pollutants. It has also been used as a rubbish tip.

'If you broke this down in to 20 or 50 projects, and you had plenty of time, this would be almost trivial, ' he says.

'The complexity is in the speed and volume of work, coupled with the complexity of stakeholders and making sure you are keeping everybody onside.' A hard hat and high visibility jacket hang in Wright's Canary Wharf ofce, but when he occasionally makes the trip to the Lea Valley he rarely gets his his boots muddy, as he is more often than not locked in meetings with one or more of the many parties with a vested interest in the Games: the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, the Treasury, London Mayor Ken Livingstone, or one or more of the ve host London Boroughs.

He also spends much of his time liaising with staff from the ODA's sister organisation, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) and the consortium of CH2M Hill, Laing O'Rourke and Mace (CLM), which is the ODA's delivery partner and programme manager.

Of the site itself Wright says the main challenge for the cleanup operation and the installation of utilities and infrastructure will be to work around existing roads, rivers, railway lines and canal system, and to move existing infrastructure.

With five waterways in the Olympic Park, and two spanning its entire length, a top priority will be to make sure no contaminants in the ground leach out into them during remediation.

Wright is relaxed about the risks and the methods used to prevent contaminated groundwater getting into the waterways, having spent 20 year of his career in the water sector.

'If it's a signicant issue we will use cut off walls to cut off the migration into the watercourse, but if there's a reasonably containable volume, we will pump it out, treat it and discharge it into the watercourse, ' he says.

When it comes to railways, however, it's a different story and Wright reveals a degree of apprehension about working around track possessions.

He cites the most stressful moment of his entire career as being involved with the lifting of the bowstring arches for the Wembey White Horse bridge in possession time.

The bridge provides access to the national stadium over national rail lines, and both arches had to be completed during a weekend possession of the railway.

He also describes a problematic refurbishment of a railway depot as the low point of his career.

'The whole possession issue on railways is very complex and that project was uncomfortable in lots of ways, ' he says.

With national rail lines and the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) running through the site, Wright accepts that dreaded possessions will be required on the Olympic project. But by working closely with Network Rail and DLR he hopes to keep them to an absolute minimum.

This close working is already paying dividends, says Wright.

'The DLR is currently being extended to Stratford International, so while work is going on we have asked them to build an abutment for the Aquatics centre bridge which must go in very close to the line, ' he says.

'Rather than us going back in and taking possession of the line, it makes sense to do it now.

We can also claim that work on the bridges has already started.' This is impressive, given that expressions of interest in the contract to build the bridges were only due in last week.

The structures, bridges and highways contract, as it is known, is divided into seven lots, the rst four of which are currently out to tender. These are for the construction of bridges, roads and underpasses in the north of the Olympic Park, a similar contract for the south of the park, rail overbridges and the main stadium bridges.

Up to five bidders will be invited to tender on each lot.

Wright says the contract was divided into lots because it was felt it would be too large for the market to swallow as one large contract.

'Logistically it also makes sense as different parts of the infrastructure are required at different points in the programme, ' he says.

'Also, the rail, road and waterways carve the park up into quite geographically distinct areas.' Contracts for the south of the park and the rail overbridges both require temporary bridges in addition to the permanent structures, as will the lots yet to go out to tender. Wright says those looking for a competitive advantage in the bidding process should make sure they have an effective end-use for the temporary structures.

'We are open to the market to come forward with ideas on what can be done with the bridges after the Games, ' he says.

In more general terms, those wishing to win Olympic work should take the following advice: 'We want delivery certainty, ' says Wright.

'We are looking for rms capable of partnering and with a team attitude. We also look for innovation, although we are not looking for experimentation. We want tried and tested methods used innovatively. For example, I think what Morrison and Nuttall are doing with the onsite recycling is pretty innovative [see box].' Looking forward, Wright sees structures, bridges and highways as the main part of his remit, continuing throughout the main construction period up to 2012.

Installation of utilities and remediation of the park, on the other hand, must be largely complete by next summer. The race towards that that point truly starts in July, when the ODA gains control of the entire site.

Once that happens, Wright says one of the biggest challenges will be for the masterplanning team from the Atkins, Arup and the EDAW consortium to draw up site specific remediation strategies (SSRS), and to have these approved by the Environment Agency.

'We already have the site wide remediation strategy launched as part of the planning application, but these SSRSs will be getting right down to the detail for individual parcels of land within the park, ' he says.

September will then see the winning bidders selected for the design, build, nance and operate utilities contracts for the Olympic Park and its neighbouring Stratford City site. Like the bridges contract this has been divided into lots: electrics, gas, sewerage, telecoms, heat and power plants and water mains. Despite this, Wright had previously hoped the utilities could be let as a single concession package (NCE 30 November 2006).

With the bids now in, he refuses to comment on whether any bidder had come forward with this proposition, and says only that each lot has attracted several bidders.

While Wright, like ODA chief executive David Higgins, prefers to focus on the Olympic Park project's ability to regenerate an extremely deprived corner of the country, there is no escaping the fact that he is building for the biggest sporting event on the planet.

He likens his role to the first leg of a four by 400m relay.

'If we can get off to a great start and run a great first leg, it will make it much easier for those that follow, ' he concludes.

Olympic CV

1976: Graduates from Birmingham University where he studied civil engineering.

Joins consultant Binnie & Partners (now Black & Veatch) as water engineer 1979: Becomes chartered 1986: Joins Mouchel (now Mouchel Parkman), again specialising in water. Goes on to establish the consultant's Hong Kong and Thailand businesses 1996: Joins Arup as project management director across a range of sectors 1997: Seconded to Government agency English Partnerships for three years to oversee regeneration of Greenwich Peninsula 2006: Leaves Arup to join the ODA

Already cleared from the Olympic site

9,741t of crushed brick & concrete

10t of London stock bricks

2t of roofing tiles

The ODA revealed last week that the Olympic Park is 24% clear, two months before it is due take control of the entire site.

Contractors Morrison and Nuttall have been demolishing properties and clearing vegetation as and when the ODA has taken possession of parcels of land within the East London site.

Full ownership of the site will pass to the ODA in July following the completion of a compulsory purchase order. This will mark the start of the race to get the site clean and clear, ready for construction next summer.

So far, Nuttall and Morrison are beating their 90% recycling targets for the demolition waste and spoil their work creates, reusing 95% of all material on site, says the ODA.

'They are recovering some amazing material, like old London stock brick, which they are cleaning up and reusing. We are also saving a lot of timber. Timber from trees we had to cut down will be reused on the riverbanks.' According to ODA estimates last month, the recovered material included 9,741 tonnes of crushed brick and concrete, 10 tonnes of London stock bricks and 2t of roong tiles.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.