The 2000 Sydney Olympics could not be bettered, said plaudits at the time. But now our very own capital has announced the team behind its own bid for the 2012 version. And, after all the dithering, it looks like they mean business. Emma Forrest takes a look at the bid
THE LAST time London held the Olympic Games, in 1948, Tesco had recently opened its first self-service supermarket and bread rationing had just ended. With Britain still struggling to repair the damage that six long years of war had wrought, improvisation was the name of the Games.
In lieu of an Olympic Village, male athletes were housed at an army barracks in Uxbridge and women at Roehampton's Southlands College, in dormitories. Track and field events were held at the old Wembley Stadium, with some events broadcast on television - the first Olympics to do so.
This might not be the first time you have read these facts and it certainly will not be the last, as the team that will masterplan London's bid for the 2012 Games were announced last week.
The low-key announcement at the London Assembly's City Hall was hardly a blaze of glory, but there was a defiant air of confidence from the bid commissioners.
Barbara Cassani, head of the bid, said: 'We have chosen from the best the world has to offer. This is also the most convincing masterplan we have seen.'
The centrepoint of the London Games will be Lea Valley in east London - reputedly a dumping ground for victims of the capital's drugs wars.
The team which will hopefully move the area away from such notoriety is headed by masterplanner EDAW, stadium specialist HOK Sport, Foreign Office Architects (actually nothing to do with the Foreign Office) and architect Allies & Morrison.
They are backed by, amongst others, consultant Mott MacDonald, engineer Buro Happold and construction manager Mace. But Construction News is unable to tell you what roles these firms will have in the development of the masterplan, because they are not allowed to tell us either.
A Buro Happold spokeswoman said: 'All subconsultants have been told they are not allowed to say anything.'
Exactly why is not clear.
On the face of it, it's hard to question the team's credentials. EDAW is synonymous with regeneration plans from across the country: Blackpool, Corby, Newham, Stevenage, Croydon, Milton Keynes, the list goes on. It also masterplanned the east Manchester area, including the Sportcity stadium, is working on proposals for Liverpool's King Dock that will feature a new home for Everton Football Club and masterplanned the Sydney Olympics Village.
HOK Sport is equally dominant in its field, having designed the planned new stadium for Arsenal Football Club (on which Buro Happold is structural engineer), the new Wembley (Buro Happold again, with Mott MacDonald leading the services and structural design) and, of course, Stadium Australia.
Dick Palmer, former secretary general of the British Olympic Committee and an expert on athletes villages, has also been brought on board. Honor Chapman, acting chair of the London Development Agency, said, presumably with no pun intended: 'You can't fail to be impressed by the team's track record.'
You can't, but will their combined experience be enough to tackle the Lea Valley's considerable stumbling blocks?
As London mayor Ken Livingstone pointed out, not that many Londoners, apart from the aforementioned drugs gangs, are likely to have visited the area at the moment because there is nothing to see.
He said: 'I suspect anyone spending time there now would find there is nothing more interesting than the bacteria in the water there at the moment.'
The masterplan team is charged with setting out locations for key facilities on the 607 ha area, resolving transport needs, the provision of public spaces and contributions to the local economy and landscape.
Mr Livingstone pledged that nearby London Fields and Hackney Marshes will remain untouched. He said: 'Lea Valley is currently polluted, run-down and under-used land. This plan will add to London's green spaces, rather than detract from them.
'We want to see an imaginative use of the waterfront that will see a return of wildlife to the area and will enable people to be able to walk from one end of the Lea to the other through green space and by water.'
Meanwhile, the plan's 'Green Compact' will provide a green and sustainable framework for any work carried out, including the cleaning up of contaminated sites and environmentally sustainable design and construction that reuses waste, water energy and recycled materials.
As it is so early in the process, the plans are still frustratingly short on detail. More detail is promised over the next few months.
Some concrete figures have been outlined, though.
These include 30,000 new homes, 40,000 new jobs and 1,000 new businesses in a community that will continue to thrive after the Games and even without them.
Mr Livingstone said: 'If we fail to win the bid, the masterplan will be constructed in a way that can go on in a different but still sustainable way. The homes will be built even without the Olympics.'
The thorny issue of infrastructure has of course raised its head. Even with Government backing for the Crossrail scheme, it is still uncertain if it could get built in time.
EDAW regional vice president Jason Prior said: 'Running the Olympics with the current transport infrastructure is entirely possible.
'It is more about managing what we have. We would always argue for projects such as Crossrail but the extension of the DLR to Woolwich and Barking has already seen dramatic improvements in the area's transport provision.'
Whether the hundreds of thousands of visitors would be willing to get on the bus and schlepp across to a Tubeless part of town is another matter, of course.
The team's attitude to Crossrail is a little disconcerting, given that securing the Games could force the Government to produce firm targets by which the work could be carried out. After all, with the much-delayed Wembley stadium, suspension of work on the West Coast Main Line and projects so delayed even their names are out of date (remember Thameslink 2000? ) Britain's reputation on delivery is hardly one to shout about. The Jubilee line extension gave fresh meaning to the phrase 'just-in-time delivery'.
The team has already got its work cut out. It has around four months in which to put the plan together.
There are still plenty of other problems to overcome.
London council taxpayers may object to paying (up to £20 a year each, the Greater London Authority estimates) for an event they may have no interest in. GLA grants and Lottery money are expected to provide the rest of the necessary finance but can charity funds really provide the necessary sums?
Even international politics may yet play a part. The Olympics have long been seen as a platform for political action, and the worldwide unpopularity of the Iraq war, and Britain's backing of it, may still prove to be the biggest hurdle of all.
Countdown to the Games
August 5 2003 Masterplanning team for London 2012 bid announced
December Masterplan completed
January 15 2004 London submits its initial bid in the form of a questionnaire to the International Olympic Committee.
November 15 Final submission sent to IOC
February-March 2005 Visits by IOC evaluation committee
May Evaluation committee's report given to IOC members
July 6 2012 host city named in Singapore