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One shot for gold requires an early start

AGENDA Viewpoint

Let Games firms get involved as soon as is possible, writes Peter Heathershaw

IT WOULD be hard to miss the excitement generated by the successful bid to bring the 2012 Olympics to London. The sense of expectation is remarkable, even seven years before they get under way.

Minds are already turned to delivering the best ever games ? a tall order when you think back to the Athens Olympics in 2004. The Greek capital seemed to be running out of time and luck in the preceding months, with considerable speculation about whether construction would be completed in time. The world was treated to regular updates on the industrial unrest blighting the projects and the Greek construction industry was shown, often unfairly, in a less than favourable light. To their credit they pulled it off and Athens 2004 was hailed a mighty achievement.

The excitement about staging the games in London is balanced by a nagging feeling that things are not happening quickly enough. There is some disquiet about the pace with which the public bodies responsible for the Games are being set up and the lack of information on the work that needs to be done. There is an air of uncertainty and the Government should address this urgently.

The civil engineering contracting community has the capacity to deliver the infrastructure. Our members are highly motivated by the opportunity to showcase some of the world's most innovative construction techniques. We know we can build it, but we want reassurance about how the Government proposes to go about the project. Delivering the Olympic infrastructure requires a watertight, credible and realistic plan.

It must be a plan that they, and we, can stick to.

Of late, contractors have witnessed continual delay and prevarication, which is seriously undermining their morale. We have seen the abandoning of the 10 Year Plan for Transport, a succession of events and announcements raising further doubts about commitment to the roads programme, such as shelving the A303 Stonehenge project and the lack of a conclusion from the 2004 consultation on the capacity of the M6 in the Birmingham-Manchester corridor.

We sat through the protracted consultation between the Highways Agency and the Department for Transport after last year's spending review and waited an extra six months for the presentations to and consultation with the agency's suppliers. We are still waiting to see how the DfT proposes to constitute the trumpeted regional transport boards, to which decisions are already being referred in a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.

Successful delivery of the 2012 Games will depend on confidence in the Government's plan, which can only come from credibility. When it comes to dealing with Government, both contractor confidence and ministers' credibility are in short supply.

Involving bodies like CECA early will ensure quality and that the necessary infrastructure is delivered on time and to budget. It will build confidence in the plans drawn up by Olympic Delivery Authority, when it gets under way. If the 2012 Games are to benefit from the world-class construction that Britain's civil engineering contractors can offer, then early involvement is essential.

We hope the ODA and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will engage with CECA and the other relevant sectors of the construction industry.

Seven years is not long enough to risk false starts. We will only get one shot at the gold medal.

Peter Heathershaw is chairman of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association