London faces 'extremely tight' timetable for 2012

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The Independent Online

The new timetable for London to be ready for the 2012 Olympics is "extremely tight", the Olympics Delivery Authority chief executive, David Higgins, said yesterday.

No building work can begin on the East London Olympic Park until all the land needed is in public control, he told the public inquiry into compulsory purchase orders on 306 hectares of land in Stratford. Even then a massive clear-up will be needed before building work can begin in 2008.

"There is a considerable amount of work to carry out, let alone work commencing on the major facilities," Higgins said. "The timetable is extremely tight, and for the facilities to be completed for commissioning and test events from mid-2011, the land must be in the control of the London Development Agency and the ODA by the summer of 2007 at the latest. This will enable demolition and remediation to take place alongside the installation of new services and infrastructure.

"The construction of the Olympic Village can then commence in early 2008 with work on the main stadium, aquatics and media facilities commencing in spring-summer 2008."

This land is currently a "difficult site" split by canals and rivers and needing "significant remediation" Higgins said. Bridges will have to be built just to get to some parts of the land and gas and power supplies and telecommunications have to be installed.

Olympics organisers now have nearly 90 per cent of the land needed in public ownership but dozens of firms and residents are fighting eviction from their properties in the Lower Lea Valley.

Many people remain determined to fight against the development. A round of talks has cut the number of objectors from 404 to around 200.

Gareth Blacker, the director of development for the LDA which must deliver the land for the Olympics, told the inquiry: "We are still negotiating with the other landowners in the Olympic zone and continuing to try and make agreements with them."

Apart from environmental and infrastructure boosts to the area, the Olympics will trigger 4,500 permanent jobs and 9,000 new homes, up to half of which should be affordable, according to Blacker. "It is about 9,000 new homes and a loss of about 106 relatively poor units," he said

Stressing to the inquiry that all the land needs to be in public control with vacant possession by July 2007, he said: "The Olympic facilities must be constructed in time for the Games in 2012 and this deadline cannot be moved.

"The size of the area required and the number of landowners and occupiers involved make it unlikely that all of the interests in the land could be acquired by agreement."