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2012 Olympics Legacy

December 21, 2010

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) on securing the debate. I am sure he is excited at the prospect of the Olympics being held in his backyard-a much-deprived part of east London that he has represented with great distinction over the past decade and a half.

Financial concerns were always at the heart of the issue for those of us who expressed some doubts, prior to 6 July 2005, about the wisdom of the London bid for the Olympics. Those doubts have not been entirely assuaged by the passage of time. We should face facts: we have the Olympics and we have to make the best of it. There is no doubt that, with all the planning in place, it will be a great, spectacular three-week festival in August 2012. However, that should not be at the expense of the legacy. When £9.2 billion of public money is being expended on the Olympics games, there ought to be a long-term physical legacy of interest. I shall touch on that in a moment.

The right hon. Gentleman understandably talked much about the future of the stadium. I very much share his views and concerns about what might happen. As vice-chairman of the all-party group on football, I believe that it would be right for West Ham to have the stadium, rather than it going further afield to Tottenham Hotspur. I understand many of the concerns expressed by the right hon. Gentleman and by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on this matter.

In 1997, I was my party’s candidate in Enfield North, where I reckoned at least two-thirds of the football fans were Spurs, rather than Arsenal supporters. I remember that in the Lea Valley area of the constituency there was a great passion for and pride in Tottenham Hotspur. For many football fans across the country, the notion of Tottenham Hotspur moving 4 or 5 miles away might seem to involve a small distance, but in the context of the villages that make up London it is very important. People would quickly forget the long-term history based around White Hart Lane.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that West Ham are an east London team, Tottenham are a north London team, and that the Olympic stadium is in east London?

Mr Field: I am sure that, as an expert on postcodes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, although one might ask, where does east turn to north? We will not go down that route, but he makes a good point. It would be encouraging for Twenty20 cricket in particular if Essex used that stadium. It is a tragedy that Essex have not regularly played cricket at either Valentine’s Park in Ilford or at Leyton, which still has a beautiful historic 1930s pavilion, for 20 or 30 years. It would be great to see the stadium being used for that purpose.

The right hon. Member for East Ham hit the nail right on the head in relation to the short-term issues that affect West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur. It would be a great shame to look at this matter just in the context of where the two clubs are at the moment. I fear that I may be less of an optimist about the Hammers’ chances over the next four or five months, as they might well end up a championship club with financial problems in the very short term by the time the season ends in May. Tottenham Hotspur are having one of their most successful seasons since 1960-61, when they won the double. They now understandably regard themselves as a champions league team: they are in the last 16 and may well qualify as of right for the champions league next season. Therefore, there would be great passion for the idea of having a big stadium, not just because the Olympic stadium has a capacity of 60,000-well above the 37,000 to 38,000 at White Hart Lane-but because it will be seen as iconic. However, I strongly believe that that would be a short-term decision made with the facts of December 2010 and 2011 in mind, rather than the long-term historical perspective pointed out by the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes).

I want to say a few words in passing about the commitment we are making to the Olympic movement with our bid. The right hon. Members for East Ham and for Tottenham, and the Minister, will have seen the well-researched, quite provocative article in TheSpectator of 11 December, “The true cost of the Olympics”. Following a number of freedom of information requests, Ed Howker and Andrew Gilligan went into some detail about the precise nature of the commitment that we have made to the International Olympic Committee. We are now in a very different era-an era of austerity-from that we were in five and half years ago when we won the Olympic bid. The article identified some ludicrous situations: the money to be spent on having some 40,000 hotel rooms booked for IOC flunkies over three weeks in August 2012; the somewhat absurd brand-protection rights that are being insisted upon, not just in the Olympic stadium, but within a large, well-defined curtilage in that part of London. As Mr Howker and Mr Gilligan put it, there will almost be a “state within a state” in London during that month in 2012.

I firmly believe that the very scarce financial resources that we have for the Olympic games must not be used simply to placate the desire of a vast International Olympic Committee quangocracy. I want to see a much bigger and a proper legacy for the locality, particularly in that part of east London.

Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the injection of £6.1 billion into the UK national economy at a time of downturn was valuable? More than 1,000 small and medium-sized businesses around the country have benefited from that. The costs in relation to Olympic hospitality that Mr Gilligan refers to will be borne not by the taxpayer, but by the organising committee, a private company whose funds are privately raised.

Mr Field: That is fair as far as it goes. As the right hon. Lady says, funds have been raised privately through a lot of Olympic sponsors, but there is still a defined amount that the sponsors will put into the Olympics. In the era of austerity in which we live, I have to question whether some boondoggle for the IOC is the right place to put this, rather than the long-term physical legacy for the east end. We have perhaps not discussed that in as much detail in this debate, although I know there will be other opportunities to do so during the next 18 months.

It would be a crying shame if we were not to have a strong physical legacy. We have looked at other Olympic games-whether it be Athens in 2004 or Sydney in 2000-where, I am afraid and whether we like it or not, the Olympic villages were built in relatively impoverished areas and ended up being something of a white elephant. If that happened in London it would be a tragic waste.

In fairness to the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell), she made great steps forward, particularly to ensure that a proper transport infrastructure is in place, bringing the Docklands light railway right into the heart of the Olympic village. I hope that that will ensure that the same does not come to pass in this country in the aftermath of August 2012.

However, it is vital that we see a proper and fully fledged regeneration. The right hon. Member for East Ham knows that on many statistical analyses his borough of Newham is one of the poorest in the UK. He and I no doubt share the view that if one walks down East Ham high street or through bits of Upton Park, there is a sense of vibrancy with people wanting to sell things. The borough is not poor and impoverished in terms of ambition and aspiration, which is a positive way forward.

I hope that we will focus our attention-not just in the next 18 months, but, probably more importantly, in the few years after 2012-on ensuring that that area of London becomes very desirable. It will inevitably be a mixed area, with both private estates and social housing. I hope that it will become a tremendously successful area for the future. In my view, the real test of the success of the Olympics is where we will be in 10 years’ time, not in 18 months. If we can see that that area has been entirely regenerated, and is vibrant and thriving with a desirable residential sector, a retail park, which we will see with Westfield in Stratford, and many small thriving businesses-dare I say it, particularly in the high-tech area where there will be a knock-on effect from what we already have in Shoreditch-that will be the real success of the Olympic games, rather than just the short-term spectacle, which will, I am sure, be a tremendous success and a tremendous credit to this country and our city.