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The Olympic Bid

June 7, 2005

The Olympic Bid

I am happy to stand corrected, although the hon. Gentleman would be the first to admit that on 5 May his party managed to obtain 20 or 22 per cent. of the vote, which is a significant and equivalent minority. I am not suggesting that all Liberal Democrat voters are against the Olympic Games here in the capital, but it is important to put some of these matters on the record.

I am a passionate sports fan; I love sport and I love the idea of the Olympics coming here. I am always very supportive of British sporting endeavours, particularly in cricket and soccer, but also in athletics and related fields. However, there are some salient objections that I would like the Minister to address in his winding-up speech.

First and foremost is the issue of cost. Many Londoners are very concerned about the notion of a blank cheque being signed by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, for the cost of the games. There is little indication that the Government are going to stump up the tab for what is, as has been pointed out, a national rather than just a London Olympic games. It has been estimated by the Greater London Authority that the virtually uncapped liabilities could run to £30 per annum for every Londoner for a decade or two to come. Indeed, there is no real sense that the event will be kept within budget, and history suggests that all Olympic Games?except for those that took place in America in 1984 and 1996?have been massively hit by cost overruns.

Notwithstanding the report, which was positive, and the earlier comments of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey, we have an extremely poor track record in the staging of large-scale sporting events. Let us consider the dome: the main criterion for the case against it has been the appalling lack of a legacy, in spite of all the warm words from this House and beyond during the last few years of the previous century. As for Wembley stadium, I am somewhat less sanguine about the financial implications of what is currently happening regarding the owners of the stadium site. The Minister will remember the Picketts Lock fiasco, and it will be very high on any charge sheet against a London bid when all is said and done over the next four weeks.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) will later say a little about the treatment of some of the long-standing traders in the Hackney Wick and the lower Lee Valley estate area. I have had the opportunity to go to the Marsh Gate lane site; it is clear that there will be massive disruption to many long-standing businesses there and traders argue that wholly inadequate compensation is being offered at this juncture. The sizeable minority of people against the games feel that their voice has not been sufficiently heard. We will see: if Britain does not win the bid, their concerns will be largely academic. They are a forgotten but none the less very important community in that area.

One of the other concerns I have as a London Member of Parliament and, until the election, as my party’s spokesman on London affairs is that other regeneration projects in the capital have been left on hold to a large extent while the furore surrounding the Olympic bid has taken place. In particular, some important regeneration in the King’s Cross area has effectively been put on hold for the past 18 months or so. We touched on the East London line, and soon the Crossrail debate will begin in earnest again. I suspect that it is not entirely coincidental that that Bill has its Second Reading on 20 June?some two and a half weeks before the Olympic bid is decided. There is still no indication whatever of where the money will come for such a project. We wait to hear much more from Government on the matter.

As for the political implications, I say as a passionate sports fan that there has been a certain amount of grandstanding from the Government. I was not in Athens, but I take on board what the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) said about the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm. It is a new-found enthusiasm based, I suspect, on the fact that the decision date on the Olympics was going to be in July?in other words, after rather than just before the Olympic games. It gave him the opportunity to rub shoulders with our Olympic stars, although I suspect he thinks Fanny Blankers-Koen is something to do with the Dutch Eurosceptic movement, rather than the 1948 Olympic Games.

I feel that there has been a refusal by the Government to turbo-charge the bid by making a firm financial commitment. Had that taken place during the past six months?I certainly suggested it very strongly to some of the Olympic team?it would have made a real difference to our opportunity to get the Olympic games. I wish that the Government had put up the cash and made it absolutely clear that Government funding would provide significant transport infrastructure and other infrastructure projects that this part of east London desperately requires, whether or not we get the Olympic Games.

If London were to win the bid, the Government would need to display a hitherto lacking urgency to ensure that the capital city receives its fair share of resources if this bid is not to have all the makings of another national embarrassment.