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London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games

September 8, 2011

London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative): As the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) pointed out, there is a danger of this debate—and, indeed, other similar debates—becoming a bit of a love-in. In the 10 years that I have been in this House, I have always been a great believer that Members must work together with other Members. My constituency neighbours have tended not to be from my political party, but I have worked closely with the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) on a range of issues. However, I always have some concerns when there is a little too much consensus in this House on particular issues, not least because the very essence of politics should be choice. In the current debate, it is important that certain aspects of the scepticism felt by many millions of Britons outside this House are also put on the record.

As the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) will remember, I shadowed her when she was Minister for London in 2004, before we got the Olympics on 6 July 2005, and I was somewhat sceptical about the benefits that the Olympics were expected to bring to our city. Since then, there has been a tumultuous change in the global economic outlook, which has only served to reinforce some of my concerns, especially in respect of the escalating costs of this project. In advance of our getting the Olympics, we were told it would cost about £2.5 billion. That sum has now risen to some £9 billion. In light of those particular statistics, some of the boasts that have been made about working within budget are, in my view, somewhat hollow.

Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman might like to refer to the Hansard of May 2005, where I made it absolutely clear that, were we to win the games, the budget to build the venues in the park that had been submitted as part of the bid book would have to be revisited. We did increase the budget, because our ambition for regeneration was much greater after we won the games. Some 75p in every £1 spent on building the park was spent on regeneration. The site would have been contaminated waste land in perpetuity had we not won the games. We have accelerated regeneration. In six years, we have done what would otherwise have taken 60 years. That has brought benefit to London. It has brought jobs to London and has been good for the economy of London, way beyond just having 60 days of Olympic and Paralympic sport.

Mark Field: As a courtesy to the right hon. Lady, I will obviously look at the Hansard for that time, but there is no doubt that this was sold on a very different financial basis, and it will cost not only the general taxpayer, but the London council tax payer, a significant sum of money for some decades to come.

I share the widespread view that the Olympics are a great opportunity to showcase the city that I love—I am very proud to represent the heart of the city—and that they will be a spectacular success. Both the Olympics and the Paralympics shortly afterwards will be a wonderful show. I do have concerns about the issue of the legacy, however, and I suspect that similar debates to that which we are currently having were held in the Greek Parliament in advance of the Athens games in 2004, the Australian Parliament in advance of the 2000 games, and other Parliaments and Federal buildings before other Olympiads took place.

We all know that it is very easy to have great ideas about the legacy going forward. I am well aware of that; I walked through the site where the Olympics will take place before we even won the bid, and I recognised that there were tremendous opportunities for regeneration. I am concerned, however, about whether we will be able to sell that legacy and whether it will be achieved in the way that we have in mind. We will not know that when we look back in the third week of September next year; we will not know the answer until 2020 and beyond. I therefore hope we in this House continue to address the possible prospect of our having a white elephant of a site out in east London. That would be a crying shame not just because of the amount of money being spent on it, but because of the opportunities that might be missed.

I hope that we will ensure that this debate does not end today and that we will not draw a line under things after the Olympics have finished. It will be incumbent on all London Members of Parliament to hold future Administrations very much to account to ensure that that proper legacy, which is the raison d’être for holding the Olympics in London, is put in place.

Hugh Robertson (Minister for Sport & Olympics): May I give my hon. Friend some reassurance on this point, because it is very dangerous if the idea he alludes to is allowed to take root? There is absolutely no chance of our being left with white elephants on the park after the Olympic games. The single biggest frustration in my life at the moment is that two London premier league football clubs and one in a lower league are competing to take over the stadiums after the games. That represents an entirely different situation from those in Beijing, Athens and Sydney. The aquatics centre, wonderfully designed by Zaha Hadid, will provide an Olympic-sized swimming pool in a part of London that has simply never had one before. We have just concluded an amazing deal, at more than half a billion pounds, to sell off the private sector part of the athletes village. The public sector part has already been sold to Triathlon Homes. The velodrome, probably the most iconic building on the park—we did not spot that at the beginning—will become a new home for British cycling, which is one of our most successful sports.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I understand that the Minister wants to get his points on the record, but we have to be careful here. He is making an intervention, not a speech.

Hugh Robertson: I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker, if I offended you, and I absolutely take the point you make. I shall simply say that the broadcast media centre is out for contract at the moment and there is fantastic interest. We have the largest new urban park in Europe and a half-a-billion-pound shopping centre. This is a pretty convincing package.

Mark Field: I accept that it is a convincing package. The Minister will be aware of what happened in my constituency with the somewhat missed opportunity of the redevelopment at Paddington basin. A huge amount of work has not resulted in a great success; it has not been the iconic place to live and work that it might have been. I therefore hope that all hon. Members will recognise that the end of the Paralympics is the beginning of the story. Making a great success of the legacy will be in everyone’s interests, not least of those in the constituency of the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), given where it is located, and of people who live in the constituencies directly affected.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I was a Greenwich councillor when we first had the idea to redevelop the local peninsula, which eventually led to the building of the Greenwich dome. Without these iconic projects and without public money—people often forget that we got a lot of investment from Europe to decontaminate the site at north Greenwich—it is sometimes impossible to regenerate very expensive contaminated sites. However, once we take the brave decision, as we did in east London and in Greenwich, the regeneration takes place, and we now have one of the most iconic entertainment centres in Europe.

Mark Field: I accept that, although in many ways the hon. Gentleman makes my point for me. There was a sense in the immediate aftermath of 1 January 2000 that that area was going to be a white elephant and it was the private sector, in the form of the group belonging to Philip Anschutz, which had the vision to drive that area forward that made a difference. But it took some years for that to fall into place, which is why we need to keep an eagle eye on exactly what happens on the Olympic site from next September to ensure that 2013, 2014 and 2015 are not wasted years. They need to be years when we ensure the continued improvement of that site to make it an attractive place to live and work, and, potentially, an entertainment destination site well beyond that for West Ham United fans. One hopes that it will also be used for other athletics events and perhaps as a large-scale entertainment site, given the transport links in place.

I wish briefly to discuss the elements of the Bill that have been debated, about which I have expressed some of my reservations. We have had a useful debate about policing. This is a matter for not only the Metropolitan police, but the intelligences services, which are playing a huge role in this field and will continue to do so. One should not underestimate that in the context of the security implications of these Olympics. Equally, as my hon. Friend the Minister pointed out, we could learn from elements of previous London Olympiads, particularly the 1948 games—the austerity Olympics. We are living in a time of greater austerity and one hopes that some of those lessons for a cost-effective games can also be learned.

I have publicly expressed my concerns about some of the issues to do with the large number of people who will be transported from the hotels in Park lane in my constituency to the Olympic village and the fundamental impact that that will have on traffic during late July and August next year. One accepts that for Heads of State and leading individuals there are, of course, security implications and they will need to be ferried in such a way, but it seems that many thousands of people will be getting this sort of treatment—a whole lot of hangers-on in the IOC and the sponsors. I would like to see the Minister playing a role in trying to pare down that number to the basic minimum that takes account of security implications.

Stephen Pound: May I assure the hon. Gentleman that the 1948 games may have been the austerity games, but people were able to find their own amusement in those days? The fact that my parents clearly did so—I was born in the middle of them—shows that life may have been austere, but there was a little bit of fun to be had in Fulham.

Mark Field: If the hon. Gentleman was born in the middle of those games, it says something about the gestation period in that part of SW6 during 1948.

I did not want to be overly negative, but as Members of this House we have a platform and, according to anecdotal evidence, at least, a lot of Londoners are increasingly rather lukewarm about this Olympiad in spite of the relentless publicity and propaganda being put out by the BBC, as the preferred broadcaster, and by the ODA, and it is important that those issues are put on the record. None of us wishes not to have a highly successful games. We signed up for them and it is right that we should make them a great success, but given the austerity period in which we are living, I do not think that every last i and t of the contract we signed with the IOC needs necessarily to be adhered to exactly. We potentially need discussions slightly to renegotiate elements of it, particularly the rather lavish hospitality package for quite a few individuals coming to the city, especially if they are going to disrupt the day-to-day life of those living here.

I, like everyone else, wish the games to be a great success. It is good when we can work together on such a basis, but it should not crowd out the idea that concerns about the games are being expressed by many Londoners and many people outside London. Let us make sure that we make them a spectacular success and focus on the legacy for the decades to come.