Previous SectionIndexHome Page

14 Jan 2003 : Column 627—continued

5.41 pm

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): There is good news and bad news. The good news is that the Government are having this debate, which all of us in London appreciate. The bad news is the downbeat assessment by the Secretary of State of the outcome of the Government's deliberations. She made a realistic assessment, but it left many questions open. Given that only two weeks remain before the Government must make a decision, I cannot help feeling that they must already have answered some of the questions, and the bid is getting the thumbs down. I hope that the outcome of the debate will be to give the Government confidence to support the bid.

First, I support the bid because it is no less than the catalyst for the regeneration of London. Secondly, I have pride in my city, and I believe that the Olympics will leave a legacy of which London will be proud not only for decades, but, possibly, for centuries. The three most important factors in making an Olympic bid are confidence, confidence and confidence. I see confidence in the British Olympic Association, confidence in the other place, confidence in every business group in London, and confidence in British Airways, which is supporting the proposals. The London boroughs have confidence, as has the London Development Agency.

There is hesitation, however, on the part of two of the three major stakeholders: the mayor and, sadly, the Government. The Greater London Assembly has confidence, but today's debate has not really focused on the key role that the Mayor of London will play in the whole process. He is a central figure in the process: he has published a press release saying that he is in favour of the bid, although his support is fairly lukewarm, if he does not mind me saying so. He answers a few questions but then returns to arguing with the Government about the underground.

14 Jan 2003 : Column 628

The question is whether the Mayor of London will offer the leadership that the bid deserves. If London ever needs a champion, he is the guy to be the champion, and this is the moment to do it. He should organise the shadow London organising committee. Where is the shadow Olympic development agency? He should be arguing the case and banging the drum. The difficulty—this is a serious point—is that his communications with the Government are not perfect at the moment so it is difficult to have a dialogue with them over something so central, in which he is a key player and in which he must lead the bid.

The Government are the second hesitating stakeholder, seemingly for two reasons: first, cost; and secondly, they had their fingers burned over the Wembley stadium and the dome. The Government should learn the lessons from Wembley. They saw where they went wrong, and now they can get it right. The lesson of the dome is even clearer—the problem was that they did not know what they were going to put in it, and they did not know what they were going to do with the dome afterwards.

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): It was your project, not ours.

Richard Ottaway: And we would have made a better job of it. What did the Government expect, leaving it to the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) to decide what went in it? It is crystal clear what the dome is for. All the infrastructure will produce a legacy that lasts for a substantial time.

Those of us who have not had a chance to consider the detailed Ove Arup report because it has not been published are slightly in the dark, but it is possible to get a feel for its approach. It says that the cost of hosting the Olympics will be #1.8 billion and explains that although the cost in Sydney was #2.2 billion, the revenue was more than double that, at #5.5 billion. Other cities will also benefit from events such as football and sailing. We should remember that the cost will be spread over nine years. The difficulty is trying to do a cost benefit analysis of civic pride.

There are a couple of things on which the Government have to show confidence and leadership. I agree that that must come from the very top, from the Cabinet and lower levels of the Govt. The conservative estimates of Arup were that the games would break even. If they are well planned, well marketed and well run on a world-class basis, and not in a half-hearted way, they can be profitable.

The role of the private sector will be important. The dome and the Excel exhibition centre are in place. We will, of course, need a new stadium. Frankly, it will have to be built by the private sector and, as the Secretary of State said, it must have an anchor tenant. Perhaps the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) can tell us whether West Ham football club might be interested in taking it on.

Mr. Banks: I am a Chelsea supporter.

Richard Ottaway: I know where the hon. Gentleman spends his Saturdays; I also where his votes come from.

14 Jan 2003 : Column 629

An anchor tenant of that nature is important and the Olympic village will become low-cost social housing afterwards.

The Secretary of State's second test is deliverability: can we do it? The answer is yes, of course we can. Much of the transport infrastructure is already in place. The Jubilee line goes right up to the lower Lea valley. Whether it needs another station or platform remains to be seen, but it has the capacity of taking 400,000 passengers a day. We have the docklands light railway and the Stratford channel tunnel rail link. If the Minister wishes to revisit Conservative Government decisions, perhaps he will agree that locating the terminal in Stratford was a visionary decision. We may also have Crossrail. The games could take place without it, but if that can be completed, so much the better.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) asked whether the transport infrastructure could cope. In the morning rush hour, between 7 and 10 o'clock, 1.1 million people come into London on public transport. If we contrast that with the estimate of 500,000 people a day moving around during the Olympic fortnight and a peak movement in the morning of 150,000, it is clear that the existing infrastructure can cope providing it is running efficiently. On any Saturday afternoon, the grounds of Arsenal, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Charlton, Millwall and Twickenham turn out at a quarter to five. The infrastructure in those areas copes with hundreds of thousands of passengers and we can cope with the extra people who come to the city because of the games. We can deliver. We have the hotels and airports and can build the necessary infrastructure.

So let us consider the legacy. Manchester is a good example because it has been left with decent stadiums and facilities from which it can benefit. It can rightly be proud of those. The games will give a tremendous boost to the sporting culture. London has many world-class facilities and it can become the sporting capital of Europe. There will also be economic benefits for the constituency of the hon. Member for West Ham. That area has some of the highest unemployment in London, so it is a great place to locate such an economic development. The benefits are obvious; for me, the whole question is a no-brainer.

We come to the final test, which is winnability. Can we win? Can we see off Paris? It is down to us. If we are confident, if we have the leadership and if we go ahead, we will win. If we are half-hearted, unsure and hesitant, we will not. This is a unique opportunity. By 2012, it will be 60 years since we last had the Olympic games in London. To delay would be an absolute disaster. I understand that our next opportunity would be 2024, and by then the land in the east end of London will almost certainly be developed and unavailable. This is a golden opportunity. Let us face it—if the capital city of the world's fourth largest economy cannot stage this bid, it does not say much, does it?

5.50 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): I thank the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) for the nice things that he said about my constituency. We are

14 Jan 2003 : Column 630

grateful for his support, and he is always welcome to come and have a curry with me in the East India Tandoori. There are plenty of curry houses and they serve good dinners.

Obviously, I have to declare an interest, although it seems that most Members have declared it for me. Most of the proposed Olympic site is in east London; 50 per cent. of it is in Newham, and a substantial amount of that is in my constituency. Naturally, but not for that reason alone, I support the bid. I fully believe that there will be long-term economic and sporting benefits not only for London but for the country as a whole. Having said that, and knowing how much my area will benefit, we should bid for the games only after the most rigorous, dispassionate and objective assessment of the costs and benefits leads to that conclusion.

If we are to proceed, it is essential, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have emphasised, that the Government demonstrate their total commitment, both financially and politically, to the bid. Without that there can be no success and it would be folly to contemplate bidding. We also need to be aware of two inescapable basic facts. First, the organisers and supporters of major sporting bids invariably overestimate the revenues and benefits and underestimate the costs and difficulties. That seems to be almost an immutable rule.

Secondly, bids are usually launched amid intense media and public enthusiasm, but as soon as the first problems are encountered, the supporters who have been cheering from the sidelines largely disappear or become prophets of doom. They cross their arms and say, XI told you we should never have gone for it in the first place." We must be wary of listening to siren voices, whether they are those of Opposition Members, the Evening Standard or The Daily Telegraph. We must say, XIf you're going to support the bid, you must continue to support it when the problems emerge."

Problems will emerge, because every bidding city has run into problems. Athens, Sydney and Barcelona ran into problems, and we will run into problems. Will we be able to count on those who have been huzzaing from the sidelines? Frankly, I think not. It seems to be one of the harsh rules of politics that if it all goes well, someone else takes the credit, but if it goes badly, the Government take all the blame, so it is little wonder that Ministers are treading very carefully. They are on a hiding to nothing. In the end, all the rhetoric in this Chamber is no substitute for a critical examination of the facts. If we go for the bid, everyone has to sign up, preferably in blood, and that includes the media, who are so negative when things go a bit awry.

Turning to the costs, my instincts and bitter experience tell me that Ove Arup's projections, both for the bid costs and the capital costs, are a gross underestimate. It is not just public projects that go over budget. A private project such as the channel tunnel went grossly over budget. I have seen costs estimates ranging from #1.8 billion to #5.4 billion. The Government would be wise to take the thick end of that estimate—#5.4 billion—and add a further sum. Then they might come somewhere near the outturn budget. Any optimistic estimate of costs at this stage, which there always are, should be ignored. If they get it wrong by overestimating the costs, they are quids in. If they get it wrong by underestimating the costs, all the problems

14 Jan 2003 : Column 631

will come their way. We should examine the matter closely and assume that all the costs that we have been told so far are an underestimate.

When I went with the Secretary of State on an inspection tour of the east end sites, I pointed out to her that the regeneration of most of those sites and the investment in Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham will take place eventually, because it is such an obvious area for development, if one looks at the map of London as a whole. Clearly, the impetus of the Olympic games coming to London will make that development happen so much faster, providing, as I said at the outset, that the Government are fully signed up to the bid.

Crossrail has been mentioned, and it is a good case in point. London and the south-east desperately need Crossrail. That has nothing to do with the Olympic games at all. We have needed Crossrail for decades. We should have had Crossrail before we had the Jubilee line extension. It has been one of the facts of transport life in London for ages. Crossrail is essential to the success of an Olympic bid. I know that the Government support Crossrail and will be providing the money for it, so it seems sensible to bring that money forward and add it into the bid costs. We need Crossrail, whether or not we get the Olympics.

I shall deal with some of the other aspects. The after-use of an Olympic village in the east end of London is obvious. It will provide a large concentration of affordable, decent, new housing in an area that desperately needs it. We can see the benefits coming through immediately. Crossrail and other transport improvements will be good not just for the Olympic bid, but for the whole of the south-east region. The village will provide us with decent, affordable houses. We begin to see how a bid stacks up in terms of its long-term economic benefits.

There is a different problem arising from the after-use of the Olympic stadium. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have discussed the matter. An 80,000-seater Olympic stadium is far too big for athletics. Even if it were scaled down to 20,000, it would still be too big. Clearly, as the hon. Member for Croydon, South suggested a moment ago, the Government need to look for a football club to take it over. West Ham is a possibility, and so is Tottenham. I might add, having read the Evening Standard tonight, that with Craven Cottage being sold off by al-Fayed—there's a surprise, I might add—perhaps Fulham might be a candidate. Knowing football fans as well as I do, I recognise that it is a lot easier to make those suggestions than to bring them to fruition. It is a problem that we need to consider.

The boroughs in the east end will be worried about inheriting sites and facilities that no one wants to use or which are under-utilised. It is not just the capital costs that matter at that point, but the revenue costs. We cannot afford another dome in the east end of London. The dome came in on budget, but we did not have any set idea of what the after-use would be. When I was a Minister, I went to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) when he was the dome Minister of blessed memory and told him that that would be an ideal site for the Olympic games. Unfortunately, he did not see any sense in that, and we still have a very empty dome.

14 Jan 2003 : Column 632

In summary, a successful Olympics are a wonderful showcase for a city and a country and could provide long-term economic benefit, particularly in terms of transport, jobs and regeneration. We should go for the bid. It is important for London and its status, but as I have said time and again, it has to be done on the basis of a cold, calculated and even cynical view of the costs and benefits. It is easy to hear people in a pub on the Romford road, where I am, say that we should go for the Olympic games, but whatever public opinion says now, when the problems come in, we can sometimes find that the people who were cheering us on have all disappeared. That is the bitter experience of the past. That point is not downbeat, but realistic. Unless we are realistic, we will find ourselves running into difficulties.

Finally, will the Secretary of State bear in mind the Olympic truce? Anyone who re-reads the founding principles of the 1894 congress will see how the political, cultural and economic objectives of the Olympic games were stated and how many of them have now been lost. I hope that she will consider that point.

Next Section

IndexHome Page