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Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) is right to draw attention to the UK-wide tourist opportunities that the Olympics provide. I echo that.

I am delighted that the Olympics are coming to east London. I repeat my congratulations to all involved in the successful bid, including the ministerial team, who did extremely well. Waltham Forest is one of the four local authorities that are in the Olympic park, and Leyton in my constituency will house the velodrome for the cycling and, I believe, the BMX sports. Waltham Forest contains Chingford. For a long time its MP was Norman—now Lord—Tebbit. He once made a famous statement about getting "on yer bike" to find work. All these years later, I am pleased to say it is a case of getting "on yer bike" for the Olympic cycling in Waltham Forest.

The 2012 Olympics promise to be the greatest event on earth. The world's eyes will be upon us and it is in the national interest that we make a success of it. It brings
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many opportunities, especially for the regeneration of an environmentally and financially poor part of east London. Lots of jobs will flow from the construction work and services, and we need to ensure that the local population, including local youth, is trained up with the skills necessary to benefit fully from that employment. Extra resources must be put into that skills training.

There are health advantages to be had as the population is inspired to get fitter, taking part in sport using existing facilities and, after 2012, the legacy facilities. It is important that schoolchildren are given the chance and encouraged to get fitter, too. In recent years there have been attempts at free access schemes—for example, to swimming pools. Those schemes must be expanded to offer schoolchildren free access to pools and tracks. Arts for the Olympics should not be neglected, and we should utilise the talents of those who are more artistic than sporty. I echo the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) about utilising art.

Many Londoners are worried about the cost of the Olympics and especially about a rise in council tax. The Olympic precept on the council tax as an element of the funding package to meet the games' costs is due to commence in 2006–07 and last for 10 years. In a press release in May 2003, the Mayor stated that the maximum addition to council tax to fund the Olympics would be £20 a year on average on a band D property. That strikes me as a reasonable precept. It would raise £625 million. If there were a cost overrun, that would require £650 million from the precept and the council tax charge would be for 12 years rather than 10.

The agreed funding package for specific Olympic capital costs is £2.375 billion, but if the costs go beyond that, although the Government are the ultimate guarantor of Olympic funding, they would expect to agree a sharing arrangement with the Mayor of London. So cost overruns still have the potential to cause damage to council taxpayers and they must be avoided. The costs must be kept under control. It is important to keep construction costs from spiralling, as happened with the dome, the Jubilee line, the Scottish Parliament and several other projects. We do not have a good record of controlling costs, but we must do so for the Olympic facilities. That means letting the tenders and getting the work done early. The later it is, the more the contractors have the taxpayer over a barrel, and that must not happen.

There is a lot to do with the transport improvements and the infrastructure work, but the Government are also committed to many other building projects. Building schools for the future was an election pledge that I strongly supported, so that every school that needs such building work will get it over the next 15 years. There is the work on major new hospitals and the modernisation of older ones, such as Whipps Cross University hospital in my constituency. That will be the second nearest hospital to the main Olympic facilities and the nearest to the velodrome, should there be a cycling accident, which I hope there will not be, so that must be modernised, and I am keeping up the pressure for that.

There is also much building associated with regeneration, including the Thames Gateway and Stratford city, and the Government have also set the decent homes target, which is a strong target to build
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and improve many homes. Therefore, we must really get a grip on the construction and get on with it. The Government should relax the requirement that they have had up to now to build primarily via the public finance initiative, and instead use all appropriate means to finance construction, depending on what offers the best value and what gets the job done quickly.

Quality work is also important, a point that I made in an intervention during the Tuesday's debate on the Crossrail Bill. It is important to work in partnership with the trade unions representing construction workers. I admit that I have a vested interest because I am on the parliamentary team for the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, but I draw attention to early-day motion 591 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), which points out that safe systems of work and dignified terms and conditions, often with a directly employed labour force, is the route to world-class projects being built safely and delivered on time, and the Heathrow project is given as an example.

I agree with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) that there must not be planning hold-ups. We need a proper and fair planning process, but a prompt one. In some cases, the national interest of facilitating the Olympics may need to be invoked, but that should not be left until the last minute.

I have a letter from Carlo Laurenzi, OBE, chief executive of the London Wildlife Trust, who is concerned about the environmental quality of the games as shown in the Bill. He says:

He concludes:

Well, I have done, and I hope that as the Bill goes through Parliament the Minister will take that on board and we will get the greenest games ever.

Jeremy Corbyn : My hon. Friend has obviously studied the Bill in some detail. Could he help the House by saying whether the normal section 106 arrangements apply, or are they suspended because of the special nature of the planning procedure that is being invoked?

Harry Cohen: I have not studied the Bill in sufficient detail to answer my hon. Friend. I understand that the new Olympic delivery authority will have strong powers, but perhaps the Minister will clarify the specific point raised by my hon. Friend when he replies to the debate or in due course.

I come now to a bit of local politics. Newham is understandably thrusting in getting regeneration for its own area and was a powerful advocate for the successful bid, but its record with its neighbouring boroughs is not ideal. We do not want Waltham Forest—in my case Leyton and Leytonstone—

Lyn Brown : Will my hon. Friend give way?
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Harry Cohen: Let me finish my point and I certainly will.

We do not want Leyton and Leytonstone to be Newham's car park, or the route used by masses of through traffic to access the facility. Better co-operation between the planners in the boroughs concerned, at an early stage, is essential. Waltham Forest must not be bounced by having some of the disbenefits forced on it.

Lyn Brown: Does my hon. Friend agree that the five boroughs concerned have done remarkably well in pushing together the benefits of the area that they all hold dear? In fact, the London borough of Newham may have been the driving force in creating the cohesion between them, keeping them together and pressing for the agendas that they all hold dear: inward investment, skills and education, health and opportunity, and opportunities for our children.

Harry Cohen: I agree, and I did pay tribute to Newham as a driving force. Now that we are getting down to the nitty-gritty, we must retain that cohesion.

Meg Hillier: Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the role that Hackney has played as a host borough, particularly in leading the cultural and creative industries?

Harry Cohen: That is a good point, well made. But we want Hackney to do even more. We also do not want any more road routes sprung on us at a late stage, for instance over the environmentally important marshes. We do, however, want public transport to be improved as quickly as possible. Reopening of the Hall farm curve in Waltham Forest would provide a north-south rail link through the borough and, crucially, to Stratford, the main station for the Olympics. That project should move to the top of the agenda.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind makes some interesting points. It says that the Olympic delivery authority should be

Disabled people want to enjoy the spectacle of the Olympics, as well as the Paralympics, and they should be able to do so. The RNIB also says that all buses in London should be subject to a requirement for "visual and audible announcements" for deaf and blind people, including

There is no commitment to that so far, and I think that there should be.

As for the costs, a House of Commons Library paper gives a lot of ballpark figures—estimates—but one of them worried me. I am not convinced that £23,125 million for security will be sufficient, especially in view of the threats that we have faced and the bitter experience that we have had. The Government must think again about that estimate.

As I said, Waltham Forest is one of the four Olympic park boroughs, but it is not in a position to be the active contributor that it could be, because for the past few years it has been at the bottom in terms of the allocation of Government grants to London authorities. It has
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pared down its operation and become more efficient, but it now needs to be able to provide and facilitate more. It needs more resources to do that, and it cannot divert already stretched resources. I urge the Government to take that special factor into account in the next series of local authority funding settlements. Waltham Forest must be given more if it is to be a partner in the Olympic process.

Young people need to enjoy the inspirational and health benefits of high-quality physical activity. A new community sports facility, the SCORE project, is due to open shortly in Leyton. It will prove valuable during the Olympics, but schools have a vital role as well. Children are a captive audience. The Building Schools for the Future project must be brought forward in Leyton and Wanstead. It is currently at the back of the queue, which is not acceptable. In 15 years it will be too late. Waltham Forest is bidding for private finance initiative resources for a new pool and track complex. The borough wants to provide a replacement 25 m pool, track refurbishment and a new sports hall as Olympic training facilities and to reconfigure the surrounding area, including parts of the town hall complex and of Waltham Forest college. I hope that the Minister and his team will consider that bid favourably.

For a long time, the Tory-controlled London borough of Redbridge has failed to get its act together on the development of a swimming pool in the Wanstead area. That situation has existed for many years, and the Olympics provides an opportunity to rectify it. Wanstead is near enough to the Olympic action for a swimming pool to be valuable, if it is built. The London borough of Redbridge should revisit those plans and submit them to the ODA and the Government, who should consider them favourably. Finally, Waltham Forest must play a significant role in developing the local legacy benefits, which will also require resources and expertise.

The Olympics will cost, but it in my opinion they should be well worth it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event for not only east London, but the whole of the UK, and it is in the national interest that it is nothing other than a success.

4.56 pm

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