Games Monitor: Undermining the hype of the London Olympics

Interview with Games Monitor, by Andrea Gibbons and Nick Wolff

Banksy, Olympics street art.

Banksy, Olympics street art.

Games Monitor is an east London based network of activists, objectors, citizen journalists and researchers. Operating largely through the extensive website, the group functions as ‘a discussion forum, research body, press and political lobby'(1)  ‘debunking Olympic myths’ and raising awareness about issues concerning the London 2012 Olympic Games. This interview with members of Games Monitor took place on 7 May 2012, eleven weeks before the opening ceremony of the London Olympics and nine years since the decision was taken that London would bid for the Games. Julian Cheyne, a resident of the Clays Lane Estate demolished to make way for the athletes’ village, hosted us at his home in Stepney, east London, in the middle of ‘a very busy time’ writing papers, organising activity and dealing with friends’ arrests on Olympics-related charges. Carolyn Smith is the compiler of the background papers for Games Monitor that have grown from an initial four page press briefing in 2005 to now cover 75,000 words analysis on impact, finances and governance of the London Olympics. Charlie Charman, who joined later in the afternoon, is a Hackney resident citizen journalist and analyst researching the land contamination and remediation issues around the Olympic sites. This is an edited transcript of our discussion, covering two hours and numerous topics exploring the role of Games Monitor and their perspectives on the London Olympics.

To start with could you just say who you are and what you’ve been doing around the Olympics?

JC: My name’s Julian Cheyne and I guess you could say that I got involved because the Olympics came along and hit me on the head and required me to move out of my home.

CS: I’m Carolyn Smith and I was a founder member of No London 2012 which was  precursor to Games Monitor. I was convinced that the flagship project was vulnerable from many angles, security and urban planning policy were my main concerns, and I was not alone in that. No London 2012 held a press conference, and a protest flotilla of houseboats down the River Lea. We prepared a briefing paper for the IOC (International Olympic Committee) members which went off right at the last minute, fielded a lot of press inquiries, and then we sat back expecting the Olympics to go to Paris. And obviously the decision went the other way. Games Monitor grew out of No London 2012. Martin Slavin worked with Caterina Carola to produce the website and that was the genesis of the current organisation. Martin has drawn people in over the years to work around this new website, it’s not been a smooth continuity.

With such a range of political and economic interests lined up not only behind the Games but by extension behind the wider masterplan and developments in Stratford and the Lea Valley, organising an effective opposition must have been hugely challenging. How did it come about?

JC: Carolyn was involved before me although I was involved a little bit because Clays Lane, the estate where I was living, was facing demolition and I went to some of the tail end meetings of the No London 2012 group some time in 2005, about a year before Games Monitor got going.  No London 2012 had achieved a high degree of synergy in the run up to the bid decision; my experience is that there are a lot of little amenity societies operating in London so we had people from Hackney Marsh Users Group and the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee meeting together and trying to get to grips with what was happening. But it was very difficult to form any coalition or any real connection between different groups. Even within communities they were very split, Clays Lane was completely divided. Eventually we managed to get 73 people to sign the objection to the CPO (Compulsory Purchase Order) but a lot of those people were not really involved at all, some of them did it out of solidarity but they were absolutely on the way out and had no interest in fighting the CPO itself. We had four witnesses at the CPO on the group case and when it came to objections, we had about 25 to 30 objections at the initial stage, I wrote a good half of them or more and people signed them. There were about six of us who wrote substantial objections to the CPO. It’s very difficult to get people involved, first of all it is a very intimidating process, trying to think of the right language in which to deal with this planning stuff. Other groups, the businesses, the allotments, the Eastway Cycle Track users, didn’t really work together at all. There was some very limited overlap. I got in touch with Lance Foreman, one of the leading business people and he put me in touch with a publicity agent who was trying to promote stories to the press. And I went to the allotments a couple of times and there were the Travellers as well, right next door to us, but there was no coordination there at all. Each group did its own thing. The Lammas Lands group and the allotments were half working together and half at odds because the allotments were going to be put on a bit of land that the Lammas Lands people were fighting to keep them off. So communities were set against each other. The same thing happened with the Travellers, who were going to be moved to a local park at Major Road and the local community was upset about that; they did try to work together but they didn’t really see eye to eye. So these divisions also kept getting in the way of trying to build any coordinated programme of resistance; or you can’t really call it resistance, just objection.

CS: The Travellers went to the High Court to try to prevent their removal to this site, which was a park/playground by a local estate specifically because they didn’t want to take over locally used space that was valuable to the children of the area. But they lost the High Court battle and that’s where they are now.

JC: One of the points I would make is how atomised everything is and how individuals and communities are under much greater stress these days and therefore people don’t really form associations in the same way. Lots of residents associations have disintegrated, this is my impression, and communities are finding it much harder to work together in resistance to these projects. We had people just up the road who virtually barely knew we existed and had no interest in us at all and were going around saying “they’re  getting masses of compensation”, no connection really. It took masses of work just to get anything going at all.

CS: The one organised group in east London is London Citizens, a combination of faith groups, trades unions and tenants and residents associations, and certainly No London 2012 found them obstructive. We couldn’t find any space to meet in Newham, we wanted to hold a public meeting and venue managers would turn around and say, “We are part of London Citizens, London Citizens are supporting the bid”.

JC: People are very worried about appearing to be anti-Olympics. The first thing people say is “I’m not anti-Olympics, but…”. At Leyton Marsh recently, when a couple of people from Counter Olympics (2)  went along to meetings there quite a few of the people did  not want anything to do with anything that appeared to be anti-Olympics. Although there are others that do and now the mood has changed very dramatically and people just don’t give a damn whether it’s known they’re anti-Olympics or not because the ODA (Olympic Delivery Authority) just barged ahead regardless with the project. But, you do have this initial reaction where people think there may be something they can get out of this and make some kind of deal and at that stage they don’t want to offend. Businesses started out with signs supporting the Olympics and it was only after many months of having bad times with the LDA (London Development Agency) that they finally started saying we’re fed up with this and wrote to the IOC to say so. Although there are communities that have turned around like a group within the allotments who have now fallen into line and adopted the attitude that the London Olympics is a good thing and they deal with the ODA. Lammas Lands as well are now taking the view that they’re going to cooperate. So you get to the point where people are in this dilemma as to how to deal with the Olympics and the fact that there’s so much pressure from every single layer of government, national, city, local authority and all the quangos going on and on about how this is the greatest show on earth, so how do you present an opposition to that?

Have there been any high points, or moments when people have really come together and you’ve felt that there’s been a real resistance. Have you won anything solid?

JC: There have been one or two points where people have felt that they’ve made an impact, yes. Whether that means that they’ve won anything is another matter. The recent campaign around Leyton Marsh has actually really invigorated people. I think they’ve been quite surprised by the fact that – I know it was only for a couple of weeks – they held up the construction. But that’s just a group of residents, it’s ordinary people turning up and objecting. And a lot of people who’ve been really upset by all of this have been saying that they felt really inspired that they’ve even achieved that much.

Can you tell us a bit about what happened?

JC: Leyton Marsh is where they are going to put the basketball training arena. And there are plenty of alternatives that they could have used but they decided to go for this site. This is Metropolitan Open Land and the council itself agreed that they would never ever have allowed anything to be put on this site if it hadn’t been for the Olympics so it’s completely in breach of all planning rules. They came along and they started work and local people, just people walking their dogs and so on, got upset about this and they started playing boules and things like that in front of the lorries. And to everyone’s surprise the ODA sat back and it seemed as if they’d been relatively successful. Then Occupy turned up and had a camp and then it became rather more serious. Then it was discovered that the ODA had put in a new planning application so they could dig much deeper than they were previously allowed to do. This again broke  planning rules and in fact they’d already been doing it without permission, which stimulated a lot more anger. Then of course you had the injunction and three people wouldn’t pay the fine and went to jail, one has been given an ASBO (Anti Social Behaviour Order) to last until October which bars him from going within a hundred metres of any Olympic facility and Jubilee event as well! Also there was an incident the other day in which someone in our group, Mike Wells, was filming there and was then  accused of assaulting a driver but he says he was assaulted, he ended up being charged, kept on remand in custody for over a week and also has been given a bail restriction of not being allowed within a hundred metres of any Olympic facility. So he has an ASBO without a conviction, I’d say, again until September when his trial comes up. So it was just a small community resistance and I can’t honestly think that anything else has really made that kind of impact, which actually held up the process and has then led to people going to prison. But it’s very scattered because you are up against this juggernaut. It is just a programme that will have its way and will plough on regardless.

What is the scale of the displacement involved?

CS: If you compare it to other Olympic events, in my opinion London has got off quite lightly. The Olympics decimated light industry in the Lower Lea Valley, I think the impact on firms has been the most marked.

JC: I think one of the things to look at is the very deliberate process of de-industrialisation, and the altering of an area which had a certain history, and quite deliberately. It is very explicit in the CPO evidence that the LDA put forward, wanting to change that into so-called creative industries which are inevitably going to be jobs for a completely different labour market. And that is explicitly in their objectives, that they wanted to get rid of what they regard as dirty industry, so the clean up is not just remediation, it’s the clean up of everything.

CS: It’s the erasure of the poor, we’re an offense to the technocratic mindset. To me, economic development and planning are elitist projects (although there is a certain tension within this). After all, urban planning reforms grew out of the public health movement, the activities of people like the Benthamite Edwin Chadwick and social reformer Octavia Hill. Other public health reformers of the time called for the amputation of diseased and congested areas. I think it’s this aspect that’s playing out in the technocratic distaste for brownfield land and light industry.

JC: There were about 420 people on Clays Lane who were relocated. There was a student estate next door. So you lose housing for around a thousand people but with the student estate you weren’t displacing people because most of those people would move on anyway. And as usual they say that these estates are in poor condition and needed to be knocked down anyway, even if they’ve only been constructed some twenty-five or thirty years earlier.

CS: But you compare that to Beijing where I think 1.5 million people were displaced, it’s nothing on that scale.

There’s this idea that cities bid for the Olympics because they want to put themselves on the world stage, to bring themselves to the ‘world city’ table and bring the world’s attention to them. You can see the logic of that argument for Beijing and Rio for example. But there’s an argument that says London doesn’t need that. What’s your perspective on what London or the London governance coalition wanted from the Olympics, and do you think they are going to get it?

CS: To me I think they wanted the reflected glory of hosting a world event. You know what they state, which is that this was the only way to get government investment into this area, that was Ken’s excuse. But I think he saw it as a status project with minimal collateral damage that could stick to him – that’s my understanding of how politicians make decisions.

JC: They had just had the Game Plan report, which had told them that all the things that they now claim are guaranteed benefits would not come; that this is going to be a national celebration but there is no great benefit to be got out of this.  That was at the end of 2002 and then some time in 2003 they decided to go for it and of course started saying that they would get all these benefits. It appears, on the basis of Mike Lee’s book (3)  that there was a discussion going on between Jowell and Livingstone who then persuaded Blair who then persuaded Brown. If that is the case then there is this little cabal of people who decide that they are going to launch the entire government machine behind a project which they have just been told is not going to bring any benefits. Yet they are going to say it is going to be the greatest show on earth and that is going to bring enormous benefits to London.

Stratford City was a major project put forward by Newham back in the 90s. I was representing Clays Lane at the unitary development plan inquiry in 1992 and the idea for developing the railway lands was already in play. Stratford City was  promoted as a metropolitan centre for the whole of London, with no mention of the Olympics. Then, when the Olympics came along, Stratford City was promoted on the one hand by the LDA as being this great centre and at the same time was being absolutely rubbished by the LDA as being totally incompetent. The LDA was determined to re-shape Stratford City in its own image, it included  it in the Compulsory Purchase red-line, they put an enormous amount of pressure on Stratford City. Actually the consortium fell apart and Westfield stepped in with the direct backing of Livingstone and the LDA. Stratford City now presents itself as the people who helped the Olympics but the athletes village was put there under the pressure of the CPO which required Stratford City to go along with what the Olympics was doing otherwise it was going to be taken over completely. This was a project already up and running and at the heart of what Stratford was about, this was the golden goose as far as Newham was concerned, not the Olympics. When the Olympic bandwagon got going they had to somehow displace Stratford City to make themselves the main focus and Stratford City was downgraded massively.

What is different about the impact of the Olympics on east London? Is it just a pre-determined plan or narrative for this part of London that’s being accelerated (like Docklands) or are the Olympics per se bringing an identifiably different character to this transformation?

CS: I think it’s the ideological construct that they’ve manufactured around the event and its potential outcomes. For instance, in terms of what they say the Legacy expectations should be – and they constantly decrease your expectations. They want to present the Olympics as being above social conflict, that the housing generated will be for families etc. It’s grossly ideological. For me, to demand jobs and housing out of the Olympic Legacy in any case is to be complicit in its mythification, although this is a minority view.

JC: The IOC itself presents itself as being this idealistic movement but actually it’s entirely tied up with corporate finances and corporate power. And it is able to come into one of the most powerful cities in the world and require that city to entirely alter its traffic configurations so that its people can get a freebie in the Dorchester and be driven around London in special cars at taxpayers expense, breaking all traffic rules. And that symbolises an extraordinary fear on behalf of the city that somehow it’s going to get left behind. Otherwise why would these people have so much influence that they are able to do this? They have no actual status as any kind of authority in the world, they are just a private body of people who have managed to corner a particular market. They are entirely a brand and they have managed to position themselves whereby cities will turn themselves upside down. We are mobilising almost for a war. The number of troops, ships, Typhoon jets, material being brought back from Afghanistan to protect London. So the whole city and the state has been turned around to do something for these people, on what basis?

CS: We have a neo-colonial relation to the Olympics in which any development that might happen around the stadia is completely peripheral in a way. The Olympics is a massive intervention into the sovereignty of a nation. It’s like having the EU in Greece. The EU is in Greece making sure that it implements austerity measures. Look at the Host City Contract – the IOC expects and the host country provides. Security, funding, taxes, transport, marketing, every aspect of the events promotion, organisation and protection even the issuing of commemorative currency is bound up in a neo-colonial construct. The IOC is a supranational power.

JC: It has a whole variety of symbols which it deploys, the torch relays and things like that which are meant to point everything in the direction of the importance of this project. One thing after the other is reeled out in order to say ‘this is what’s coming’.

The Olympics will send commissions to the country in order to require that certain things are done by the people that are constructing this project. The host  nation’s guaranteeing the budget but that’s just for the running of the Games. Then the IOC expects that all the facilities will be up to the necessary standard for the games to work. The athletes’ village needs to be built close to your stadium: you have athletes saying “I must be able to get to the stadium without any problems at all so that I can perform to my absolute best!” and, of course, if there’s an estate just in the middle of this area then you get rid of that in order that people can come and live there for two or three weeks. These kind of requirements are the most extraordinary intervention.

Now of course that can work with what a city government may want to do with that area, there can be a complete conjunction between these two objectives and that, you might say, is where this programme works. Maybe that’s why they went with it because they could see the conjunction and they could take over this land in this way under the guise of the Olympics and some kind of regeneration project, which is what it is presented as. Even though that regeneration programme is happening in the area anyway.

This is a process which the Olympics is coming in on top of rather than creating. Whether this is of any benefit to local people is another matter. In Docklands people were shipped out to Canning Town and now a lot are moving on to Rainham because Canning Town is going through a similar process. While they were creating jobs in Canary Wharf, local unemployment  was actually going up so this has nothing to do with local needs, it has to do with property development and the interests which run behind that.

I wanted to get back to the idea of militarisation, on which there’s been a lot on the news recently. What are your thoughts on that process?

CS: I think it’s another aspect of neo-colonialism. East London has a very long-standing history of racist policing – fit-ups, drug planting, deaths in custody and assault – and I can see that only accelerating with the scale of deployment that Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney will face. All three boroughs have very large Black and Asian populations and I think they are in jeopardy.

In Lambeth there’s a call out for retired policemen because so many of the Lambeth police are getting pulled to work on the Olympics

JC: Well they are coming from Scotland as well. Dave Zirin wrote about what happened after the LA Olympics and how that increased the tension in the area where later you  had the LA riots. In all Olympics you have this process of targeting street people and it is happening in London at the moment, in particular with prostitution it seems, and will be happening in every respect. You have dispersal zones, which cover now the whole of Newham, which means if somebody is considered to be behaving in an anti-social manner they can be told to leave the area and not return for 24 or 48 hours. Those zones already existed and now they have been extended to cover the whole borough.

CS: I think the implication of the security is what remains afterwards. You have a month of high security, it’s a bit like Belfast, you have that frisson of uncertainty – will something kick off or will it not. Whereas they’re deploying facial recognition technology across the city and I can’t see that disappearing after the Games, so it will have implications for the degree of harassment and the degree that they can pinpoint troublemakers of any sort, whether they’re protestors, whether there they’re young people.

JC: As Carolyn says, a lot of this stuff will stay, even if they say it won’t it sets precedents for the next time you have a big conference, the G20 or something, you can upgrade your level of security because you’ve done it once before. Then you’ve created a new space for the security industry to get involved. And of course that also involved a large private component, because a lot of this is being provided by private companies, G4S notably, which again opens up that kind of market, that area for further exploitation in the future.

It occurred to me that if I had said to the inspector at the CPO inquiry back in 2006, that in 2012 they will be sticking missiles on top of a block of flats in east London, the guy would have said I will never listen to another word you say again, you’re obviously completely deluded, your evidence is worthless.

CS: I think it is also a lot to do with image management, because after 2001, terrorism upped the ante in spectacular stakes, so the state has to escalate. I think there is a certain rationale behind it, but as Julian pointed out they won’t stop anything, they’ll just create an atmosphere of fear among the population.

Spectacular security…

JC: Yeah, to go with a spectacular event. And that’s the kind of logic isn’t it. It does make it more spectacular. And of course important things need important security.

Charlie, could you tell us a bit about your involvement with the Games?

Charlie Charman (CC): I’ve been doing stuff with Games Monitor, since about 2007. I started off with my involvement in Manor Gardens allotments on the Olympics site, and through knowing people at Clays Lane, and I started to get more and more involved in the intricacies of the Olympics and the planning process. I also became involved in a lot of research on construction issues, particularly issues of contamination and the remediation process which they are supposed to be undertaking on the Olympic site. I’ve also more recently become involved in Leyton Marsh, because its close to where I live, and the protests there. That’s become very interesting in the last couple of months, the way they construct this notion of protestors, and attempt to differentiate it from ordinary residents. That links into recent jail sentences for people, the use of ASBOs which are also undifferentiated in the kinds of issues that they believe the protestors are engaged with. These ASBOs seem to be aimed at anything that protestors might want to disrupt without acknowledging that often people are protesting about very specific issues. But there seems to be this imperative to make protest seem meaningless, that it’s so generalised, that protestors are just looking for something to make a fuss about and attaching onto the Olympic Games or any big event in order to publicise their particular cause. In reality their motives are often highly specific, often local issues which have not been dealt with by local authorities.

Could you say a little about the environmental impact of the Games?

CC: Well, one of the very interesting things about the way that the whole project has been presented is as a way to clean up a purportedly massively contaminated semi-abandoned industrial area, and there’s two parts to that: first of all the whole issue of the contamination which is undoubtedly relatively serious. But also whether that actually limits the usage of the land is debatable, much of the land had already been remediated, particularly the Eastway cycle circuit area. Other areas were underlain by dumped debris and landfill material, particularly underneath the Olympic stadium and the area where the media centre is, but because the whole project has been done in such a tremendous rush there didn’t seem to be time to actually properly investigate the land and determine what exactly they were dealing with, so much of the problems were only discovered once they started excavating and, having very limited time, there actually was not a lot they can do.

JC: I slightly disagree with you, when we were at Clays Lane we were pointing out to the LDA that there was radioactive material around. I had an email conversation with a guy in the Health and Safety Executive , I sent him the document that Mike Wells had discovered called Industry Profiles (4) which states that if you intend to work on a old rubbish tip prior to radioactive regulations you have to expect to find radioactive material in domestic waste. The guy from the HSE said, so you are telling me we should expect to find this radioactive material lying around all over the place? I said yes, that is what the document says. He replied he saw no evidence of that!  So, wilful blindness, I think, because they didn’t want to look at that. And you’re talking about large resources here, they didn’t do a proper analysis. Mike found, just looking old registers of factories and such, there were two companies that dealt in thorium, both of which were registered as using radioactive material. So I think it’s not just the timescale, they were careless.

So what are the biggest risks now, is there a continuing health risk involved?

CC: Yes there is, all kinds of contaminants. Basically they’ve got to do the whole thing again, more mounds of rubbish more soil shipped off site, more soil washing, effectively they have to do a whole new remediation strategy for the legacy. Will they, is that being planned?

JC: One of the extraordinary things is they created a cell, a storage cell for over 7,000 tonnes of this radioactive contaminated stuff on site. The Environment Agency said nothing should ever be built in the vicinity of this, and they at present plan to build a tower block on top of it. Extraordinary. They created this storage cell without permission, they just went ahead and did it and then they told the ODA planning team they’d done it, who then sent them a letter saying you shouldn’t have done that, and they received all these notices of unexpected finds. They weren’t unexpected because they should have known the stuff was there in the first place. As Charlie has said they have created this small layer of remediated soil on top and underneath you will have to do it again, there’s a plastic sheet spread under the topsoil across most of the site telling developers that you’re going to have to do further remediation. Charlie and Mike have been trying to get this publicised, there are only two journalists who as far as I’m aware have brought this to the national press and one of them had a battle with his editor for several months before he managed to publish a rather minuscule article about it. This has all been done on almost no resources, just a couple of people sending in Freedom of Information requests.

CC: Trawling through hundreds of planning documents.

What are the aspects that you find most startling or egregious that haven’t been picked up by the media, what is absent from the discourse and maybe thoughts on why?

CS: From the perspective of City journal readers, I think the Convergence document deserves greater attention, that’s the strategic regeneration framework for the host boroughs (5). It was published in 2009. That’s not really been dealt with properly by us, but certainly no one else seems to have taken it up at all. Ostensibly, it aims to equalise life chances across London – east London has particularly poor performance. It’s a turn to reflexive government, that is, it relies on shifts in governmental mechanisms and oversight as a panacea for what it perceives as social problems, defined as welfare ‘dependency’, reliance on social housing or the vagaries of the private rental market, fatness, the whole document is mired in stigma. Also, they have written off anyone over the age of 24 in terms of an improvement in life chances, all hopes expressed in the document are toward improved school attainment. Older people are regarded as long-term unemployable, candidates for the Work Programme only. So now we have a situation where light industry in the Lower Lea Valley has been decimated or at the very least dispersed, and there are only coercive mechanisms being put in place to mop up the damage. Mitchell Dean describes it as a neo-conservative turn within neo-liberalism.

CC: I agree. Its highly suspicious, it’s a kind of re-branding of gentrification because the assumption is that its improving the life chances of particular people whereas its actually generalised statistical improvement which could be achieved by removing the less advantaged people or by bringing in more wealthy people into an area and of course that would have the affect of improving overall the statistics of a general population. That’s quite worrying.

And has that been looked at by anybody?

CS: I assume that there are various PhD scholars who examined it and talked to the people who have written it. Obviously we don’t have that access to any of the professionals. And it certainly was a hard job for me to track it down, I came across it by chance.

JC: This whole business about improving the statistics in London, we brought it up at the CPO Inquiry, saying of course if you’re going to change the population you’re going to change the statistics and it will tell you absolutely nothing about the people who were there and who very well might find it harder to live, or be forced to move out.

CS: I also think that researchers might look at the complicity of NGOs and civil society organisations in making these events seem to be acceptable. It’s a part of the socialisation of governance. Jonathan Porritt, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), Groundwork, the London Wildlife Trust, the BioRegional Development Group as well as London Citizens have all pinned their colours to the Olympic mast.

Any final thoughts?

JC: The Olympics does provide opportunities for passing special laws. Changing the planning rules of the area. So you have the Olympics Act (6), the creation of the ODA. And the fact that this is meant to then be the centre of the project which is then going to spread out into the locality. So you’ve created this island of redevelopment of an exceptional nature. Each of these things happens in different times, that was all happening in a time of alleged prosperity, now we’re in a time of alleged austerity. These things change shape as you go along, it gives you the opportunity to reshape public space as well. You have this extraordinary development in Leyton Marsh which completely abolishes all the rules about Metropolitan Open Land. There’s a similar argument about the use of Greenwich Park and its historic status, Circus Field on Blackheath, that that land has a particular status which has been completely ignored. So again you create precedents, they may not have great legal status at the moment, but people will argue these things in the future and people will say that this has been done before.

So this will be the legacy then, militarization and planning precedents.

JC: Yes, and as you say we’re talking about trends that are already there, of course we already have neoliberal planning rules that make it easier for developers to do stuff. These things are happening at the same time, you have already had the urban development corporations in Docklands and Merseyside so its not that the ODA is the first of these big planning development agencies, these things have been done before.

CC: But it acts as kind of a test bed, pushing things to extremes and seeing what will work and developing models for the future.

JC: It is building to some extent on what’s happened, but also pushing out the boundaries.

CC: I think it’s very interesting that this is the period that they hoped everybody would get behind the Olympics and be very enthusiastic about it but I don’t see any sign of that at all. Its gone in the opposite direction, they seem to be messing things up more and more, creating more and more public annoyance and concern in all sorts of ways. And I think that’s the reality of it, its presented as something which really should be superbly managed on all levels at vast expense and PR and management consultants and all the rest of it, but actually when you look at the specific projects which have been undertaken, those which are open to scrutiny, like Leyton Marsh or the replacement allotments, you realise they have been bungled in an absolutely astonishing way, everything about it has been done wrong, every mistake that you could possibly do. But they have the capacity to cover those mistakes and recover from them in various ways. But it’s certainly not a model of superb management in the way they have tried to present with all of these industry awards. They’ve managed to enter into every possible industry competition and get awards in every possible area.

JC: I think everything does sort of want to attach itself to this, doesn’t it. The Noise Abatement Society gets more credence by giving them an award than the other way round.

CC: Like the sustainability award. Where they claimed that 50% of all their construction material has been transported by barge and nothing had been transported by barge at that point and then they said, oh, that’s a genuine mistake. But they didn’t give the award back.

Andrea Gibbons is co-editor of City and a Ph.D. candidate at London School of Economics; Nick Wolff Independent researcher on urban policy and related issues, based in London.

This interview is published here in full; an abridged version is published in CITY 16.4 here.


  1., 13/5/2012
  3. Lee, M. (2006) The Race for the 2012 Olympics. London: Virgin Books
  4. An older version of IndustryProfile0603-2 (1)pdf dating back to 2006, no longer available from DEFRA, the current version is available at
  6. The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006

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