Whether or not the government commits to the schemes of public works that many believe are essential to our recovery, there is one big project that can’t be deferred, cancelled or otherwise spirited away: the London 2012 Olympics.
So far, Gordon Brown’s pledge to fight the downturn with a recession-busting package of transport, communications and energy initiatives hasn’t amounted to much more than a bit of heel-dragging on the Severn Barrage and a vague pronouncement on nationwide broadband. For those of us excited by the prospect of a Roosevelt-style ‘New Deal’ that would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and reinvigorate the economy it’s all a bit underwhelming.
Fortunately, regardless of whether or not the government commits to the schemes of public works that many believe are essential to our recovery, there is one big project that can’t be deferred, cancelled or otherwise spirited away: the London 2012 Olympics.
It is easy to get carried away with a bit of Olympics-bashing. The carping began almost as soon as London won the bid and increased in volume after Beijing 2008. ‘How can we follow that?’ asked the tabloids, who, aided by the shambolic sight of London mayor Boris Johnson getting tangled up in a Union Jack, managed to stoke a very British expectation of failure.
But although self-deprecation may be our default, the idea of 2012 as a disaster waiting to happen is unfounded. While there are genuine concerns — mostly around a budget that started at £2.4bn and currently stands £9.3bn — these fears pale alongside the very real opportunity the Games represents for regeneration; not just in the bleak chunk of East London where most of its events will take place, but of the numerous sectors of industry for whom the 2012 Olympics represents both pay day and shop window.
From the civil infrastructure, to the security technologies discussed hereand the broadcasting and communication systems that will underpin the whole operation, the list of technologies upon which the success of the event depends is staggering. While the eyes of the world will be on the athletes striving for medals, it’s UK engineers who will play a critical role in delivering a safe games.
Plenty have voiced concern over what happens to the stadiums, parks and other specially created facilities when the Olympic party rolls out of town — and it would be tragic to see these structures abandoned as they have been elsewhere. Equally tragic, though would be a failure to use the games as a springboard and shop window for the technologies and industries that will help guide us out of recession.
Jon Excell, deputy editor