At the end of this month, Cabinet ministers will finally pronounce whether London will bid to stage the Olympic Games in 2012, after key hearings chaired by Olympic sceptic Gerald Kaufman this week. It is a crucial decision, not least for the construction community, whose skills at delivery and cost control will be tested to the maximum. It is to be hoped we emerge with the gold medal. But could we cope?
Last May, Arup prepared a report on the matter. It said it will cost £13 million to bid - a mere trifle when compared with, say, expenditure on the Dome or Wembley. The operating account for staging the games would be £779 million, but income would result in a surplus of £85 million. The cost of the infrastructure, concentrated in the Lower Lee Valley, would top £400 million, land purchase £325 million more. In total, it would cost £1.9 billion, including cash spent on additional tourist facilities. But Arup thinks the country could even make a 'profit'- although at 2002, not 2012, prices.
Then there is the priceless 'feel-good-factor'of staging a games - especially to politicians. At Sydney these were huge, and it made a 'profit'of £3.3 billion, although there are legacy issues with the buildings. But, as Will Alsop points out, the regenerative effects of stadia can be quite striking. He notes the transformation at Bari in Italy since Renzo Piano's stadium, and parallels may be visible in time with Arup Associates'City of Manchester Stadium, created for last year's Commonwealth Games.
So can we stage it? For Rod Sheard, the architect of Stadium Australia and now working on the new Wembley, London is a 'dream city' for the games. The International Olympic Committee says London has a distinct chance if it bids. The nay-sayers will respond that after the fiascos of Picketts Lock, Wembley and other major cost-overrun building projects, construction cannot take another beating. Or point to the mammoth logistical task involved, the creaking-atthe-seams transport system and security issues.
A games bid could be a catalyst for infrastructure improvements.But the task, coupled with a Gordon Brown reticence to open the purse, could be a hurdle too far.