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REGIONS FACE GAMES CASH DRAIN

AGENDA

London lands the 2012 Olympics and a building boom engulfs the Lower Lea Valley.

Sue Barker and Steve Cram are delighted at not having to go to Paris. Happy days.

Hang on a minute, though.

I can hear worried rumblings from the regions. Seb Coe and co be warned. Now the euphoria has died down, concern is growing among business leaders that the Olympics will drain cash from much-needed projects around the country.

Despite government assurances, there are increasing fears that schemes reliant on public funding could be in danger of losing out as cash is pumped into the capital.

One of the schemes which has already been highlighted as 'under threat' is the new - but stalling - Mersey Crossing between Runcorn and Widnes.

Jack Stopforth, chief executive of Liverpool's chamber of commerce, said: 'We simply cannot afford for that to be sacrificed for the Olympics.

'In terms of the government's capital programme, we are not just talking about Olympic villages.

We are talking about the whole infrastructure, including transport projects like Crossrail.' He added: 'We cannot do all that at the expense of everything else that's going on in the rest of England.' The chief executive of the Greater Manchester chamber of commerce, Angie Robinson, is also being pragmatic about the knock-on effects. She said: '[It] is always possible that more money will be ploughed into the South East now because of the Olympics and several members have expressed concerns, particularly regarding the Manchester Metrolink expansion plan. It would be a shame if regeneration plans were delayed or halted by the Games.' The message is that architects, authorities and developers must get cracking to avoid missing out on government funding - money which, up until now, has been sitting waiting to be grabbed.

Robinson continued: 'We should be doing this anyway to secure the future of the North West.

'But the Olympics may cause people to work harder and more cooperatively to be certain not to lose funding.' For Manchester, Robinson believes the future is to become less dependent on funding from sources such as the North West Development Agency and veer towards self-suffi ciency.

However, even this may not stop the inevitable siphoning of skills into the better-paid capital. Robinson added: '[A] drain of construction skills to London could be a serious problem for the region.

'If a massive earnings differential appears, this could have a huge slowing down effect on construction in the whole of the North West.' Not everyone is convinced the Olympics is a bad thing. A spokesman for the Birmingham Chamber said: 'Anyone who whines or whinges about it is just being ridiculous.

'The Games will be absolutely brilliant for everyone in the country.' Clearly the regions need to get out of the blocks pretty quickly. Any dawdling now and the race for the government's 'gold' could already be lost.

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