Will Hutton - Observer, Sunday 30th July
- Olympic funding gap should be filled by LVT or the Permanent
Secretary to the Treasury and half his senior staff should be
shackled to the smelly derelict barge currently on the stinking River
Lea and the keys thrown away...:)
It's now a race against the penny-pinchers
If the government wants the Olympics and the regeneration of east
London to be a success, it must practise enlightened financial thinking
Sunday July 30, 2006
The smell of sewage in the 50 yards of canal path before you arrive
at Old Ford locks - junction of the River Lea and the Hackney Cut on
the River Lea Navigation - is overpowering. Don't breathe in too
deeply; at this intensity, it's almost certainly toxic. Across the
canal, there are derelict warehouses and a single, desultory barge.
Ahead there is the outfall sewer that conducts most of London's
sewage to the treatment plant in Beckton. This is the shittiest part
of London - in every sense of the term.
It is also where the futuristic stadium is to be built for the
Olympics in 2012 that will form the centre of the Olympic park and
village. We've all read the hype about the bid, its ambition and how
it's going to transform London. It's only when you walk around the
site as it stands that the realisation dawns. What is being planned
deserves the hype.
The Lea Valley, especially the parts around Stratford, East and West
Ham and Hackney, is a disgrace and makes the dereliction in parts of
the north of England and Scotland look tame. Where I was walking is
about two miles from the City of London, one of the richest urban
areas in the world, yet here everything is poor. The tracts of
derelict land crisscrossed by overhead power lines, disused canals
and sewage drains; the lack of infrastructure; the low incomes; the
disastrous health experience; low life expectancy - everything is a
tribute to neglect.
The Olympics could change all that. The ambition both for the games
and how to use the new site afterwards can hardly be faulted. London
has learned from the experience of other Olympic cities, notably
Athens, where ideas of what to do with the Olympic site were
canvassed as the games closed. What has been built into the plans
from the outset is a post-games vision for how the Olympic park and
associated new infrastructure are to become the trigger for the
biggest urban regeneration scheme mounted in Europe.
The problem is whether our national political, business and official
classes will have the chutzpah to follow through. The British are not
good at grand projets, as the French dub them. We don't have the
imagination, the belief in the new, the political structures to make
them happen or the willingness to pay up. The Olympics is a
magnificent chance to create a precedent that would allow Britain to
break out of this negativity - and find ways of embracing the new
and, especially, of financing it. Much more is at stake than mounting
a successful sports event for a fortnight.
In fairness, it has taken a degree of chutzpah to get this far - Tony
Blair, Tessa Jowell and Sebastian Coe all deserve credit for taking
the risk. But the tipping point in making the bid successful was that
London had a political structure that could offer the Olympic
Committee some guarantee that the promises would happen, crucially on
transport. The Mayor of London and his creation, Transport for London
(TfL), were critical. Ken Livingstone could promise extra cash. And
plans to move half-a-million people to the site every day, at times
on a train service with four trains per minute, were only credible
because TfL's track record is good enough to make them believable.
Yet everything could founder over an emerging funding gap of between
£1bn and £2bn - chickenfeed besides the wealth that will be generated
if the lower Lea Valley can be turned round from a de-industrialised,
stagnant mess to the forefront of the knowledge economy. That is what
the plans entail and it's the only way to revitalise this part of
For it's not as though improvement has not been attempted before. A
new business park, an imposing block of cleverly designed flats and
the creation of walk and cycle ways along the towpaths are all
evidence of efforts at change. The trouble is that they make a tiny
impact when the whole area is so run-down. The only solution is a
development encompassing everything.
For if the Olympics go as planned, east London will be left with a
new park to join St James's and Hyde Park; the infrastructure for a
new university campus; a network of world-class sporting facilities;
first-class transport links and land cleared for 40,000 new homes.
This will be the core of a new half-a-million-strong city within London.
Which brings me back to money. Tickets, television rights,
sponsorship, the lottery and even an Olympic surcharge on London
ratepayers have all been stretched to the limit. More is needed. The
Treasury refuses additional help. Without some imagination, the
Olympic vision will be the casualty. The answer is obvious. If the
games go as planned, there will be a huge increase in land values and
property prices throughout east London. If the government could
capture just a fraction of the increase in those land and property
prices, then it could more than repay any bonds it issued today to
pay for the games.
The Chancellor praises entrepreneurs; now is the moment for Treasury
officials to practise what they preach. What they have to do is
invent a way the government can capture some of the wider gain that
its own development is creating. We could copy the Americans and tax
the incremental gain. We could insist that private developers form
public-private partnerships, with the development gains earmarked to
repay Olympic bonds. What we cannot do is to penny-pinch and roll
back the ambition.
It is a pivotal moment. We have to find a way of breaking out of the
self-defeating logic that all Britain can afford in any public
development is what the taxpayer stumps up, while private developers
pocket the benefit. That way, we always build small. You only have to
smell the sewage at Old Ford locks and gaze at the desolation to see
The Olympics must be funded as imaginatively as the project has been
devised and the precedent then used across the country. If not, we
should shackle the permanent secretary of the Treasury along with a
clutch of Treasury ministers to the derelict barge in the stinking
Hackney cut. And throw away the key.
Jock Coats - Secretary, Lib Dems ALTER
(Action for Land-value Taxation and Economic Reform)
c/o Warden's Flat 1e, J Block Morrell Hall, OXFORD, OX3 0FF
m: +44 (0)7769 695767 e: jock.coats@...
www: http://www.libdemsalter.org.uk - http://jockcoats.blogspot.com/