Whitepaper: How have the London 2012 Olympics impacted the nation as whole?

London 2012 was a special time for the UK. Despite difficult financial conditions across the country, the country still manage to stage an incredibly successful Olympics, both with respect to event itself and the wins that home athletes had. In a construction context the London 2012 Olympics were a masterclass in project management and also negotiation and compromise. And in terms of the impact the event had on the nation as a whole the effects are still being felt.

Out of the ashes..

London 2012 didn’t have the best of starts. There was a lot of concern in the construction sector as to how venues and infrastructure would be delivered to cope with the Games and many also wondered how London itself would handle the huge influx of people who would come to watch. Among other concerns were the potential problems that could arise as a result of the capital’s transport network being unable to cope with large numbers of additional travellers. The site that had been chosen was, at the time, an almost completely abandoned area of London and the work that would be required to transform it seemed intimidating to those involved. When the bid was submitted London had already hosted the Olympics twice in its history. The first time was in 1900 and the second in 1948. However, with only one successful post-Second World War bid no one knew whether the team behind this one would be able to make it three in total.

Unfavourable economic winds

Tessa Jowell, the Olympics Minister has since acknowledged that, if the time for the bid had fallen during the recession, the UK would probably not have thrown its hat into the ring. Although the MP said that this was not an admission that bidding for the Games had been a mistake, she did indicate that doing so when the UK was suffering economically would have made things very difficult politically. London was announced as the winning location for the 2012 Olympics in 2005, several years before the country found itself sucked into a recession. As a result of the economic instability that followed there were serious doubts over whether the Games would be a success. London 2012 was even renamed the Recession Games by some and there were fears that there simply wouldn’t be the resources to pull off an Olympics of which the UK could be really proud. So how did we actually get there?

The construction process for the 2012 Olympics

Identifying the right location

Stratford was chosen as the site of the Olympics with the intention of creating what would effectively be a new district constructed in a beautiful public park. This part of London was ripe for regeneration at the time, being a former industrial area that was completely neglected.

The feasibility study

When Stratford was assessed as a location for the London 2012 Olympics a feasibility study was carried out into whether it could be a suitable site for the Games. Among other issues that were identified was the contamination that existed there as a result of the district’s industrial history and the issues that arose from the Japanese Knotweed that had overrun the entire area.

Setting the budget

The initial budget for the London 2012 Olympics was set at £2.3 billion but many people considered this to be unrealistic bearing in mind the amount of construction that was planned and the timescales involved. After serious discussions with the Treasury the budget was eventually revised upward to £9.3 billion.

Creating the workforce

In total, 46,000 workers were going to be required in order to carry out the physical construction that would make London 2012 happen.

Planning the major locations

When the planning process for London 2012 first got under way it was centred around the necessity of creating three key venues for the Games: the Olympic Stadium, the Aquatics Centre and the Velodrome.  Issues arose with all of these key locations. The Olympic Stadium, for example, was supposed to be a collaborative project between a number of different bidders but in the end there were simply not enough interested parties. McAlpine was eventually given the responsibility for creating the centrepiece construction for the Olympics.

Coping with the challenges

Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre also presented some problems when it came to the building process. It was a truly innovative piece of architectural design but there wasn’t a single straight line in the entire construction. This proved to be quite problematic in terms of costing the creation of the Centre. Changes had to be made to the design, including shrinking the roof, in order to ensure that there would be no disruption to planning or completion.

Athletes housing

Another key challenge in construction terms would be the Athletes Village which was necessary to provide accommodation to those visiting to take part in the Games. It would effectively require 3,000 apartments to be built in just two to three years.

Adapting to survive

A number of the temporary venues that had been planned as part of the Olympics eventually had to be written out of the process. These were replaced with existing London locations that served the purpose very well and were more cost effective and less wasteful. For example, Wembley Arena hosted the badminton and Earl’s Court the volleyball.

Delivering the project

Despite many of the setbacks that could have potentially undermined the success of London 2012, those involved in the construction overcame every challenge. The Olympic Stadium, for example, was delivered on time and on budget and became an iconic building and a centre for the Olympics. It was also where GBR had many of the team’s finest moments. And the Aquatic Centre, despite its unconventional design challenges, was delivered in construction terms a year before the Games were even due to begun.

Supporting the UK construction sector

The UK construction sector benefitted significantly from the 2012 Olympics and more than 1,500 UK companies won contracts with the Olympic Delivery Authority. It was a boom time for the industry in that respect.

In terms of the construction sector’s contribution to London 2012 those involved were understandably incredibly proud of the project, not just with respect to the creation of the site itself but also the forward thinking and cost effective way it was managed. It would have been easy to lose control of the project, in terms of expenses and timelines, as has happened in other Olympic locations, so it was a triumph for the UK that it did not happen in London. This success has meant that a lot of positive momentum has been generated in the years since the Olympic games took place. This has included:

The regeneration of Stratford

Prior to the Olympics, Stratford was effectively 500-acres of wasteland area that had suffered a lot as a result of being used predominantly for industry. It was completely neglected, an unattractive location for people and for businesses, and had little potential in terms of adding anything to the appeal of London overall. Since the Olympic Games took place in 2012 the area has blossomed, initially as a result of all the new construction that happened at the time, and then as a result of what has followed. For example, 11,000 homes have been built in the area since 2012 and it is a bustling zone filled with shops and businesses that simply wouldn’t have been there before. Today, it is a desirable place to live and work and continues to attract people to the area.

A much needed morale boost

When the preparation for London 2012 was under way not everyone was being particularly positive about it. The label the ‘Recession Games’ didn’t help and seemed to be a lack of confidence in terms of whether the Olympics would help or hinder the city’s reputation. It was particularly difficult that the essential stages of the Games were hit by the recession but the fact that the Games survived this actually turned out to be a positive in the end. By 2012, London was really in need of a morale boost. Terrorist bombings had recently shaken the city and the impact of the economic struggle was being felt all over. At the time, London 2012 gave residents – as well as the rest of the UK – something to be proud of and the impact of that has continued to reverberate ever since.

Attracting more sporting events to the UK

Many of the Olympic venues now provide somewhere to host international sporting events that would have had to been held elsewhere in the years prior to 2012. From the Triathlon World Grand Final to the IAAF World Athletics Championships there have been many more opportunities to put the UK on the map in sporting terms than there would have been if the 2012 Olympics had gone elsewhere. This has continued to have a knock on effect on British sport ever since, encouraging more people to get involved and take advantage of the benefits of competing on home soil.

Supporting ongoing economic development

Of course there are some economic problems that crop up when London 2012 is a topic of conversation. For example, as a result of the fact that West Ham football club currently only pays  £2.5 million in rent per year the London Stadium (Olympic Stadium) is expected to lose £140 million in public money over the next decade. However, the Olympics also created a lot of opportunity for positive economic impact. This is particularly obvious in terms of the number of sporting events that have come to the country in the years since 2012 and also as a result of employment opportunities and other financial benefits that are a positive consequence of the way the Olympic Games were handled.

What is the legacy of 2012?

In light of everything that has happened since the Olympics were staged in London in 2012 it’s possible to identify a number of ways in which the Games left behind a very positive legacy that still has an impact right across the UK today.

Increasing the capacity of the UK to host world class sporting events

For example, in 2018 the Women’s Hockey World Cup was hosted at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre. This event attracted spectators from all across the world and capacity had to be increased by 10,000 to cope with the demand for tickets.

Setting a standard for the UK and increasing ambitions to continue to host sporting contests in the future

The current major events programme designed by UK Sport runs to 2025 and will see some of the biggest sporting contests in the world come to the UK with £30 million investment earmarked. The 2022 World Gymnastics Championships is just one of these huge tournaments that will be hosted here.

Providing venues that the UK simply didn’t have before London 2012

For example, as a result of the construction that took place for the Olympics, since 2012 the UK has been able to host the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in 2016 at the Olympic Park and the IAAF Athletics World Championships in 2017 at the Olympic Park, among many others.

Generating financial benefits for London via National Lottery and taxpayer-funded events

Overall financial benefit has been more than £130 million. This has included a range of events, such as

  • 2013 Triathlon World Grand Final in Hyde Park (economic impact £8 million)
  • 2015 Unibet EuroHockey (economic impact £2.4 million)
  • 2015 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships (economic impact £1.2 million)
  • 2016 LEN European Aquatics Championships (economic impact £4.7 million)
  • 2017 IPC Para Athletics World Championships (economic impact £28 million)
  • 2017 FIH Men’s World League (economic impact £1.2 million)

Perhaps once of the most impressive parts of the legacy of London 2012 is the way that the project has ended up being viewed by so many as a great success even in tough times. This is probably best summed up by International Olympic Committee (IOC) Olympic Games Executive Director, Christophe Dubi who said, “This is a great example of how the Olympic Games can transform lives and provide diverse long-term benefits for a city for years and decades to come.”

What did London 2012 look like in terms of numbers?

In order to quantify the scale of the project involved it can be useful to look at the numbers that the organisers were dealing with. This is perhaps best represented by the volume of tickets that were sold for 2012 in London – this exceeded 8 million, which was more than the number of tickets sold for the previous Olympics in Beijing. In the end the capacity that was created across all the venues for London 2012 was 700,000 at any one time. People were involved at many different stages of the Olympics – for example, 8,000 were chosen as torchbearers in the run up to the event to get the Olympic flame to its home for the duration of the Games. While the size of the construction workforce was predicted to be around 42,000, for the entirety of the Olympic Games, 200,000 people came on board to make it happen and ensure it was a safe event.

What did it take to make London 2012 happen?

Aside from all the construction that was necessary to create the venues for the Games there were also many other factors involved. For example, security was a priority for the Games, which is why the security detail for the Olympics in 2012 was 23,000+ strong. In terms of those who attended the Games to take part these numbers were also pretty high. For example, there were more than 10,000 athletes, 7,500 team officials and 3,000 technical officials who came to the UK for the event – and 204 competing nations taking part in total. This resulted in a pretty significant list of equipment and resources requirements for the London 2012 Olympics, including 26,000 tennis balls, 600 basketballs and 10,000,000 litres of water, for example for events in the pool. Hopefully the most successful athletes were happy with their gold medals – even though the actual gold content in them was only just over 1%… (almost 99% of the content of the gold medals at London 2012 was actually bronze).

One obvious way to demonstrate the success of London 2012 is in the number of people it attracted. Millions of tourists travelled from outside of the UK to be part of this legendary sporting event. Although the numbers were predicted to fall somewhere around 29 million in the end those who travelled from other countries to be part of the Olympics numbered 30+ million.

London 2012 was one of the UK’s – and the UK construction sector’s – finest achievements and has continued to have a very positive impact across the country ever since.

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