London banks on priciest Olympic facelift

File photo from the London Olympics [EURACTIV files]

This article is part of our special report Industrial revival.

SPECIAL REPORT / London in a week's time will host Europe’s priciest Olympic Games since Barcelona’s, but organisers are banking on delivering sustainability and an inner-city renovation programme along  with the world’s most expensive Games.

A sustainable legacy was central to the UK capital’s bid for the Olympics and involved cleaning over two million tonnes of soil and demolishing 200 buildings.

In order to fulfil sustainability targets, 98.5% of the demolition material was reused or recycled, with crushed material being filled into concrete foundations and structural cladding.

Stones taken from the massive overhaul have been used to create ‘living roofs’ on new housing developments, whilst historic stones were re-paved into new cycle paths and pedestrian routes.

Stadiums built using recycled material

The stadium itself has broken new records in recycling, being built from 30% of re-used materials, whilst more than 90% of waste generated from the stadium construction was re-used, recycled or recovered, or kept away from landfill sites.

Similar results were achieved for other key buildings, such as the landmark aquatics centre – which will host the popular Olympic swimming and diving competitions. The centre was built using 29% recycled content of materials (by value) and 51% recycled aggregate (by weight).

But sustainability was defined by the Games organisers as a balance between the environmental, social and economic, underlining the importance of social and enduring commercial value to arise from the estimated €10 billion in overall cost.

After the athletes and spectators have moved on, the Olympic Park – to be renamed the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park after the Games – will become a sporting venue for local athletes.

Olympic Park – a new launchpad for London?

The Olympic and Paralympic villages will be converted into thousands of new homes for sale and rent, half of which will be affordable housing. Along with a new educational campus, a community health centre and new developments elsewhere within the park – to be known as East Village – will form a new community in deprived east London.

The Olympic Delivery Authority claims 75p of every £1 spent will result in investment in the long-term transformation of the area. The execution of the Games themselves, however, will only precede a long period of analysis as to how well the inner-city overhaul has worked,

The cost of London 2012 has been estimated by Oxford scholars Bent Flyvbjerg and Allison Stewart as the most costly since Barcelona’s 1992 ($11.4 billion). Beijing 2008 may have been costlier, but the Chinese authorities have not released the data that would allow verification of this.

Arguments surrounding shoddy execution of private contracts for security at the Olympics are already causing political faultlines.

“The innovations and lessons learned during the London 2012 construction project are now available on the London 2012 Learning Legacy website, for other organisations to learn from and implement,” said a spokesman for the Olympic Development Authority (ODA).

“Inclusive design was at the heart of the project. For example, faith groups were among the sectors of the community consulted during the planning and design process. Following this, changes were made to the Aquatics Centre’s design to incorporate a Faith Room and single-sex areas in the changing rooms.”

George R. Hamilton, a Dow Chemical vice president who is heading the company’s Olympic operations in Britain and the 2014 Winter Games in Russia, said suppliers in some cases had to invent new production techniques to meet London’s sustainability requirements. For example, Dow developed ways to reduce the environmental footprint in stadium materials. Dow is one of the Games’ sponsors.

“The International Olympic Committee realised that they had to put more attention into the legacy of infrastructure post-Games,” he told EURACTIV.

Hamilton defines sustainability as “approaching everything you do - from the design, engineering, production, conversion, use and afterlife - in a manner that makes it better than what was previously done.”

Organisers describe the Olympic site as Europe’s largest new urban park in 150 years, developed on old industrial sites and cleaned-up river valley. The head of the UN Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, said on a visit to the London site on 27 April: “Efforts such as the greening of the supply chain, regeneration of an inner city area and bringing energy efficiency measures to local homes, can build the confidence to wider society that sustainability is not theory but infinitely do-able with the policies and technologies available today not tomorrow.”

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games, officially the Games of the XXX Olympiad, also known informally as London 2012, are scheduled to take place in London from 27 July to 12 August 2012.

Construction has involved considerable redevelopment, particularly targeting sustainability principles. The main focus of this is a new 200-hectare Olympic Park, constructed on a former industrial site at Stratford in the east of London.

  • 27th July - 12 August 2012: London Olympic games

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