Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012 — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:54 pm on 5th January 2010.

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Photo of Lord James of Blackheath Lord James of Blackheath Conservative 9:54 pm, 5th January 2010

My Lords, I will compress my comments into a series of questions only. We greatly appreciate the update that we have received this evening. We have heard two wonderful phrases which are like manna from heaven: "on schedule" and "within budget". Good, and good again. There are, however, a number of issues that have been discussed in your Lordships' House, none of which has been addressed in the detailed responses that we have heard. I will ask a series of seven or eight questions, which will provide the means of updating the House on the points of concern that have been expressed.

I start with Hackney Marshes. When we first heard of the development plans for the 2012 Olympics, we were told about the media centre which was going to be placed on Hackney Marshes. It was going to cost £14 million and was to be sold as a going concern afterwards to recover the cash. We very swiftly found that it was going to cost £42 million, not £14 million, three times the original cost. We have had no update since then about whether it is to be sold as a going concern. Can we please be informed whether it is there as a permanent entity? Will the nation own it, or will it be sold as a commercial venture? Is the money coming back for it? Can we have an update on what happened there, please?

Relating to the same site, we believe that the media centre was going to be built on what was known as the arena centre for the 120 football pitches, and the leagues which play there, on Hackney Marshes. We were told that arrangements would be made for the relocation of the arena centre, which is a very aspirational target for the young people of Hackney who do not have much else. Has that relocation of the arena centre been achieved? On what footing will it be provided and when will it be available for the young people of Hackney, please?

Moving from Hackney to the Olympic Village itself, we have two or three important questions, all of which we have discussed. The first concerns the question that was raised by the padre appointed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, in whose diocese this is located, who heard great disquiet expressed by the workforce undertaking the excavations on the village site due to the large deposits of radioactive material that were lodged there, having emanated from various London hospitals over many years. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, made a Statement to the House in which he said that it was all down to the phosphorous on the control panel of a crashed Spitfire which had embedded itself in the marsh at that point. No, it was not. This has been a site of intensive radioactive deposit for 80 years since X-rays became a major factor in London hospitals. How successful was the removal of this material before the workforce had to engage directly with it, and what steps were taken to protect them?

The other issue concerning the Olympic Village, which was much discussed on numerous occasions, is whether the delivery unit has succeeded in getting satisfactory clearance from the Islamic religious authorities in this country as regards the compatibility of the dwellings being provided for private worship. Some seven different requirements had to be met. Having built an Islamic village for a university campus in Libya 25 years back, I know to my cost that very sensitive issues are involved. I remember having to take Colonel Gaddafi on a guided tour of the finished product, at the end of which he said: "You've only got one bit right, why shouldn't I hang you?" I said, "Because you should hang the architect instead, Colonel". He said, "Can't do that, did it last month". If the Government face a similar situation, they will be confronted with adopting the same solution I had to do, which cost millions. You have a lot of work to do to put it right. Therefore, will the Government please tell us whether they have Islamic religious clearance on the dwellings?

Moving from the problems of the dwellings to the issues of religion itself, we had a very strange Statement-I think that it was again made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham-on the arrangements that were being made for the building of temples, mosques and buildings for Christian worship, but I have no recollection of being told that there would also be a synagogue. Are we omitting the Jewish faith from any religious representation on the site? What arrangements will be made to include them? It is not tactful not to include them in the present circumstances. I should like an update on that, please. As regards the Dome, do the Government now have a satisfactory arrangement in place-the DCMS did this very successfully indeed. I do not say much that is nice about the DCMS, so that is a notable point-for sharing the Christian facility among the various Christian denominations on a shared timetable so that everybody can participate fairly?

The next area that we need to look at is that of Greenwich Park, not because of whether it is in or out-I am assuming that that is a done deal-but because there are points of detail on which an update would be hugely welcome. Is it correct that the survey work has discovered that the small fragment of Roman remains that were there is part of a much larger and more important Roman site? In that case, it would be the biggest Roman site that has been discovered anywhere in the greater London area for more than 100 years and will have huge historical value. What steps are being taken to preserve that site and protect it from construction traffic and the hoof beats to come so that it can be excavated properly after the Olympics have ended? It is of huge cultural benefit if it is true that it is as big as is said.

Has there been a resolution of the siting of the water jump for the three-day event? The last we heard, there could not be an assurance that the duck pond which is the greatest single collection of wildfowl in this country was not going to be destroyed to make way for the water jump. Since there could not be an answer to my noble friend Lady Trumpington's question on this, will the Minister now give an assurance that the cricket field and the rugby field will not be concreted over to make car parking within the environs of the park?

We have heard nothing whatever about the merchandising plans. Here, I offer the awful warning of the Dome's experience, where we had a £27 million profit projected on total sales of £48 million. We ended up with a £7 million loss on sales of £32 million. They started too late and they did not know what they were doing. The DCMS labours under the dreadful misapprehension that it is a brilliant retailer because it sells a lot of guidebooks. Do not trust it. Get a proper retailer to work for you; you are behind schedule if you have not done so already.