By Ken Livingstone, mayor of London (THE GUARDIAN, 09/03/07):
There is no space to rebut all the inaccuracies in Simon Jenkins’ article, but the claims that the Olympic stadium will cost £630m, and the London Evening Standard’s latest invention of a £10bn bill, are just false (Jowell and Coe have been duped by the biggest overselling scam in history, March 2).The games have already unlocked billions in new transport investment right across London; they have made the massive regeneration project centred on Stratford and going south to the Thames deliverable when it was not before. This offers unparalleled new opportunities to some of the most deprived communities in the country, bringing with it 40,000 new homes and 50,000 new jobs.
Cynics airily say that all this could have been done without the Olympics. It never would have been. The cardinal deception is the claim that the Olympic investment is for 16 days of sport, when it actually underpins the next 50 years of east London’s future.
Jenkins was one of the directors responsible for planning and approving the contents of the Millennium Dome and its opening-night arrangements. He was also the man who attacked the plans for the London Eye by the Thames. With this track record, a bit more caution might be expected in his comments about plans for the London Olympics. But no.
The building of a new “town” for the athletes – he means the Olympic village, a feature of all modern Olympics – is mocked as a “gesture once confined to Persian monarchs”. Where else does Jenkins think the 17,000 athletes are going to stay?
In fact the Olympic village will provide the area with 4,500 desperately needed new homes immediately after the games, with thousands more to come that will make use of the new infrastructure the Olympics will build.
We should be spreading events throughout London, Jenkins says. But this is exactly what will happen with the use of Wembley Stadium, Wimbledon, the Excel Centre, the dome, Earl’s Court, Horse Guards Parade and the Royal Parks. His claim that there are other existing venues that could house the swimming and cycling events, or that could be upgraded at minimal cost, is nonsense. Where are they? This is so divorced from reality that it is difficult to know whether to ascribe it to folly or malice.
Most bizarre is his allegation that planners have privately admitted that most journeys to Stratford will be by coach. The vast majority of spectators will, of course, arrive by train – using the nine rail lines already there and the new Javelin service from King’s Cross. How could hundreds of thousands of people possibly come in on coaches?
The former dome director attacks Seb Coe – who led London’s bid to victory over Paris, Madrid, Moscow and New York – as not passing the “whelk-stall test”. But continued judgments by independent experts find that London is on course and well ahead of where previous host cities have been at this stage. The Olympics are too important for London’s future for the professional cynics and pessimists to succeed in their campaign of distortion and misrepresentation.