Sir Edward Lister: Olympic price tag is reasonable

July 6, 2015

Sir Edward Lister, London's 
Deputy Mayor for Policy and Planning, spoke to BCCJ members about the city's regeneration following London 2012 at a lunch event at the Shangri-La Hotel.


Sir Edward began by explaining that London's population has now returned to its pre-war peak of 8.6 million. The capital's population fell during WWII and subsequently due to government policies which encouraged economic wealth to be distributed more evenly around the country. "As well as being a growing city, we are one with a significant amount of inward investment taking place. London is a finanicial hub, with more US banks than New York. When the financial crash happened we realised as a city we needed to not be so dependent on banking, and we have seen an increase in people working in other financial services, such as insurance."  Sir Edward added that London's technology sector now equalled financial services in terms of employees, with life sciences also a key industry.

As the city began to recover from the recession, the Olympics were recognised as a catalyst for regenerating Stratford, in London's East End. "From the very beginning the plans for the Olympic park were about regeneration. The site contained land that was heavily contaminated with real estate values of next to nothing. The Olympics was all about changing that."

Sir Edward described the building of the Westfield shopping centre, which opened ahead of the games in 2008, as being one of the first inward investments in the area, and one which was already planned before the IOC's decision to award the Games to London in 2005. Westfield is an Australian company and the centre itself was constructed by a consortium which included UK stakeholders.

Changes of plan

He was also asked, in light of the changes to the plans for Tokyo 2020's stadium and venue changes, whether the final delivery of London 2012 differed from the initial proposal. "There was a lot of change as the pitch moved on. I think it's fine to put bid in and put your best foot forward at that point. But then you start thinking about how do we deliver it? You have to consider connectivity, which is key, and venues can change. I'm sure that's what will happen here."

Once the logistics are drawn up, planners can consider the legacy of the Games, Sir Edward explained. He said it was important for Japan's organisers to consider the long term legacy. "How do you show that this really worthwhile to japan? Where are the benefits? That's the ultimate question we all have to answer.

Long term approach

Sir Edward said he believed mistakes were inevitable given the huge scale of the project and its nature. We did have to spend money on the stadium by not thinking through its future properly and therefore when the Games was over we had to spent millions getting it to where we needed it to be, so that it had a long term economically viable use. So we did make mistakes, there's no question about that.

Aside from the stadium, there was the long-term future of other venues to consider. "Some of the infrastructure from London 2012 has been sold to Brazil for next year's Olympic games in Rio. "There is a market in second hand buildings! Some of the others are elsewhere in the UK but of course the larger buildings are still in use where they were, such as the Aquatics Centre.

"At the Olympic Park we have taken down all signs and the bridges we no longer need because we don't have those huge numbers of people. The site has now been converted and has become a housing and retail scheme. The Olympic Village has become apartments, and ultimately we will have 20,000 houses in the Stratford area constructed on the Olympic site. There is also 4 million square foot of office space in the area, and Stratford is now very well connected with 13 lines running through the station."

Cultural legacy

In terms of legacy, the organisers were inspired by The Great Exhibition of 1851, held in London at the bequest of Prince Albert. Profits from the exhibit were used to fund the "Albertopolis" - the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and the Science and Natural History museums. Stratford's "Olympicopolis" will see Sadler's Well dance school open a 600 seat theatre and a new V&A E20, which will house space for digital art and V&A curated exhibitions. University College London will open its first design school and the London College of Fashion will relocate to the site. The US's Smithsonian Museum is also considering a Stratford outpost. The Olympicopolis is expected to create 3,000 new jobs.

Real estate

The development has seen a boom in real estate prices in Stratford, with one bedroom apartments retailing for half a million pounds - a price tag that would have been unheard of in 2008. "We have taken one of the worst parts of London and transformed it into a place of real estate and jobs - that's the legacy."

Tourism and inward investment

Asked if there were any benefits to the wider economy of hosting the Games, Sir Edward said tourism had seen a real boost thanks to being showcased globally. "London has been the most visited city in the world for two years running." 

London is also seeing an increase in inward investment after a concerted effort by authorities to woo business during the Games. Corporate tickets were allocated and hospitality laid out at City Hall and across London to show investors the city's best side. Sir Edward said overseas companies had been persuaded to put their money into the capital, or had even relocated. "This approach sounds so simple, but it's not. It has to be absolutely perfect or it can come over in the wrong way."

BCCJ members suggested Tokyo could be a challenging city for foreign investors due to Japan being less open than London to overseas influence and international companies needing to work with Japanese partners. But Sir Edward said development in London was often a joint venture between overseas and British bodies, citing the Westfield consortium as an example. "Nearly all the legacy we have is joint venture between British companies and overseas entities and financial services."

He explained the city's long history of immigration meant it welcomed overseas investors openly, and more openly than Tokyo. "From when the Romans came and founded London as Londium we have a history of waves of different people coming in, so we are open to outside ideas and innovation. I appreciate in Tokyo this hasn't been the case, so some of that will be a challenge [ahead of 2020]."

It was not just big business that had gained from London 2012, Sir Edward said. "A lot of the winners are SMEs that are growing. If you look at Stratford now, there's lots of small firms." He added restaurants were also doing well on the back of the Olympic development. 

Lessons learnt

Asked if he had indentified any potential trouble spots with the plans for Tokyo 2020, Sir Edward said the city was still early in its planning process. "Plans are still being formulated but there's going to have to be some investment in crowd control. Also, cyber security was very important in London. All eyes are on you and London was pretty much hit constantly during the Games."

Sir Edward added that controlling huge budgets could also be difficult, with financial firms often have a role to play in keeping an eye on the numbers.

Asked about what had been learned from the experience that had been put into practice after the Games was over, Sir Edward said there were three main changes. The first was that it helped increase understanding of the opportunities that could be brought about by public-private partnerships. The second was that it had raised awareness of the bureaucratic nature of the planning process which had led to it being streamlined, and thirdly firms had recognised the importance of customer service. "I'm sure this isn't a problem that Japan will have, but British customer service was pretty poor and I think it's been steadily getting better and better, people realised they had to react properly to issues."

Value for money

Japanese public opinion over the country's hosting of Tokyo 2020 has been mixed, a similiar response to that of the British public ahead of the London games. "The general public were lukewarm up to the day of the opening ceremony, then they started to get excited. They (the wider public) didn't really get it and they were not that engaged, and that is a challenge for the Japanese government and they have got to engage them."

Much of the Japanese concern has centered on the expense of hosting Tokyo 2020. Sir Edward said although the Games were expensive, Tokyo could reap the rewards. "A lot of companies came to London and liked what they saw, and followed that through. The Games will be of enormous value in shaping the public perception of Japan and Japanese companies. For that point, the price tag is relatively reasonable."