London eyes Olympic legacy with 200 days to go

The London Olympics countdown entered its final 200 days on Monday with government and organisers talking up the legacy Britain can look forward to long after the last medal has been won and the show is over.

On the day three more Games venues had their future ownership announced, Prime Minister David Cameron held his first Cabinet meeting of the New Year at the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, instead of at Downing Street.

“Today, as we mark 200 days to go, and six out of the eight Olympic venues having already secured their future, we are well on track to delivering a lasting legacy for the whole of Britain,” Cameron said.

The government will hold a series of business summits during the Games which it hopes will generate an additional £1-billion ($1.54-billion) of revenue for British companies.

“We are working hard to make sure the whole country can seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Cameron said.

Sporting legacy and the economic regeneration of a run-down area of east London, without the facilities becoming a drain on public finances after the Games, were central to London’s successful bid in 2005 but critics have questioned how much money the government can recoup.

Construction giant Balfour Beatty PLC will take over the running of the Olympic Park, which includes the 115m high AccelorMittal Orbit feature, in a 10-year £50-million deal.

The wave-shaped Aquatics Centre and multi-use Handball Arena, where the Cabinet met, will be operated by locally based Greenwich Leisure Limited.

The new contracts will create at least 254 jobs on the Park, which will host many of the showcase events including athletics, track cycling and swimming when the games open on July 27.

Million visitors
The government expects the Orbit, a landmark helter-skelter of a structure designed by artist Anish Kapoor and taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty, to attract up to a million visitors a year.

They hope the Aquatics Centre could cater for 800 000 users a year as a local community facility accessible to all as well as remaining a venue for world class events.

The multi-use Arena will become the capital’s third largest, hosting up to half a million visitors a year to concerts, exhibitions and sports events.

The remaining two venues yet to have confirmed legacy operators are the main stadium, which has cost £486-million to build, and the international broadcast and press centre.

“To find operators to take over these world class facilities so far ahead of the Games and to secure their commitment to spread jobs and opportunities throughout the local communities is the icing on the 2012 cake,” said London mayor Boris Johnson.

“We can now start the run-in to a fantastic year of celebration with huge pride and optimism that London will stage a great Games, delivering lasting sustainable benefits long after the athletes have departed.”

The Games have a budget of £9.3-billion, with venue security accounting for about £553-million and a further £475-million allocated to policing and security measures outside stadiums.

Monday’s Cabinet meeting followed media reports at the weekend that police carrying out security tests at the Olympic Park had managed to smuggle in a fake bomb on at least one occasion.

Sebastian Coe, chairperson of organisers LOCOG, said there was still much to do.

“We are all very excited but I think we all feel a massive weight of responsibility to get the project across the line and to deliver something that’s not just going to make 60 million people in the UK proud but really excite the four billion people who are going to be watching us over the duration of the Games,” he told Sky Sports TV. — Reuters

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