George Monbiot lambasts democratic credentials of Olympics Delivery Authority

Mark mark at
Tue Mar 20 12:02:02 GMT 2007

This Olympian stitch-up remains blissfully untroubled by democracy

East Londoners are told the games will be good for them, yet it has been
made almost impossible for them to have their say

George Monbiot
Tuesday March 20, 2007
The Guardian

The mayor of London, Lord Coe and the prime minister have all now graced
the pages of this newspaper, defending their preparations for the London
Olympics. Anyone would think that they were rattled. They have all
justified the astounding, ever-escalating bill with the same formula: the
games will be good for the people of east London. Ken Livingstone argued
that the Olympics "has made the massive regeneration project centred on
Stratford and going south to the Thames deliverable when it was not
before". The games he claims will bring 40,000 new homes and 50,000 new
jobs to one of the poorest parts of London.

We could quibble. Was regeneration not taking place already? What about
Stratford City, the £4bn development being built just to the east of the
Olympic Park, and planned long before London won the bid? What about the
inexorable eastwards march of City money?

But I can accept that the Olympics will accelerate the redevelopment of
east London, and that they will provide houses and jobs for local people -
albeit at a gobsmacking cost. However, if it is true that all this is
being done for the good of the residents, then why have they not been
given time to speak?

Yesterday, the consultation period for the Olympic Delivery Authority's
plans came to an end. The authority first received planning permission for
the Olympic Park in 2004, a year before London won the bid, but since then
its plans - for both the Olympics and the buildings and public spaces
which come later - have changed. It has applied for planning permission
for a new "framework" for the entire site. If you had an objection to any
significant aspect of the plans, you should have said so by yesterday.
Otherwise, forever hold your peace.

I have spent the past four days trying to read the ODA's planning
applications. Partly because of the volume, partly because the authority's
website (like everything to do with the Olympics) is plagued by technical
glitches, I have not been able to open all the papers, let alone read
them. But I can report that it has lodged three applications. The first is
supported by 907 documents. The second consists of 569 documents, some of
which cover 600 pages. The third consists of a modest 82 papers, of no
more than 300 pages each.

Altogether, there are more than 10,000 pages of new applications. It would
take a team of planning lawyers several months to wade through this lot,
but the consultation began on February 6. The people affected by these
plans, most of whom know nothing about planning law, had six weeks in
which to read them, understand them, work out how they differ from the
previous applications, then present their responses.

Or not even six weeks. When the ODA released its leaflet advertising the
plans, there were only four weeks left to respond. You could then read
them online, or buy DVDs or a hard copy, or find them in a local library.
Over the past four days, I have been able to get on to the right page of
the ODA's planning site about 10% of the time. Then it crashes my browser.

When the plans were published, Martin Slavin, a local resident who runs a
group called Games Monitor, tried to buy the DVDs. He phoned the
authority's planning team and was met with incomprehension. He was passed
on five times before he found someone who knew someone who knew how to
obtain them.

The hard copy is easier to find - if you have £500. Local campaigners
report that Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Newham libraries either did
not possess full sets of the documents or did not make them available
until the fourth week of the consultation. By then, you had two weeks

This isn't a consultation; it's a stitch-up. Even the great crested newts
living where the ODA will build a cycle track have been given more time to
object: their champions had six months to respond to the plans for
relocation. But local people have been granted as much real influence over
the future of their communities as the villagers flooded by China's Three
Gorges Dam. If £9.4bn were really being spent for their benefit, you would
have thought they would have some say in the matter.

The objectors are not being unreasonable. They are asking for an extension
until July, which would give them time to read the documents. The ODA has
turned them down. Why should it wait for local people to respond? It
already knows what's good for them.

While big regeneration schemes often use fake consultations, the need for
a proper democratic process is even more pressing here. The ODA, for
example, is both the developer and the planning body. It applies for
planning permission from itself.

As if this conflict of interest was not bad enough, the ODA's functions
are also at odds. For all the bluster about assisting disadvantaged
communities, its main task is not to help the people of east London, but
to make sure that the games are ready on time. If there is a straight
fight between the Olympics and their legacy - as there will be whenever
the ODA is faced with a funding crisis - the games must win. Long-term
development loses out to a few days of sport.

Most importantly, schemes of this kind tend to suffer from the paradox of
regeneration. The paradox works like this. You regenerate an area in order
to improve the lives of the poor. You clean it up, reduce crime, improve
the housing stock. The rich move in from neighbouring boroughs. House
prices soar, rents rise and the poor are pushed out. The developers
congratulate themselves because the borough's social indicators have
risen; but they have risen because the people the scheme was meant to help
have been replaced by yuppies.

The Olympic legacy is almost always gentrification. The Barcelona games,
in 1992, are celebrated as the catalyst for one of Europe's most
successful regeneration schemes. But house prices in the city rose almost
threefold in the six years before the Olympics began.

In Atlanta, private landlords started racking up the rent with the first
sniff of Olympic gold. The same thing happened, though to a lesser extent,
in Sydney and Athens. As soon as London won the bid, prices around the
Olympic Park started warming up for the 2012 high jump. While the cost of
housing in north London fell by 4.7% in July 2005, in east London it rose
by 3%. Many of the 40,000 new homes that Ken Livingstone has promised will
be classified as "affordable". But the games are likely to make many more
houses in the area unaffordable. As far as regeneration is concerned, this
is a sign of both success and failure.

With risks like this, local people are desperate to be heard. But while
the ODA has evidently spent a long time and a great deal of money
preparing the plans, it has left them with no chance of making a reasoned
response. In east London, one endowment from ancient Greece crushes
another. The pantheon on Mount Olympus remains blissfully untroubled by

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