Now We’ll All Be Funding London’s Olympic Village

May 13, 2009

Oh dear. The 2012 Olympics become more farcical by the week, and more expensive to boot.

The whole project began amid splendid visions of private sector largesse. Major corporations just couldn’t resist taking a stake in the various elements of the Olympic dream, elements like the spanking new shed/media centre to be built at Hackney Wick, or the Olympic Village.

Ah Stratford, land of broken dreams

Ah Stratford, land of broken dreams

But sell-my-ass-over-thirty-years-in-a-PFI-scheme if those corporate benefactors have dissolved and the taxpayer is going to be footing the bill.

In December 2008, we learned that the media centre would now be funded by the “Olympic contingency budget.”

Now, we’ve finally had it confirmed that the Olympic Village (all £1 billion of it) will be funded out of the public purse. Private developer Lend Lease has pulled out citing credit worries, and the Treasury has stepped in to bail them out.

But it’s OK. Tessa Jowell maintains that “after careful assessment it is clear that investing in the Olympic village now will save public money in the long term.” Jowell believes, or at least says, that “by funding the entire project the village will become publicly owned and the public purse will receive substantial returns from sales.”

Why this wasn’t seen as a good idea when the plans were drawn up, is a bit of a conundrum.

But let’s do the maths first. The Olympic Village is supposed to become 2,800 apartments. Divide £1 billion by 2,800 and you come up with the princely sum of £357,000 – quite steep for “affordable housing” which is surely what the area needs.

Actually, given that it will be in a desolate wasteland and will probably be hideously ugly, it’s hard to imagine anyone paying so much for an ex-Olympic Village apartment.

This is all a far cry from the expansive visions promised by those who organized the London bid. The plan was for 4,000 apartments, a goal that was downsized to just over 3,000 last year, meaning that, according to the Guardian’s Robert Booth, “during the games five athletes will have to share each apartment rather than four.”

Aside from being just a little bit embarassing, passing the costs of the Olympic Village onto taxpayers is also highly unpopular. One poll showed that some 80 percent of respondents opposed the use of public money. It’s all particularly galling as, come the 2012 Games, private developers with land around the Village (including the Westfield firm and an ex-advisor to John Prescott) will probably make a killing.

In doing so, they will help to construct another giant corporate hell-hole, where there could have been allotments, schools, playing fields, small businesses and real affordable housing.

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