2008 Yearbook

i n r e v i e w 33 An Olympian Task Having left English Heritage for a short stay at the Department of National Heritage, Associate Member VANESSA BRAND enjoyed the change so much she became a civil servant and is now on secondment to the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). Like English Heritage, ODA is a quango. The London Olympic and Paralympic Games Act 2006 was passed within six months of winning the right to hold the 2012 Olympics, and ODA came into existence on 31 March 2006. A chairman and board had been appointed by the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport and the first board-meeting was at the end of April. Clearly they needed a board secretary, and as a member of staff within the Department for Culture Media and Sport, I was due to change jobs: a happy coincidence. London 2012 is headed by Seb Coe and actually comprises two organisations working side by side: the London organising committee of the games will put on the ‘show’, and ODA is the builder, responsible for constructing the ‘theatre and the set’. The London Games will be based in East London at the new Olympic Park just north of Stratford. The site was a rundown area of former Victorian industrial development, crossed by railways interwoven with waterways, and blighted by 52 pylons. Despite working at DCMS, I knew little about the bid, but I had heard about the pylons. The day we won I was at a local government conference in Harrogate and met a councillor who was also on the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. He, like me at that time, cared little about the Olympics, but he was thrilled because the pylons would be removed and the regeneration of the lower Lee Valley would finally become a possibility. He was right. Docklands has been changing over the last 20 years. Canary Wharf (where we have offices on the 23rd floor) is the very prominent symbol of that regeneration. Stratford, a couple of miles north is beginning to change and a vast new development, Stratford City, is starting on former railway lands by Stratford station. But without the Olympic Park the land to the west, along the River Lee, would have remained as it was. When the 13 board members and I met for the first time on their induction day, work had already started. Four tunnelling machines were at work and in 2008 power will be switched to the new underground cables and the pylons finally removed. The board bring a wide range of expertise and experience. They include Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate, who is a powerful design champion for the board; David Taylor, an architect active in regeneration schemes who was Chief Executive of English Partnerships; and Lorraine Baldry who is Chairman of the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation. There was not a moment to lose because the project we are building is twice the size of Heathrow Terminal 5 and has to be built in half the time. At the first few monthly board meetings, members (and I) had to learn about the proposals: what was already decided, like who would design the Aquatics Centre (Zaha Hadid had already won the competition as part of the bid); and what members themselves had to decide. The board’s role is to set the strategic direction. Obviously the venues have to be built on time and with the best value for money, Illustration ©The Olympic Delivery Authority