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CABE Conspire in Orbit Sustainability Scam

CABE - the "government's advisor on architecture, urban design and public space" - have been routinely wheeled out to provide token criticisms of the London Olympic planning proposals.

The design review of the London 2012 ArcelorMittal Orbit is no exception. The review shows earnest concern for "artistic integrity", while being seemingly oblivious to the conflict entailed in jamming a restaurant, lifts, toilets and viewing platforms inside a structure whose raison d'etre is a marketing monument for its sponsors and the imperative of filling an empty area with a 'must-see' visitor attraction at short notice.

There is even a touching complaint about the visualisations not being realistic - "the precedent images showing concave mirrors reflecting landscape are misleading". Surely everyone takes this for granted in London 2012 illustrations.

While this can be excused as naive, their collusion in misrepresentation of the environmental failings of the proposal is unforgiveable and presumably politically driven. As Felicity Carus wrote in the Guardian, "..for (Boris) Johnson to make his mark on London 2012 and its legacy with thousands of tonnes of steel, one of the world's most carbon-intensive materials, appears at odds with the sustainable values of the Olympic Delivery Authority and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) – and the spirit of the times."

This must have called for some serious spin and CABE were happy to oblige:

"We are pleased to hear that the Orbit will be constructed from 60% recycled steel, with 25% of concrete from recycled sources, and 75% of bulk materials other than steel transported to site by rail. In addition the Orbit will be connected to the Olympic Park combined cooling heat and power system."

Now, the Planning Statement does indeed claim that the concrete will contain 25% by weight of "secondary material/recycled aggregate". However as 25% of aggregate demand in the UK is routinely met from recycled sources this is promising no more than using ordinary concrete.

75% of non-steel bulk material by train? Apart from steel the only bulk material is concrete. And rail delivery facilities for aggregate and cement conveniently exist nearby on the Olympic site and the supply logistics well established. They will be simply be using the most economical and reliable supply option. No prizes there.

But the majority of the structure IS steel - which according to the Planning Statement 'unfortunately' can't be brought by rail or water. The 1400 tonnes of prefabricated elements will be imported from Europe, then be transported down from the North of England by road in an elaborate exercise in energy wasteage.

As for the 60% recycled content in the steel, the UK average recycled content for steel is 55%. But for structural steel sections such as the pipe intended to be used for this project the recycled content is typically 95-100% . This is a standard property of steel products produced using Electric Arc Furnaces. Use of only 60% recycled steel seems inexplicable, not an achievement.

As for the power system, given its location there is no alternative to being connected to the Olympic Park electricity mains.

The ArcelorMittal planning application even has the cheek to boast about the bog standard 90% recycled reinforcing bars to be used in the foundations - in common with every new building in the country. Surprisingly CABE seemed to have missed the opportunity to showcase that as another praiseworthy green achievement.


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