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Why did Lemley leave ?

A year ago Jack Lemley, a square-shouldered American construction baron, walked into the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to meet a sceptical press. Appointed from an international field to chair the Olympic Delivery Authority, the septuagenarian was cast as the cure for a nation almost phobic about major capital projects in the wake of the Dome, Wembley and sundry other shambles.

Last month Lemley abruptly walked out on his two-day-a-week post claiming he wanted to spend more time looking after his business interests in the US. On Tuesday, having retired to the safe distance of his home town of Boise, Idaho, Lemley gave a more damning account of his departure. A "huge amount of local politics", he told the Idaho Statesman, had made the job intolerable. "I went there to build things, not to sit and talk about it, so I felt it best to leave the post and come home," he said, fuelling the fears of sceptics convinced that London's Olympic dream is destined to become a nightmare of feuds and rising costs. Rather than help raise an Olympic city in the East End, Lemley has caused the first crack in its foundations.

But the breezy dismissals of Lemley's criticisms dispensed by Higgins and his government counterparts belie the very real teething troubles of a project that has until now proceeded almost without a hitch. Lemley's intervention coincides with a crucial stage in the games project on two fronts. The ODA, led by Higgins, is involved in intense negotiations with the Treasury over the true cost of delivering not just the Olympic infrastructure but the promised root-and-branch regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley. Meanwhile a corrosive dispute over the post-games use of the main Olympic stadium threatens to divide London 2012's most senior power-brokers. How London resolves these issues will have a huge bearing on the success or otherwise of London's Olympics.

Since winning the pitch in Singapore last year, Livingstone has announced plans to build 40,000 new homes in the Lea Valley. The Stratford City development, Europe's largest residential-retail project, is ongoing and the Olympic Park has been redrawn to incorporate this parallel development. Yesterday Higgins defended the apparently mounting costs: "We have looked again at the original funding package, and checked it against the realities of the site and the new regeneration plans for the Lea Valley that have been introduced since London won the games. What we have said to government is look, you have a huge site with a fence round it and you have planning powers over the area, so it makes sense to do the regeneration work as a single package, and we suggested a budget to them to carry out a package of regeneration measures."

But while his team wrangle with the Treasury with a view to finalising a budget in the new year, potentially more serious trouble is brewing on a second front. Once again the row centres on the legacy of London 2012. London promised that the games would leave lasting benefits for Olympic sport in the UK, with the stadium at its heart. The vision they bought was of an 80,000-seat stadium reduced after the games to a 25,000-capacity athletics arena. The problem for those faced with meeting that pledge is that taxpayers have been promised there will be no white elephants, and an athletics stadium on that scale simply will not pay for itself.

Squaring the circle of London's two buzzwords, legacy and sustainability, is a challenge that threatens to divide those running the Olympic project at the highest level. On one side are senior figures including Livingstone and organising committee chairman Lord Coe, who are committed to an athletics legacy. On the other is government, led by sports minister Richard Caborn, who believes engaging a Premiership football club as an anchor tenant is the only way to make the stadium pay.

The most likely candidate to take on the stadium is West Ham United, whose ground at Upton Park lies just a mile to the east of the Olympic site. Unfortunately for those hoping for a quick solution to the problem, West Ham is the subject of a hugely controversial takeover bid from a consortium led by Kia Joorabchian, an Anglo-Iranian with links to the exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, and Eli Papouchado, an Israeli property developer who has confessed he has no interest in football. For those in Olympic circles who already regard the over-mighty national game with distaste, this brew of exotic interests is seen as altogether too rich.

The biggest complicating factor concerns the unique traditions of English football, in which supporters demand to be close to the pitch. If West Ham or Tottenham Hotspur, another potential tenant in need of a larger ground, were willing to stomach a permanent athletics track round their pitch the argument would be more straightforward. Providing they were willing to put up around £100m of the capital costs of the games they could probably secure the stadium, which would be reduced from 80,000 to something more appropriate, perhaps 60,000 for Tottenham and 45,000 for West Ham. Neither club is willing to do so. Worryingly there is no sign of a solution and time is running short. Architects HOK Sport are due to start drawing up designs in the new year and as yet they don't know exactly what they are building. Any late changes to plans will only increase costs.

From: Is London's Olympic site behind schedule already? Paul Kelso, Guardian, 4 11 06

More at: Lemley walks

The former chief executive of Channel Tunnel contractor Transmanche Link, Lemley was brought in for his experience of running major projects. However, as well as health concerns, it is understood that Lemley was unhappy with the appointment of CH2M Hill, Laing O’Rourke and Mace as the ODA’s Delivery Partner (NCE 21 September). Lemley was understood to have favoured the rival bid by US giant Bechtel.

From: London 2012 boss resigns, New Civil Engineer, 19 10 06,

More at: Bechtel

See also: Laing O'Rourke

Lemley called to explain

Real regeneration costs

West Ham stadium Games

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