London Stadium Development
On 6th July 2005, London celebrated. An optimistic bid to stage the 2012 Olympics beat all competition, including the hot favourites, Paris and the London Stadium Redevelopment project was born.
Although no formal brief had been agreed at the time, the London bid was based around a multi-purpose stadium that would have a post-Games legacy, despite initial opposition from the then government. The projected £208 million cost was quickly shown to be hopelessly optimistic, with a more accurate construction estimation placing the construction cost at £700 million. The Quantity Surveyor’s must have been scratching their heads how to reduce the cost of the final account.
The wrangling over the design, however, went on. And on. Over a year later, in October 2006, and after no other organisations had met the bidding criteria, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games finally selected a team of Sir Robert McAlpine and Populous – an architectural team with an impressive track record in designing international-quality sports facilities – to get on with the business of finalising a design, procuring and then construction.
A lot of preparation and groundwork was necessary to get the intended site into the kind of shape necessary to build a world-class stadium fit not only for the games, but for whatever form it would take post-2012. It was a challenge for Populous to design something that would not only have a seating capacity of 80,000 for the Games themselves, but that could be adapted afterwards for football, athletics or even music events. Some 800,000 tons of earth were removed from the site – enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall nine times over – and the preparation exercise was so efficient that construction work began a full three months early, in May 2008. The bill of quantities would have included 10,700 tons of steel, and low carbon dioxide concrete as part of the project’s commitment to minimising the environmental impact on the area.
The low carbon dioxide concrete wasn’t the only environmentally-friendly element to the construction; there was also a nifty bit of recycling going on, not just with the large diameter pipes in the compression truss which were surplus to requirements after North Sea Gas pipline projects were completed, but with recycled granite. Additionally, the majority of the building materials were transported by train and barge rather than by road, minimising the inevitable contribution the vehicle traffic would have made to London’s already parlous air pollution levels.
The stadium itself came in well on time, and – depending which newspaper you read – on or under budget. Reception was, of course, mixed. No public building can please everyone, and responses ranged from “magnificent” to “a bowl of blancmange”. Other criticisms were levelled at the supposed sustainability – the roof couldn’t be reused to cover the 25,000 permanent seats once the building use was changed post-Games, and nor was it likely that any other sporting arena or even would want the seating that had been removed. Finally, there was criticism of the cost of the project.
The Games themselves, of course, were a tremendous success – from opening ceremonies to medal haul, Team GB and the volunteer games makers made the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games quite some milestone for Rio to beat four years later. Transformation into a post-Olympic football and events stadium, however, was less golden. The first indication that all was not well was the announcement by Dennis Hone of the LLDC in November 2012 that the deadline of 2014 for re-opening wouldn’t be met. The problems were all in the seating capacity – at least 50,000 was desirable for a venue that could retain athletics events, and 60,000 to make it a UEFA Category 4 venue, i.e. of a size adequate for hosting a Champions League final or similar tournament. The bill of quantities for the change of use included materials for a new 84 metre transparent roof, and new corporate areas and toilets.
The budget for the Quantity Surveyor was still problematic; Balfour Beatty were awarded a £154 million tender to carry out the change of use works. The input of £40 million from Newham council, and £15 million from West Ham United – the new occupiers – would barely touch the sides. A Sky News reporter discovered in late 2014 that the cost was likely to rise by a further £15 million as the roof would need further structural work, although the money was accounted for in the existing transformation budget to cover the cost.
West Ham eventually moved in during August of 2016, playing their first game there on the 4th, winning 3-0.
The London Stadium has also hosted some World Cup Rugby Union 2015 games and Rugby League games. It will also hold atheletics again in 2017.
Financially the Olympic Stadium project / London Stadium project has been a disaster for tax payers, but this stadium hosted the memorable and unforgettable Olympic Games of 2012. Was tax payer’s money worth “Super Saturday” or the new West Ham United football stadium and the future events and memories it will create? You decide.