Not All Londoners Happy Ahead of 2012 Olympics
Staff Writer, CNBC.com
London has been waiting for the Olympics since they were awarded to the UK's capital by the International Olympics Committee in 2005.
On Wednesday evening, a ceremony will be held in central landmark Trafalgar Square marking one year until the Games.
Gospel choirs will serenade the assembled crowds and athletes as the IOC president invites athletes to compete and Mayor of London Boris Johnson asks the world to watch London next year.
Yet not everyone in the city is happy about the countdown to July 2012, the third time London will host the Olympic Games.
Plenty of cynics still grumble about the cost of the event. The UK doesn't have the best record in delivering large-scale construction projects, as recent troubles around Wembley Stadium and the much-maligned Millennium Dome, now the O2 stadium, show.
Lord Sebastian Coe, the former Olympic 1500 meter champion who is chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG), told CNBC Wednesday: "We are nearly 90 percent completed. We are in great shape but at the moment there is work still to do."
The UK's sports minister, Hugh Robertson, told journalists Tuesday: "I want to get the whole thing docked and delivered successfully before I start jumping up and down and making too much of a noise about it. But we are in a very good place, under budget and ahead of time."
When the Games were awarded, the UK was fully in the swing of the boom years, whereas now the economy has slumped, with latest growth figures showing that the economy expanded just 0.2 percent in the second quarter.
Developing the historically deprived area of East London, where most of the Games will be held, will cost the government more than £7 billion.
"There are 1,500 businesses large and small around the country that have shared a £5-6 billion dividend," Coe said. "Around 12,500 people are working on the Olympic Park in an economy that has been flat-lining. Quite what else they would be doing I don't know. This has been an economic godsend."
Around 5,000 new hotel rooms are being built to accommodate the expected influx of visitors, according to Visa.
West Ham United, the football club, is set to take over the stadium after the games. The Olympic Village, which will house the world's best athletes during the Games, will be turned into close to 3,000 houses, although around half of these must be "affordable housing," which may limit the profits to be made after the athletes depart.
Sovereign wealth fund Qatari Diar, in partnership with property investment group Delancey, is currently competing with British scientific charity Wellcome Trust to take over the village in 2013.
Security in London is one of the organizers' biggest concerns.
The day after the city's successful bid was announced, London was hit by the July 7 terrorist attacks, which killed 52 people and injured hundreds more.
Mike Granatt, the first head of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat of the Cabinet Office and now a director of Luther Pendragon, told CNBC.com: "There's no such thing as 100 percent security.
"The Olympics will probably be the biggest security exercise this country has ever seen, and preparations will have been going on since the day after it was announced that London had won the bid."
There are concerns that the recent resignation of Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, and its anti-terror head John Yates, in the wake of revelations about the closeness between police officers and journalists following the News of the World phone hacking scandal, might affect the security of the Games.
"I don't think either Stephenson or Yates would have stepped down if they were indispensible for the Games," Granatt said. "It's inconceivable that you would set up an organization which couldn't replace people."
The government has set aside £600 million for the Olympics security budget.
That will include dealing with online ticket scams and protesters as well as terrorism and theft.
"There are two advantages in the terrorists' armory," Granatt said. "First, over time people become complacent between horrors, so you have to make sure that you're raising awareness."
"The second thing is that they adapt, so you have to stay one step ahead," he added.
He cited the famous quote from the IRA after the Brighton bombing which narrowly missed then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: "Today we were unlucky, but remember, we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always."
There has also been plenty of controversy over ticket applications, with the cost and lack of availability of tickets now almost as popular as the weather as a British topic of conversation.
UK consumers who managed to get tickets spent an average of £196.42, according to a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, while Londoners who managed to purchase tickets spent £246.45.
There were close to 23 million applications for around 6 million tickets.
"It's our ambition to get as many people as we can into the venues," said Coe. "It's a great vote of confidence in London, and we want to fill the venues."
London's notoriously creaky, overcrowded transport system will come under strain.
Transport secretary Philip Hammond has urged businesses to consider flexible working and allowing home-working, to avoid the transport network being overrun.
More than two-thirds of business managers believe there will be a positive impact on the UK economy in the short term, according to a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The historically underdeveloped areas of Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets could receive a specific net economic benefit of up to £8 billion, according to Paul Donovan, managing director and global economist at UBS , and a member of the East London Business Alliance.
He said that the true economic legacy of hosting the Games probably won't be seen until around 2020.
"If you look at the Games historically, it can be an unmitigated disaster. In many ways, the Athens Olympics (in 2004) was very damaging to the Greek economy, although it was probably damaging itself quite well already.Viewers saw a city in chaos, and tourism suffered hugely afterwards."
"If we can present a good image of London it will be great free advertising," he added.