Skip to main content

Olympic Games 2012: Disruption to Businesses

Volume 736: debated on Monday 26 March 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure that disruption to businesses in London caused by the 2012 Olympic Games is minimised.

My Lords, London will be open for business this summer. Everyone involved in planning for the Games is focused on delivering a great Games while keeping London and the UK moving. Since November 2010, Transport for London has been working with businesses of all sizes in the capital to help them plan ahead for the impact that the Games might have on their staff travel, their deliveries and other aspects of their operations.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful Answer. Given that businesses in central London—here I have an interest of sorts to declare—have been officially advised to plan for severe disruption to their operations because of traffic congestion as a result of the Olympic route network and the congested public transport system, can he assure the House that everything possible will be done to ensure that, while the Olympic Games are a great success, the normal commercial business of London is kept moving as far as possible?

My Lords, we recognise the importance of this issue. We accept that there will be serious consequences if we get the planning wrong. There may be some severe disruption to a few businesses in certain locations, but the overall policy objective is business as usual. There will be impacts on businesses, most of which, overall, will be positive. However, there are potential adverse impacts. They can be mitigated by timely information and good planning. The website, Get Ahead of the Games, provides both the necessary information and the planning tools.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that having the greatest sporting festival in the world on our doorstep is something for which we should be prepared to tolerate a little delay? Can he further give us assurances and guidance about where we have looked for examples of how best to deal with any confusion?

My noble friend makes an extremely important point. It is quite clear to me that those planning for the Olympics have carefully studied the experience of other nations when they have put their Games on, which is one reason why I think that we are on track to deliver an excellent set of Games.

My Lords, it is of course enormously important that transport in London is sustained sufficiently for normal businesses to be able to operate. However, the Minister will know of one form of business that will already be adversely affected—black cabs, which will not be able to go into these privileged lanes. So, that is one business that is facing a real challenge. Can the Minister assure us that government Ministers and others who have privileged transport will not trespass into these lanes, which we recognise are in response to the requirements of the Olympic authorities and already attract the unfortunate epithet of the Zil lanes, after the privileged form of transport in Moscow? I can think of nothing more offensive to the ordinary Londoner than to see that these lanes which are reserved for athletes to fulfil their Olympic obligations are being patronised by government Ministers.

My Lords, if I may say so, that was an ingenious question from the spokesman for the Opposition. However, noble Lords will recall that the bid plans were approved by the previous Administration. On a particular point about the Olympic route network and the Games lanes, the Games lanes will be put in place only where there are two lanes, and only for as long as necessary.

My Lords, could the Minister tell me what thought has been given to the effect on retail business of the extended closure of pedestrian crossings? Certain major roads in the centre of London will have a barrier completely down the middle, and the number of pedestrian crossings will be reduced by half. Will that not affect people in retail terms since they will be able to buy only from whatever business happens to be on their side of the road?

My Lords, it is important to remember that there will be opportunities as well as disadvantages for retail businesses. I would urge retail businesses to visit the Get Ahead of the Games website, where, by using the tools available, they will easily be able to see what the impact of travel disruption will be.

Perhaps the Minister could address the potential effects of a cyber surge in view of the huge interest there will be in the Olympic Games themselves, the potentially huge diversion of businesses and their employees to outside of London, based on the need to avoid any transport and other difficulties. There may well be a pretty large surge of demand for internet capabilities. Can the Minister tell us what provision or action the Government have made or taken to ensure continuity of service in the cyber and internet fields? It could cause huge disruption to business if that is not assured.

My Lords, in preparing for this Question I had not specifically looked at cyber issues. However, I know that my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones spends all her time working on cyber issues.

Does my noble friend regard it as a good or a bad omen that the first appearance of the phrase “the rush hour” in the English language appeared within two years of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896?

My Lords, will the Minister expand a little on his response to my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham? We read in the press of the arrival of hundreds if not thousands of members of the Olympic family—which I think probably means the International Olympic Committee and all the hangers-on. No doubt each participating member state will send a senior Minister and their entourage, and that is before we get to our own Ministers. Will all these people be able to use these special lanes in addition to the athletes—who are the ones we want to get there on time—or will they be confined just to the athletes? If the lanes are extended to all these other people who think that they have a role to play then, as my noble friend said, the public will get very angry indeed.

My Lords, the noble Lord will understand that the provision of the Olympic route network was a key component of our bid to host the Olympics. If we had simply said to the International Olympic Committee, “Oh yes, we will have a great transport system”, we simply would not have secured the bid. We had to tell the International Olympic Committee specifically how we would provide the transport, including the Olympic route network.

My Lords, can my noble friend readdress the question asked by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes? If 50 per cent of the crossing places in, for instance, Oxford Street are to be closed and barriers will make it impossible to cross the road other than in the remaining 50 per cent of places, many people who are not that fit will have to make very long journeys on foot to get across the road, even when it is not rush hour. That, together with fighting against the tide, will put some people out of the commercial race altogether.

My Lords, I understand my noble friend’s point but, where restrictions are planned, they will be in place only for as long as necessary.

My Lords, the Minister keeps repeating that this or that plan has been approved and that this or that has got us the Games. Will he please tell us who will be able to use the lanes? It is quite simple and straightforward.

My Lords, the answer is athletes, technical officials, media covering the Games, the Olympic and Paralympic family, and Games partners, who provide £1 billion funding for the Games and contribute to the operational running of the Games.

My Lords, can the Minister reassure us that there will be excellent communications between the various modes of transportation so that those involved in surface rail will talk to those who work on the Underground, and vice versa? Last week there was a massive delay at Waterloo, yet the Underground had no notice of this and went on piling people into Waterloo. I hope that the two will talk to each other during the Games.

My Lords, I know that generally noble Lords have been disappointed with some of the information systems during transport disruptions. I recently visited the Transport for London surface operations control centre in London and was very impressed by it. In addition, for the Games a transport co-ordination centre will ensure co-ordination and communication between all transport operators, authorities and Games organisers. It will focus on transport operations that could affect delivery of the Games and it will be funded by the Olympic Delivery Authority.

Does the noble Earl accept that, although privileged access to Downing Street is worse than privileged access to the Games, nevertheless privileged access to the Games, as well as to Downing Street, will be found repugnant by many British people?

My Lords, I hope the noble Lord understands that these plans were approved by the previous Administration. This Government were not in a position to alter the bid made by that Administration.