Sunday 27th Sep 2020 - Logistics & Supply Chain

Logistics challenge of 2012 Olympics

Finance issues have dominated discussion of the 2012 London Olympics, but at a ‘Logistics Countdown to 2012’ Forum in March, the scale of the physical challenge became apparent, as did the implications of self-imposed ‘sustainability’ targets. The London Olympics are supposed to be the ‘greenest’ yet – so half of all construction materials are to be delivered by rail or water, 20 per cent of them will derive from recycled material, and 90 per cent of demolition material (including post-Games rebuilding for further use) should be re-used or recycled.

The numbers are staggering – and have to be added to the ‘normal’ development and regeneration work in East London. The Olympic developments will absorb one million tonnes of bulk materials (cement, aggregates, bricks, steelwork etc) on top of 1.1 million tonnes going into Stratford and other parts of East London and the Thames Gateway over the same timescale. At peak, 20,000 construction workers (most of whom won’t be locals) will add to the 15,000 already engaged. All this has to be transported without closing down large parts of one of the World’s major cities.

On paper, the ‘grid’ of available transport infrastructure looks promising, with arterial roads and railways, and the Thames itself. On the ground, much of the infrastructure is already at capacity, with little scope for major improvement – indeed, upgrading of the North London rail line or the muchdelayed Crossrail risk, becoming part of the problem rather than the solution.

There are promising developments. The Transport for London Freight Unit (see interview on page 17) clearly has both vision and leverage, at all levels of granularity. Some projects of great significance are already in train – for example, Prescott Locks which will allow 350 tonne barges access from Bow Creek to waterways running right through the Olympic Park.

 The logistics interests at the Forum, road, rail, water, and the responsible bodies, are clearly up for what will be a massive challenge – what James Hookham of the FTA described as ‘an opportunity to showcase British Logistics’. But this depends on some novel attitudes.

In the first place, it was observed, the logistics of construction and serving the site in use will need to be worked out and managed by logisticians with an overall view, not by the narrow interests of individual construction contractors and sub-contractors. Will infrastructure provision such as wharfage be led by an overall plan, or by narrow market forces? And, as this correspondent asked, but no-one could answer, will procurement and sourcing, particularly of bulk and commodity materials, be informed by preferred logistics strategies, or will it be simply a case of ‘lowest landed cost’, with Transport for London and the Olympic Development Authority ‘firefighting’ to avoid gridlock?

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