Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Delivering the 2012 London Olympics - A UK Land Grab?

In July 2005, London en masse celebrated winning the right to host the 2012 Olympics. Since then, the hosting of the games has been much discussed: this article is concerned not with the wider issues but with the ODA's need to buy land to deliver the infrastructure.

The bid team identified a 306 hectare zone of UK land in east London to host the Olympic village and the main stadia. This was not in the traditional sense land for sale so upon winning the games, the London Development Agency (LDA) invoked compulsory purchase orders on some of the relevant UK land sites in the zone.

Through a combination of existing ownership and buying land, ninety percent of the required 306 hectare zone of UK land in east London is now in public hands primed for Olympics infrastructure. The cost of buying land was not included in the original budget (the talents of the bid team did not apparently extend to basic financial forecasting), and it is not only land for sale in the Olympics zone which has been acquired.

Additional UK land sites have been purchased in order to relocate businesses which operated in the Olympic zone: to some there is an irony that one of the main intended legacies of the Olympics is job creation whilst simultaneously displacing businesses onto UK land sites in other parts of the country. The total cost of acquiring all the necessary UK land is thought to be around £1 billion.

There have however been objections, not only to the perceived UK 'land grab' from powerless businesses and individuals, but also to alleged profiteering through buying land on the periphery of the zone by the LDA to benefit from future rises in the value of that development land.

The fact that this is not land for sale on the open market means that prices may not reflect the true value of the development land. The allegation, then, is that the Olympics have become a Trojan horse for companies involved in property development: there is a huge opportunity to acquire investment land with huge property and development potential at bargain prices.

The mayor's Olympics adviser Neale Coleman disputes this claim: "...it would be absurd to be trying to buy land that is not absolutely necessary to deliver the Olympics". A spokesman for the LDA insisted it was offering market value when buying land in the zone.

It has not at all times been plain sailing for the LDA when buying land. In February 2007 the LDA's efforts to buy land used for allotments in the Manor Gardens area of Waltham Forest was rejected by land use planning officers at Waltham Forest Town Hall. Campaigners argued that buying land from individuals was unlike buying land from companies: the former have an emotional attachment to UK land sites which they have long used, unlike the latter (which are concerned with profit maximisation).

The 2008 Beijing Olympics has attracted negative publicity for buying land and displacing local people. As with London, this was not land for sale purchased at open market prices and it has been suggested that private property developers have made lucrative land investments in the run-up to the games in China.

Olympic Delivery Authorities are powerful agents and there is no doubt that the political will is firmly behind the on-schedule delivery of the 2012 Olympics. This means in all but the most extreme cases the LDA will be empowered to buy land in the areas it deems necessary.

So does this represent a UK land grab? Well, perhaps it does, but it was to be expected. In some cases it has caused anguish but the bulk of the 306 hectare zone of UK land earmarked for the Olympics is industrial development land. However what is certainly true is that the cost of buying land has risen substantially since the bid was won, which has contributed to the swollen Olympic budget.

Dietrich Elliot is a Land Investment exert who generously shares his expertise with novice UK Land investors. For more information about the opportunities and pitfalls in UK Land investment please visit http://www.land-investment-uk.com

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