This week saw the announcement that David Higgins is to leave the ODA in early 2011 to take up a post as Chief Executive Officer of Network Rail. David leaves the ODA in good shape, the facilities to stage the Games will be constructed on time, within budget and to exemplary sustainability standards. It is true that many challenges remain but the team David leaves behind are highly competent professionals with capacity to resolve them in an appropriate and timely manner.
Taking on a project of this magnitude requires a highly pragmatic and single minded approach. David could have seen the sustainability agenda and the intervention of an independent commission as an unnecessary distraction but he did not. He considered sustainability to be one of many business objectives to be delivered through a world class management process and he gave appropriate attention to the subject. I met David informally every six months and more frequently in our formal reviews and reporting programmes. I found him decisive and dynamic, he got things done. He is single minded and needs to be persuaded by a strong case to divert from his planned course of action. However, I can point to several examples where the advice of the Commission has been taken on board resulting in a better world. At the start of the project the ODA had no intention to provide centralised catering or any focus on healthy sustainable food during construction. David was persuaded by our argument that as many meals will be served during construction as the Games and there is a unique opportunity to move away from the bacon butty culture that is one of many barriers to inclusion in the construction industry. The result is changing the industry and the ODA are able to point to evidence of increases in safety performance as a result of offering a healthy breakfast to site workers. The argument for an HFC free Aquatic Centre was much harder to win, but once persuaded by the case David was firm in his pursuit of this objective despite technical difficulties. A similar story is to be found with PVC, once a specification for tensile plastics had been established the procurement instigated by the ODA resulted in the world having a new, safer and more environmentally appropriate form of PVC.
Challenges remain; not least the achievement of the 20% renewable energy target now that the wind turbine has been cancelled. There is also a lot of work to do in the ‘transformation’ phase post-Games to ensure that the exemplary environmental standards, related to things like waste, are maintained. The ODA must also ensure that when the Olympic Park is handed over to the legacy company, the new habitats are in place to meet the long-term biodiversity commitments for the Park.
David’s leadership and the legacy of the ODA’s achievement in the field of construction sustainability will be long remembered and hopefully replicated and improved on over time.