Australian tops government wishlist

Nick Mathiason
Sunday September 18, 2005
The Observer

Senior members of the government want Australian David Higgins to run
the 2012 London Olympics project. Higgins, currently chief executive of
English Partnerships, the UK’s regeneration agency, is strongly
favoured by ministers and officials to organise the acquisition of
land, the infrastructure and the building of stadiums for the world’s
most prestigious sporting event.

Higgins had a big role in organising the acclaimed Sydney Olympics five
years ago. And as chief executive of Australian developer Lend Lease,
he built the successful Bluewater shopping centre in a north Kent
quarry.

As chief executive of English Partnerships, Higgins is credited, along
with his chairman, Margaret Ford, for rescuing an organisation which
was widely derided by regeneration experts and faced abolition.

EP is now responsible for making land ready for John Prescott’s housing
agenda. It is organising the expansion of Milton Keynes, the
regeneration of former coalfields in the north and is involved in the
Thames Gateway project.

Higgins, quietly spoken and publicity-shy, took a £1 million pay cut to
lead EP when he joined the organisation from Lend Lease over two years
ago. He is seen as a safe pair of hands and one of just a handful of
executives in the world with the necessary experience of bringing off
such a high-profile job as chief executive of the Olympic Delivery
Authority.

But friends of Higgins say he has not yet put his name forward. He is
understood to want assurances that he will be given control over the
project without being ‘second-guessed’ by civil servants. He is also
wary of the media glare he may endure.

Higgins has until the end of the month to decide whether to offer his
services. A shortlist of candidates will be compiled next month.

If he takes the job, Higgins will manage the government’s interest in
the Olympic project and the public money going into it. The Olympic
Development Agency will also ensure transport plans for the Olympic are
effectively co-ordinated. The body’s creation is included in the London
Olympics Bill, which has reached its committee stage in parliament.

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