On 24th August, planning permission was granted for the 115m-high ‘Olympic Orbit’, which is being funded, to the tune of £16 milllion, by the ArcelorMittal steel company. In 2009, ArcelorMittal held around 8 per cent of the worldwide steel output. It is the largest steel company in the world and the EU’s 5th biggest polluter. The company is also a tier two sponsor of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
In August, final plans for the Orbit were put before the planning committee of the Olympic Delivery Authority. These aimed to explain just how a 115m-high, 41 metre circumference, £19.1 million carmine-red curved steel tower would blend in with all the other buildings and stadiums and grasslands of an Olympic Park that had been carefully planned and designed over the past five years. the plan Attempted to demonstrate the aesthetic justification for sticking a scarlet tower – more than twice the height of Nelson’s column, almost twice the height of the Monument and just 21 metres shorter than the London Eye – between the Olympic Stadium and the elegantly curved swimming pool.
Needless to say there was no explanation of these matters. But it would not cost anyone any money, as long as, when the Games were over, 350,000 visitors a year – about 1,000 a day – could be persuaded to visit the tower, three miles out of Central London, with a viewing platform lower then the Eye, and lower than the second platform of the Eiffel Tower.
The planning officials had rallied round behind the project. The Olympic Delivery Authority supported it, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Olympic Park Legacy Company, half owned by Greater London Authority which puts on the Games themselves, was supporting it.
Despite the backing of the official planners of the games the Orbit’s raison d’etre is as a marketing monument for its sponsors; hence the imperative of filling an empty area with a ‘must-see’ visitor attraction at short notice. It will mostly be made of steel, one of the world’s most carbon-intensive materials, which is surely at odds with the on-the-surface sustainable values of the Olympic Delivery Authority and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.