Olympics tricky time to marry or die for some Londoners

LONDON Tue Oct 18, 2011 3:44pm BST

1 of 2. The Olympic Stadium with the figure 1 mown into the grass to mark one year to go until the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games, is seen in this undated aerial photograph released in London on July 27, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/LOCOG/Handout

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LONDON (Reuters) - Londoners living anywhere near the Olympic Park next year will find that getting married, commuting to work, dining, drinking and even dying while the Games are on may be a little tricky.

Churches, bars, banks, restaurants and thousands of other businesses near the park or on transport routes that millions of fans and athletes will take to Olympic events are already making plans for massive disruptions in service, deliveries, working hours and the availability of cash.

All Londoners are being warned they may face a shortage of fish and meat and banks could struggle to fill up their ATMs, while workers have been told to plan on fighting for standing-room only on an already creaking public transport system.

Couples hoping to marry next summer at St John's Church in the heart of the Stratford area containing the Olympic Park face a restricted window of opportunity because of its location on the 100-mile (160-km) Olympic Route Network (ORN), designated to whisk 80,000 athletes, dignitaries, sponsors, officials and the media to the venues on time.

"We will be telling brides we would strongly advise them to pick another date," assistant vicar Carol Richards told Reuters.

Richards also said that if one of her congregation were unlucky enough to die during the Games, their family may have to look for a quiet day in the Olympic schedule for the funeral.

It's not just bridal parties and the bereaved who will find the normal course of life disturbed. Businesses near and far will suffer from transport woes in the British capital with an estimated extra three million journeys expected on peak days during the Games.

MORE EFFECTIVE THAN THE LUFTWAFFE

Part of the Olympic route will consist of Games Lanes which will be set aside for the so-called Olympic family, leading to potential gridlock for everyone else.

London's market traders -- whose commercial rights stretch back to a charter granted by Edward III in 1327 -- are concerned the traffic restrictions for the 2012 Olympics may manage something which eluded the German Luftwaffe and its predecessor.

"Something that two World Wars didn't do -- stop Billingsgate -- is possibly going to happen with the Olympics," said Don Tylor, chairman of London's fish merchants' association at Billingsgate, the world's largest inland fish market.

Greg Lawrence, chairman of the tenants' association at Smithfield meat market, said the worst case scenario was that people would be unable to arrive and buy meat.

"If the roads are so gridlocked and we can't get the deliveries, or we can but can't get the customers in, that means that restaurants and shops won't be getting their meat supplies," Lawrence said.

To help ease pressure on the roads, London businesses are being advised to stockpile non-perishable goods such as water and paper, share deliveries or create mini-warehouses.

The Road Haulage Association has called for a suspension of the rules regulating night-time traffic used to prevent residents from being disturbed. Tests are taking place, but London Councils said they would look to take a more flexible approach rather than suspend enforcement altogether.

Banks are also working on how to keep ATMs well-stocked.

"Working in consultation with the Bank of England, Royal Mint, banks and cash transit companies, the group has been considering risks including increased public demand for cash and disruption to transport caused by the Games," a spokesman for the Payments Council said.

WORK FROM HOME

London's public transport authority Transport for London (TfL) has a team of 10, backed by a 30-strong panel of consultants, working with businesses to organize workshops and hold one-to-one bespoke sessions for larger companies. They are also working with the various business federations.

Canary Wharf, which shares some of the main public transport links that serve the Olympic Park, has been diagnosed as a potential hotspot by TfL, which hopes to reduce usage by up to 60 percent at peak times.

TfL has encouraged the mainly financial businesses at Canary Wharf to let staff work from other offices, from home, change their hours of work or go on holiday. At last count, 23 big firms, employing 90,000 people, have already signed up.

However, getting thousands of bankers to log on remotely could lead to congestion of corporate networks, the office space provider MWB Business Exchange said.

It could also cost affected small-and-medium sized businesses up to 25,000 pounds ($39,497) each to improve their IT infrastructure, and it may be against regulatory rules for some staff to work from home, it added.

Other areas of British life set to see disruptions include the country's beloved sporting calendar. In particular, the start of the highly lucrative English Premier League soccer season will be delayed.

"NO CRISIS"

It's not all gloom and doom, however. The arrival of sports fans, athletes and other businesses for the Games is a huge opportunity to make money, said Mark Kass of the East London Small Business Center, which has helped 6,000 start-ups.

"Let's not turn a drama into a crisis," he said. "Life will be dramatically changed for about three weeks, but it is going to be a fantastic atmosphere -- potentially thousands of new customers from around the world wandering around.

"But there may be some issues they have to deal with to take advantage of that. And if that means instead of getting into work around 8:55 a.m. to open up at 9 a.m. maybe you need to get into work at 7:30 a.m. I think the only thing that will be on hold will be the lie-ins and going to bed late."

Politicians hope the Olympics will act as a catalyst for regeneration of a long-neglected part of east London where employment rates and health standards are low.

Locals should benefit from billions of pounds of transport investment in the long-term, as well as a new shopping center -- the largest of its kind in Europe -- and an Olympic Park that will have world-class sporting facilities.

The Railway Tavern, one of the closest pubs to the Olympic Park, has refurbished nine bedrooms ahead of the Games.

Janet Dooner, who has run the pub for the past 45 years, said holidays will be canceled for her staff during the 17 days of competition. She may also have to change working patterns so they can stay open 24 hours a day to take in deliveries.

Her brewery is looking at using rubber rings around the beer kegs to absorb the noise as they are rolled down into the cellar -- something that could be adopted permanently.

"Hopefully this time next year we can say the Olympics weren't too bad, I enjoyed it," she said.

(Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Paul Casciato)

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