Mind the crowds: London to be packed this summer

Mind the crowds: London to be packed this summer

Published Jun. 13, 2012 2:44 p.m. ET

Britain is pouring more money into crowd-control plans for London during the Olympics, with the government acknowledging Wednesday it had vastly underestimated the number of people likely to take part in the city's heady atmosphere.

Unexpectedly large turnouts have met the Olympic torch relay all over Britain, surprising even the most optimistic cheerleaders for the Summer Games. The celebrations surrounding Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee this month also drew millions into the capital - another jamboree of unexpected proportions.

So with hundreds of cultural events taking place at the same time as the Olympics, authorities now accept that more people are likely to come than they had anticipated. Olympics minister Hugh Robertson said Britain was devoting an additional 19 million pounds ($29 million) to crowd control, bringing the total spent on such measures to about 76 million pounds ($117 million).

''We know exactly how many tickets have been sold and roughly how many people should be in London,'' Robertson said. ''(But) absolutely nobody knows how many people are going to turn up.''


The money will be used to hire ushers, provide barriers and pedestrian bridges and otherwise keep the public safe. Funds are also going to be devoted to providing security and directions for the ''last mile,'' or the distance between transport hubs and Olympic venues since most people will be using public transportation.

Transport for London, which manages the city's vast, aging and strained public transit network, estimates that 1 million more people a day than usual will be in London during the games, which take place from July 27 to Aug. 12. They've planned for years to deal with the impact, upgrading transit links all over the city, and have been constantly reminded that the success or failure of the games rests in part on whether London keeps moving.

But with just 44 days to go, Robertson and other officials found themselves on the defensive for putting such additional planning off until now.

''The scope of the demand for the Olympic Games'' only recently became clear, Robertson said.

He still insisted that people should come into the city and enjoy being part of it all, but urged them to plan ahead.

''London this summer is going to be the place to have a party,'' he said. ''It is a great national event.''

Olympic venues will be guarded by 23,700 people, including military personnel and volunteers. That doesn't include some 12,000 police officers taking part in securing London on the busiest of days.

Robertson predicted that the overall London Olympics was on track to remain under its 9.3 billion ($14.5 billion) budget. He said he expects around 500 million pounds ($778 million) can be handed back to the British treasury.

When the Olympics budget set in 2007, it was almost four times higher than the estimated cost when London won the bid in 2005, drawing criticism from lawmakers.


Danica Kirka can be reached at http://twitter.com/DanicaKirka