What will east London look like after the athletes leave?

Stadiums rise from the building sites of Stratford and another 2,000 homes are planned to replace the Olympic media centre after 2012
Click to follow
The Independent Online

There's little more maddening than wandering around an obsolete and decaying Olympic complex, which, after huge investment and a brief moment of glory, is rotting away. From Athens to Atlanta they stand, chronically underused and deathly silent, a testament to overambitious and short-sighted planning.

In Britain, with the 2012 Olympic Games drawing nearer and building work gathering pace, the Government and public alike are anxious that the 500-acre complex being constructed at Stratford in east London should deliver a profound and lasting legacy for the area. Especially when in a faltering economy the expected cost of the Games has risen from £2.4bn five years ago to around £9.3bn now.

Last week the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC), the organistaion set the challenge of turning one of the country's most deprived areas into a sustainable and thriving neighbourhood, and home to thousands of new homes, called for expressions of interest in the massive broadcast and press centres currently under construction .

While the media centres, designed to house 20,000 journalists, photographers and broadcasters during the Games, are not themselves suitable for housing – there has been early interest from a range of sectors including creative, retail, education, sports, culture and office use – it is envisaged that they will be a vibrant hub of activity, the centre of a new neighbourhood that will include lots of new housing – surrounded by the park's 80,000-seater stadium, aquatic centre, velopark and indoor arena.

"The broadcast and press centres offer an unprecedented opportunity to create a new employment hub in Hackney Wick," says Jules Pipe, the elected Mayor of Hackney. "They will have world-class communications infrastructure and will be served by excellent new transport links."

However, a report last month by the London Assembly disagreed, noting that the media centre will be poorly served by transport.

Andrew Altman, chief executive of the OPLC, remains optimistic, however: "We hope to have around 2,000 new homes built around the broadcast and press centres," he says. "We see the Olympic Park as having distinct neighbourhoods, and this one will have green spaces, a public plaza, great connectivity, with bridges linking with Hackney Wick, perhaps some retail."

And, overall, the region's transport will be greatly improved. The Docklands Light Railway will be extended, and the Jubilee Line will increase capacity, while Stratford regional station will be equipped to cope with three times the current level of passengers. With the Eurostar and Crossrail connecting with Stratford in time, and City airport in the vicinity, the transport network will be fantastic, and invariably a huge influence on driving prices upwards.

At present the media centre is a huge building site and doesn't look too inspiring, but it is not difficult to imagine how it could be transformed into an attractive, thriving new neighbourhood once the Games have ended. Framed on two sides by pretty waterways, with Hackney Marshes to the immediate north and more open space to the east, and with the extensive facilities in the area – including the £1.45 billion Westfield Stratford City, which will be Europe's biggest shopping centre – no doubt people will be queuing up to live and work here if all goes to plan.

Details of housing on the Olympic Park – which is set to consist of at least 10,000 homes in all, to be constructed in the two decades following the Games – is still sketchy. Plans are afoot for up to 2,818 homes to be created, with 1,379 of these affordable, from the 17,800-person capacity Athletes' Village to be used by athletes and officials during the Games.

It will feature an education academy for 1,800 students, community and healthcare facilities, and parks, public squares, tree-lined streets and communal gardens. Residents will move in during 2013, at which time the development will be extended to include further homes, a health centre and community centre.

The regeneration is to be carefully integrated with existing communities, creating huge new employment opportunities. Indeed, at present around 10,000 people are working at the site.

Stratford City, where the Westfield retail park is set to open next spring, is pencilled to accommodate 16,400 homes on completion. Ikea has also bought a site by the Olympic Park, with development potential for up to 1,500 homes.

As well as Stratford itself, there are new homes planned in Bromley-by-Bow, Hackney Wick, Canning Town and Leyton. It is difficult to ascertain as yet exactly how much the Olympic Park is influencing the local housing market, however. Analysis of Land Registry data by Lloyds TSB in July revealed that house prices in east London have risen by 26 per cent (compared to 20 per cent nationally) since the capital was granted the right to host the Games in 2005. Some neighbourhoods have enjoyed particularly high increases, such as Homerton rising by 69 per cent, compared to the Greater London average of 36 per cent. Yet in total just four out of the 14 Olympic postal districts have seen house prices rise by more than the London average. Stratford, where the Olympic Stadium is located, saw only a 3 per cent increase in average prices, lower than any of the other Olympic postal districts.

And there have been other influences at play to help explain price rises, including the transport improvements and gentrification of areas such as Hoxton and Shoreditch. The financial crisis and property crash would have complicated the picture further.

Agents are noticing considerable interest from Chinese investors, who witnessed the Olympic effect on property prices in Beijing. Many believe that buying now, with the worst of the financial crisis over, in order to sell just before the Games, before a new swathe of properties enter the market after the Games, is a possible strategy.

Potential investors should be aware that there is always a danger of east London being swamped by new housing stock. Forty two per cent of Greater London's homes under construction are in east London, and more than half of those with planning permission but awaiting construction are there also.

"There are a number of developments in Stratford and Hackney itself that are being built independently," says Daren Haysom, sales manager of the Islington branch of agents Foxtons. "They include the striking Athena Towers located on Stratford high street with magnificent views over the Olympic Stadium and just nearby is St Andrews in Bromley By Bow."

Athena, an entirely private development, will tower 28 storeys above the ground and provide far-reaching views across London and the Olympic Park. Apartments are not currently available, but details of prices, specifications and availabilty are expected around mid-November.

Knight Frank is currently marketing 64 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments at the architecturally bold Lett Road development near the park, with prices ranging from £235,000 to £337,500. Around half have already been sold since launching in April.

Affordable homes developer One Housing Group's Velocity development on Stratford high street is also generating considerable interest. The one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments will be available to those eligible through schemes including the Government's New Build Homebuy scheme. The properties will be released for sale tomorrow.

Close to Bow Church, at Genesis Homes' Fairfield Quarter affordable homes development, a 25 per cent share price for the one-bedroom apartments ranges from £41,000 to £56,750, based on full-market price ranges from £164,000 to £227,000.

"With the Olympic Games fast approaching there has been a complete makeover and remodelling of Stratford and Hackney – areas positioned right above Canary Wharf, one of the most valuable financial districts in the world," says Haysom. "Essentially, it's the redevelopment of a section of a capital city with an existing and strong beating heart. Once the Olympics is complete it will become important to focus on engaging the Olympic Park with its neighbouring areas.

"East London has seen a huge uplift in demand and prices this year, with continued redevelopment, new transport links and a massive influx of fashion-setting inhabitants. Despite this, property prices still remain well below central London average values and are therefore a great investment for the future."

Useful contacts

* Genesis Homes (www.genesishomes.org.uk)* Foxtons (www.foxtons.co.uk) * One Housing Group (www.ohgsales.co.uk) * Knight Frank (www.knightfrank.co.uk)

Olympic legacies

House prices in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens increased on average 60 per cent in the five years prior to the Games and by considerably more in Beijing.

* Beijing 2008: property prices in Chinese capital increased substantially in the run-up to the Games and continued to climb afterwards. The Chinese state demolished many traditional dwellings in the city and replaced them with luxury modern flats.

* Athens 2004: Greece spent nearly €12 billion 'bringing the Games home'– a record at the time. Six years later, almost all of the Olympic venues lie unused and the debt accrued contributed to the near collapse of the Greek economy.

* Sydney 2000: the Sydney Olympics is widely thought of as the best organised and most successful of recent times, but the net cost of the Games for the nation's public finances totalled £720 million. It was five years before a programme of commercial and residential re-development was implemented at former Olympic sites.

* Atlanta 1996: the Games in Georgia's state capital broke even. Expensive new houses were built around the Centennial Olympic Park and then heavily taxed. That money was used to fund the construction of affordable housing in poor districts.

James Maxwell