Higher, faster, richer: East End businessman sitting on Olympic gold

Lance Forman fought to keep his family firm in Stratford – now he has a priceless view of the 2012 stadium
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The Independent Online

"If you want to dance with a Czech shotputter this is the place to do it," claims former chartered accountant Lance Forman. It is an unlikely boast to make in an salmon smoking factory in the middle of the east end of London, but it is not altogether infeasible.

The fourth generation salmon smoker is gazing out from the sun- drenched terrace of his factory on the hottest day of the year so far, and if a Czech shotputter were on hand, it would not be completely inconceivable for them to launch said shotput straight into the Olympic Stadium, which sits imposingly just over the canal.

Having fought tooth and nail with the Olympic authorities to keep his business going, Mr Forman's fish smoking factory is now the closest building to the Olympic Park, and he stands to make a vast sum renting his enviable vista to international broadcasters and corporate hospitality providers.

Like his father, grandfather and great grandfather before him, Mr Forman runs the Forman and Son salmon smoking business in Stratford. He now has a brand new factory and international broadcasters are clamouring to buy up a slice of his view.

He plans to build a nine-storey temporary venue on a currently vacant acre next door, complete with a night club (Czech shotputters will be allowed in free), corporate hospitality suites, 100m television screen – "the biggest in history" – and a fleet of eight Sunseeker yachts moored in the canal below. "Broadcasters might like to do their breakfast programmes from onboard the yachts," he speculates.

Eighty-five people work at Forman's Fish Island, where between two and three tons of salmon are delivered every morning, to be filleted, smoked and dispatched everywhere from Fortnum & Mason to Buckingham Palace. As well as the fish smoking factory it has a restaurant, art gallery and several conference spaces which have hosted fashion shows and product launches.

Mr Forman has now hired the former FA chief executive Brian Barwick and former chief operating officer of England's 2018 World Cup bid, Simon Johnson, to represent the company in discussions with broadcasters interested in using the venue as a television studio during the Games.

"We hope to have 10 or 20 major international broadcasters using our studio space," Mr Johnson says. "Of course there is the International Broadcast Centre, but that is an enclosed space. There are no views of the Olympic site from inside there. Plus, only officially licensed broadcasters can use it.

"The likes of Sky, ITN, ESPN, they will not be allowed to use the broadcast centre's facilities. Come the Olympics, every broadcaster in every nation around the world will want to be broadcasting from London. What we're offering is the best view of the Olympic Stadium anywhere."

Rental prices of more than £1m for a broadcast or a corporate space for the duration of the Games have been quoted in some quarters. Although Forman is reticent on the numbers, he admits the temporary structure will cost £10m to erect. "Don't forget when the Olympics came to town our business stood still for five years," he says. "And they were the boom years. Then we moved here and the recession bites. This is an opportunity to catch up, and hopefully to overtake."

On the staircase inside the factory is a huge photo of a 74lb salmon being sold at London's old Billingsgate market, the largest on record. "That's my grandad," says Mr Forman of the man in the photo. "I don't think he'd believe what's going on here now. It still amazes me. I'm just taking each day as it comes."

Nine years ago, after the Forman and Son factory in nearby Hackney Wick flooded, they reopened in a new location, slap bang in the middle of what is now the Olympic Stadium.

"250 businesses were removed from what is now the Olympic Park," Mr Forman says. "Of those 250, 75 have now shut completely. A further 109 are yet to sort out their compensation packages with the London Development Authority. I'm told the total amount they are seeking between them is £330m. The LDA is only offering £150m."

Of those businesses that did survive, only a few, of which Forman and Son is one, remain in the area. "The LDA gave out the impression that the land was derelict, which would devalue it by the time they might have to purchase it," Mr Forman claims. "It wasn't derelict. It was a thriving manufacturing area. The greatest concentration of manufacturing land in London. It's hard to manufacture in the UK. This place was thriving. Yes, it wasn't pretty. Manufacturing isn't pretty. But it was successful.

"By the time the bid was done, six of 250 deals had been approved. When Jacques Rogge stood up in Switzerland and opened that envelope in 2005 and said 'London' the LDA were terrified. They thought we'd lose. They had a year to do nearly 250 deals.

"Then the compulsory purchase order comes along. It's in the rules that your businesses can't profit from compulsory purchase orders – the development authority can only help you find somewhere of equivalent value. But of course once everyone knows the Olympics are coming, prices in the entire neighbourhood go up. None of the businesses could afford to stay in the area."

Mr Forman was due to cross-examine Sebastian Coe on the issue at a public inquiry when he received a call from the LDA saying they would do a deal if he agreed not to participate. "I agreed," says Mr Forman, "although I wrote to Lord Coe [and] said: 'You can run but you can't hide.' I wasn't expecting a reply."

The company moved to its current location and was opened by London Mayor Boris Johnson, who called it a "shrine to smoked salmon". "People talk about the [Olympic] legacy," says Mr Forman. "We are the legacy in advance. The pregacy."

With more than 300 gold medals available, London 2012 will generate its fair share of success stories. But with almost 500 days still to go, the east end's oldest salmon smoker is already among them.