Olympics legacy: Did the Games succeed in rejuvenating East London?
The promise of London 2012 wasn’t just to ‘inspire a generation’. It was also about 'regeneration' – through a combination of infrastructure, housing and sporting facilities. Emily Dugan catches up with the afterlife of the main Olympic venues
Emily Dugan is Social Affairs Editor for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards. Her first book, 'Finding Home: Real Stories of Migrant Britain', is published by Icon Books on 2 July
Tuesday 16 July 2013
A group of east London teenagers were among those streaming towards a gleaming new Stratford Underground station after the fireworks had faded at the Opening Ceremony on 27 July 2012. They had been given last-minute golden tickets to the ceremony and were excited, but too savvy to swallow all of the hype about regeneration in their backyard.
Tarome Hemmings, a 19-year-old student from Hackney summed up their reservations. “It feels like you’re part of history to be here,” he said. “But we need to make sure that the legacy is more than just talk.”
Almost a year later and that gleaming Tube station they were walking towards is still one of the most tangible signs that the Games provided something more than talk for east London. The infrastructure improvements to what had previously been a forgotten far-eastern outpost of the capital have been phenomenal.
The Olympics brought more than £9bn of investment to east London, much of which went into transport.
Stratford is now second only to King’s Cross as the most connected part of London.
As well as two Underground lines, a high-speed “javelin” train to King’s Cross and the Docklands Light Railway, it may soon be a stop-off for the Eurostar to Paris.
“A lot of major developments and improvements have been moving eastwards in the capital for decades now,” Dennis Hone, chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation told The Independent.
“I’m in my 50s and I remember the East End when if you lived on the Isle of Dogs you had to get two buses to get to Stratford to shop. Now its transformed.”
The second of the five legacy pledges made in Britain’s pitch for the Games was that it would “transform the heart of east London”. At the Olympic Park site – now rebranded the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – there is tangible evidence of change.
The athletes’ village, once draped with national flags and buzzing with people hoping to catch Usain Bolt or Mo Farah in the dinner queue, has been relaunched as a housing estate called the East Village.
In September, its first non-athletes will move into their new apartments, which have had kitchens added and walls knocked through.
Promisingly, almost half of these 2,818 new homes will be affordable. This is just the start of a much-needed boost to housing in the region. Olympic parkland – as well as some of the surrounding area – will eventually become five new neighbourhoods housing 8,000 people, with about 40 per cent in affordable homes.
But Anne Power at the London School of Economics, who is examining the legacy of the Games, has warned against assuming this housing will be within the reach of most people.
She wrote last summer: “The ‘affordable rents’ for the 2,800 new homes that will be converted from the athlete’s village will be unaffordable to Newham’s poorest households. As one-third of all children in the borough live in workless households, their families will almost certainly be excluded.”
This is particularly problematic following reforms to the way the Government subsidises housing. It now classes “affordable” housing as being at 80 per cent of the market rent – an increase of 10 per cent from the rate under Labour. In London, this means many families are priced out.
A chronic shortage of school places in Hackney and Newham will be alleviated in September, when a much-needed new school opens in the grounds of the park. Chobham Academy will be a primary, secondary and nursery school, as well as a sixth form and adult learning facility.
When a deal for the last of the eight permanent sporting buildings in the park was secured two months ago, a lot of the most serious concerns about Olympic-sized white elephants were allayed.
The final building to be signed off was the £300m media centre, which will now primarily house Infinity – a data company who want to store information for large corporations.
Beyond the building and transport developments around the park itself, however, questions remain about whether a more substantial transformation has taken place in the area.
Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, in the Olympic borough of Tower Hamlets, said: “The impact of the infrastructure investment has been really fantastic... But – and there’s a big but – in my borough unemployment actually went up during the Olympics.”
Ali argues that the Games did not deliver on the promise to improve unemployment levels, which would have helped lift many of these still-deprived boroughs out of poverty.
She said: “During the construction of the Olympics, very few jobs were created for local people. There are still high levels of unemployment in the borough and it was a missed opportunity to train people up for work. Tower Hamlets got very little out of the Olympics.”
It will probably be a decade – or more – before we can say with any certainty whether the Games improved east London’s employment prospects. But the money spent on transport and housing is already providing the beginnings of a legacy that is “more than just talk”.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Five new neighbourhoods are on the way in and around the grounds of the Olympic Park. These will provide about 8,000 much-needed homes to the area. From this month, much of the grounds being kept as parkland will be open to the public for use as a picnicking and play area.
This beauty, designed by architect Zaha Hadid, will put its two 50m pools to good use as facilities for the community and schools, as well as elite athletes. It will be open to the public for the same cost as other pools in the host boroughs.
Lee Valley Velopark
The fiendish BMX track, which caused so many faceplants in the Games, will be made a little less terrifying and be combined with the velodrome, a road circuit and mountain biking track to create the Lee Valley VeloPark.
The Olympic Village
From September people will begin to move into properties once slept in by Olympic champions. Rebranded the East Village, apartments in the former Olympic Village have had walls knocked down and proper kitchens added. Almost half of the 2,800 flats will be affordable housing.
The Media Centre
The former Olympic broadcast studio, where 20,000 members of the media worked during the Games, will be converted into one of Europe’s largest data storage facilities. As well as the data company Infinity, Loughborough University and Hackney Community College are confirmed tenants. BT Sport will also broadcast live Premier League games from new studios there.
The arena will become a multi-sports centre for community use and international competition. Its 7,500 capacity means it will also be an extra venue for concerts and corporate events.
The neon pink hockey facility has been moved to join the tennis courts at Eton Manor to create a mixed sports facility next to the velodrome. It will also offer five-a-side pitches.
The Olympic Stadium
It seemed for a while this was going to be the Olympics’ answer to the Dome. But West Ham is confirmed as the ‘anchor tenant’ from 2016 and moveable seating means it will also host everything from cricket to the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and the 2017 World Athletics Championships.
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