I have just completed an interview with Kevin Bouchet on the Olympics for Radio 4’s Sunday Programme (see interview Olympic piece at 19 mins).
The Olympic Games was awarded to London on the basis of the diversity of communities and the ability to regenerate East London.
The Games will regenerate London and indeed that is where most the £9.3 billion is being spent so the only real question that remains is whether or not the Games will benefit those currently resident in the four boroughs that adjoin the Olympic Park: Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney and Waltham Forest.
In East London we find parallel communities. The richest square mile of Europe (the City of London and Canary Wharf) exists alongside some of the poorest areas of London and in particular Tower Hamlets. The Olympic development could go two ways: it could become an example of how concerns of corporate Britain can be integrated with the needs of the local population: new commerce, industry and development producing new job and housing opportunities along with fantastic amenities for the local population OR we could end up with an Olympic affluent enclave where housing is sold off to the highest bidder and the existing communities are left on the periphery of opportunities.
The Olympic project still has time to decide which way this goes and the ball is now more in the Mayor of London’s court than the Olympic organisers as he takes on a greater role in the legacy of the Games.
There will be both social housing for locals (25% of homes going to local families in need) with the remaining 75% going to the private market so the locals are more likely to judge the overall legacy on job creation and local amenities. Without doubt the Olympics will create a new city centre for London rivalling London’s West End. It will have the largest public park and with the opening of Westfield Stratford City, the largest shopping centre in Europe. In addition to this a new Eurostar terminal will give the areas easy links with Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne. Plans around Hackney Wick may produce a new centre for commercial arts. All this will create opportunities for those willing to take them up. In my interview with Radio 4, my hopes are that those opportunities will go to local people currently living in the vicinity.
Only time will tell whether we can transform the Olympic Games from the greatest show on earth to one of great opportunity for those living around the park.