East London ready to rise from the ashes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 October, 2011, 12:00am


Staging a large-scale multi-sports event like the Olympics costs billions of pounds and therefore promoting a legacy value is one of the best ways to convince taxpayers their money is being well-spent.

The International Olympic Committee considers a Games legacy as a top priority and one of the central reasons London won the hosting rights was its long-term vision of regenerating east London, the most deprived area in the sprawling city.

'East London was the industrial centre of the city when manufacturing was at its peak,' said Dan Hawthorn, head of London 2012 of the Greater London Authority. 'But for the past 40 years since the second world war, with the decline of manufacturing, that part of London was also in decline and by the late 1990s there was a big scar on the city. The area is like it has been cut off from the rest of the city, neglected and poorly known by even many Londoners.' East London constitutes a significant area of deprivation, among the worst in England, and demonstrates a persistent gap in social outcomes such as health, life expectancy, educational achievement, housing and crime compared to the London average.

The decision of choosing east London in which to build the Olympic Park has thus become a major catalyst for the regeneration. Before construction, the park, bordered by the A12 in the north and extending as far south as Stratford High Street, was contaminated and derelict land situated around the River Lea. The landscape is dominated by past industry and electrical pylons.

But now it is the proud home of major venues such as the 80,000-seat main stadium, the aquatics centre, the velodrome, the basketball centre and the hockey centre as well as the International Broadcast Centre and the Main Press Centre.

After the Games, the Lower Lea Valley will benefit from one of the largest new urban parks in Europe, with an enhanced network of restored waterways and new wildlife habitat. Thousands of new homes are being built neighbouring Olympic Park, and will be supported by new schools, new utilities infrastructure, roads, transport, and community and health facilities.

From 2012, the once most deprived part of London will evolve to include a high-quality open space, providing a valuable resource to local communities and visitors alike.

The London Games legacy also includes harnessing the country's passion for sport to increase grassroots participation, particularly by young people, promoting community engagement and achieving participation across all groups in society and exploiting the opportunities for economic growth offered by hosting the Games.

Hawthorn said negative images of London still fresh in the mind from the summer riots would be changed by the time the Olympics start.

'There are riots in many cities in the world and not only in London,' he said. 'The security operation is tremendously sophisticated and the intelligence has been working to find out whether there are people, international terrorists or domestic trouble makers, planning to cause trouble during the Games.

'The lasting effect of the images that people see from the Games next summer will have more impact than the effect of the riots this summer. The London Games will be a fantastic opportunity to correct any damage that was done by those riots.'