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Urban Regeneration: The London Olympics 2012

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On 6 July 2005, the International Olympic Committee named London as the host for the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games in 2012. The regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley, a deprived part of East London, was an important part of the London bid for the games. Urban regeneration has been a significant element in previously successful Olympic bids and in the planning for other major sporting events, such as the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. It is hoped that the very high level of investment for the games will set off a positive chain of cumulative causation, bringing permanently higher living standards to the area.

‘The London Games in 2012 will be far more than just a four week festival of sport. They will be quite simply the most sustainable ever – leaving a lasting legacy of jobs, homes and environmental improvements for East London, London and Britain’.
Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London.

‘The Games will lift our international profile, attract inward investment and boost profits and jobs for everyone’.
Sir Digby Jones, Director General of the Confederation of British Industry.

‘Sebastian Coe, Ken Livingstone and the other strange bedfellows who helped secure London’s last-minute victory in the race to stage the 2012 Olympics say bringing the games to the East End will not only Make Britain Proud, it will Make Britain Money. Unfortunately, past experience and economic common sense suggest they are probably wrong’.
Heather Stewart, The Observer, 14 August 2005.

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small globe iconThe Lower Lea Valley

Although many locations in and around London will be used for Olympic Games (Figure 1), the core location for the event will be the new 500-acre Olympic Park in the Lower Lea Valley in East London. The River Lea flows from just north of Luton in Bedfordshire to its confluence with the River Thames in East London (Figure 2). The Lower Lea Valley forms the boundary between the boroughs of Newham, Hackney, Waltham Forest and Tower Hamlets and stretches for about 5 km between Stratford and the River Thames. Stratford station, which will be the key transport point for the games, is about 4 km north of the Docklands – arguably the most successful urban regeneration project in the UK to date.

Figure 1. Table of Olympic venues: new stadiums and historic sites.

The Lower Lea Valley is home to one of the most deprived communities in the country and is seen as the largest remaining regeneration opportunity in inner London. Unemployment is high and the public health record is poor. At present this run-down environment with an industrial history suffers from a lack of infrastructure. Most of the existing industry provides only low-density employment. Fly tipping has been a major problem in the area for years.

The area is one of the most ethnically diverse in the UK. Figure 3 shows the percentage of people in ethnic groups in Newham. The area has a negative image both within East London and the capital city as a whole. It is hoped that the Olympic Games will transform the Lower Lea Valley, bringing permanent prosperity to the area through the process of cumulative causation. The Olympics will bring development that will be dovetailed with the existing regeneration framework. The total investment in the area is expected to exceed £6 billion. Plans to develop the Lower Lea Valley have been around for some time but the development role of the Olympic Games will speed up this process.

Figure 3. Table showing the ethnic mix of Newham.

Many of the key facilities, including the Olympic Village, the main stadium, media centre, hockey complex and warm-up tracks, will be in Newham (Figure 4). The Olympic Village will provide accommodation and amenities for 17,000 athletes. Seventeen of the 28 events will take place within a fifteen-minute walk from Stratford station. Excel in the Docklands (Figure 5) will host boxing, judo, taekwondo and table tennis. Weight lifting, wrestling and water polo will be hosted by the University of East London. Indoor arenas for basketball, volleyball and handball will be built in Hackney Wick. There will also be a velodrome and BMX cycling facilities built in Waltham Forest and a tennis complex in Bow. Figure 6 is a timetable for the construction of the new Olympic sites.

small globe iconThe Olympic site

  • Most of the Olympic site is contained between Stratford High Street to the south and the A12 to the north. The Velopark and basketball arena will be located just north of the A12. The site includes the old River Lea and the Lea Navigation.
  • New land bridges will be built across rivers, roads and railways to provide the high level of access required.
  • Three coach and car parks will be constructed at East Marsh (currently sports pitches and mature trees), Fish Island and Stratford High Street (both now business areas).
  • More than 13 km of overhead power lines will be moved underground before development begins.
  • The area is contaminated, as a result of being used as a brickyard, gas works, wharf, mill, distillery and electricity generator at various times in the past. Land remediation will be required and a total of 1,850 km3 of soil will be processed, as 1,330 km3 of the soil is polluted with cadmium, chromium, mercury, nickel, selenium, lead and naphthalene. 530 km3 will be taken off site for disposal and 500 km3 of non-contaminated soil will be imported onto the site.
  • Five-metre-high fencing will be placed around the site. A loop or main arterial road will run around the edge of the precinct inside the fence. It will be used to shift soil, bring in building materials and maintain security.

small globe iconThe main benefits of the games

There were a number of perceived benefits that helped to gain support for the Olympic bid within the UK. These benefits formed an important part of the argument put forward to the International Olympic Committee:

  • It will create 9,000 new homes in the Olympic Park alone, with nearby schools and health and community facilities. Half of the new homes will be sold on the open market, with the other half going to housing associations.
  • It will clean up the urban wasteland of the Lower Lea Valley and provide the largest new London Park since the Victorian era.
  • The Olympics should significantly improve transportation, not only for East London but also for the capital city as a whole. In the locality, east to west connectivity will be considerably improved.
  • State-of-the-art facilities will be provided in the area for a wide range of sports.
  • The regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley and the Thames Gateway will be speeded up, providing new jobs and business opportunities before, during and after the games. It is estimated that 12,000 permanent jobs will be created in the area of the Olympic Park alone, as well as thousands of temporary ones.
  • It is hoped that the 150 km2 media and broadcast centre will encourage creative businesses to the area.
  • It will encourage sport and healthy lifestyles across all ages and communities.
  • The games will give a much-needed boost to the tourist industry, with half a million visitors expected at the time of the games. The tourism benefit should last for some time beyond the games. Sydney estimates that its economy was boosted by £5 billion in the five years since the city hosted the 2000 games. It is also hoped that the publicity generated by the announcement of the games will boost tourism between now and 2012.
  • The aim is for the games to promote social cohesion in one of the most culturally diverse communities in the UK. It should also improve the image of both East London and the country as a whole.

 

Figure 2. Map of London boroughs showing the course of the River Lea in London.
Figure 2.
Map of London boroughs showing the course of the River Lea in London.
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Figure 4. Map of the Olympic complex in the Lower Lea Valley.
Figure 4.
Map of the Olympic complex in the Lower Lea Valley.
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Figure 5. Map of Olympic venues in Docklands and Greenwich.
Figure 5.
Map of Olympic venues in Docklands and Greenwich.
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Figure 6. Timetable for the construction of the new Olympic sites.
Figure 6.
Timetable for the construction of the new Olympic sites.
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Figure 7. Clearing the Olympic site.
Figure 7.
Clearing the
Olympic site.
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Figure 8. The A12 with the sports fields of Hackney Marsh beyond.
Figure 8.
The A12 with the sports fields of Hackney Marsh beyond.
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