Urban Regeneration: The London Olympics 2012 For a zipped version of the html files, please click here.

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 icon The 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.

New stadiums and historic sites

New venues in Olympic Park, Stratford, east London:

1 Olympic Stadium (athletics, opening/closing ceremonies)
2 Aquatic centre (swimming, diving, synchronised swimming, water polo finals)
3 Velodrome and BMX track (track cycling and BMX cycling)
4 Hockey complex
5 Multi-sport complex (basketball, handball, volleyball, modern pentathlon)
6 Tennis complex

Other new venues:

Greenwich peninsula halls 1 & 2 (badminton, gymnastics, table tennis)
Broxbourne (canoeing slalom)

Existing venues:

Wembley stadium (football finals)
Wimbledon (tennis)
Lord’s (archery)
Horse Guards Parade (beach volleyball)
Hyde Park (triathlon, road cycling)
Regent’s Park (baseball, softball)
Greenwich Park (equestrian, modern pentathlon)
ExCel exhibition centre (boxing, judo, taekwondo, weightlifting, wrestling, table tennis)
The Millennium Dome (gymnastics – artistic trampolining, basketball finals)
Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich (shooting)
Eton Dorney rowing centre (rowing and flatwater canoe/kayak events)
Weald Country Park, Essex (mountain biking)
Weymouth–Portland (rowing, canoeing, mountain biking, sailing, football)
Other football venues

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.

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.

Newham: Ethnicity (Census 2001)

Percentage of people in ethnic groups:










Other White





White and Black Caribbean



White and Black African



White and Asian




Asian or Asian British:












Other Asian


Black or Black British:









Other Black


Chinese or other ethnic group:






Other Ethnic Group
















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.

Figure 4. Map of the Olympic complex in the Lower Lea Valley.

Figure 4. Map of the Olympic complex in the Lower Lea Valley.

Figure 5. Map of Olympic venues in Docklands and Greenwich.

Figure 5. Map of Olympic venues in Docklands and Greenwich.

Figure 6. Timetable for the construction of the new Olympic sites.

Figure 6. Timetable for the construction of the new Olympic sites.

small globe icon The Olympic site

small globe icon The 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:

Figure 7. Clearing the Olympic site.

Figure 7. Clearing the Olympic site.

Figure 8.  The A12 with the sports fields of Hackney Marsh beyond.

Figure 8. The A12 with the sports fields of Hackney Marsh beyond.

small globe icon Opposition to the bid

Although there was a clear majority in favour of the bid, both within East London and within the UK as a whole, there was significant opposition from individuals and organisations. There are huge differences in perception between developers who characterise the Lower Lea Valley as ‘corridors of dereliction’ and environmentalists who stress the ecological importance of the area. Environmentalists are concerned about potential loss of habitat due to redevelopment. Much of the Lower Lea Valley is an extensive network of waterways, with important wildlife habitats, on a key migratory route. It has been designated a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation by the GLA’s Ecology Unit. In the redevelopment for the games, 500 mature trees in the area will be cut down. The River Lea Trust views the planned ‘landscaping’ of the area as inappropriate. The construction of bridges to allow large numbers of people to access the Olympic site will also drain significant sections of the waterways. According to the Environment Agency, the river system of the Lower Lea is extremely complex and very important in terms of its flood relief function.

Figure 9. Opposition of local businesses to the bid.

Figure 9. Opposition of local businesses to the bid.

Other concerns voiced about the Olympics were:

Many of the claims that were made by the Olympic bid committee and their supporters have since been disputed by opponents of the bid. In an article entitled ‘London’s Olympic Myths’ by Kevin Blowe in November 2004, the author writes ‘People in East London no longer believe the promises made about new jobs that will “trickle down” from construction-led regeneration. Similar promises were made about Canary Wharf, about the Millennium Dome and very specifically about the ExCel Centre in Canning Town and all have proved to be false.’ A series of American academic studies has found little evidence of benefits, either in economic growth or job creation, from holding large sporting events once the cost of building new infrastructure has been taken into account. In addition, some experts argue that the estimated benefits to tourism ignore ‘time switchers’ who plan to come to London anyway but change the date of their visit to coincide with the games, and ‘casuals’ who just happen to visit London at the time and visit a few of the Olympic events as an extra attraction. A number of sceptics highlight the ‘opportunity cost’ of the games. This refers to the alternative ways in which the total cost of the games could be spent.

small globe icon The key role of transportation

One of the key elements in London’s bid was the commitment of a huge investment in transport that will lead to the building of about 50 stations, three rail lines and the extension of three other lines. Many of these projects were already underway and, although the government said that they would be completed even if the London bid was not successful, there was a feeling in some quarters that the plans would have been scaled back.

The focal point will be Stratford International Station, part of the £5 billion Channel Tunnel rail link. New 225 km/h Javelin trains are due to be delivered in 2009. These trains will also be used for a new high-speed commuter service to the Thames Gateway. The other stations serving the Olympic Park will be the existing Stratford and West Ham tube stations. Both stations will be upgraded. Consequently, the Olympic Park will be linked to 10 rail lines, capable of delivering 240,000 passengers an hour.

The prospect of the Olympics has already accelerated projects such as the £1.25 billion East London line to Crystal Palace, West Croydon and Hackney and the extension of the Docklands Light Railway, as well as providing added impetus to the Channel Tunnel rail link. The extension of the Docklands Light Railway to City Airport was completed at the end of 2005, with the extension to Woolwich Arsenal due for completion by 2008. The section linking Stratford International Station to Canning Town is due to be finished in 2010. Hugh Sumner, the director of Olympic Transport, said in July 2005: ‘Almost all the infrastructure we need is being built now.' However, the government has stated that the new Crossrail scheme will not be ready before 2012.

The Port of London Authority has been quick to promote the Thames as an environmentally friendly and economic way of moving materials across London to construction sites. The Port authority has also emphasised the role that the river can play in transporting people while the games are in progress.

Figure 10. Map of new transport links for 2012.

Figure 10. Map of new transport links for 2012.

Figure 11. Stratford tube station.

Figure 11. Stratford tube station.

small globe icon Relocation of existing businesses

By the time that London was awarded the games, 81 per cent of the land in the Olympic Park was already under public control. The London Development Agency (LDA, the Mayor’s agency for business and employment) is currently negotiating with the 284 businesses that occupy the remaining 19 per cent of the site. The LDA has given a clear commitment that no business will be financially worse off as a result of the relocation and is offering voluntary agreements called the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) process. Under this CPO process, the LDA will have to pay market value for all lands acquired. However, some businesses want far more money than the LDA is prepared to offer. As a major landowner itself, the LDA has enough land to relocate every existing business on the Olympic site, but some businesses may choose to make their own arrangements. Examples of local businesses affected by the relocation arrangements are:

Figure 9 shows the opposition of local businesses to the games. A number of other locations, for example Peterborough and Milton Keynes, have been keen to attract the relocating businesses in order to increase employment in their area.

small globe icon The impact on property prices

Newham has been one of the cheapest areas in London to buy property. However, within hours of the announcement in Singapore of London’s successful bid, estate agents near the main Olympic site were receiving an unusually high volume of calls from investors. House prices have been rising at well above the average for London as a whole. Existing homeowners could also benefit by letting their homes for a premium rent during the games. Developers have also started looking at land that had previously received very little attention. In Barcelona, house prices rose by 48 per cent more than the national average during the five years before the games. In Sydney, the increase was 20 per cent. However, not everyone feels that increasing house prices will benefit the area. For example, local people on low incomes will now find it even more of a struggle to get on to the property ladder.

small globe icon The Stratford City development

The Stratford City development, on the railway land above and around the station, was already approved before London was awarded the games. The area lies largely alongside the Olympic site, but according to an article in the Evening Standard on Friday 4 November 2005: ‘part of the land overlaps with the Olympic site – creating a stand-off with the LDA, which wants control of all areas to ensure the Olympics are ready on time’. Due to be finished in 2020, the £4 billion, 1.25 km2 scheme consists of 4,850 homes, 120 shops, three department stores, four hotels and a large area of office space. Only time will tell whether these two major developments can seamlessly proceed side by side and prove mutually beneficial.

small globe icon Managing and funding the games

The London Olympics Bill was drawn up by Parliament to form the Olympics Delivery Authority (ODA) and to give powers to the ODA and the Mayor of London to prepare and stage the games. It is expected to complete its passage through Parliament by mid-2006. The ODA will have powers relating to planning, compulsory purchase, transport and reconfiguration of venues after the games. It will also control marketing. Figure 12 shows the projected costs of, and income from, the games.

Figure 12. Table showing the projected costs of, and income from, the games.


Running the games: £1.5bn
Olympic stadium: £560m
Athletes’ village and park: £650m
Security: £200m
Redevelopment: £800m
Transport infrastructure (already planned): £7bn

TV and marketing:
Sponsorship and official suppliers:
Ticket revenues:
London Development Agency:
Council tax levy:











small globe icon Conclusion

There can be little doubt that Britain has the economic strength and organisational skills to present an excellent Olympic Games. However, according to a newspaper article in the Daily Telegraph on 7 July 2005, ‘The legacy of the modern games has been one of burden rather than triumph for so many cities. When the last athlete has left the capital in 2012, will most Londoners have wished it had gone to Paris after all?’