diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 19, 2006

One final irresistable visit as part of London Open House was the opportunity to survey the 2012 Olympic site from above. A special viewing suite has been established on top of Holden Point, a 21 storey tower block in deepest Stratford. The portakabin on the roof is somewhere warm to take VIPs and and engineers when they need an overview of the Olympic Park (and it's a lot cheaper than hiring a helicopter). Various members of the IOC have been up here, as has Chancellor Gordon Brown, and even the Queen paid a visit last year. I rather like the fact that Her Majesty has been to a very ordinary yellow council block in the East End and travelled up to the 21st floor in a slightly-too-small lift, just like many of her loyal subjects suffer every day.

I spent an hour on the roof of Newham, looking out across the future. Directly in front of me was the new Stratford International railway station, cut deep in a broad trench running across reclaimed marshland. Eurostar trains will be speeding through here next year, but they won't be stopping for a while because there's nothing surrounding the station shell but a single road and acres of dirt. This dirt will one day be the new Stratford City development, an upmarket office/retail/residential complex (in direct contrast to the existing Poundstretcher/kebab/Woolworths shopping centre to the south). The true Olympic site lay rather further away, somewhere in the middle distance, which was a shame because that made it much harder to see. When the Queen was up here they helped her out by tying big coloured balloons to existing buildings to represent various Olympic proto-stadia. I had to make do with a pair of binoculars and a small map.

As well as enjoying the view out of the window, my group was also informed and entertained by the Olympic Delivery Authority's Head of Stakeholder Engagement. Thankfully his personality was a lot more engaging than his job title. Richard explained, with the aid of a malfunctioning DVD and various maps, how the scene below us would be transformed over the next five years. We're in the middle of a two year planning stage at the moment, which ends next summer when the bulldozers arrive. In July next year, it was confirmed, a big security fence will go up round the perimeter of the site and public access will be closed off. If you want to walk the green spaces of the Lower Lea Valley, or if you're the heron I saw stalking the Pudding Mill River at the weekend, the months are running out.

We spent too much of our hour above Stratford looking in rather than looking out. Maybe that's because there's not yet very much to see apart from the station, no major building work of any great consequence. But in five years time the view from this window will include a Waitrose, an Aquatics Centre and an Olympic Stadium. Within ten years, as the legacy phase kicks in, these should be joined by a giant waterpark and hundreds of acres of affordable housing. The Newham council representatives I met up Holden Point probably still can't believe their luck... just so long as the Olympic Delivery Authority actually delivers. On a good day from up here you can already see the Wembley Arch on the horizon. Let's hope it acts as a wake-up call and not an omen.

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