Walk the Olympic Park (3) Carpenter's Road 30 photographs here
The western perimeter of the Olympic Park runs for over a mile alongside the natural barrier of the River Lea. If your small business is to the west of the river it survives, no matter how rundown or ramshackle. If your small business is to the east of the river it dies, no matter how wholesome or upmarket. A single narrow road bridge crosses the river between the two zones, at White Post Lane in the top right corner of Tower Hamlets. Let's head over onto the doomed side.
To your left, behind locked gates, stand the empty brick shells of KingsYard. Several small businesses once made their home inside a trio of long three-storey buildings surrounding a central courtyard, including such esteemed names as Stratford Catering Equipment Manufacturing Ltd and the Bilmerton Wig Supply Centre. They've all left now, so sadly there's no longer any need for Tony's Cafe to serve up daily kebabs and cuppas between 7am and 3pm. Come 2012 Kings Yard will be transformed into the Olympic Park's Energy Centre, pumping out gas-fuelled zero-carbon goodness from a cutting-edge Combined Cooling, Heating and Power Plant. On the opposite side of the road a number of more modern industrial estates are waiting to be wiped away to make room for the Basketball Arena. The Royal Opera House's scenery and costume workshop is moving out, as are major distribution depots for Boots the chemist and FedEx international couriers.
On eastward into Carpenter's Road. This is a favourite East End boy racer backstreet, so it's appropriate that the majority of the businesses down the rest of the road are automobile related. Crash your car here and someone will be on the spot in seconds to nab your bumper, remove your windscreen or cart off your chassis, for cash. Pause a while on the next roadbridge and look out across the River Lea's eastern channel. You might spot a bobbing moorhen, you might spot a soaring seagull, or you might be really lucky and spot a purple Silverlink train rattling by across the water. Three lonely traffic lights guard the road junction into Marshgate Lane, where the occasional lorry queues to let absolutely nothing pass. Passengers crammed in aboard every route 276 bus soak up the unsightlyview as they pass between twin building sites. 2012 contractors have been busy here since the start of the year on the site of the new Aquatic Centre, levelling the ground ready for the global Speedo invasion. It'll be a long time coming.
Carpenter's Road narrows alongside a long hangar-like structure divided up into a series of trading units. You can bring your broken-down taxi here for repair, or pick up some Japanese auto spares, or even snap up a cut-price car battery. Bits of windscreen litter the roadside - yours for a very reasonable price. Behind one set of locked gates they brew tarmac, behind another it's readymix concrete. And so itcontinues down the road - a whole string of businesses which wouldn't be acceptable (or have sufficient cash to pay the rent) anywhere else. Olympic regeneration will replace them all with a brand new residential neighbourhood, no doubt packed with incoming couples who've never fiddled under a bonnet in their lives. And the displaced employees of Carpenter's Road will have to make a fresh start elsewhere, if elsewhere will have them.
Pass beneath the low railway bridge and you reach the existing housing estates in the suburban no-mans-land south of Stratford station. Residents here are doomed to look out of their windows and watch a steady stream of construction traffic spluttering through their community over the next few years, with barely an extra penny spent on where they live. The bounteous OlympicLand is so very close to home, and yet still so very far away.
There used to be a second road north from here, but the top half of Warton Road was closed off earlier this year to allow construction of the Aquatic Centre to commence. A miserable stubby dead end remains beyond the railway, hemmed in between crumbling brick walls and green-painted security barriers. Behind a corrugated iron fence lies what used to be AV Autos, purveyors of the finest Fiat spares, and at the far end a locked gate provides unnecessary vehicle access to Thornton Fields railway sidings. I don't think I've stood anywhere quite so irrelevant and forgotten anywhere else in the Olympic Park. And I'm pleased I slipped in just before another brand new gate slams shut and snuffs out this tiny island of desolation forever.