Don't miss your opportunity to see the latest designs for the Olympic Stadium
The Olympic Torch may have bypassed Bow last week, but the Olympic Delivery Authority dropped in last night for a proper session with the local community. The ODA have nearly finished preparing detailed plans for the Olympic Stadium, and they wanted to see what we thought. So they turned up in a local school hall with the architect, set out a few chairs and waited to see who'd turn up. And a few of us did. Maybe if they'd mentioned there was free tea and biscuits, there'd have been more than 20.
The full consultation roadshow came to town. A posh white lectern labelled "engage", a big video screen, lots of microphones, and a headphoned bloke in charge of cables. All of the panellists wore their vivid 2012 logo lapel badges, and the first speaker's Powerpoint notes looked like they'd emptied the ODA's inkjet printer of every colour except black. The ethnic diversity of the E3 postcode was well represented across the ODA staff present, but alas not amongst the audience which was conspicuously white. There's a lot more reaching out to the local community still to be done.
We were treated first to an update on the state of the Olympic Park. I was already well aware how far advanced the preparations were, having been up on the Greenway bridge taking my monthly photo less than two hours earlier. More than 75% of the entire park has already been demolished, and the stadium site itself now resembles a flattened earth bowldotted with the occasional digger. We were told how thousands of native fish, insects and amphibians have already been "translocated", in readiness for their offspring to return to refreshed waterways once the legacy phase kicks in. And as for the 52 pylons currently scattered across the site, they'll be coming down later this year and all the cables threaded underground.
Deep breath. Time for the first Questions and Answers session. It was soon clear that the audience had all of the questions, and the panellists had few of the answers. Why is the Greenway still uncomfortably unsafe after dark, and did anyone try liaising with the Lea Rivers Trust before they folded, and will anyone force London Cement to stop belching dust when the Olympics comes? Dunno. In their defence, the ODA staff did politely offer to go away and find out everything they didn't know and forward the details, but this wasn't good enough for one member of the audience who promptly stormed out, noisily. As the evening continued it became apparent that our audience was sprinkled with local residents who might best be described as gauche argumentative nutters. But thankfully not too many of them.
And then the main event - a presentation from one of the architects who helped to design the new Olympic Stadium. We got to see all the promotional photos and videos that the London 2012 team released last November, but we were also treated to some rather finer detail about how the place will actually operate. The stadium looks suspiciously like a giant bowl of trifle, ladled full of custard churned round with hundreds and thousands. It's been cunningly designed so that the top tier can be removed after the Paralympics, reducing seating capacity from 80000 to a more sustainable 25000. Only after the Games will all the spectators be roofed in - during 2012 only two-thirds of the seats will have the luxury of a rain/sun shade. It's "best value", apparently, and it's all about "embracing the temporary". Even the toilets will be housed inside big metal containers which can be carted off and used elsewhere afterwards.
The stadium will take full advantage of the natural slope of the land by having two very distinct ground levels. All the service roads and the arena floor will be tucked away down at towpath level, approached from the south and west, while all the spectators will wander around 6m higher up at podium level, approached from the north and east. The architects have also taken full advantage of the stadium's "island" setting (two sides river, one side sewer). Once spectators have made it over the footbridges and onto the "podium island", they'll be free to wander in and out of the stadium or around the surrounding plazas where all the food and services will be based. Please, begged our audience, please make as much of the food as possible locally sourced and not that heart-stopping fat-dripping multinational burger crap. Only time will tell whether or not our voice is heard.
Many topics were raised during the final Q&A session, often of only tangential relevance to the stadium itself. The architect was unable to confirm security arrangements, although he did say that the entire stadium and surrounding island would be capable of being cleared in 8 minutes flat. He was also unable to confirm precisely how many bridges might be built connecting the Olympic Park to Bow. Residents remained keen for access to be as great as possible, not least because we'd rather like the 9000 workers on site over the next few years to come and spend money in our cafes and shops. The ODA spokeswoman assured us that there'll be another consultation later in the year to discuss proposals for the "public realm", including access points and legacy parkland, and I suspect many of us will be back for that.
Meanwhile, back on the Olympic Stadium site, the initial piling starts this week. Foundations and earthworks will be next, and by the time those are complete it's hoped that planning permission for the rest of the stadium will have been granted. All being well we'll have a big bowl of Olympic trifle on our doorstep as early as February 2011, completed ready for test events to take place a whole year before the Games begin. And don't worry, because we local residents hope to be popping back to be consulted at regular intervals between now and then, and we'll try to ensure that your money is being well spent. I have to say, it looks like it so far.