One of the downsides to living near the Olympic Park is that the authorities keep shutting off places you like to go. Huge chunks were sealed three summers ago and they won't open again until the Games, obviously. But occasionally other routes get fenced off - footpaths, roads, cycleways, that sort of thing - with the promise that it's only temporary and we can use them again soon, honest. I'm starting to wonder, in certain cases, just how long 'temporary' is.
I used to like walking along the Greenway north of Stratford High Street. Heading under the green sign by the Yardley Building, along the raised pathway between brambles and convulvulus, and up to the broad viaduct over the City Mill River. Not gorgeous, but a linear oasis of green between a housing development and an Olympic building site. But that was before the blue hoardings went up. No entry at the bus stop end, no entry at the Pudding Mill Lane end, and an annoying indirect detour for anyone walking or cycling between West Ham and Hackney Wick. All essential, though, because the Greenway had to be resurfaced to turn it into a spectator-motorway for hundreds of thousands of Games visitors. And not just that, but Crossrail too. Stratford-bound train tracks are eventually due to emerge from an underground portal around here, so preparation works are required so that they can safely negotiate the Greenway's enormous overland sewer pipes. A necessary closure, they promised, and only for a year.
Well, that was 15 months ago, and if anything the barricade now looks even more blocked off than before. Previously there was a thin hoarding and some concrete blocks, now there's an additional black screen with no obvious reason for its existence. The extended closure could be related to the temporary footbridge due to be built here so that Olympic spectators can walk up and over Stratford High Street rather than across it in 2012. (For those interested, this is Olympic Bridge T12, for which there are two mighty-big planning documents here and here) (and yes, a direct pedestrian crossing is going in too, to be retained in legacy, hurrah!) But construction of this bridge isn't due to start until "mid 2011", so I hope the Greenway isn't being sealed off for an additional intervening year for no good reason. Whatever the unspoken reason, the previous promise of "spring 2010" sounds increasingly hollow, and is increasingly inconvenient.
A bit further down the Greenway near the Abbey Mills Pumping Station, an even longer shutdown is underway. Three and a half years this time, which is a full two years longer than expected. The plan was to seal off the footpath along Abbey Creek while a whopping great tidal lock was constructed, the lock which would allow Olympic building materials to arrive "sustainably" via the Bow Back Rivers. Failure all round, alas. The lock took longer to build than expected, so didn't open until last summer rather than 2008. Embarrassingly, Olympic Park contractors aren't actually delivering building materials by water because they've found other cheaper methods of transport, so this £20m facility is being used by almost no traffic whatsoever. (An ITN report exposing this shameful white elephant here, my report here) And has the footpath been reopened? Has it hell. (It's a famous footpath, this. It's the footpath which ran along the edge ofthe compound used for the Big Brother House in series 1 and 2. Until recently a footbridge crossed the river here, the one over which Davina would lead the evictees towards the studio every Friday evening. Alas, building the lock meant demolishing Davina's bridge, and no upstream crossing was possible until the new Three Mills Lock was complete)
As well as a new footbridge, there's now a lovely new footpath along both sides of Three Mills Lock [photo]. Someone's gone to a lot of effort to install them both, plus appropriate safety barriers, but unfortunately they're both currently useless. On the eastern side the path ends at a locked gate, a few yards before a boarded hoarding, close to where the entrance to the Big Brother compound used to be. And on the western side the path ends at a locked door, bolted top and bottom, plus a padlock bar secured with four screws and five nails (just to be on the safe side). Visitors to Three Mills ought to be able to walk along the edge of the Channelsea River in both directions now that the lock is complete, but they can't because the follow-on footpaths haven't reopened.
At the Clock Mill end, an undated closure notice has been scribbled on by a frustrated rambler. "This towpath has been closed for far too long!" "Get on with it!" Meanwhile at the Greenway end, a fresh new fingerpost points confidently down the path towards Three Mills, although heaven help any passing walker who chooses to believe it. The path's firmly blocked a couple of minutes down, requiring the retracing of steps and a lengthy detour. Meanwhile all the expensive Lea Valley Park tourist maps erected around the area last year clearly show the footpath as open, even though it isn't and shows no sign of ever being. Fancy doing a nice circular walk of the 2012 hinterland, as planned? No chance.
So that's two different Olympic projects where a reopening date was clearly signalled in advance, but where that reopening date has long since passed. And that's two different projects where the original closure notices have all vanished, replaced by nothing, leaving the East End public completely in the dark. I have no idea who's responsible for these extended blockages, be it Newham council, the ODA, British Waterways or Thames Water. But someone's wrecking our right to roam and refusing to reveal how much longer the barriers might last. With even more closures likely as the Olympics approaches, this leaves me pessimistic that anything around here which shuts will ever reopen on schedule. Broken promises, with no excuses forthcoming, don't exactly inspire faith in the future.
11pm update: The Greenway closure appears to be courtesy ofCrossrail, as part of the Pudding Mill Portal enabling works. Starting June 2010, ending September 2013, and with a brief pause in 2012 during the Olympics. Sheesh! It'd be polite if Crossrail admitted this to the general public by sticking a closure and diversion notice on their big black hoarding, or else found a way to keep the public footway clear.
Tuesday update: Crossrail have confirmed (via an email to a reader) that "the section of the Greenway between Marshgate Lane and Stratford High Street will remain closed until late 2014. This section will remain diverted for pedestrians and cyclists while construction works are undertaken for Crossrail." They haven't said this in public anywhere, nor have they mentioned this on the hoardings at either end of the closed-off section. So... closed May 2009, reopened Christmas 2014. Five and a half bloody years. Nice of them to say so.
What's on this weekend? Spring Into Summer Saturday 30 & Sunday 31 May
40 free guided London walks. Purley Festival Friday 29 - Sunday 5 June
Bunting week, below Croydon. E17 Art Trail Sat 30th May - Sun 14th June
250 arty Walthamstow things.