diamond geezer

 Wednesday, February 23, 2011

London 2012  Olympic update
  And then what?

Stuff the Olympics, they're a flash in the pan. What comes afterwards is far more important. What'll be the fate of the stadia and the surrounding land once the rest of the world has gone home? Those of us who live around here are keen to know, because we've got to live with the outcome. In charge of these decisions is the Olympic Park Legacy Company, who've recently been given full ownership of the surrounding land and a remit to direct its future. It's the OPLC who picked West Ham over Spurs for the stadium, for example, and who now have to make plans for everything else. Legacy Engagement Roadshows are currently underway in the surrounding boroughs, and yesterday I went along for a chat at the Bow event. Here's what I found out (one bit of which, if you haven't heard before, is a bit gobsmacking).

» Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will be opening to the public in 2013.
Even though the Park will be one of the central features of Olympic fortnight, it's going to be sealed off again after the Paralympic Closing Ceremony is complete. That'll give London 2012 a chance to de-Olympic the site (taking wings off the Aquatic Centre, etc) before handing it over to the OPLC for future use. What's not yet certain is precisely when that changeover will be. Although May 2013's currently pencilled in, it might be possible to open up part of the Park before that, possibly weekends only. Still two years to go. Be patient.

» The northern half of the Park will be green - the southern half more grey.
The Park naturally splits in two, with a narrow neck in the centre along the River Lea. To the north will be wetlands, grassland and hillocks, in a style which appears to owe more to Teletubbies than natural landscape. The first new trees were planted a while back, and aerial shots currently show mysterious eyelid hills and ornamental plateaux taking shape. There'll be fewer green spaces to the south around the stadium, where large paved plazas will generate a more urban vibe. If all goes to plan, a series of events held here will draw large crowds into the Park, making this one of London's Top Five visitor destinations by 2020. I can't see that target being reached, but it's good to aim high.

» Approximately 7500 new homes will be built in the Park.
This is how the Olympics gets your money back. There'll be acres of housing, 35% of it affordable, and hopefully more desirable than you'd expect. The OLDC could have crammed in lots of residential towers but thankfully won't, with most of the new stock being medium- or low-rise. It'll take 20 years to build the lot, not because it's a massive job but because they don't want to flood the market all in one go. Schools and surgeries and corner shops are also planned to ensure that QEOP becomes a cohesive community and not a windblown social desert. Fingers crossed.

» The five new Park neighbourhoods have yet to be named.
Early legacy documents suggested names for the five new neighbourhoods to be developed here, but people scoffed so they've been withdrawn. Instead there'll very soon be a public competition, in conjunction with the BBC, to come up with five placenames to be used in perpetuity. I'm sure you can do better than "North of Athletes Village", "Next to Hackney Wick", "Next to Stratford City", "Next to Old Ford" and "Around Pudding Mill".

» The Olympic Park will be designated the E20 postcode.
Apparently it's true. The Post Office have proposed that the entire area around the Olympic Park (including the main stadium and the Westfield shopping centre) comes under a new E20 postcode. That's despite the fact that East London's postcodes currently only go up to E18, so you'd expect E19 to be the next choice. No, they want to use the same postcode that EastEnders picked for Walford 25 years ago, because E20's more memorable. Expect a wily building contractor to name their new development Albert Square, and maybe a Queen Vic bar up the road in Dot Cotton Close. OK that's silly, but Stratford E20's no joke, it's imminent.

» Development in the park is currently scheduled to continue until 2031.
Queen Elizabeth will be dead long before her memorial park is complete. That's because building plots have been divided up into those to be developed by 2021 and those which'll have to wait until a subsequent phase 2. This leaves a particularly interesting problem, which is what to do with the vacant plots for a decade or so. Nobody wants a park littered with large areas of fenced-off wasteland, so suggestions are being sought for alternative short-term uses. Invite Cirque De Soleil to set up a big tent, perhaps, or cover the area with sand so us locals can pretend it's a beach. Someone else has suggested planting a field of lavender, or even turning the whole lot over to temporary allotments. Hopefully some genuinely creative ideas will get selected, which is key if the rest of London's ever going to learn to love the place.

Coming soon (and not so soon)
2013: North Park & river valley, South Plaza, Stratford waterfront, canalside walks, "activated" waterways, VeloPark, mixed-use business district, Orbit observation tower
2014: Aquatics Centre, family neighbourhood housing
2015: West Ham stadium, canalside housing
2020: parkside terraced housing
2031: end of construction/redevelopment phase

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