diamond geezer

 Thursday, July 05, 2012

London 2012  Around the Olympic Park
  4) Leyton Road to Westfield
  25 more photographs here; map here


The top of Leyton Road is really quiet at the moment, apart from Olympic deliveries to the Temple Mills Lane gate. Peer over the wall, past the French gas storage facility, and that circular glass building beyond is Newham's newest school. It'll be the administrative centre for the Athletes Village during the Games, then from September 2013 it'll be the Chobham Academy. The Village stretches off to the left, and it's huge. There are more than fifty residential blocks, built around communal squares and courtyards, with sufficient rooms to accommodate 17000 athletes. They allowed journalists inside to spend the night over the weekend, then enjoy breakfast in the arena-sized dining hall. The walls are a bit thin, so I'm told, although you might be able to prove that for yourself if you decide to buy a flat here once the legacy phase kicks in.

The entire eastern border of the park follows the line of the Village, at a distance, with frequent interruptions for gates and access controls. Magenta signs mark the official entry points, with security guards hanging around for not-yet-many people to flash their passes. One of the best views is from Thornham Grove, an obscure crescent nudging up against the railway, populated with minor vehicle depots and taxi companies. The local corner shop is the "Olympic Supermarket", another blatant misappropriation of protected trademarks, but nobody official seems to care. Some of Newham's poorest residents live alongside, looking out towards the Village across a fence branded Inspire a generation. Whereas the border of the Olympic Park used to be barred by bright blue board, now magenta wraps and razorwire are the order of the day.

The eastern entrance to Westfield ought to be up Penny Brookes Street - for now nothing more than a line of tarmac. But this has been closed for Gamestime, with all deliveries diverted round a big loop into an extensive Vehicle Screening Area. Cars, coaches and lorries are filtered off into different tents, then massed security guards scuttle out and wave wands underneath to check for explosives. Pedestrians have been diverted along a sinuous path around the edge, with a grandstand view from the zig-zag footpath allowing perfect sight of collective security protocols. I watched a restaurant delivery van set upon and delayed for several minutes, the driver ordered from his seat, having made the simple mistake of being the only vehicle passing through. Not surprisingly, you can add this footpath to the list of access points that have been closed since I walked here last weekend.

It's been a joy to stroll around Westfield with the car parks closed, at least for pedestrians if not for those who own the shops. Even the taxi rank and bus station are closed, leaving shoppers to exit either on foot or by train, if they bother coming at all. This freedom to wander un-mowed-down won't last, but the various service roads around Westfield's perimeter have essentially become additional pavements. The car parks aren't all empty, though. Beside the railway to the south of the Olympic Village, one multi-storey appears packed full with official London 2012 vehicles, mostly from the fleet of BMWs that'll help shuttle the Olympic Family around town. If you're looking for a second hand vehicle this autumn, expect four thousand of these to flood the market.

The Games will finally bring Stratford International station to life, as spectators flood in by Javelin (or queue for "up to an hour" to take the train back into town again). Until then the entrance hall echoes, the platforms are mostly deserted and any queues are non-existent. Alongside is a small office labelled Manhattan Loft Gardens. Few in Stratford have yet realised, but there are plans to build a monster 42-storey tower here, immediately adjacent to the station, with gravity-defying cantilevers and three open-air whole-floor gardens. Residents will be ideally located for Waitrose and Mothercare, but only if buyers and hotel guests can be persuaded that E20 is a desirable postcode.

To the south, the rising canyon between the multi-storeys has created one of the fiercest wind tunnels I've ever experienced. Brave that and you emerge onto the terrace at the rear of John Lewis overlooking what will be the nerve centre of London 2012's spectator operations. Westfield Avenue (as it's narcissistically named) forms the border between the main shopping centre and the biggest Park entrance. Comprehensive one-way systems will be in place during the Games, both to file ticketholders in, and to disperse exiting crowds past as many shops as possible. For now access is a little freer, although you'll not get past the army-staffed gate at the north end of the road without a pass.

This is Stratford Gate, and there really is a gateway beyond the metal fence announcing Welcome and Bienvenue to London 2012. Dozens of security tents await, where your tickets will be scanned, your picnic hampers thrown away and your offensive weapons confiscated. I don't know who won the contract to provide these marquees all around the Park, and their smaller pointy-topped cousins, but their balance sheet must look mighty healthy at the moment. A large tarmacked waiting area is ready to hold back spectators beneath the Holiday Inn, where a snaking queue between metal barriers is expected. Huge unavoidable adverts for Olympic sponsors have been strung up, although those stuck here may find the exhortation to "Flow Faster with Visa" a little hard to swallow. And on the corner are the first London 2012 ticket offices I've seen - both blue-faced portakabins - but as yet shuttered and empty.


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Life viewed from London E3

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