diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 28, 2013

London 2012  post-Olympic update
  Still ticking over

Where are we now? A year and ten weeks after London 2012. Four months after the northern half of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park opened, and five months before the south follows suit. The week that the first permanent resident moved in to the Athletes Village. Sometime, and no time. Here's my latest legacy report.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park: London's newest megapark isn't megabusy. That's not entirely surprising, it being dull and cold and dark a lot in November. But even on weekend days when the sky's crisp and blue, punters aren't flocking to QEOP, which is a shame because this is still a pleasant greenspace. Those lawns the world flocked to sit on two summers ago remain (mostly) pristine, the walkways are readily accessible, and the views across the reed beds unexpectedly pleasant. According to recent figures the park has averaged 15000 visitors a week since it opened, which by my calculations is only just under half what the cablecar's managed. It'll surely be busier when the whole park's open, and when somebody actually lives nextdoor (and when someone pulls down the barriers between the neighbouring flats and the main body of the park). But for now it's just enough of a trek from Westfield, or the residential end of Hackney Wick, that to get here requires a special effort. [photo]

Opening a cafe-stroke-community-centre has been a masterstroke, as has prioritising the adventure playground, which seems much loved by those who've sought to find it. Most of those I've seen in the park have been heading to or from Timber Lodge, often parents of very small children on a big pushchair adventure. A small number of cyclists have so far worked out that QEOP is a good place for a spin. There are just enough paths for an interesting split level circuit, although as yet not quite enough of them join up, making a lengthier ride impractical. Indeed the lower lawns on the east banks of the Lea are invariably empty, courtesy of dead ends along the bank, plus two places where someone really should have installed steps or a ramp but access is blocked. Visitors are still cutting desire line paths across the grass, especially down from the top of the high mounds where the Olympic rings are being re-erected. Meanwhile the western half of the park is even quieter, because there's no attractive cafe here, so visitors simply nip straight over the footbridge to the eastern side instead. [photo]

Much is happening at the northern end of the park where construction of the Lee Valley VeloPark is underway. As well as the Velodrome - much loved during the Games - there'll be outdoor tracks for BMX and road bikes plus (apparently) 8km of mountain bike trails (though I can't quite work out where). The 1km road circuit is still being carved into the bankside, and in parts is now approaching the landscaping stage (looks fun). But the March 2014 opening date is still some way off, with an elite cycling event kicking things off a couple of weeks before the entire park is open properly. There aren't so many events taking place at QEOP during the winter. Expect a bit of basketball, a bit of boxing and, the weekend after next, a free vintage Christmas market, roller disco and real ale festival! One for the diary? In the meantime if the rest of you want to give QEOP a miss that's fine by me, and I'll enjoy the post-Olympic solitude even more. [photo]

Olympic Stadium: Having been mothballed for the best part of a year, something major's finally happening at the Olympic Stadium - the floodlights are coming down. The dismantling started last week, with a huge crane erected to gently lower the giant triangular structures one by one. Three years ago the floodlights hadn't even been switched on, but they're already coming down so that West Ham can build a proper roof. The stadium's crownlike rim has become a feature of the skyline round here, but by the end of January it'll have been entirely removed. For a close-up view take the wheelchair path between the Copper Box and Hackney Wick. This follows the Olympic Park's central bridge, where the BBC Studios were located during the Games, before turning back down a long ramp close to Stadium Island. The middle of QEOP looks fairly bleak, to be frank, and I'm not convinced the building work currently going on will make enough of a difference before this tarmac expanse fully reopens. [photo] [photo]

Aquatic Centre: The wings are long gone, and the true form of Stratford's new swimming pool has been revealed. That's involved inserting a high glass wall down either side, while leaving the grassy beaky bit on the front - it looks very swish. Meanwhile a brand new feeder road is being built to allow public vehicular access to the Aquatic Centre. Workmen are busy adding a junction to Montfichet Road, with a contraflow that's currently snarling up access from Stratford High Street to Westfield at peak times. The Orbit stands alongside tall and empty, with no visitors paying no money to go up to the top and look down over nothing much. [photo] [photo]

John Lewis: Sorry to disappoint you, but the London 2012 shop on the top floor has now closed. They ran down supplies to a few rucksacks, books and fish and chip forks, before finally pulling the plug a few months ago and presumably pulping all the remaining merchandise. Now the childrenswear department has moved in, as they always threatened, leaving the observation deck empty (bar a plastic Wenlock in the corner). This remains one of the best places to look down over the southern half of the Park, although it won't be in a couple of years time. The vast concrete expanse where the army ran security checks during the Games is destined to become The International Quarter, a cluster of high office blocks and expensive apartments, and received final planning permission earlier this week. [photo]

The Greenway: Meanwhile, tumbleweed. Before the Games this was the number one viewpoint, busy with tour groups and curious visitors come to stare at the Stadium. No more. Now the tours and the curious visitors go to the park proper, and this sewertop has reverted to a local cut-through. A few people walk out of their way to visit the View Tube, which ticks over, but only for the cafe and rarely for the upstairs view. They do a decent hot chocolate here, less tepid than I was served at Timber Lodge, if drinks are your thing. But until QEOP properly links up, next Easter, the southern end of the park has yet to spring back to life.

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