diamond geezer

 Thursday, January 16, 2014

It's been a very long time coming, almost 2500 days all told, but we now know when the Olympic Park will fully reopen. A flurry of press releases yesterday announced the dates on which we'll finally be allowed back into the Aquatics Centre, up the Orbit and around the southern half of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. 1st March and 5th April. Stick 'em in your diary now. Here's a preview.

Aquatics Centre - opens Saturday 1st March
Stratford's newest swimming pool opens its doors in 44 days time, on the first Saturday in March. It'll have been closed for 535 days since the end of the Paralympics, during which time a terrific transformation will have taken place. Both of the precipitous terraced wings have been removed and the walls sealed with glass, creating the streamlined shape that Zaha Hadid always had in mind. Inside the change will be a little less dramatic, readying the facilities and signage for an influx of the actual general public. No more lithe bodies and Claire Balding talking to camera - instead anyone can head down and strut their flab and cellulite in the Olympic-sized swimming pool. This is Newham's very latest sports facility, one of the borough's greatest post-Games legacies, boasting two 50m pools, a 25m diving pool, a gym and a creche. It'll be run not by the council but by GLL, a charitable social enterprise that grew out of cuts in Greenwich 20 years ago, and now runs over 100 leisure services, including a lido in Cambridge, a leisure centre in Swindon and all the libraries in Wandsworth. They promise affordable gym packages overlooking the Olympic pool, with fees (and pool admission prices) due to be announced next Monday. Meanwhile the new road out front is pretty much complete, and there are even two bus stops outside waiting for the D8 and 339 to come calling. That service change is currently pencilled in for May, but might happen sooner to save the first swimmers from having to walk. No news yet on whether there'll be season tickets to watch Tom Daley practising, or morning classes for schoolchildren in pyjamas rescuing bricks, or the lingering smell of chlorine wafting up from the deep end, but hey, what a fantastic opportunity for everyone in the surrounding area to dive in.

Lea Valley VeloPark - opens March
Leyton's newest cycling facility opens its doors in two months time, sometime in March on a precise date yet to be announced. It'll have been closed for almost 400 weeks, ever since the previous cycle circuit on the site shut down in 2006. I only visited once, on the afternoon the 2012 Games were awarded to London, and remember a very basic track winding through a landscape of cross country hillocks and tiny streams. Hopefully the wait will have been worthwhile because its replacement is sheer two-wheeled diversity. There's the Velodrome of course, whose first post-Games event is The Revolution Series, scheduled for the middle weekend in March, and for which Friday evening tickets are still available. The Olympic BMX track has been retained, strategically tweaked so that it's not too scary for non-professionals. Five miles of mountain bike trails have been added, in so much as the Lea Valley can have any mountains, so maybe don't get your hopes up. And there's a replacement road circuit, landscaped by diggers over the last few months, and (I understand) crossing the River Lea twice part way round. You'll have to pay to use these facilities, and don't expect to ride in the Velodrome unless you're appropriately accredited. But if you ever thought cycling would be great if only it was safe and fun, the VeloPark should be right up your street.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (southern half) - opens Saturday 5th April
Stratford's newest open space unlocks its gates in 79 days time, on the first day of the school Easter holidays. It'll have been closed for over 350 weeks, barring a couple of fortnights in summer 2012 when it was the most exciting place on the planet. From industrial estate to global piazza, the transformation was complete and utter, and soon we'll get to see what's been left as a public playground. We're promised parkland and hedgerows and trees and waterways, although my bet's still on much of the newly-opened space being open tarmac, because the southern half of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was always meant as a public events space. Where nature dominates I strongly doubt that the planting will be as spectacular as the meadows and borders enjoyed by visitors to the Games, not unless there's a crack team of security guards and gardeners out to ensure that none of the borders get trampled. A number of the art installations from summer 2012 have survived, which'll be nice for those of you who haven't seen them yet, and Carpenter's Lock will re-emerge from beneath a Games-time bridge, preserved throughout for posterity. Will there be a cafe? Yes of course. Will there be new entrances in from the surrounding communities and new perimeter roads to explore? Hell yes, which is quite exciting for those of us whose local accessibility is about to improve overnight. And will there be visitors? That's the biggie, because I'd not say folk have come rushing to view the northern half of the Park since it opened last summer, not unless there's a big event laid on. Your loss.

The Orbit - opens Saturday 5th April
Stratford's newest observation deck also reopens in 79 days time, ten months after it last opened for preview visits. As yet there's no news on how much it'll cost, although we're promised ticket prices later this month, and it was £15 last time. That's quite steep for a panoramic view of Stratford, the not-on-Avon version, and I fear that if prices are pitched too high then visitor numbers may suffer. I've been up twice and I loved it, but then I was looking down across a neighbourhood I know well, plus there was an Olympic Games happening underneath. The City and Docklands are the panoramic hotspots, so long as you're not staring into the sun, plus the ten minute walk down the outer spiral is rather fun, so long as you have a head for heights. Gold medal attraction or white elephant? We should have a good idea by this time next year.

The SponsorName Stadium - opens August 2016
One place you won't be going any time soon is the Olympic Stadium. It's being rebuilt, at least in part, so that West Ham can host Championship football here in three seasons time. There will be the opportunity to get inside to watch the Rugby World Cup in September and October next year, but until then the stadium's island location means you won't be getting anywhere close. Thank goodness there'll be plenty of other stuff to see, much sooner, in E20's outdoor entertainment zone. Starting in six weeks time. Please come.

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