diamond geezer

 Sunday, March 12, 2017

It's always exciting to announce the reopening of a road into the Olympic Park. It's also a little surprising, given that The Games finished five years ago. What's more, this particular road actually closed eight years ago, on 1st November 2009, and was originally supposed to reopen in Spring 2015. Crossrail may have had quite a lot to do with the delay.

The newly-reopened thoroughfare is Barbers Road, which runs for a few hundred metres west of Pudding Mill Lane DLR station. Just before reaching the River Lea it bends south, here becoming Cooks Road, which heads down to join Stratford High Street alongside the Bow Flyover. Cooks Road didn't close, but it did become a long-term dead end for pedestrians as well as for traffic. Anyone wanting to reach the DLR had to walk up Marshgate Lane via a number of different variations of route, threading through whichever bit of building site current works decreed available.

Let's start at the station. When Barbers Road closed this was still a lowly halt, but with the misfortune to be located precisely where Crossrail wanted their trains to emerge from underground. Thus a new station was built, the most massive on the DLR, and a new viaduct erected to loop trains away from the Crossrail portal. The switchover came in April 2014, and the new station has looked vastly overwrought for its back-of-nowhere location ever since. But maybe no longer. The Crossrail worksite surrounding the station has finally been swept away, and it now opens out onto a (still fenced-off) piazza under the viaduct and a pristine tarmacked road.

One day this will be Station Square, adjacent to Pudding Mill Square, proposed centrepiece of the Pudding Mill neighbourhood. "Comprising soft and hard landscaping elements this will be a significant point of arrival linking the heart of the new development to the DLR station and the wider area," which can only mean the masterplanners have been busy with their word salad again. Eventually there'll be retail units and "a vibrant local centre", whereas any coffee outlet that opened here now would fold within a week for lack of interest. Before you get too excited, here's what the area around the station is expected to look like - worthy, populous and bland.

Crossrail aren't finished yet. Although two concrete tunnels now burst forth where the old DLR station once stood, no connecting track has yet been added so that trains can pull into, and out of, Stratford's platforms just along the line. There's also work being done parallel to the DLR viaduct to complete a pedestrian ramp up from Marshgate Lane to the top of the Greenway. A satellite settlement called Bridgewater is to be built on the other side, between the allotments and Stratford High Street, and this sloping infrastructure link is crucial to transport accessibility. As yet, however, Thames Water bridge-strengthening works mean the adjacent stretch of the Greenway is unlikely to reopen before (sob) the end of July 2018.

Meanwhile, back on Barbers Road, pavements and yellow lines and lampposts have suddenly sprung into life ready for flats that don't yet exist. They'll be shoehorned into the extensive space along one side of the road, which over the last few years has been an Olympic logistical zone, a Crossrail building site and a dumping ground for West Ham seats. Somewhere in there is an electricity substation that must not be moved, but the rest is all pencilled in for "a range of housing typologies all tied together through a high quality public realm". More interesting at present is the side of the road that rubs up against the DLR viaduct, where a broad cultivated border is being created. It might eventually boast trees or flowers or shrubbery, but is already sealed behind permanent metal railings so will be very much a case of look but don't touch.

Where Barbers Road bends, the intended Pudding Mill neighbourhood abruptly terminates. Somewhat unexpectedly all the businesses and warehouses that survived Crossrail's invasion have been left to stand, and the masterplan suggests their brick footprints will survive. One's a waste recycling depot, still functioning, another supposedly Dacca Caterers Ltd but looking echoingly defunct. Wanstead Welding Works Limited remains, at least in name, but is currently being used as an entrance for those building phase 1 of Legacy Wharf (a Bellway Homes project) and due to be demolished as part of Phase 2. Almost 200 homes are going in here, completely separate to the Pudding Mill development nextdoor, and a little less affordable too.

We're on Cooks Road now, where Crossrail works are still very much in charge of the riverside. The National Grid are building a new electricity substation to help power London's newest train set, located immediately above the tunnels as they burrow upwards from under the River Lea. The towpath's still diverted by a floating pontoon while remediation is finished off, but a couple of sets of shiny wired-up coils are already obvious, and the substation building looks externally complete. It's not immediately clear what's destined to appear on the adjacent land, but for the time being there are double-decker portakabins, cranes and a flurry of workers behind the blue barriers.

What I remembered most from Cooks Road of old was the smell. Before the Olympics sanitised the Lower Lea Valley, much of the area was given over to getting rid of nasty stuff, including refuse, electricals and waste products. So I was surprised and delighted when my nose was assaulted by the same ghastly reek as I stepped gingerly across a questionably puddled patch of pavement. There behind the wall at Vulcan Wharf stood the same cluster of elevated rusty silos I remembered from 2009, and people bustled behind, because it seems City Oils Ltd is still trading. Their site has been processing fats and greases since 1896, although producing "renewable oil materials for use in biofuels" is presumably a more modern service. I love that an age-old business remains in operation and is providing employment, in spite of Olympic redevelopment, and that residents in the flats over the road will have to put up with the whiff.

At the foot of Cooks Road, what used to be a carpet factory is almost reborn as Capital Towers, the tower block pair marketed in the Far East as an exclusive "no riff-raff" investment. All the cladding's now pretty much in place, plus the mysterious linking floor where the gym's going, but workmen are still very much in charge at ground level. As a symbol of how post-Games housing was mismanaged, this 100% unaffordable bastion is almost unmatched, and I hope the new residents (should they ever turn up) will enjoy their views of the Bow Flyover and the smell of cooking oil. Now all that's needed is for someone to come along and remove the sign that says "Crossrail Works, Barbers Road closed from 1st November to Spring 2015" from the lamppost outside. You'd be a fool to venture this way to the Olympic Park, but you could, and that's what we've been waiting eight years to hear.

In other local news, the View Tube cafe reopens under new management on Thursday. The old team threw in the towel after a sizeable rent hike, which was a damned shame, but the new lot must think they can make a go of things anyway. They're from The Common E2, a cafe and architectural studio in Bethnal Green, and seem to be renaming the place The Common Greenway. They soft-launched yesterday, and as an act of artistic heresy repainted some of the lime green exterior with a jaunty fresh design. Their E2 menu has a lot of sourdough on it, and insists on writing all the prices to one decimal place, so may be a bit more pretentious than what came before. But let's wait and see, and it'll be good to have a community-focused facility back in the Pudding Mill corner of the park.

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