diamond geezer

 Sunday, June 10, 2018

Six years on from London 2012, the development bandwagon around the Olympic Park rolls on. Two new projects held public consultations yesterday - one big and flagshippy, the other small and ignorable.

East Bank

This is the new name for what Boris nicknamed Olympicopolis, a mixed use development of residential blocks and cultural icons overlooking the Bow Back Rivers. It'll fill the remaining strip of land to the north of the Aquatics Centre, between Westfield and the Olympic Park, on the empty backlot where several temporary funfairs have taken place. Anchor tenants at East Bank will include Sadlers Wells, the BBC and the V&A, which is an impressive line-up in anybody's books.

The consultation: 8 drop-in sessions at the Aquatic Centre over the next two weeks (includes three Saturdays)
Signage outside: None
Getting inside: The security guard on the door thought I was trying to go inside to watch the swimming event. He then claimed not to know where the consultation was. So I persisted, showing him the details on my phone, and he said "Oh yeah, the exhibition's just inside on your right."

Boards to read? Hell yes, lots, plus sticky post-its to add in appropriate places.
Most whizzy artefact: Goggles to allow you to view the proposals in virtual reality.
Level of text: Occasionally verging on the over-excitably meaningless (e.g. "Trees will create a comfortable micro-climate") (e.g. "More than just a thoroughfare, it will be a place for residents to pause") (e.g. "Materials will be chosen that help to make Stratford Waterfront a unique but complementary part of the park")
Consultation team: Professional. A bit stand-offish. We didn't engage well.

What stage are we at? Final planning application published.
When might East Bank be opening? End of 2022.
How's it going? Slowly. A previous consultation event took place at the Aquatics Centre two years ago.
Can I engage in the consultation online?: Absolutely.

Best thing about the revised plans: In the last draft, the plan was to have two 47 storey residential towers at the tip of the site, dominating the centre of the Olympic Park. The flats would have commanded a high price, thereby funding the cultural offering, but the disfigurement would have been utterly ghastly. In the new draft there are four residential towers half the size, not because everybody complained, but because they'd have damaged the view of St Paul's from Richmond. Hurrah for anachronistic planning regulations, I say.
Consequence of the revised plans: The apartments now take up more of the available land, so the remaining cultural buildings have had to be pushed a lot closer together. Space remains on the waterfront for "larger outdoor activities", such as live performances, markets and film screenings.
Worst thing about the revised plans: The northernmost residential block "takes inspiration from an eroded rock face, stepping back every six levels to create terraces with views over the park". It looks crass and out of place. Still, at least it's not twice the height.

Number of homes: About 600
Number of affordable homes: All we've been told is that "at least 50 per cent of new homes across the remaining development sites on the Park will be affordable". So I bet none of the flats on East Bank are (and all the affordable stuff is down by Stratford High Street instead).

How many cultural icons? Embarrassingly many. Three BBC studios, a four-storey V&A museum, a fashion college with 6500 students and a 550-seater dance theatre. But probably more shops and cafes by the time they've finished.
Trendiest thing: A hip-hop academy.
Blandest thing: Trying to rebrand the project 'East Bank'.
Saddest thing: For the BBC, Stratford will be the new Maida Vale.
Most amazing thing: All of this. In Stratford.

Vulcan Wharf

This is a small site on the Newham side of the River Lea, just to the north of the Bow Roundabout. Cooks Road has an industrial history, which is being inexorably replaced by flats as part of the Pudding Mill masterplan. Half the Vulcan Wharf site is already cleared, while the remainder is home to a company who deal with smelly waste oils in tumbledown sheds. The new development proposes several apartment blocks of different heights, plus a micro-brewery to retain some manufacturing roots. Bellway's anodyne 'Legacy Wharf' is nearing completion across the road.

The consultation: One brief drop-in session on a Saturday lunchtime, held half a mile up the road in the Holiday Inn on Stratford High Street, promoted via a mailshot three weeks in advance.
Signage outside: Two posters pointing towards the door.
Getting inside: Once inside, all signage ceased. Only by joining the queue at the front desk and asking for help did it become clear that the consultation was on the first floor, along a passage past the drinks machine, in a room the hotel bosses optimistically describe as a "Conference Centre".

Boards to read? Several, lined up along the windows.
Most whizzy artefact: A wooden model of the development and its surroundings.
Level of text: Informative and well-pitched. Meaningless buzz-phrases thankfully absent.
Consultation team: Architects and developers included. Cheery and helpful. This is how they get you on side, by being nice.

What stage are we at? First tentative stab at public consultation on a new development.
When might Vulcan Wharf open? Uncertain, but construction may start in 2020.
How's it going? Pretty much no information online as yet.

Number of homes: About 650
Number of affordable homes: 35% (all in the shorter blocks, while the tall blocks with the better views are 100% unaffordable)
Height of tallest tower: 27 storeys (which I might have said was too high for the Bow Roundabout, except there's already a 42-storey monstrosity alongside)
Distinctive architecture: The roofs will be 'chamfered', i.e. sloping, partly to add some interest, but mainly so as not to block out too much sunlight down below.
Distinctive use of building materials: Each block will be surfaced in a subtly different shade of brick, including one that's mostly white (to reflect the history of soap and wax manufacture on the site).

Best thing about the plans: An actual micro-brewery, a stone's throw from the Bow Roundabout. One end of the site will be given over to alcohol manufacture, with a tap room under the flats alongside.
Most cynical thing about the plans: Of all the industries you could put alongside lots of flats, craft beer must be one of the few that pushes up the price of the flats.
Most eco-friendly thing about the plans: There are also plans for a drop-in cycle hub, to take advantage of busy two-wheeled traffic on the Lea towpath.
Most unlikely part of the plans: "And this building on the corner might become a cafe. Or a gym".

Best thing: It'll open up the waterside, and serve beer.
Worst thing: Yet still more flats locals will never be able to afford to live in.
Saddest thing: Take a look at the cheery diverse crew who currently work at City Oils. Now imagine the beardy hipster micro-distillers who'll be replacing them.

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