diamond geezer

 Monday, June 11, 2007

London 2012 - the end days

Knobs Hill RoadFor those of us who live in the Lower Lea Valley, the most important current item of 2012 news isn't the launch of the new Games logo, it's the imminent sealing off of the Olympic Park. Because the end is nigh, and now there's a date. Up until Sunday July 1st you'll still be able to live in, work in and wander through these 500 designated acres of industrial riverside. But on Monday July 2nd all the roads will be sealed off, a barrier will be erected around the perimeter and permanent eviction begins. If you want to pay a visit to this extra-special environment, for free, just three weeks now remain. After that you'll have to wait for five years, and buy a ticket.

The Olympic Delivery Authority's lawyers have been extremely busy right across the area recently attaching Compulsory Purchase Orders to walls, fences and lampposts. Each pack consists of several sheets of paper which read "Oi, we're coming in and we're taking over", only in considerably more legal language. Many businesses up Marshgate Lane have upped and gone already. They've cleared out their belongings, left a forwarding address on the gate and scarpered, leaving the ODA with plenty of clearing up to do. But not everybody's gone yet. They're still curing salmon at H Forman & Son, and the guard dogs at Wallis Motor and Salvage still bark as ferociously as they ever did. Meanwhile to the north of the site, along Waterden Road, an evangelical church, a Travellers' site and three bus garages have yet to move on. There's an awful lot of packing up still to go.

blue fence, GreenwayBut an extensive network of wooden fences are already being erected. They're big and blue (why are they always blue?) and they're being hammered in alongside the handful of public footpaths that will remain open during the run-up to the Games. Nobody will be able to stray off the Greenway in the future, not once the final gap in the blue fence is plugged. Beyond the new wall, until very recently, were earthy mounds over which young bikers loved to practice their motocross skills. But these have all been levelled and severed, and the local boy racers are now noticeable by their absence. Meanwhile the green metal signposts which marked access points off the pathway have been ripped from the verge and dumped in an unceremonious heap of rubble behind the fence. It's a sign of things to come.

I took a not-quite-last stroll around the Olympic Park yesterday afternoon, just because I could. And I was particularly pleased to discover that the towpath alongside the Waterworks River had been unexpectedly unlocked. This path was firmly sealed off at both ends a couple of years ago, and I thought I'd never walk along it again. But someone has bent the bars in the fence at the northern end, and the gate to the south was wide open, so I thought I'd risk the 1km jungle safari inbetween.

Waterworks RiverIt definitely wasn't this tough a journey the last time I visited. But natural vegetation has now had a couple of seasons to colonise the riverside (formerly wheelchair accessible) and the footpath is almost impenetrable at times. Thorny brambles, cow parsley and nettles stood above head height in places, and I was glad not to be wearing a t-shirt and shorts. At certain points I had to crouch to squeeze through a tunnel of foliage or stumble inelegantly over a fallen tree. But the riverside vista, now so rarely seen by human eyes, was well worth the adventure. Dragonflies floated silently above the water's edge. Bumble bees buzzed from dog rose to convolvulus. Freshly-paired waterfowl paddled between the reedbeds. Were it not for the excavators digging the foundations of the new Aquatic Centre on the opposite bank, it would have been hard to imagine that this was central London at all. But this won't be an overgrown rural idyll for much longer. By 2012 this towpath will have been swept away to make room for the Park's central walkway, and crossed by the main "land bridge" between Stratford City and the Olympic Stadium. And, I fear, it'll only be a few select visitors who'll ever remember the living waterway that once existed here.

All of the Bow Back Rivers are worth one final visit (or even a first visit if you've never been here before). Remember this is your very last chance to see the site that, for a single fortnight in 2012, will be the most famous location on the entire planet. And if you're heartily sick of me saying that, take comfort that I'll stop saying it in three weeks time. I wonder how many final visits I can make before then.

Map of proposed road closures, 2 July 2007 [pdf]
Olympic and Legacy Compulsory Purchase Order 2005
Masterplan for the Olympic Park [pdf]
Map of the Bow Back Rivers [aerial view]
Free guided walks around the Olympic Park (depart Three Mills 11am and 2pm, Saturday and Sunday, until June 24th)


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