diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 15, 2008

London 2012  Olympic update
  Power down

Hackney Marshes pylon droopPylons stalk the horizon in locations across the UK. They dominate the view, standing tens of metres tall, tainting the scenery. An army of steel soldiers, linked by cable, transmitting electricity from supply to demand. They cast a permanent shadow on the landscape because their removal would be unfeasibly expensive, and because energy is more important than aesthetics. Except here in the Lower Lea Valley, that is. After years of aerial blight, the arrival of the Olympics requires the unthinkable. It's suddenly a government imperative that the area looks nice by 2012, and that means emptying the sky of metal. Our pylons are coming down.

52 pylons are being dismantled altogether, stretching from Lea Bridge in the north to West Ham in the south. That's rather more than would seem strictly necessary, given that only about ten of these lie within the boundaries of the Olympic Park. But a couple stand very close indeed to the site of the Olympic Stadium, and it would never do to spear a javelin into the overhanging wires. Clearing this central section is the sporting and political imperative, and improving the view across Hackney Marshes and the Greenway merely a happy by-product.

There's been work going on for a couple of years to dig two 6km tunnels beneath the Olympic Park, and these are now filled with 200km of electrical cabling. It's a damned impressive civil engineering project, particularly completed in so short a time, but quite hard to crow about when there's nothing to see on the surface. Subterranean power was successfully switched on in the summer, making the pylons redundant. And this week the long-awaited dismantling finally began.

Greenway pylon dismantlingI'm surprised by the pace of change, especially along the Greenway across Stratford High Street. Long thin metal cages hang from the arms of one particular pylon, allowing workers elevated access to the cable connections. On one side the wires are already detached and disappeared, on the other severance is merely imminent. Another deconstruction hotspot is at the top end of Hackney Marshes, near the Middlesex Filter Beds, where a cluster of yellow-jacketed workers have clearly had a busy week. Transmission coils hang vertically from each arm of one doomed pylon, its web of cables now drooping limply towards the ground. Another pylon is already cable-free, awaiting permanent dismantling. Being in open ground it'll probably be toppled over, whereas other pylons in more awkward spots will require the presence of an enormous crane to aid their removal.

They'll all be gone in a few months, clearing the way for further Olympic construction and brightening my local landscape. My apologies if you live in an area of outstanding natural beauty blighted by pylons, because yours are unlikely ever to vanish. But sometimes the incredibly unlikely can be proved possible, and all it takes is political will, and a fortnight of athletics, and an awful lot of cash.

The Pylon Appreciation Society
London 2012 video about pylon removal
London 2012 fact-packed press release
Map of the 52 doomed pylons (best viewed large)
My latest Olympic Stadium photo (includes two doomed pylons)

» Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London 2012 Organising Committee, said: 'This is a great example of how an Olympic and Paralympic Games can help revitalise and regenerate a city." (which translates as "We're making the Stratford area look a little nicer, which quite frankly isn't difficult")
» ODA Chief Executive David Higgins said: 'The pylons in the Olympic Park will all be down by the end of the year, unlocking the area for the development of new homes, world-class sports venues and essential infrastructure.' (which translates as "We'll never be able to sell these houses if they're built under pylons")
» Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: 'For as long as I can remember the first thing that strikes you as you travel further to the east of town are these ugly structures dominating the skyline and blighting the area.' (which translates as "I have a blinkered negative view of east London, and thank God I don't have to live there")
» EDF Energy Chief Executive Vincent de Rivaz said: 'As the first London 2012 sustainability partner and energy utilities partner we are proud to be playing a key role in helping to deliver what will be a truly sustainable Games and ensuring that come 2012, the organisers have a resilient supply of electricity.' (which translates as "I never said that, but I have a PR team experienced in writing press releases full of on-message drivel")

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