diamond geezer

 Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Olympic lockdown continues. It's a slow but inexorable process, and this bus route is the latest casualty. Yesterday the D8 terminated at Stratford City, at the nine-month-old bus station outside Westfield. And today it doesn't, because it's not allowed, because the bus station is closed. The same goes for the other three buses that used to drop folk off outside the shopping centre, the 97, 241 and 339 - they've all been diverted to terminate at the bus station outside Stratford station instead. The largest urban shopping centre in Europe just got harder to get to, and it's going to get worse.

Riding the D8 to Westfield has been a slightly surreal experience, and all because the last half mile runs along the edge of the Olympic Park. It's a fairly normal bus journey until the penultimate stop at Warton Road, shortly after which the driver has to stop again. The bus pulls off into a lay-by, not so that anyone can alight, but so that a security guard can climb aboard. They start at the front and work their way back, giving all the passengers and especially their baggage the once over. No matter whether the bus is packed or empty they always check right up to the back seat, just in case someone's left a suspicious package in the far corner. As a passenger you can't fail to feel just a little uncomfortable, as if the powers that be don't trust you to ride this bus without bringing naughty luggage. When I travelled earlier this week the guard was a spotty youth in a ridiculous woollen hat, softly swaggering to and fro with a subdued sense of self-importance. He'll be out of a job this morning, or else switched to some different section of the security perimeter still in need of scrutiny. My apologies if you are an international terrorist in search of a cunning means of destroying the Games, because the "hiding explosives in a carrier bag at the back of a bus" option just expired.

Car drivers don't escape either. A little further up Warton Road is a security marquee with spaces for four vehicles, which you have to drive into if the guard on sentinel duty waves his baton. Then it's a full "can we look in your boot please?" search, and you're not allowed to proceed further until they have. Westfield must have hated these pre-Olympic security measures, because goodness knows how many drivers have been put off visiting since last September. Good news - the vehicle friskdown won't be in operation after the Games. But bad news - all the car parks at Westfield are shutting down in a couple of weeks... for the rest of the summer.

For the D8 the problem lies behind the railway, beyond the currently-pointless roundabout. Montfitchet Road rises along a gentle curving viaduct, one side of which looks out over the Aquatic Centre. Any bus or car exploding here could cause major damage to backstage Olympic infrastructure, which would never do. A whole series of bollards and rising ramps is in place, to stop even the most determined joyrider or evildoer from gaining access. There are even additional holes where presumably even more bollards will be added, so risk-averse are 2012 security planners, because the Olympics simply cannot fail.

For the time being however there's still a Westfield-bound pavement, fully accessible to pedestrians heading to or from the shops. You can wander along the edge and look down over the Aquatic Centre and all the portakabins round the back, as well as stare across to the Orbit and the Stadium, fairly close-up. With the Greenway closed off it's probably the best spot to overlook the Olympic Park, as I hope this photo indicates. Just don't think of wandering off. Some of the view remains entirely unobstructed, but much is now obscured by thick wire fencing, especially all the way down Westfield's western perimeter.

A slightly disturbing sign has appeared in several locations along that fence, mostly adjacent to what will eventually be spectator entrances. Its message is clear. Entry to this Venue constitutes acceptance of the "Venue Regulations" as published at www.london2012.com. If you have tickets here this summer you'll be walking past this sign and giving tacit acceptance to whatever the terms and conditions are - not that you'll know what they are, or have any easy means of finding out. Worryingly, if you search for "Venue Regulations" on the London 2012 website, absolutely nothing appears. Which is useless. But (thanks Joachim) the Venue Regulations can be located via Google, and here they are. For your advance scrutiny, listed below is a selection of the rules that Olympic Park visitors will be unknowingly signing up to. LOCOG haven't got a hope in hell of enforcing number 6, have they?
2. Any Person who rejects a security search or refuses to comply with rules and security notices published by LOCOG from time to time will be refused entry to or ejected from the Venue.
4. The obstruction of access ways, exits and entrance, stairways, common areas and any other areas within the Venue is strictly forbidden and this includes, but is not limited to, the erection or unauthorised occupation of tents...
5. No sponsorship, promotional or marketing materials may be brought into, used or displayed by any Person within the Venue unless expressly permitted in writing by LOCOG.
6. Mobile telephones are permitted within the Venue, provided that they are used for personal and private use only and provided that no material (including audio, visual or audio-visual material) captured by a mobile telephone may be made available to any third party.
7. CCTV cameras are in use around and within the Venue and LOCOG may itself use or pass to the police any recordings.
10. LOCOG reserves the absolute right to change these Venue Regulations from time to time.
So, to summarise. With 51 days to go before the Games, all of Westfield's buses are being diverted elsewhere. And with 39 days to go before the Games, all public vehicles will be banned. No cars, already no buses, and no more taxis either. Your only escape south from Westfield, for three entire months, is via the station. Either over the footbridge across the platforms, or through the ticket barriers and onto a train, that's your lot. There are plenty of buses and taxis in Meridian Square Stratford, but will lazy Westfield shoppers be willing to lug their purchases that far? More importantly, with no car parks on site and few nearby, will East London and Essex regulars bother to come shopping at all?

During the Games, it's expected that more than half of spectators to the Olympic Park will enter and exit via Westfield. A large tarmacked area is already set aside for snake-like queueing, safely out of the way of all the shops. But again, to get here you're either going to have to arrive by train or venture across that single footbridge - the barrier of the railway precludes any other way. Westfield may be The Official Shopping Centre of London 2012, but it'll be a hellish place to shop this August. The split-level entrance by the station is badly designed enough at the best of times, so expect the footbridge to Stratford (leading to tottering steps and a single escalator) to be a really unpleasant potential bottleneck. Inside, the narrow decks in the mall get overcrowded too easily as it is, and that's without hundreds of thousands of spectators exiting the Park via an enforced retail-friendly route-march. London 2012's best hope is that most of Westfield's normal shoppers stay away... an operation which begins today, and steps up in a fortnight.

Stratford City bus station closes: Wednesday 6th June
Stratford City car parks close: Monday 18th June
Stratford City bus station reopens: Friday 14th September

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