diamond geezer

 Wednesday, July 02, 2014

On July 2nd 2007 the gates of the Olympic Park clanged shut. Businesses were forced to leave, roads were sealed off, and the work of building international stadia began.

Seven years later almost all of those gates have gone:
   The gates on White Post Lane have gone, and traffic flows freely across the Lea.
   The gates on Temple Mills Lane have gone, as the Athletes Village opens up.
   The gates on Warton Road went three years ago, creating a new entrance to Westfield.
   I was there when workmen hung the gates across Waterden Road, but they're long gone too.
   Even the gates on Marshgate Lane have gone, while Crossrail builds all around.

But one set of gates is still there, just as it was before the Olympics, firmly locked and seemingly forgotten. It even has a London 2012 logo tied to the bars and the remnants of two blue hoardings to either side. This is the Olympic cul-de-sac that legacy abandoned. This is Carpenters Road.

Carpenters Road used to be the main road north from Stratford High Street. It ran past various automotive trading units and concrete mixing depots towards the foot of Waterden Road and Hackney Wick. The top end of the road is open again, slightly realigned, and forms an integral park of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park's road network. But the bridge beneath the railway remains closed, dark and partly overgrown, leaving the bottom end a severed stump.

And the area which loses out is the Carpenters Estate. This lurks mostly out of sight to the north of Stratford High Street, covering 23 acres of land with tower blocks and low-rise council housing. It's nowhere anyone with money would live, apart from a handful of new apartment projects nibbling away on the fringes. And Newham Council would very much like to knock the whole lot down and start again, indeed have been trying since long before the Games, but have thus far been entirely unsuccessful.

The official phrase is "actively decant". Residents have been offered sums of money to move out, mostly into other Newham properties, and the tower blocks are now substantially empty. All three are full of asbestos, which makes renovation uneconomic, but demolition's not much easier and so they still stand. For a number of years major plans existed for University College London to create a new campus here, replacing residential outright with educational, but negotiations collapsed last year and the estate's future is uncertain. Wholly, entirely, ridiculously uncertain, it seems.

Less than half the number of people now live on the Carpenters Estate as lived here a decade ago. Wander the streets and you pass neatly boarded up windows above, below and to one side of flats still occupied by tenants. Some blocks are almost entirely evacuated, others mostly full, making for a strange and somewhat depressing environment. Imagine walking home every day past randomly sealed-off properties, a permanent reminder that the council wants you out too but can't quite decide how to do it.

There's still life. Various businesses survive tucked away in the corners, including a building contractor relocated from the Olympic Park proper. The Carpenters Arms continues to serve pints, and all-day food, from a blue-and-yellow fronted hostelry on the main road. Carpenters Primary thrives, surrounded by welcoming mosaics and flowerbeds facing onto Friendship Way. This school was the recipient of much attention from London 2012 bigwigs and sporting stars, part of a commendable community outreach programme, but current students face an uncertain future most probably elsewhere.

Walking the half-empty streets at the weekend, I saw one sure sign that development prospects have stalled. TfL had been due to direct bus services through the Carpenters Estate once the southern half of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park opened. The D8 was pencilled in to be diverted up Carpenters Road in May, and a brand new bus shelter awaits overlooking the primary school. But the D8 can't run this way unless the road beneath the railway is unlocked, and there's no sign of that, so services have remained stubbornly along their previous alignment. Now suddenly two permanent D8 bus stops have been erected on Warton Road, helping to fill a long gap where for three years there'd been none, as if TfL have finally acknowledged that Carpenters Road won't be opening up anytime soon.

And so the pre-Olympic gates remain, sealing off the estate from prosperity to the north. If you could drive through the gloom past the buddleia you'd emerge at the foot of QEOP's Loop Road, with the Aquatic Centre immediately ahead. All the wealth of Westfield is merely footsteps away, indeed still is if you exit via the footbridge across the Jubilee line by Stratford station. Thousands of Londoners would love to live here if the housing stock were upgraded, on the doorstep of a transport hub and Europe's largest shopping mall. Private developers should be licking their lips at the prospects of 23 acres of newbuild apartments because East London redevelopment opportunities don't come much more prime than this.

But if you're sitting there Googling estate agents and mulling a mortgage, then you are the demons the residents of the Carpenters Estate fear most. They'd far rather remain somewhere they've put down roots, somewhere affordable, somewhere called home, without the threat of richer folk swooping in. As yet there's no sign that Newham has an economically viable plan for any form of upgrade, which should delay the moment of social cleansing a little longer. A wave of affluence is approaching but, while the Olympic gates remain locked shut, this semi-boarded-up village is going nowhere fast.

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