diamond geezer

 Monday, July 06, 2015

What if the IOC had said no?

Ten years ago today a spirited performance by Seb Coe, David Beckham and 30 Newham schoolchildren, along with Ken Livingstone and Tony Blair behind the scenes, delivered the 2012 Olympic Games to London. The vote was very close, London beating Paris by only four votes, with both cities at one point trailing Madrid. But what if things had swung the other way, delivering the Games to France or even, perhaps, to Spain? In this alternative universe what might then have happened to Stratford and thereabouts? Rather more than you might think.

Before London's Olympic masterplanners alighted on Stratford as the potential site of the 2012 Olympics, way back in May 2003, they weren't starting from a blank slate. The Stratford City project was already on the table, coordinated by Chelsfield, Stanhope and London & Continental Railways, its aim to develop the brownfield Stratford Rail Lands to the north of the main railway. At the heart of the new development would be the new Stratford International station, considered a magnet for European investment, on the High Speed rail link to St Pancras. Tunnelling was already well underway, with Stratford expected to become a major Eurostar hub, and the cavernous station box was already complete before the Games were won. Indeed a major road connection across the River Lea had to be mothballed before it could be opened, the concrete viaduct suddenly finding itself within a building site - it's since been reappropriated as part of Waterden Road.
Stratford City Development
The application for outline planning permission details a proposed £3 billion development of a 73-hectare brownfield site in Stratford, serving to extend key London business and shopping into the East End.

The development surrounds the Stratford Channel Tunnel Rail Link international station, which will open in 2007. It is proposed to begin construction of Stratford City in 2006, with the town centre completed by 2009 and the following development phases completed by 2020. This will create a new business district for London acting as a gateway to Europe only 2 hours from Paris.
The intention was for Stratford City to become a whole new town centre, bringing tens of thousands of new jobs as well as 4500 new homes. There'd also be "prestige offices, department stores and shops, premises for small businesses, schools, health centres, parks and community facilities" plus a "living bridge" across the tracks at Stratford station to link together old and new. Sounds familiar. Here's a map of what was planned twelve years ago, had 2012 never happened, and it bears considerable similarity to post-Games reality.

The triangular area labelled Town Centre District is now Westfield Stratford City, and would have been whether the Olympics happened or not. To the southwest was to be the majority of the development's office space, and indeed still is, as The International Quarter starts to arise along the edge of the Olympic Park. A considerable amount of residential development was anticipated in the Carpenter's District, currently a gaping void, and more densely along a strip overlooking the River Lea, that's where the Aquatics Centre now stands. By contrast the sidings where the Orbit and QEOP playgrounds now exist lay beyond the development boundary and might well have survived, ditto the businesses in the bottom left hand corner of the map later swallowed by the Olympic stadium.

Most of Stratford City's residential quarter was planned for the expanse of former sidings to the north of the International station, specifically a Lea Valley District and a West Leyton District. Essentially all that London 2012's Athletes Village did was to piggyback this existing zoning, replacing the intended mix of family homes with accommodation temporarily suitable for the world's elite. Cascade Park, alas, was heavily watered down, the intended broad pools replaced by a thin pond between yet more flats. As for the Education Campus, this is indeed the site of Chobham Academy, already larger than the intended 900 place secondary school. And as for the residential area to its west, once the Clays Lane estate, this is precisely where the post-Games neighbourhood of Chobham Manor is being built.

What's again particularly striking is the line where development would have stopped. The areas labelled Lea Valley Park and Ecology Park would have been left alone, these falling outside the zone of the Stratford Railway Lands. Only London 2012's realisation that it needed an even bigger development zone swept away the Eastway Cycle Circuit and the Manor Gardens allotments, and the entire west bank of the Lea, which otherwise might have survived untouched to this day. But the car repair businesses on Carpenters Road, and the occupants of social housing at Clays Lane, and all the E15 traders put out of business by the arrival of Westfield, they were always doomed anyway, even if the IOC had said no.

But ten years ago they said yes, and so much more changed than we could ever have imagined.

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