diamond geezer

 Friday, July 29, 2016

There's easily enough unfinished stuff around the Olympic Park to fill a second post. To the south of the park, a lot of that is the fault of Crossrail, who are still building a railway link from a tunnel under the Lea to the platforms at Stratford station. What with Olympic construction followed by Crossrail construction, a large area around Pudding Mill Lane will have been sealed for over ten years by the time it's eventually released back to the public. So today let's see how easy it is to get into the Olympic Park from Stratford High Street, or not.

From the Bow Roundabout, along the River Lea [YES]
This works, indeed other than during the Games themselves the towpath alongside the Lea has been open pretty much all the time. But at present that's only because the National Grid are playing nice. They're building an electricity substation beside the river, immediately above the portal from which Crossrail trains bound for Shenfield will emerge. It's not glamorous work but it is essential, and requires renewing the cables which run below the towpath. A floating towpath has been built, and will continue to bypass the edge of the river until September when normal passage will be resumed. The next stretch of towpath looks much like it did ten years ago, with blackberries already ripening along the spiky fence, and the backs of old brick sheds in Fish Island facing across the Lea. But look, there's an old Water Chariots boat moored up, and still in its original livery, and further along a 2012-inspired Water Bus stop where it seems no park service will ever stop. All this plus no less than three ways into the Olympic Park proper, one via the Greenway, one along the Old River Lea, and one round the back of the former Big Breakfast house.

Cooks Road [NO]
Reopening Spring 2015, says the sign at the end of the road placed there (somewhat optimistically) in 2009. Not a chance. Crossrail sequentially demolished all the industrial buildings that used to line Cooks and Barbers Roads, from wholesalers to proper waste-belchers, and now a tunnel emerges where a run of warehouses used to stand. With no road remaining, there's not a hope of getting through until they've finished, whenever.

Marshgate Lane [YES]
This route's also stayed open almost all of the time, not least because there's a DLR station up ahead. In good news, the diversion passengers have had to walk for the last couple of years has now been cleared, so it's again possible to walk straight on rather than diverting past a building site and walls of hoardings. Recently a very large area alongside has been used for the storage of thousands of seats from the Olympic stadium. I had been wondering if they were on their way out, but yesterday I watched a convoy of lorries setting off each with three rows of chairs on the back, so I assume they're heading back inside to provide retractable seating for West Ham supporters sitting above the athletics track for next Thursday's opening match.

The railway bridge over Marshgate Lane now has (count them) seven spans - one for the DLR, three for Crossrail, the original Victorian arched bridge and two mainline extensions on either side. On the far side, the area that used to be the warm-up track during the Games now lies empty, apart from some diggers and several mountains of earth. This area may never be housing, it's still zoned industrial, and there are already plans to site a quartet of concrete and asphalt factories on the far side - locals are not pleased. Meanwhile the View Tube remains open, the allure of the container cafe proving strong even though it's no longer the only place to view the scene. Indeed all the upstairs doors are now locked, cutting off access to the internal and external balconies, with ground floor caffeination and cycle hire now the main thrust of operations.

Blaker Road [NO]
One of the more unusual entrances to the former Marshgate Lane Industrial Estate, this, but now the dead end it always looked like it was from a distance. Pass the old lockkeepers cottage, recently boarded off to await not-quite sympathetic redevelopment, and continue past the pre-Olympic flats up Otter Close. At the far end before the railway is proper old set of steps, up and then down, to the waterside where dragonflies and damselflies skim over the weedy water. It's one of my favourite hidden spots where I could sit for hours, if only it wasn't also a favourite spot for people who drink and then leave smashed glass everywhere. Instead I have to retrace my steps, because the foot tunnel underneath the Greenway has been sealed for nine years now, and the dark gloom within shows no sign of ever opening up.

The Greenway [NO]
This is the biggest disappointment, still being closed when during the Games it was a main point of entry. Technically it belongs to Thames Water, what with most of North London's effluent passing in giant tubes underneath, but this should be QEOP's main southern entrance leading up from Stratford High Street where a pedestrian crossing has been installed specially. But no, more of those linked-together metal barriers still block the entrance, and then there's another set of more permanent fencing a hundred yards further on, just to be sure. If you head round to the other end of the pathway, where it enters the park proper beyond the railway, again there are two sets of metal barriers to keep you out, plus invariably the sound of water pouring slowly into the river from a pipe. It looks a bit of a mess beneath the railway, always has since 2012, and if you look very carefully you'll see a highly intriguing sign which says "Warning Laser Beam". This might be why we're kept away, or it might be more to do with connecting Crossrail to the mainline railway, but for goodness sake can't somebody fix whatever needs fixing and allow us back through?

Bridgewater Road [NO]
An insignificant-looking turning off Warton Road, between new flats and a long derelict pile, this brief sidestreet leads up to an old iron bridge over the Waterworks River. You wouldn't walk this way, but if you did you'd find a barrier leading to another Crossrail-related building site, plus a long-promised pre-Games survivor. Back in 2007, somewhat infamously, the Manor Gardens allotment society were evicted from their long-held plots about a mile north of here along the Lea. One replacement site was swiftly created in Waltham Forest, but part two has taken considerably longer, with the Pudding Mill site only handed over earlier this year. There are 50 plots, still somewhat sparse, but several of the original members now have sheds again and somewhere to grow whatever. Look out if you're ever passing on the DLR, and watch the place thrive.

Between the allotments and the river is a footpath, and a public one too. A magenta fingerpost makes clear there should be an access route from Stratford High Street and the Greenway in one direction to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in the other. But it's not yet open, closed in one direction by a sign and in the other by some familiar-looking metal barriers. Again the problem section appears to be the passage beneath the railway because yes, there are barriers on the other side in the very bottom corner of the park. My map of "Art in the Park" (from a booklet published in 2014) informs me that an artwork called Streamline is supposed to appear in the underpass, comprising "a series of motion-activated LED illuminations." The lights are supposed to mimic the shadows of overhead swimmers, which sounds rather good, but of this promised artwork there is no sign. Has the technology proved to hard to install, or has the money run out, and is the absence of the art the sole reason why this access route remains closed?

Warton Road [YES]
At last, a proper way in. But I still curse the legacy planner whose design for the Warton Road roundabout made pedestrian access to the Olympic Park a miserably low priority. With only one pavement under the railway, and no zebra crossing where the other fades out, the way in from the west has been made unnecessarily tortuous. It's yet another indication of how the Olympic Park's southern interface continues to feel something of an afterthought, far less well knitted than Hackney Wick to the west, Leyton to the north and Stratford City to the east. Or maybe we southerners simply have to be more patient than our counterparts, and wait for Crossrail to skedaddle, and then we'll finally be a proper part of the grand scheme too.

Carpenters Road [YES]
It does work, it does happen - the long-blocked tunnel from the Carpenters Estate was cleared in late 2014, providing proper access for local residents. It's just that those residents are now relatively few in number as Newham seeks to flush them out, their aim to replace what they describe as substandard housing by something more modern, and more dense. Over the last decade one of London's poorest council estates has found itself at the eye of a development hurricane, and it can't be long before the remainder of the community is dispersed to make way for new. We'd do well to remember that access to the Olympic Park isn't always a blessing... unless that is you're hoping to move in rather than be moved out.

My Olympic Park 2016 gallery
There are 50 photos altogether [slideshow]

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