diamond geezer

 Thursday, July 28, 2016

It's nine years since fences went up around the Olympic Park to allow the transformation of the Lower Lea Valley to begin, and four years today since it first opened up to spectators. It's not quite four years since the Games ended and the whole lot was sealed off again, but since then the vast majority has been opened up again, knitting an upgraded landscape into the surrounding communities. But even in 2016 not everything's yet been returned to the public - this was always going to be a long term project - and in some places work has yet to begin. So here are ten bits of QEOP that still aren't ready, as part of the Olympic Games' unfinished legacy.

(and another 50 photos, sorry, you must be sick of flicking through photos by now)

Carpenters Lock
Built in 1931, and the linchpin of the Bow Back Rivers canal network, Carpenters Road Lock boasted the only ‘double radial lock gates’ in the country. It had also gone to rack and ruin before the Games came along, its twin concrete supports sealed off as befits a dangerous structure. Suddenly it found itself at the very centre of the Olympic site, so plans were cleverly designed to route the main pedestrian walkways over the top, and to leave restoration for another day. This restoration seemed in doubt post-Games, leaving a rather forlorn pair of low level gates and a break in the riverside footpath where it would have been convenient to cross. Now at last £1.75m in funding has been found, with a significant chunk from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and work is underway to add new radial lock gates and restore the structure of the lock. It means you can't walk under the mirrored bridge for a couple of months, but that'll be sorted by the end of the summer, and next year boats will be able to navigate through bringing the entire QEOP waterway system to life. You'll see the difference!

Stadium Island
After four years they still haven't allowed untrammelled public access to the area immediately around the stadium, although West Ham's first home match is only one week away so the permanent removal of the temporary barriers must surely be close. We'll be able to see the Olympic bell in its new home, and the World Cup 66 statue that used to grace the foot of Green Street, and a variety of other Hammers-related plaques and features to try to make this place feel special. Empty waterside paths await first footfall, with freshly-planted banks to explore, as the last frozen space in the heart of the park finally opens up.

Stratford Waterfront
A long wedge of waterside between Westfield and the River Lea, immediately to the north of the Aquatic Centre, remains sealed off and waiting redevelopment. Over the last couple of years it's played host to Secret Cinema and hosted various fairgrounds, including an urban 'beach' that's just opened for the summer. But long term the area is pencilled in as the park's Cultural and Education District - Boris's Olympicopolis - where a series of exciting institutions will make their home. The V&A are coming to Stratford with a 18,000m² building, including space for the Smithsonian Museum in their first overseas foray out of Washington. Sadler's Wells will be opening a 550-seat theatre, bringing opera (and whatever else) to central E20. Over six thousand students at UAL's London College of Fashion will be getting a brand new campus, too conveniently close to a shopping mall that'll eke their loans away. To fund the development there'll also be two huge residential towers, each with 47 storeys if the artist's impression in yesterday's press release is to be believed, and each containing no affordable housing whatsoever. A public consultation on the proposals begins this Saturday, with a staffed exhibition taking place in the upper entrance to the Aquatics Centre at intermittent times over the subsequent fortnight. If you'd like to tell them how nice the cultural stuff will be, or what you think of a pair of monolithic apartment blocks disfiguring the heart of the Olympic Park, go tell them before there's no turning back.

East Village shops
The Athletes Village was one of the first bits of Olympic legacy to be opened up, having been made habitable in time for the Games and thus relatively easy to sell off. Its flats are occupied and buzzy, bringing a quick return for investors. But at ground floor level round Victory Square and down Glade Walk, where commercial spaces have been built instead of housing, it's still rather dead. Propping up flats on top of retail is very much the done thing these days, but the signs reading "35 new shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars" that cover several vacant windows still sound wildly optimistic, especially within a brief walk of Westfield.

Waterglades (southern exit)
If you visited the Olympic Park during the Games, and wandered away from the main drag, you'll remember the semi-telephone boxes, sliced in half and plonked in the ground for 'art'. Two of those halves are still there, at the less accessible end of the Waterglades by the East Village. But the other artwork lies out of reach beyond a metal barrier, which in 2012 anyone could pass but in 2016 nobody. The path crosses a footbridge and the emerging Channel Tunnel Rail Link, before zigzagging up a steep slope to the central link road, where there's no pavement and a line of barriers continues to block access. But in good news it appears a fresh underpass has been drilled underneath, to a newly restored wetland bowl also previously inaccessible, and a broad fenced path now rises up to Westfield Avenue. It's not yet open, but will (soon?) provide capacious passage into a once-quiet corner of the park.

Northwall Road
Another entirely lost piece of infrastructure is this mighty highway running alongside the A12 to the north of the Velodrome. It's had its moments as part of the service Loop Road during the Olympics, and helped to feed traffic through to Westfield before that. But it's currently barriered off at both ends and inaccessible to vehicles, possibly to stop it becoming a rat run, although it does look wide enough to cope. In the meantime it is an excellent place to practise riding a bike, and rather cheaper for cycling up and down than the official VeloPark road race circuit alongside.

Waterden Road
The main road north from Westfield passes the Copper Box and then bends right, running along the edge of a long expanse of grass. It's not been specially landscaped other than a few avenues of trees, unlike the parkland closer to the river which is immaculately contoured and lovingly tended. And that's because the lawns alongside Waterden Road are pencilled in for housing, the entire roadside strip, introducing fortress blocks containing over 800 homes. It was always the plan to build housing round the park in phases, and anywhere you see a flat level area with nothing much going on, that's probably its destiny soon. East Wick, Clarnico Quay and Sweetwater will all be residential districts arising down the western edge of the park, it's just that as yet there's almost nothing to see.

Here East
In the northwest corner of the park, 2012's International Media Centre has been transformed into a 'Technology Innovation centre' called Here East. Its best known tenant is probably BT Sport, for as long as a telephone company has cash to throw at football, but other enterprises can be found within and they're keen to attract more. Walking round this giant hangar sometimes has a tumbleweed feel, though less so when students from Loughborough University are around, and presumably less again when University College London moves in a couple of faculties in the autumn. Meanwhile twelve retail units have been made available facing the canal, only a minority of which yet have tenants, mostly serving food and drink. One of these is The Breakfast Club, whose Soho venue has queues stretching out of the door, whereas here you'll get a seat... and don't worry, enough of a buzz.

Canal Park
The Canal Park was supposed to be open a couple of years ago, a thin strip of green running down the banks of the canalised River Lea. It sort-of was, though with large areas fenced off to give the grass a chance to bed down and the vegetation the opportunity to settle. It's getting there, with some of the banks opposite Hackney Wick now rather attractive, although less great as yet further north, and the patch in front of Here East still a little bland. The Canal Park's purpose in later life is to act as a green buffer between development and river, an attractive resource for residents, and in turn to boost the value of their properties. It'll also border two primary schools, one of which is almost ready - a three-form entry academy from the Mossbourne stable, which opens in September.

(hang on, that's only nine unfinished things, and I think there are rather more than that, so best continue tomorrow...)

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