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Lea Valley plans c/o London Press Office

The Lea Valley transformed.

London's Lea Valley - Olympic winner?

It's nearly three years since London won the bid to hold the Olympics. With talk of spiralling costs and who will end up footing the increasing bill, Londoners are wondering whether the benefits of the Games outweigh the costs.

In one area of London there's a much-neglected river that's being given a new lease of life.

Inside Out took a boat trip up the River Lea to meet the people who love it, use it and are hoping to benefit from the spin-off effects of the 2012 Games.

Urban oasis

For north Londoners, the River Lea is an oasis on their doorstep.

It's 50 miles long, cutting through countryside and city, from its source in Luton to Bow.

The river, once a hub of industrial and commercial activity, has lain dormant for years. It's neglected, overgrown, and polluted in parts.

It also runs right through the Olympic Park and because of this it's benefiting from a huge investment that will make it economically vibrant again.

Olympic site c/o AP Images

Olympic glory - revitalising Stratford.

Locals hope that the Olympics will attract new businesses to the area and give them access to new leisure facilities.

British Waterways is leading this regeneration scheme with the £19 million construction of Prescott Lock.

Construction work is underway on the coffer dams and gates which will control water levels in the Olympic Park.

The scheme is being designed so barges can travel along the waterway to the Olympics.

It's hoped that the work will make the river economically viable and re-establish our knowledge of water freight.

The barges will enable around 35 lorries to be removed off the roads every time the lock is used.

New 'Amsterdam'

When complete, Olympic traffic will travel through the locks on barges to the stadium.

One and three-quarter million tons of materials is expected to be transported into the Olympic Park.

Richard Rutter from British Waterways extols the virtues of the scheme:

"Think of an East End Amsterdam, and that's what we're looking at. We're really wanting boats to be able to come into this area - we can also have freight traffic to the Olympics as well...

"But what we want is leisure craft - we want water-buses, we want water-taxis, maybe even punts and perhaps even gondolas."

White water rafting?

The River Lea looks really empty today, but 50 years ago you could barely see the water for boats and barges.

From leisure cruises to transport for the manufacturing industry along its banks, the Lea was a hive of activity.

Now there are plans to reclaim the waterway for leisure use in the wake of the Olympics 2012.

Stonebridge Lock in Tottenham is where Dave Webb has based his canoe, kayak and cycle hire business.

Waterway c/o PA Images

From dump to leisure playground.

He's planning to expand his firm by 2012: "The activities we can supply here are good for people's health and relaxation. I love chilling out on the river, it's absolutely beautiful.

"We're hoping there's going to be a white water course about five miles up the river, and we're hoping to take our people we teach to paddle up to white water standard…

It's just a short bike ride from Tottenham to the Olympic Park, and with the towpaths due to be cleared, there'll be more demand for Dave's bikes and boats.

Dave Webb is sure the investment he's making will bring this part of the river back to life: "The place is alive with activity and it's lovely to hear children shouting and running and enjoying and laughing. That's what this place is all about - it's what it needs."

Bringing the river alive

Manufacturing industry has left its mark on the Lea. Empty warehouses and factories block access to the riverside for the local community.

But if all goes according to plan, this is about to change.

Olympic Stadium - artist's view c/o London Press

Visions of the future - Olympics 2012.

At Tottenham Hale the first small steps in the regeneration of this waterside site are taking place.

The former industrial sites are to be developed for mixed use including housing.

British Waterways is hoping this change of use will attract new businesses to the river.

They have come up with an innovative way of housing small firms - not by the river, but on it, as Tav Kazmi explains:

"We've developed three small business barges, which are office space, going to be targeted at the local creative industry sector, in particular small businesses."

There are developments happening all the way up the Lea, but the spotlight is going to be on Stratford, the heart of the Olympic Park.

What's being created is a brand new Stratford Waterfront.

The Green Olympics

The Lea is still plagued with rubbish washed up by the tide, so it's a tall order to make Stratford waterfront look like Amsterdam.

To make a difference, an army of volunteers are desperately fighting to keep its banks clean, clearing litter and making the river habitable for ducks, fish, insects, and wildlife.

Volunteer David Kitchen sees it as one of the most important legacies of the Games:

"We're doing it for the community... And also because, our next door neighbours are now going to be the Olympic Games, the green Olympics…

"We want to present by 2012 the best example we can of tidal saline wet land habitat as a complement to the Olympics."

With the Olympics only four years away everyone involved in transforming the River Lea has got their work cut out.

It's an ambitious project but, if it works it will leave a legacy for years to come.

last updated: 11/08/2008 at 12:14
created: 02/04/2008

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