Audio & Video
Newham Town Hall
Are the Olympic Boroughs on Track?
As London becomes Olympic Host City, everyone knows some Londoners stand to gain far more than others from 2012. The 5 Olympic Boroughs are awash with expectation, and with four years to go, are they set to deliver?
If the mythological gods of mount Olympus ever played hoopla with the Olympic rings over London, the 5 buildings they encircled were clearly the town halls in Newham, Hackney, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Greenwich. These are the so-called Olympic Boroughs, and the Olympic rings have endowed them with status, ambition, wealth, responsibility and expectation.
The landscape in these boroughs is starting to be reshaped, but is the change happening fast enough and is it meeting with local approval? Our five audio reports gage the mood in each of the boroughs, and take a look behind the scenes to see how the preparations are shaping up.
Newham's Green Street.
This is the borough with most to gain in terms of physical regeneration. The bulk of the Olympic Park is sited in Newham and the most prestigious venues are being constructed there. But alongside the developments which are directly a product of the games there is also Stratford City, a massive housing and retail project, which should be ready in time to complement the Olympic proposition.
Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham.
In Angela Saini's report she takes a stroll along Green Street with a local tour guide and encounters general 2012 enthusiasm. She also hears from an unemployed construction worker who is retraining and hopes eventually to be able to stand and survey the completed stadium and boast "I built that". But Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, is aware that regeneration alone does not change lives and people need a hand to take advantage of the opportunities on their doorstep. "If these games mean anything it's got to be the transformation of East London so people see themselves in a different light and take up those opportunities", he says.
While Newham is the big winner in terms of buildings, Hackney has most to gain with improved transport links. At last the borough will be able to boast a connection to the tube network with the East London Line extension, while the North London Line, for so long the embarrassment of the city's over-ground rail service, will be upgraded.
Inside Peppers and Spice Take-away
But Valley Fontaine's report shows that there are losers as well as winners in the transport revamp. In particular long-established businesses around Dalston Junction like Peppers and Spice a Caribbean takeaway, are expecting to lose customers when they are forced to move.
But Para Olympian swimmer, Dervis Konuralp, who's also an ambassador for the games in Hackney, believes on balance local people have more to gain than to lose from games. He's backed up by Dr John Coakley the medical director at Homerton University Hospital which is also the designated Olympic Hospital. He'll be calling on volunteer medical staff to help cope with patients coming in from the 'Olympic Family' of sports-people, coaches and officials. Though he's not worried about a significant increase in demand on the hospital. In the long term he sees some real potential benefits for Hackney residents, 'It's just very good to be associated with a major sports event which will leave a legacy we hope will improve the health of the local population.'
The view from a Hackney flat, July 2008
By contrast Tower Hamlets will have no new building or transport infrastructure associated with the games. Yet the Olympic Park will be on the doorstep for residents in Bow and Poplar who will no doubt benefit from the facilities. Similarly the borough is optimistic it will gain significant numbers of jobs from the work going on just across its boundaries.
Whitechapel Road will be the main road route for Olympic officials and spectators journeying from Central London out to the new stadium. It's also the longest stretch of road for marathon competitors. As such there's talk of Tower Hamlets branding the road as the main Olympic Boulevard, or 'High Street 2012', though no definite plans have yet been published. Similarly, reports Lebo Diseko, Victoria Park will get an overhaul in advance of 2012, when it will be used for the walking race and also as a venue for various cultural events - though again we still await definitive plans.
For some in Tower Hamlets there is already disappointment that the boroughs early Olympic dreams, particularly around housing, seem destined to remain only that. Perhaps here, more than in any of the other boroughs, there is a sense of unrealised expectations.
The Big Screen inWaltham Forest
One very tangible sign of the Olympic Legacy is already on display in Walthamstow's Town Square. A permanent Big Screen has been erected, and while it launched with coverage of the Beijing Games, it will continue to entertain local people between now and 2012. Cllr Clyde Loakes, leader of Waltham Forest Council, says, "The legacy started when we won the bid and it'll be shaping this place for the next 20 years".
Eton Manor Park in Leyton is where the Waltham Forest Olympic new-build will be sited. It will host Para Olympic tennis and archery and then transform into a national hockey, tennis and 5-aside football centre. With the new astro-turf facilities available the local hockey club is optimistic it will attract many newcomers to the sport while other young people see the facilities as a way of cutting through gang culture to encourage teenagers to get healthy.
Again though it's jobs which are a real draw for Waltham Forest residents, which currently has a 7.2 per cent unemployment rate. In her report, Kulwant Sohal met Annika Allen, the borough's role-model and pin-up girl for a new construction training centre in Leytonston. The young mum has successfully retrained there and learnt how to drive fork-lifts. And if she's breaking new ground, so too is the 'Angel of Leyton'. The 120 feet high wind turbine will provide 5% of the energy needed to run the Olympic Park.
Historic Greenwich Park
Although the river divides Greenwich from the Olympic Park, it is by no means the poor relation since it will host a third of Olympic events in 2012. There will be shooting at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, on the Greenwich Peninsula the O2 Arena will be the venue for gymnastics, Para Olympic volleyball, basketball and badminton, while equestrian events will take place in Greenwich Park.
It's this last venue which is causing some controversy locally. Not only are residents concerned about access to their park while the games are on, but there are worries the Cross Country event could do permanent damage to the world heritage site. But the park manager is reassuring, insisting the course will avoid ancient trees, burial grounds and other sensitive spots.
Greenwich is the only borough which can already boast one venue which is up and running for the games if they took place tomorrow. O2 is planning basketball and gymnastics events in the next 18 months which will prove its place as a top class venue for those sports. Deputy Council Leader Cllr Peter Brook reflects the upbeat mood in Greenwich when he says, "We predict up to 9,000 new jobs between now and 2012 because now is our time".
last updated: 26/08/2008 at 12:52