Olympic boss seeks golden future for London 2012 park

By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News

  • Published
Computer-generated impression of the 2012 park
Image caption,
The site will be renamed as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from 2013

The Festival of Britain in 1951 and the Great Exhibition a hundred years earlier are credited with transforming previously underdeveloped areas of London, namely the South Bank and South Kensington.

Now the boss of the firm that will oversee the commercial and social legacy of London's 2012 Olympic park is hoping for a similar impact in east London.

"It is about creating a new space in the city of London, in the way that those two previous events brought new spaces into use," says Baroness Ford, chair of the London 2012 Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC).

"We are creating a new piece of London with family neighbourhoods, open space and events, inspired by the 2012 venues that surround them."

The OPLC has been established to take responsibility for the long-term planning, development, management and maintenance of the park and its facilities after the games.

And former banker and management consultant Baroness Ford is determined that the park post-games is "no vanity project" and has a strong commercial sense about whatever it does.

Housing blend

The OPLC plans to build up to 11,000 new homes over the next 25 years, and hopes to generate up to 10,000 jobs.

The site will have a mixture of town houses, mews houses, affordable flats and riverside properties which will sit next to the various venues.

"Instead of people moving out to Hertfordshire or Kent when they have children, we want them to consider moving into one of these new homes in the park," she says.

There will be some high-rise homes in the park, with the accommodation in the athletes village being turned into 3,000 flats.

But she says they want to "complement" that with other types of housing which take inspiration from "the historic best" of London housing designs.

'Commercial sense'

At the moment the company is closely watching such issues as whether there will be a recovery in the property sector, and whether mortgages will be made more easily available.

All of which could reduce the ability of the OPLC to sell properties after 2012.

Image caption,
Baroness Ford says there will be two different sectors to the park

"We need to have a strong commercial sense about everything we do," says the baroness.

"This is no vanity project, there is a very strong drive to claw back value from the park.

"We have got to get on and try to make some sense of where we are [economically] today."

New schools and nurseries will be built for the families living in the park along with health centres, community and faith spaces.

The site will also include hanging gardens set 30ft above ground, meadows, lawns, shrubs and 4,000 trees.

"These things are never set in stone but give us a clear steer on what we are trying to do in the park," adds Baroness Ford.

'Family destination'

The intention is to gradually build up the park over a 20 to 25 year period.

And according to Baroness Ford there will be two very different sections to the park, which will have extensive waterways going through the site.

The North Park will be more focussed on activities and the outdoors, and as a "great family destination".

It is hoped to create an attraction similar to the Skywalk at Kew, and there will also be a BMX track.

Meanwhile, the iconic, elegant structure of the velodrome will be run by Lea Valley regional park authority.

The South Park area will be different in character, with three big venues, and "more of a festival or plaza feel about it".

This section will also be home to the Arcelor Mittal Orbit tower designed by Anish Kapoor.

Visitors will be able to climb on the structure to get panoramic views across the Stratford site in east London.

"The whole south area of the park will have more of a festival feel, a café-culture feel," says Baroness Ford.

She adds: "By 2020 this park will be a new venue for London.

"We want it to be a top notch destination for local people, other Londoners, and visitors to London."

Media and arts

However, she is clear that the development is firstly about the redevelopment of east London, which means that employment is important.

Image caption,
It is hoped the Olympics will do for east London what the Festival of Britain did for the South Bank

It is hoped that jobs will be created in the area through the media and arts, and around a new transport interchange.

High on the list of priorities was creating a digital legacy in the park.

Intel and McKinsey are among the companies that have committed to invest in this part of the park masterplan.

"We believe we will have large companies in the park, as well as new firms coming when they want space to grow," says the baroness.

There are also plans for an artistic area in the north-west of the park, in the area near to Old Street which already boasts a large number of artists.


Meanwhile, it is hoped jobs will be created around the Stratford transport hub.

In addition Westfield, responsible for the large mall at Shepherd's Bush in West London, hopes to trump that development with an even bigger shopping centre at the park.

They have invested £1.5m in the project already, with Baroness Ford calling them "a phenomenally successful partner".

In January 2011 the OPLC will be putting out tenders for estate management and catering across the park.

"We want companies to come to us and tell us how they want us to do that," says the 52-year old.

"There are a great many opportunities for us all to work together."

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