BBC News

London 2012: Rubble and ruins by Olympic Park

By Ed Davey
BBC News, London

image captionThe 2005 Olympic bid promised to turn east London into a "model for 21st Century living"

Old mattresses. Piles of rubble. A pulled apart children's safety seat. Derelict buildings minus windows, roofing and floors. A car, lacking its entire front section.

You might be forgiven for thinking these scenes belong to one of the UK's most unloved and forgotten corners.

But no: these photographs were taken less than one mile from the Olympic Park with just weeks until the Games.

BBC London spent a day circumnavigating the park with a camera, photographing the neighbourhoods that immediately encircle it.

image captionThis building needs more than a lick of paint

And this unlovely spot was just one of the scenes of urban decay that were discovered.

"We'd always hoped they'd sort all this out," says mother-of-one Amanda Trough, 25, who lives on the nearby Devons Estate.

"But the Olympics are almost here, and just look at it."

The sorry collection of buildings and its surrounding rubble field sit directly on the A12 - the main approach to the Olympic Park from the Blackwall Tunnel.

That means any tourists arriving from south London by road will be confronted with the sight, literally moments before reaching the Olympic Park.

"I don't think it'll ever be sorted," adds Ms Trough. "Once the Olympics are all over they'll forget all about us."

Regeneration 'heart of bid'

And at that she heads north in the direction of her estate, the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower plainly visible in the background.

Regeneration of the East End was at the heart of London's successful bid for the Games back in 2005.

Then mayor Ken Livingstone told judges in Singapore: "The regeneration of the area around the Olympic Park is already under way.

image captionSeen better days: here walls had collapsed and floors fallen through

"The Games guarantee this regeneration will create a community where sport is an integral part of everyday life."

His presentation concluded that the Olympics would turn east London into "a model for 21st Century living".

But, come summer 2012, similar sights to those above were not hard to find.

At White Post Lane - about a quarter of a mile from the park - the BBC discovered an abandoned pub, swathed in graffiti and boarded up.

"I actually think it's nice and colourful," said Leah White, 20, a student living in nearby Hackney Wick.

The same enthusiasm was not mustered by a primary school teacher whose class were sketching the Olympic Park from the River Lee.

The walls of the canal path around them were still smothered in graffiti.

"I think it's a shame," said the teacher, who asked his school not to be named as he did not have permission from his employers to talk to the media.

'Working hard'

"It doesn't give the greatest impression of London."

Local council Tower Hamlets insisted the authority was "working hard to harness the opportunities the Games bring and gain long-lasting benefits for residents and businesses".

Of the derelict area, a council spokeswoman said: "The site identified in the images is in Tower Hamlets but is privately owned.

"The council has been working to try and secure redevelopment of the site as part of a new district centre, but for various reasons, the development opportunity has not yet been realised."

image captionThe River Lee was not a pretty sight - or smell

In fairness, the River Lee itself was a hubbub of activity, workmen busy repainting the metal rings where boats will moor.

But there too could be found sights that were far from salubrious.

Between the stadium and the arena where basketball athletes are to train, an entire stretch of river was clogged with sewage and weed, releasing a sulphurous stench.

'Something special'

The pollution was so grim that the river had acquired a surface tension capable of holding bottles and other detritus completely above the water.

A spokeswoman for British Water described it as "something of a special situation".

She went on: "Due to the very heavy rains earlier in the week, Deephams Sewage Treatment Works in Edmonton went into storm overflow and discharged into the Lee Navigation.

image captionBoarded up, plastered in graffiti and a stone's throw from Olympic Park

"This is permitted by the Environment Agency during very heavy storm conditions to prevent flooding of properties.

"Our contractor is out five days a week clearing litter, weed and floating debris from the waterways in and around the Olympic Park, and from July will be working seven days a week."

Then it was to Newham, home of the Olympic Park itself.

"Welcome to Newham, a place where people choose to live work and stay," boasts a large sign on the border.

But one thing that will not be staying very long was the derelict building directly behind it, plastered in For Sale signs.

It appears a sale was not forthcoming - the building was due for urgent demolition.

The Olympic Delivery Authority has a licence from the owner to knock it down, with a temporary taxi rank planned in time for the Games.

'Persistent flytipping'

A spokesman insisted: "This will, of course, be completed in time for the start of the competition."

He went on to explain that after the Games the cleared site will be left secured.

image captionHello Newham, goodbye building (in the nick of time)

Why? Because of the "persistent flytipping which has been a feature of the current building".

Yet more evidence that the reality of the neighbourhoods around the Olympic Park is not what was promised in 2005.

The distance from the park is about 500m.

Defending its position, the government said 75 per cent of every pound spent on building for the Games was being invested in regeneration.

A spokesman said £6.5bn had been invested into the transport system, making east London "one of the most connected parts of the capital". He said the area would continue to be regenerated after the event.

But branding expert Graham Hales, chief executive officer of Interbrand London, said: "These images are disappointing.

"By and large the city has had a good scrub up [for] the Olympics - and these don't show London in the best light."

But Mr Hales said that, given the scale of the challenge, it was important to be realistic about what could be achieved through the Games.

And he hoped everything else London had to offer would mean its brand was undamaged by the scars of neglect that still litter the East End.

"London is still one of the best cities to visit in the world," he added.

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