Rings of ire

Beach volleyball on Horse Guards Parade, road cycling in Regent’s
Park and the new Wembley stadium with its 2,000 toilets. How can
anyone not be excited by the prospect of London hosting the 2012
Olympic Games?

David Beckham, Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair, and Joanna Lumley are
all on board – they, along with many other public figures, lent
their names to the British bid. But away from the celebrity
platforms, the news from the International Olympic Committee in
Singapore was not greeted universally by thunderous applause in
London’s East End.

On paper it is difficult to fathom why. “Regenerating east London
communities” is clearly stated as one of London 2012’s four main
priorities, and there is a specific section detailing the benefits
for the area surrounding the Olympic Park, which will be built in
Lower Lea Valley, eight miles east of central London.

“This area is ripe for redevelopment,” states the London 2012
candidate file, which outlines the plans. “By staging the games in
this part of the city, the most enduring legacy of the Olympics
will be the regeneration of an entire community for the direct
benefit of everyone who lives there.”

Not only will the Olympic Park become “a hub for east London” and
bring together communities, it will also act as a catalyst for
profound social and economic change. As “a model of social
inclusion” it will create opportunities for education and
employment, as well as give more people the chance to take part in
sport and physical activity.

These are ambitious – and admirable – claims, which, some say, are
not realistic and will come at a high cost to residents. Such is
the strength of feeling against the proposals, a group – No London
2012 – has evolved in protest.

Spokesperson Katy Andrews says: “No one asked Londoners if they
wanted to make this bid. The bid has just gone ahead irrespective
of what local people think.

“People are just looking at the Olympics per se and not seeing it
in the correct sense that it is all part of the massive development
of a city the size of Leeds. I know people who are planning to move
away from the area.”

One of the main worries is that the grandiose plans to regenerate
east London will result in local people being squeezed out.

“It’s a massive exercise in social engineering,” says Jim Paton,
who is a member of the Advisory Service for Squatters, a free
service offered by volunteers. “People are going to be evicted and
will be replaced by people with money.” He is particularly
concerned about the impact on housing. For a start, some residents
will lose their homes as a number of buildings will be demolished.
He also expects people living in private rented housing to suffer.

He says: “Private rented housing is the only option for many
people, expensive and grotty as it is. That will dry up over the
next few years as landlords find it more profitable to sell rather
than rent.”

If the so-called “gentrification” of the area unfolds as predicted,
it will not be the first of its kind in London. A similar process
of redevelopment took place on the Isle of Dogs in the 1980s and

“New developments moved in and in effect moved other people out,
creating an awkward conjunction of relatively disadvantaged people
up against advantaged people,” says Max Weaver, chief executive
officer of Community Links, a charity based in Newham, one of the
five boroughs which fall within the Olympic area.

“There are gated flats to protect the newer and richer from the
established and poorer.”

Property prices are likely to go up as a result of the Olympics,
but this will be a small bonus to the many local people who are not
home owners, and who will be forced to move further out.

“You may be able to walk and drive around and say ‘cor, this area
has improved’, but the people who are there now might not be there
any longer,” says Weaver.

It’s not just in terms of housing provision that any gentrifying of
the area will have an impact. There is also concern over the loss
of community amenities and leisure facilities, such as a cycle
track, football pitches and woodland.

Paton says: “All the amenities that local people enjoy are being
trashed and will never exist again. At the moment everything is
free or nearly free but it will all be handed over to big business.

He adds: “All that will be left will be expensive stuff only rich
people can afford. There won’t be anything for local people.”

There has been much talk from the 2012 team about the job
opportunities that will evolve alongside the games. An estimated
12,000 jobs will emerge – but not everyone is convinced that these
will be up for grabs among local people.

Weaver says: “You have to look at the entry qualifications for the
various jobs that will be created. Broadly speaking this is an area
where education qualifications are below the national

Also, many of the jobs created are likely to be in construction, a
specialist area that an individual cannot just walk into without

To an extent, it is down to the local authorities in the affected
east London areas to ensure that the games result in tangible
benefits for local people – a matter that is being taken seriously,
according to Paul Brickell, mayoral adviser for the Olympics at
Newham Council.

“It’s fantastic that we have got the games and everybody wants it
to result in benefits for local people, but that won’t happen by
accident. We will have to work hard to reap the benefits. It’s a
seven-year process so the question for us is how do we engage with
the process to get benefits?”

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