Road Show: Olympic Park Legacy Company and Legacy Now

Wow, that was quite some presentation yesterday evening at Queen Mary’s University of London. It was the fourth and last of a series of presentations by the Olympic Park Legacy Company and the Legacy Now team. They welcomed questions from the audience at the end of the presentation, but to call it a consultation would be a misnomer.

I had attended the first of the four talks at the London School of Economics on 10 November. The big leaders were present for that one including the Chief Executive of OPLC, Andrew Altman, the American planner who was responsible for leading and effecting significant change and regeneration of the Anacostia River waterside in Washington, D.C. Over the course of the last month, I have been to several presentations and consultations about the legacy park, what will result from the Olympic Park site post-2012 games.

I am sometimes optimistic about aims and ambitions of the Olympic Delivery Authority, which is presently land-owner and developer of the site. On the one hand, the Olympics are a great catalyst for change in the Lower Lea Valley area, without a doubt. The land straddles four boroughs – Tower Hamlets, where I live, Newham, Hackney, and Waltham Forest. Without the singular goal of Olympics, there was less incentive for the four boroughs to work together and communicate a cohesive plan. The site itself was a developers’ nightmare with derelict waterways, electricity pylons, and railway lines intersecting and interrupting the landscape. Historically, an industrial-intensive site, it lacked adequate transport and pedestrian links and basic infrastructure to allow it to be a livable community space. The Olympic development has changed all that. Mind you, it is taxpayers’ money that has been poured into infrastructure – the electricity pylons have been buried underground, the canal system is being cleaned up, new roads and bridges are being installed to connect it to the surrounding neighbourhoods. The ODA is mindful that what remains post-games – the legacy park – is rightfully and sympathetically returned to the public.

Last night’s talk was sympathetically titled the People’s Legacy. But this is easier said than done. I have decided to stay as positive as possible in this post, although I will say one thing – fortunately the talk ended on a high with meaning and real practical words. It didn’t start off that way. The panel was diverse including representatives from the OPLC, London Citizens, Fundamental, students from the Department of Geography at Queen Mary, University of London, Bob Colenutt (head of research at the Northampton Institute for Urban Affairs), and Lord Andrew Mawson (social entrepreneur and founder of the Bromley by Bow Centre). The evening opened with presentations about how members of the surrounding community, in particular young people, had been engaged in projects related to the Olympic development. This included architectural projects for youths leading up to the Olympic bid, manifestos developed by students from local schools, and a set of ethical guarantees that were submitted to the International Olympic Committee for inclusion in the 2012 bid. The presenters were enthusiastic and marketed the plans and activities well. Where it fell short was in providing evidence of the impact of these efforts, especially the ethical guarantees. I wondered how much of these ideas had actually been implemented. I only heard them say that things were going well and that there were regular meetings to measure progress. But where is the hard evidence that the ethical guarantees are or will be honoured?

And then the presentation got really interesting. Andrew Mawson provided examples of how he and his organisations have made a difference. He emphasised the need to get into the nuts and bolts of projects and to pay attention to the detail. His philosophy was about doing, not just planning and talking and he proved this through anecdotal examples of using redundant church space for other business uses such as a dance school, an integrated nursery, and a gallery. This was the foundation for the Bromley-by-Bow Centre which boasts an health care unit, social enterprise hub, and advice for small businesses. Lord Mawson was not only promoting the idea that by getting involved practically and building stuff, we would effect change, he was able to showed that this worked from his own personal experience and hard work with sleeves rolled up.

The final speaker was Bob Colenutt from the Northampton Institute for Urban Affairs who was blunt and frank with his comparison of the Olympic Park opportunity with the of the London Docklands Development Corporation, which had been responsible for regenerating and redeveloping the Isle of Dogs and Royal Docks near the City Airport and Excel Centre. Again, using examples that were supported by visible evidence, what was promoted as a once in a lifetime opportunity for real economic change in East London had failed miserably to provide jobs, improvement, and sustainable wealth for the local community. It was the property investors and City and West End uses that benefited. The divide on the Isle of Dogs is evident with affluent riverside apartment buildings around the perimeter and council estates squeezed down the middle. The Dockland Highway makes a clear definition between the financial power of Canary Wharf to the south and the deprivation of Poplar to the north. He stated something obvious, but that seemed to have fallen on deaf ears in the past decade – the redevelopment of the Docklands was property-led rather than people-led and the Olympic Park is at risk of the same issue. He cited Coin Street, one of my favourite examples, as one model of community-led building where the community rallied together, fought for just development, and the land was acquired for £1. A similar approach is being proposed for the St. Clement’s Hospital site on Bow Road as a predecessor to the legacy park in the form of a Community Land Trust, in an attempt to transfer land ownership to the community at existing use or affordable use values.

This is what we need in order to build sustainable communities – real action and people-led development – and I find inspiration in Lord Mawson’s and Bob Colenutt’s presentations. I will shortly be doing something very real and people-led. I’ll be starting small and taking Lord Mawson’s advice of making one thing work first. Watch this space – I might be needing your help in the future to make it a success.

In the meantime – were you at last night’s talk? Were you at any of the other Olympic Park Legacy Company and Legacy Now talks at the London School of Economics, University College London, or Goldsmiths? I’d like to hear from you. Please leave me a comment – it’s with your comments and feedback that I can help do better in the community. Thanks.


4 responses to “Road Show: Olympic Park Legacy Company and Legacy Now

  1. “Andrew Mawson … His philosophy was about doing, not just planning and talking” is this the guy who heads up Leaside Regeneration, the people who said 7 years ago, that in 2 to 7 years Poplar Riverside would be complete? Count the bricks laid and the acres still covered in scrap. And how many masterplans have ther been – just the three Lord Mawson. How much more of the public purse will the planners help themself too before they retire? Let’s go round again.

    The same organisation that is responsible for A12 crossings at Bromley by Bow and Zetland Street scheduled for March 2005? Jim Fitzpatrick announced it in parlaiment.

    Yep that’ll be the man whose philosophy is about doing, not just planning and talking

    • Thank you for your comment. You’ve brought some things to my attention that I wasn’t previously aware about. I have recently come across BBBC and Poplar HARCA in the last month. I have walked around Bromley-by-Bow and Poplar and have seen evidence of changes, but appreciate that I haven’t stopped and spoken to residents. Undoubtedly, there’s still a lot to be improved upon including the connections between Bow/Bromley-by-Bow/Poplar to the Lower Lea Valley and to Stratford. The thing is, it’s about people doing what they can to get involved and physically make changes – we need more of that. We need to create projects that are either directly or indirectly self-financing or convince the folks with funds to voluntarily divert funds from other more profitable ventures to social ventures. I agree with you that it’s not adequate nor effective to rely on government funds for community and socially minded projects. I’m doing two things to promote this – by creating awareness where possible through communication and to apply my business skills and experience to social businesses. If I had the money, I’d fund things myself, but I’m not there yet. I am however planning to generate enough income myself, through my business, through ventures I’m interested in, through raising funds from other interested groups to make real changes. I welcome your suggestions on how to effect change.

  2. I did not realise there had been a reply to my original point, made above, in December. I am on my occasional depressed internet search for anything happening in Poplar Riverside and I came across this response.

    Suggestions on how to effect change? According to the parliamentary Hansard the funding for the A12 crossing at Lochnagar/ Zetland Street and Bromley by Bow was in place in 2004 and work was due to start in March 2005.

    Jim Fitzpatrick made much of it in every local press avenue open to him at the time.

    How about spending the money on that for which it was allocated?

    What has happened to the funding? Without the basic infrastructure changes it is impossible to attract private sector money.

    All we ever see is plans and spin

    Seven years ago a Leaside Regeneration representative said that an access road to my business would be put in within 2 years. This was afte Leaside Regeneration had built the premises (on the back of spin still available on the internet about how Poplar Riverside would be developed blah de blah…)

    Oh and the tip around the back would be gone as the land was essential for regeneration. Furthermore it was operating without planning permission – which is illegal so you can complain about that and nudge-wink that would be helpful.

    And guess what – no access road has arrived!

    Oh, and the tip still stinks and attracts rats. And in spite of significant correspondence with the council still operates without planning permission

    So – recommendations?

    a. Spend money on projects that has been allocated
    b. Stop spinning if you cannot deliver.
    c. Stop wasting huge amounts of public money on successive masterplans
    d. Ensure barriers to progress – a la tip are taken away before you plan.

    Long term sufferer of bureaucratic indifference, Poplar Riverside

  3. Is it really 3 years since my original post, Lordie!

    Hey, the tip closed last month! Now it is just a truck car park for tipping lorries.

    Still no sign of the crossings at B by B ( where did the 2005 money go?)

    Still no bricks laid in Ailsa St – which is still a hell hole.

    Still no access road (now nine years overdue on Leaside Regeneration promise)

    And still no news from the council that anything will change anytime soon.

    Lord Mawson I salute you!


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