Despite its strong industrial and docklands history, the East End of London became one of the poorest and most deprived areas of the capital from the 1960s onwards. Its docklands industry moved into other areas and many of the commercial businesses that supported the area closed down or moved away.
News that the 2012 Olympics were going to be held in the heart of the East End in Stratford could be nothing but good news for the area, especially as there was talk of a legacy that would help improve the area’s situation even after the games were over.
It was said at the time that 75 pence out of every pound spent on the Olympics would go back to helping the area regenerate and improve its long-term prospects.
The Legacy of the 2012 Olympics for the East End
The area immediately benefited from vastly improved transport links, including high-speed trains in and out of central London, and local schools are already catching up with national averages. What else does the Olympic legacy give to Stratford and the East End?
The Olympic Park
The government committed to spending £300 million to convert the Olympic Park and some of its venues into a public facility, which is now known as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This should improve local facilities for residents once the park spaces are fully open for use. It should also make this an attractive destination for Londoners and visitors to the capital, which should help the local economy. It is estimated that there could be as many as 9.3 billion visitors coming to the park by 2016.
The main stadium will continue to be home to athletics competitions, but will also be home to West Ham football club. The Aquatics centre has already been converted for use by the public and is now open. The Copper Box will become a multi-use sports and entertainment venue. The VeloPark will offer cycling options and other venues from the games will be used for hockey and tennis centres.
Ultimately, the area will also get new schools, health centres and business buildings. There will be new retail areas, over 20 miles of footpaths and cycle paths and four miles of waterways. Stratford could potentially become a pleasant place to spend leisure time rather than the run-down and often derelict area it was before the Olympics.
Housing after the Olympics
The Olympic Park was not just home to some of the game’s major sporting venues; it was also the base for the athletes’ village, providing accommodation for all those associated with the games. This was a specially built complex of flats used by the athletes during the games on the Stratford site.
The Olympics may not have lasted that long in the great scheme of things, but this housing remains, and there are plans to build more housing in the area as part of the legacy initiatives. This is a technically a good thing for Stratford, which has traditionally suffered from housing issues.
For example, the Olympic Village is being converted into public housing. It is thought that this will create over 2,800 flats. There are also plans to build five new residential areas around the Olympic Park, adding another 11,000 places to live. However, as Stratford becomes a more desirable place to live, there are worries that local residents will not be able to afford to buy properties in the area, even though about a third of the new developments will be designated as affordable housing of some kind of other.
Employment in the East End
Although there were commitments to give jobs to people who lived in the five East End boroughs around the Olympic site, this may not have worked as well as was expected. Fewer than half of the approximately 20,000 jobs that came out of the games went to local workers and many of those jobs may only have lasted for the duration of the Olympics and not permanently.
A massive shopping complex, the Westfield Centre, was built close to the Olympic Park, giving local residents more retail choice and, in some cases, better employment prospects. There are around 250 shops in the centre and a range of restaurants. It is estimated that the centre created 10,000 permanent jobs when it opened. However, it is thought that only 2,000 of these jobs went to local Stratford residents who had been previously unemployed.
The government is also planning a new cultural and educational site in Stratford, which is currently known as the Olympiopolis project. This could bring university/college campuses to the area and, hopefully, collections from famous central London museums such as the V & A. Although plans are in their early days right now, it is estimated that this project could bring 10,000 additional jobs to the area over time.