The true Olympic legacy: the debt starts here

The Olympic village has been sold to the property arm of Qatar’s Royal family at a loss of £275m.

In alliance with British developer Delancey Estates, the two companies will be responsible for just over half of the existing 2,818 homes and for the development of a further 2,000 units on new land.

The partnership “creates the first private-sector residential fund of more than 1,000 homes to be owned and directly managed as an investment.”

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Missed Opportunity for Olympic High Tech Legacy

Back in March 2011 The Wellcome Trust made a £1bn offer to transform the Olympic Park into a ‘global hub for research and innovation’.

Yet the offer was rejected by the Olympic Delivery Authority who instead sold the Olympic Village to Qatari Diar and Delancey Estates for £557m, who will develop the site into a neighbourhood of over 2000 homes.

The Wellcome Trust noted on their website that the rejection was a huge disappointment for them, stating:

‘The Wellcome Trust is disappointed that the Government and the Mayor of London did not wish to take our proposals for the Olympic Park further. If our bid had been successful, our holistic vision for the Olympic Park and the legacy would have delivered a world-class centre for technology and innovation and up to 7000 high-quality new jobs, and it would have made a substantial contribution to the regeneration of East London’

The decision to reject the offer was initially founded on the basis that the £1bn bid made by The Wellcome Trust did not meet the amount that has already been invested into the Olympic Park prior to the bid and that their plans for the site would not provide taxpayers with sufficient value for money.

Yet both Saffron Woodcraft and Ian Birrell argue that this is a missed opportunity for an Olympic Legacy. Whilst The Wellcome Trust plan promised to provide 7000 jobs, the provision of social housing and ‘further social infrastructure’, this offer has been turned down in favour of investors who plan to transform most of the site into private housing, putting into question just how beneficial this decision is for the local residents and for taxpayers. Woodcraft and Birrell suggest that the International Olympic Committee’s decision is one based on short term rather than long term benefits. As Birrell argues:

‘…they are focussing on short-term profits by looking to sell the lucrative athlete’s village to the Qatari Royal family in conjunction with a private firm of property developers’.

This is just another decision, others including Greenwich Park and the new Stratford Westfield Shopping Centre, where the International Olympic Committee has put their interests and the interests of their sponsors before those of Londoners. Perhaps, as Birrell puts it:

‘Infrastructure is built to suit the demands of the International Olympic Committee, not the needs of the host city’.

 

 

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Key routes shut or restricted for the Olympics

Road restrictions for London 2012

Road restriction for London 2012

The full extent of restrictions on central London’s roads planned for the Games was revealed yesterday.

Yet, it seems that the majority of the road closures will not really be part of the Olympic-only lanes to get athletes and officials quickly to the venues, as they will be staying in the Olympic village.

The key routes that will be shut or restricted in central London will cover mainly the area of the hotels for the Olympic family (VIPs and sponsors) around Park Lane to let them easily reach Stratford and the Olympic venue.

Full details of the restrictions have been published on the TfL‘s website.

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Green Olympics claims must be assessed

A long weekend of celebration was sealed with another internationally significant marriage at the 9th World Conference on Sport and the Environment in Doha, which came to a close yesterday. Though it lacked the same grandeur and sparkle of Mr and Mrs Future King, the conference – attended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – contained no less of the self-congratulation. The back slapping was mainly orchestrated by IOC President Jacques Rogue, who restated the IOC’s commitment to environmental sustainability as part of the Olympic Games, “We owe it to future generations to continue to promote our green agenda and ensure environmental sustainability in sport and I think we have taken a big step towards that with the Doha Declaration.” The declaration focuses on direct activities related to the economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development in sport.

Rogge also insisted that efforts to make sport more sustainable, “set a new standard for environmental sustainability in construction practices, energy conservation and legacy planning.” It’s a bold statement, and a pretense which no doubt helped sway the Olympic bid decision. It comes back to the same word – legacy. As Spectacle has referenced numerous times on this blog, statements like this tend to go unchallenged and unnoticed. But thankfully, this hasn’t always been the case.

Wanstead Flats – one of the many public spaces to be transformed into concrete structures as part of the Olympics

There have been several reports and accounts of activities on behalf of the Olympic construction that have amounted to a very damning assessment of the Olympics’ green credentials. The biggest contradiction of the promised green legacy, is the slow disappearance of green public space in favour of concrete construction. Wanstead Flats, a vast open grassland in Epping Forest, will be an operational centre for the Metropolitan Police (you can see a short film of the Wanstead Flats protest here), Arena Fields and the East Marsh, a third of Hackney Marshes – which up until the Games was the largest amateur playing fields in Europe – will become a car park, Manor Gardens Allotments has also disappeared (you can also see footage and interviews of the Gardens before they were demolished here), Clays Lane – a self-sufficient green community – have been built over and their residents evicted, and a substantial amount of Greenwich Park will become an equestrian centre. This achieves the exact opposite of each of the activities listed above, as well as negative impacts on additional targets of sports participation, ecological biodiversity and opportunities for local residents. There is also a general fear that the facilities that the Olympics have promised to develop to replace the space lost will be inaccessible to many people due to private owners charging for use.

The Green Party have released a very critical report on the environmental impact of the Olympic Games, named Hurdles to Jump, which accuses the organisations behind the Olympics of setting very low environmental standards to begin with. Adam White, a spokesman for the Green Party, said that, “in many areas their future plans don’t go far enough.” Among the standards questioned by the publication include the slightly anaemic declaration that 3% of energy will come from solar and wind-turbine sources, and only 20% of the energy for the Olympic Village will come from renewable sources. To make a comparison with previous Olympic Games, every home in the Olympic Village in Sydney had a solar panel. The Greens also noted that the targets would not reach the more general environmental regulations that will be in place by 2012, as well as commenting on the allowances for car travel, “…the amount of car parking provided is too high for the goal of a 100% public transport, walking and cycling for spectators”. Traffic is forecasted to increase threefold in the aftermath of the games. Which if you’d promised less cars and not more cars could technically be spun as a surprise. Car parks have also, historically, proved to be a thorn in the side of environmentalism.

Olympics development on Hackney Marshes

One of the more high profile incidents has been the toxic waste cleanup operation which may well cost the taxpayer £12.7m, reported by the Guardian in November. Amongst other colourful chemicals released was vinyl chloride, which can produce microbes from solvents and remain in groundwater for decades. While this is a small drop in the ocean in comparison to the drastic overspend of the Olympic grand total, it is nevertheless money that could have been spent better elsewhere. Certainly better than a twirling steel tower. The discrepancies are stacking up, particularly with the revelations that the Olympics’ green targets aren’t particularly ambitious, and the premise of a green Olympics, a platform upon which the bidding committee stood proudly at the time of the announcement of London’s winning bid, looks to be slipping away.

One of the few legitimate arguments for the Olympics being a nomadic event is that it would act as a catalyst for sustainable investment and development, otherwise why not keep the Olympics in one location? Surely if the Olympics 2012 are judged to have failed to provide this investment – a huge opportunity for London and England to lead by example – then the travelling nature of the competition must be reconsidered in light of the sacrifices needed to stage it. The most interesting aspect of the argument is whether or not the various agencies behind the developments of the Olympics will be (or can be) held accountable, if indeed the legacies they promise do not materialise. The premise of a green Olympics was posted on this blog in the last few weeks, the trumpeting of positive grassroots sports and participation impacts has abruptly ceased due to reports that stated a contrary reality. Will the IOC and the London Development Agency (LDA) be allowed to quietly walk away if they fail to meet their green targets? If inaccurate claims on this scale are not challenged, then increasingly grandiose, unfounded promises will continue to be made to secure contracts that allow unchecked – and in many cases unlawful – planning and construction.

Sources: Raising The Bar, published by the Green Party; The Guardian; Londonoutloud.com; ODA’s Sustainable Development Strategy & Olympic.org (Official website of the Olympic Movement)

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14 Reasons for Opposing the Sochi 2014 Olympics

The Sochi Olympics of 2014 will be the 150th commemorative year of the Circassian Genocide. Choosing Sochi as the site of the Winter Olympics, in such an auspicious year for the Russians, represents the perpetual celebration of Imperial Russia’s oppression and systematic murder of the Circassian People. Building the Olympic Village over the mass graves of the victims symbolizes the virtual erasing of this atrocity! 

14 Reasons for Opposing Sochi 2014

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Park to be tarmaced for Olympics

Drapers Field, a park in Leyton that consists of all-weather football pitches, playing fields and an arts centre, is to be tarmaced over to serve as a storage depot for the London Olympics. While Waltham Forest council admitted that this would be a significant loss to the community – the park is used by around 100,000 people every year, including the Norlington School for Boys as well as 23 clubs – it still went ahead with the proposal, in the hope that the community will be granted substantial compensation.

Hackney Marshes – one of several parks to be redeveloped for Olympic facilities

This decision has caused uproar with local people because of the glaring contradiction of trying to promote sport as a co-operative, public activity whilst reducing opportunities for actively participating in sport. It also seems to be nonsensical to turn a park into a depot, search for alternative sites for sports activities and then restore the original site after 2012, when all the council or the ODA (Olympic Delivery Authority) would have to do is find an already existing depot in the area. These admittedly are of course hard to find in East London.

This is not the first requisition of public green space in the interest of the upcoming mega-event; a substantial chunk of Hackney Marshes has already been pocketed for the development of a VIP coach park.

This must also be frustrating for residents in a location where local sport – particularly in the shape of Leyton Orient FC who make use of the amenities – plays a positive role in the community. In the meantime, Norlington School for Boys face an uphill struggle to find fields for activities, and most likely a further dip into the school budget.

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