150724_Olympic Park Regeneration
Helena Shadbolt 27 July 2015

Three years ago, London was getting ready for one of the most exciting and highly anticipated events of its recent history: the Olympic Games. The summer of 2012 was an incredible time for London. We got to see world class athletes like Mo Farah and Usain Bolt triumph on the athletics field and beamed with pride as Jessica Ennis-Hill and Greg Rutherford stormed to victory. It was a time of celebration and patriotism, and if you were lucky enough to watch the games live in the Olympic Park itself, you would know how proud it felt to be British at that time.

Since 2012, the East End’s Olympic Park has undergone a dramatic transformation. Once full of industrial sheds, discarded fridges and burnt-out cars, the site of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park now thrives with luxury flats, cafes and a large shopping mall.

It has defied the sceptics: London’s transport system did not collapse with the influx of 700,000 spectators and unlike other Olympic stadiums in the past; the site has not been left to fester after the games.

But, despite transforming this part of the city, has the Olympic Park provided the kind of legacy the people of the East End were promised?

Unfortunately, one thing the Olympics have not delivered on is boosting sport. According to Sport England, the number of people in England playing sport fell by 220,000 compared with pre-London 2012. This is a shame given that the London Olympics pledged to “inspire a nation” and encourage more people to get active, and considering that £493m has been invested over four years into 46 sports governing bodies, you’d have thought that the figures would look better than this.

However, despite this, the Olympic Park holds wonderful memories for people around the globe, and the regeneration of east London is allowing the legacy of its greatness to flourish. Over the next two decades, the East End will see thousands of new flats being built at the park, West Ham football club will move into the Olympic stadium and the media centre will re-open as “Here East”, a digital and creative industry hub. We can also look forward to several museums opening while University College London, Loughborough University and the London School of Fashion will move into a new part of the site by 2018.

Despite the hefty conversion costs of these new plans, the developments will lead to the creation of jobs, new businesses and keep this part of London thriving for years to come. I’ve spoken to some of my friends who live in the area and they have told me that they wouldn’t have considered living there pre-2012. The investment in the area has made it an exciting place to live with excellent transport links, new restaurants, schools and businesses, making it one of the most up-and-coming parts of London to live in.

I am personally excited about seeing how the regeneration of the Olympic Park develops. Living only a short tube away from Stratford City, I have loved having Westfield Shopping Centre on my doorstep and have even enjoyed the odd cycle past Hackney Wick and around the Olympic park at the weekend. I’m also planning to make the most of their sporting facilities and going down to the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre this summer.

Having said that, a few years down the line, you have to wonder who really benefits from these regenerations. Yes, the improvement to the areas has attracted more tourists, sports fans and potential residents. But like with any up-and-coming area, you get to a point where the hike in property prices and rents rise doesn’t do anyone who’s considering a move there any favours, especially given that the government’s definition of “affordable” has risen to 80% of market rent. We’ve seen it with the likes of Primrose Hill and Clapham over recent years, and we’ll see it again in the close future in places like Elephant & Castle.

So, with this in mind, maybe the real question is whether regeneration can ever remain a positive for any area in the long term.