London 2012 was among the most successful Olympic and Paralympic Games ever, and the glow from “the greatest show on earth” remains. Whenever we see an image of Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Ellie Simmonds, David Weir or Usain Bolt, to name just a few of the athletes, we are reminded of a summer that truly was like no other.
But London’s Olympics project was always about more than a spectacular summer of sport. The British government and the mayor of London also bid to host the games in order to use the investment for a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the Stratford area of the UK capital’s East End.
Industrial decline since the second world war means that east London has suffered from a lack of physical, social and economic development.
While investment to tackle this problem has had a long and varied history, the Olympics and Paralympics provided a unique opportunity to bring together resources at a level rarely seen in modern times.
The government saw an opportunity for the games to attract business and investment to the area, to clean and develop a site the size of central London’s Hyde Park, and to improve transport connections – all with the aim of narrowing the social and economic gap between affluent areas of London and the East End, and transforming the lives of east Londoners.
Backed by political will, a fixed deadline and the best of British industry and ingenuity, we have seen a new part of London form in a way similar to that in which South Kensington resulted from the Great Exhibition in 1851 and the South Bank from the Festival of Britain 100 years later.
Over the past six years, Stratford has become a destination and economic centre in London, building on and learning the lessons from work that began some 30 years ago with the first steps of development in Docklands.
Stratford Station is now one of the best-connected places in Europe. The £1.45bn Westfield project, Europe’s largest urban shopping centre, has provided 10,000 jobs, with neighbouring East Village providing 2,800 homes, half of which are affordable housing.
Other new developments – such as Strand East and Lend Lease’s £1.3bn Stratford City International Quarter – will provide thousands more jobs and homes. And the establishment of a Birkbeck/University of east London campus in Stratford is forming the basis for the growth of a new academic district.
These new developments surround the Olympic Park that has, since 2007, grown out of a contaminated, underused industrial site. While the park and its world-class venues are testament to the work of UK plc, we will use it as a foundation for a further 20 years’ development to achieve the goal of lasting urban change.
That change stems from a clear, flexible plan starting with the creation of a dedicated legacy body before the games began – a first for an Olympics host city.
But the job is by no means finished. We have begun a £300m project to create Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Called “Clear, Connect, Complete”, this 18-month transformation will clear games infrastructure including temporary venues, walkways and stands, connect the park to the surrounding areas with new roads and pathways, and complete the venues to their legacy designs.
The fruits of that work will be visible from July 2013, when we begin to open the park as a place to live, work and visit. By the time it fully reopens in spring 2014 it will be a destination like no other. One that combines sporting venues with a rolling programme of events and attractions set in some of the most spectacular parklands in Europe.
With millions of visitors a year by 2016, we believe the park can generate about 8,000 new jobs by 2030. Through hundreds of apprenticeships and ambitious local employment targets we can make a real difference to the lives of generations of east Londoners.
The plans include new communities, with 7,000 new homes of which around 2,500 will be affordable, and schools, health centres and other community infrastructure to support local people in the park and the surrounding area.
The future of six of the eight permanent venues has already been secured, with operators in place for when they reopen. The master plan for the park’s future development has been approved, giving us outline planning permission to build five new neighbourhoods.
In the summer, housebuilder Taylor Wimpey and housing association London and Quadrant were appointed to develop the first neighbourhood, called Chobham Manor, with a focus on family homes. And in the coming years there will be more opportunities for investors as the other four neighbourhoods come forward.
This unique approach to physical, social and economic change has been described as a “legacy blueprint” by Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee.
Success is not a given. We have to work hard with the four local councils and other bodies to bring investment to the area. But I believe that well before the last brick is laid in 2030 we will be able to look back at one of the greatest urban regeneration projects London has ever seen.
Dennis Hone is chief executive of London Legacy Development Corporation