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East London and the Olympics
2012 is the year that London hosts the Olympics, the greatest sporting event in the world. The event has been promoted as bringing great opportunity and hope to those working and living in the boroughs surrounding the Olympic site. But what will the Olympics really mean to east London?
Elaine Hannay, who lives and works there, explains the reality of life next to the Olympic Park.
The overall cost of the games reached £9.5 billion in June 2011. Recently, the House of Commons public accounts committee revealed costs were "heading for around £11 billion". In 2010 Ladbrokes stopped taking bets on the final cost exceeding £20 billion. And recently Sky Sports added in the costs of the public transport upgrades and came up with £24 billion.
The five host boroughs, Newham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Greenwich are some of the most deprived boroughs in Britain, alongside neighbouring Barking and Dagenham.
People have to endure rising unemployment, poor housing conditions, child poverty and high crime levels.
The London Organising committee has given Tower Hamlets £1.1 million to cover the additional costs of the impact of the games. But some estimates put the real cost to the borough at nearer £7 million.
Statistics released in October 2011 declared Newham as having the highest unemployment rate in London at 7.5%, with 11,957 residents claiming Jobseeker's Allowance.
The Olympic delivery authority's employment and skills update in July 2011 declared that just over 25% (2,725 out of 10,621) of contractors were residents of the five host boroughs. Of these only 541 had previously been unemployed.
At the core of the London Olympic bid was a commitment to provide the investment required to fund the long-term renewal of East London. But the congestion on roads and public transport, constant crowds, late night noise, disruption to communication technology and the knock-on effect on support services are not an attractive prospect to most residents.
To aid the road transportation of the 55,000 strong Olympic 'family' - athletes, officials, journalists and sponsors, an Olympic route network (ORN) has been planned. The core route will have an inside lane purely for the use of the Olympic family with high penalty charges for improper use.
The aim is for a free flow of traffic, therefore all right hand turns and pedestrian crossings will be suspended along the route of the ORN. Travelling by road will become extremely difficult. The main roads through Tower Hamlets are already some of the busiest and most congested routes in London.
Tube usage is expected to increase to 200% over current capacity during the Olympics. Estimates are that at peak times it could take two hours from street level to getting on a train.
Mile End park is in the centre of Tower Hamlets and has a stadium. It will be used by the USA as a training ground.
The USA team have been reported as saying that they welcome the opportunity to interact with the locals and will encourage visits from local residents.
But the likelihood is that there will be restricted access and increased security around this large area, as well as additional traffic as the competitors travel between the site and the main Olympic stadium.
Residents close to Victoria Park, which borders Hackney and Tower Hamlets, are used to large music events and festivals. It is expected that free events throughout the period of the Olympics including the live screening of the events and other entertainment will attract over a million people a day.
At Fish Island, close to the Olympic Park, one business is opening its car park to screen events to 8,000 people, at a charge, and a warehouse has obtained a licence for a 4,000 capacity night club to run during the Olympic period. These events will all add to the congestion and noise disturbance.
The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be organising hundreds of other small events across the host boroughs.
Local hotels will be hosting celebratory balls and parties and residents will be organising street parties. Apparently it is now not possible to order any road barriers or recognised security guards for events during this period as they are already all fully booked across the country!
A vast amount of technology will be used. The BBC is reported to be planning 24-hour network streaming from the site. Reception for mobile phones as well as internet access will be affected.
As well as general disruption to the personal and professional lives of people living or working within the area, this does raise serious safety concerns. Employers with lone workers are being advised to invest in walkie-talkies.
Some employers have planned well in advance. For some workers all leave has been cancelled and home working is being considered. Tower Hamlets council is even converting office space into dormitories.
One agency is reported to have contacted a chain hotel to enquire about a block booking for its staff if needed. Rooms were still available but at a cost of £600 a night, increasing to £900 if not booked until nearer the time of the games!
A lot of us are cynical about the investment into the "High Street 2012" programme. Parks and buildings are being redeveloped, bringing disused and unused space into use and generally cleaning up certain routes from years of degeneration and lack or investment.
This is only being done as it will be in the spotlight, rather than caring about the needs and life of the local residents and market traders.
This feeling is reinforced by the fact that the Olympic marathon route, which provided the only opportunity for locals to watch an event and feel part of the Olympics, has been moved away from the borough.
People are sceptical about the so-called legacy of the games. Of the 11,000 new homes surrounding the Olympic Park only 35% are promised to be "affordable". Newham currently has a ten-year council waiting list.
A third of the housing in the borough is privately rented at rapidly increasing rents as landlords take advantage of the games. There are many reports of unsuitable buildings with inadequate facilities being used as accommodation, including garages and sheds.
There has been much publicity about the future of the main stadium but whatever the outcome it is unlikely to be accessible to the low-paid and unemployed that make up a large proportion of the population of East London.
When it was announced that London had won the bid for the 2012 Olympics, many east Londoners were excited at the prospect. We have watched the Olympic Park being built but now we feel it is an area of new housing, huge sports facilities and a massive shopping centre that has been placed by others, for others, in the middle of the deprivation and degeneration that we live in.
The Olympic Park Legacy Company has a 25-year plan which in part aims to tackle low educational attainment and life expectancy in the host boroughs, to enable eastenders to enjoy the same quality of life as others in London.
We can't wait for this. We need real investment to provide well maintained social housing, access to appropriate training, real job opportunities and accessible affordable leisure facilities now.
In The Socialist 11 April 2012:
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