From Havering in the East to Hillingdon in the West, from the North’s Barnett and Enfield boroughs, to the Southern boroughs of Sutton, Croydon and Bromley, and those in between – Merton, Greenwich, Ealing, Hounslow, Waltham Forest, Bexley, to name but a few, the vast conurbation of Greater London covers a lot of territory.
Some of it borders the more central boroughs, gradually shifting from inner to outer to greater London, but it is a varied mix of urban, old industrial and leafy suburb that presents a challenging mix of housing and regeneration issues. However, the East dominates the regeneration landscape, figuratively and quite literally, as this former industrial powerhouse is transformed.
For obvious reasons, the Olympics dominate attention and for those boroughs at the heart of this redevelopment it is a chance of a lifetime. Certainly, the borough of Newham intends to use the Games to the full.
“Newham is at the heart of London’s future,” declares the council’s Economic Development Strategy, published in October last year. “More jobs are likely to be created in the borough over the next two decades than anywhere else in London. Investment in Newham’s Arc of Opportunity from the Olympic Park and Stratford Metropolitan Centre in the North to the Royal Docks in the South will create a new part of London, and transform the borough’s economy and the life chances of its residents… The 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games are the catalysts for this transformation.”
There’s nothing quite like optimism, especially in this day and age of austerity and ‘social downsizing’ of the public sector in terms of funding and jobs, with its knock-on effects for the wider economy, but in seeking to use the Olympics to its own advantage, Newham – not to mention the other boroughs in the Games’ zone – must also navigate the most challenging aspect of all: to avoid becoming steamrollered by the huge international juggernaut that is the Olympic Games. Legacies, we have been assured since day one, are all part and parcel of the process – the host boroughs shall not be left behind – however, that is apparently not all as cut and dried as smooth assurances suggest.
What follows the Games in terms of a positive legacy remains unclear, as a recent National Audit Office (NAO) report indicated. For all the promise, there is the risk that the region may find itself host to a number of white elephants once the pomp, ceremony and sporting action is over.
Despite the progress made, the NAO highlighted that “while the Government Olympic Executive is accountable for the success of the legacy and has set out the four strands of its work, it has not yet estimated the net benefits it expects to accrue to the UK which can be directly attributed to the G ames”.
Amyas Morse, the NAO’s head, added: “The final cost of the Games to the taxpayer is inherently uncertain and as the Games near there will be less flexibility to make savings in response to any unforeseen financial pressure.”
This isn’t exactly music to the ears of London’s Council Tax payers (freeze or no freeze) who will be picking up some of the tab for the Games for years to come, still less for those living and working in the Games’ development epicentre. In the wake of the NAO ’s report, it’s not so much a case of Bow Bells ringing for a new generation of Eastenders, but for the elected Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales a case of alarm bells.
“If this Government fails to plan for a meaningful legacy then the Games will be nothing but a vanity parade – and that would be a disaster given the amount of public money already ploughed into staging the Olympics,” said Sir Robin.
“The [Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC)] has been doing great work but it is evident from the report that the Government Olympic Executive now needs to get a grip on just how important the legacy is for East Londoners. W hile the report reminds us of the key promises, there’s no acknowledgement of the fact that the host boroughs were on the receiving end of some of the largest cuts to local authorities in the country.
“Along with the other host boroughs, we’re at the forefront of delivering a legacy for our residents in terms of jobs, housing and health benefits from increased sports activity. However, Newham, Hackney and Tower Hamlets all received the maximum cut imposed by the Department for Communities & Local Government. This endangers our ability to contribute to providing legacy for our residents. Combined with the Government’s lack of legacy planning and the fact that the Games are [so near] alarm bells should be ringing.”
Yet the prize is surely a worthy one, if the promise can be made into somekind of reality. The Eastern swathes of London’s vast urban sprawl are considered to have considerable potential to drive forward the UK ’s economic growth – providing regeneration is carried through successfully.
In December last year, a study by Oxford Economics suggested a fully regenerated East London could contribute a staggering £21 billion a year to London’s economic wealth. The East already accounts for around 15 per cent of the capital’s Gross Value Added (GVA), the organisation said.
London has consistently outperformed the national average since 1990 in terms of economic performance and job creation. In this timeframe, it has created 940,000 jobs, with East London steadily taking on a rising share. Indeed, according to Oxford Economics, between 2000-2008, it was accounting for a quarter of all the new jobs created. Looking ahead, the organisation claims the region has the potential to create an extra 180,000 jobs over the next 25 years.
Peter Andrews, chief executive of the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (LTGDC) said: “Nowhere in London is there such an extraordinary package of development or the scale of both opportunity and land to accommodate significant growth. For London to remain a competitive world-class city it’s going to be reliant on East London for a significant proportion of its jobs and housing growth.”
If Newham is at the epicentre of the Olympic regeneration, Barking & Dagenham lies at the heart of the Thames Gateway. This is a huge and longstanding programme of regeneration and urban renewal that is said to be the largest regeneration area in Europe, while the Barking Riverside development, which effectively creates a new town out of the ruins of bygone industrial land, is said to be the single biggest brownfield redevelopment in the UK.
Not as glamorous as the Olympics projects, perhaps, but the Thames Gateway schemes inevitably overlap with the Games programme since they share some of their turf, such as the Lower Lea Valley, where the Olympic Park construction is underway.
The full extent of the Thames Gateway stretches some 40 miles along the Thames estuary, from London’s Docklands to Southend in Essex and Sheerness in Kent. The overall scheme is vast, and the vision aims for over 160,000 new homes, the revitalisation of existing town centres and transport links, parklands, and commercial buildings to create a major extension of the capital. For Barking & Dagenham, it represents the biggest transformation of the borough since industrialisation swept it up into the urban embrace.
Though Greater London’s ‘centre of gravity’ may have been pulled Eastwards by the scale of the Olympics and the gargantuan Thames Gateway regeneration, not every Eastern borough stands to gain quite so much from these major-league regeneration schemes, nor is the Eastern flanks of the conurbation the be-all-andend- all of Greater London. W hat about the rest of the city’s outlying boroughs?
Well, last month the Mayor of London Boris Johnson announced the £50 million Outer London Fund intended to specifically help with the revitalisation of town centres in the boroughs that won’t directly benefit from the 2012 Games.
“This fund is a vital shot in the arm for our town centres and just the help needed to get new projects off the ground that wouldn’t otherwise happen,” said London Mayor Boris Johnson. “I am delighted that after months of hard negotiations we have secured a significant pot of money to help projects really motor and we now have the means to nurture developments, increase work and leisure opportunities and make futures bright.
“It is vital we address the historic neglect of the outer boroughs that preceded this mayoralty and this is one of the ways we can start delivering growth. What we know through the work we have already done with the Outer London Commission is that one of the greatest economic assets provided by the outer boroughs is the quality of life afforded to residents.
“We are talking about the places people call home – the communities they care about, the commercial centres where they shop, where their kids play, where they meet friends or spend time with their families. These places are the very beating heart of communities and also offer great economic wealth that needs to be fully tapped into.”
Set against the billions pumped in to the Lower Lea Valley or the Thames Gateway region, that 50 million quid for the outlying boroughs might seem like small change, but it is a question of scale, of course, and the money was welcomed by those speaking on the boroughs’ behalf.
“Outer London offers not only a tremendous quality of life, but has major interests and businesses of its own,” said Councillor Teresa O ’Neill, leader of Bexley Council, and an advisor to the Outer London Commission. “Its success is vital to the economy of London and to the nation as a whole. This money will make a significant difference in making sure that outer London plays a full part in the capital’s continued success.”
The welcome for the funding extends Westwards too, with Merton’s Assembly Member Richard Tracey, who said: “I’m delighted that Boris is continuing to invest in outer London town centres and making sure that all Londoners benefit from his Mayoralty. The regeneration of local centres is vital to maintaining and improving the quality of life of people who live and work in Merton. Outer London provides two fifths of all the jobs in the capital, so it is very important that it is supported so that new opportunities can be created for local people.”