x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Housing and culture to benefit from Olympic infrastructure

Olympic Park will be renamed and the venues transformed while Olympic village, under its new Qatari owners, will be converted into affordable housing.

LONDON // The end of the Olympics is in sight but its success won't truly be known for years to come. Long after the athletes and visitors have gone, when the cameras have been switched off and the world's press have packed up their notebooks, the legacy of the Games will be built.

Now is the time, according to London Mayor, Boris Johnson, "to alchemise", the Olympic spirit.

"If we can take our cue from those Team GB athletes who have prepared and planned and worked so blindingly hard as they have over the last few years for this moment, then I think we can ensure the continued momentum of London 2012," he said yesterday. "We can secure a transport, housing infrastructure, sporting, cultural and social legacy for London from these Games and turn these Games to gold for decades to come."

Certainly that is what the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) has promised.

Last week they unveiled their plans for the Olympic Park post Games. It will be named Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Covering 226 hectares, it is the largest park established in London since Victorian times.

The infrastructure put in place for the Games - the kilometres of fibre optic broadband, heating, power and telecom networks - will all be used to service more than 10,000 new homes that stand on the site.

The Olympic Village has been bought for £557 million (Dh3.2 billion) by Qatari Diar, the property investment arm of the Qatar government, which has teamed up with the British property developer Delancey Estates.

It will be renamed the East Village and converted into 2,818 homes to be ready in 2013. It is one of five neighbourhoods which will offer an additional 8,000 homes over the next 20 years.

There will be three schools, nine nurseries, three health centres and 29 playgrounds and the target has been set that 35 per cent of the housing should be "affordable".

This means housing rented by local authorities and non-profit organisations. But where it can be rented on for up to 80 per cent of the market rate, and the market rate in this area is about £750 a month for a small two bedroom flat, many have questioned just how "affordable" this really is.

Some members of the East End community have expressed the fear that, far from being given a "golden opportunity" by the Games, they have no place in this vision of East End regeneration.

Speaking last week Daniel Moylan, the chairman of LLDC pledged that the new neighbourhoods would, "stitch together the surrounding communities of a formerly isolated area through new homes, schools, shops, parks, infrastructure and jobs".

At the end of the Paralympics a transformation of the venues costing about £300m will begin. The spectator wings will come off the Aquatics Centre reducing seating capacity to 2,500 and it will reopen to the public in 2014.

The Copper Box - used for handball during the Games - will be one of the first venues to reopen as a multi-use arena. LLDC estimate it will attract 400,000 visitors a year and it will open in summer 2013. The vast Olympic stadium will be reduced in capacity by 20,000 to a 60,000-seater venue.

It will reopen in 2014 and host the 2017 World Athletics Championships.

More than a kilometre of cycle circuit and mountain bike trail will be added to the 6,000 seat Velodrome which will become the VeloPark and Eton Manor Sport Complex - site of the tennis and hockey competitions during the Games - will be renamed Lee Valley Tennis and Hockey Centre.

Five-a-side football pitches will be added to the complex which will host the 2015 European Hockey Championships.

But as impressive as all these so-called legacy venues may be, it is the new housing planned and the new jobs promised that are viewed with most hope and most cynicism by those who have the most to gain or lose.