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How the 2012 Olympics is selling East London short, and a 10 point plan for a more positive local legacy

Waterlogged Allotments at Marsh Lane Fields.  Feb  2008 ©Martin SlavinWaterlogged Allotments at Marsh Lane Fields. Feb 2008 © Martin Slavin

From: 'Fools Gold' a report by the New Economics Foundation

This purpose of this report is to examine how to ensure the 2012 Olympics leaves a positive local legacy for the residents of East London. The remit of the work was to reopen and reframe the debate around the Olympic legacy and suggest new approaches for maximising the public and community benefit – social, economic and environmental – created by the Games.

The 2012 London Olympics have been presented by the Government and the Olympic delivery bodies as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity to help regenerate one of the UK’s most economically disadvantaged areas, the Lower Lea Valley.

Few would question that the bid’s greatest strength was the social, economic and environmental legacy that it proposed to create for this area and its positioning of the Games as complementing the broader economic development of the Lower Lea Valley, Europe’s largest regeneration project. No previous Games has made regeneration so central to its vision. It is intended that this should leave a legacy which has been defined as: new sports facilities, housing, increased employment and a more skilled population, as well as industrial, technical and transport infrastructure that will further help regenerate the area.

Significant supply-side interventions – including huge training and brokerage programmes – are taking place to get the local population and businesses ready to take advantage of the opportunities created by the Games. Local expectations are high. There is no doubt that the Olympics will bring about a permanent change to the economy of East London, The question is what kind of change, and who will benefit.

Here lies the challenge. The problem is that previous Olympics have failed to help the most economically disadvantaged groups living in the areas where the Games have taken place. In the UK, flagship regeneration projects in East London and elsewhere have also failed to improve the well-being of local residents. The Docklands development is the most glaring example.

What tends to happen instead is that regeneration leads to gentrification. Assets of the local communities get transferred out of the local area, because local people who don’t own local homes or business are priced out of the area. High land values, fragmented ownership patterns and poor engagement of the community in planning decisions and local stewardship all go together to undermine the development of sustainable communities. Local retail, services, and local enterprises struggle to survive in the face of rising commercial rents and competition from larger companies.

Yet it is the general public that pays for the Olympics and arguably the poorest residents of the area supposed to be regenerated who pay the highest costs, certainly in terms of disruption and dislocation. The various delivery bodies involved in the Games have promised new jobs, new businesses, new green areas and new homes. But big questions remain about precisely how local people and local businesses will benefit from the preparation, delivery or legacy of the Games.

It is already clear that smaller, local firms are struggling to compete for a part of the huge Olympic construction, service and sponsorship contracts, many of the latter already allocated to multinational firms with no obligation to make sure that investment benefits the local community. At the time of writing, of the approximately 500 contracts already awarded, worth £1 billion, only 11 per cent had gone to companies based within the five Olympic boroughs. There is still little clarity about who will own, manage and fund, particularly revenue funding, the Olympic legacy.

The initial legacy plans for the Olympic physical assets seem to have little connection to the needs of local residents. There have been only tokenistic attempts by the organising Olympic authorities, ODA and LOCOG, to give local people and organisations an active role in the legacy planning process. There was a commitment to ‘sustainable regeneration’ in the 2007 Olympic and Paralympic planning applications, but it is still not clear what mechanisms and organisational infrastructure are in place to capture and safeguard the benefits of investment in the area for the benefit of the people who live there.

In the broader scheme of regeneration projects in the Lower Lea Valley, the Olympics pale in comparison in size and value with Stratford City, Crossrail and a number of other large regeneration programmes . Yet because of the intense media attention and the Games ideals – peace, common humanity and dignity – they have enormous symbolic value. Promises around local regeneration and legacy thus have enormous importance in terms of setting a standard for other developments.

This report sets out a vision for the creation of real community assets for the Lower Lea Valley that could prevent it being trampled in the Olympic gold rush. It comes at a key time.

The Olympic Board published its Sustainability Plan in December 2007 and the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 has issued its first report, casting some doubts on the ability of the Olympic authorities to deliver on their sustainability objectives. While much of the planning and procurement for the Games has already been completed, most of the Tier Two supplier decisions will be made in 2008. LOCOG will shortly be publishing its own procurement policy which could still provide an opportunity to harness the potential for community benefit.

On the legacy front, the Olympic Board is currently in the process of completing the Olympic Legacy Masterplan Framework (OLMF) for the Olympic Park after the end of the Games. The masterplan will form the basis of an outline planning application in 2009 which will provide the context for the development of the Olympic Park after 2012.

On the Olympic site itself, ODA has developed a preferred consortium of developers to take on the legacy planning for the 15,000 square metre Olympic Village, which will include 4,000 homes, 30 per cent of which are intended to be ‘affordable’. The consortium is currently developing its plans which will include a Section 106 agreement leading to the creation of a community development trust. The London Thames Gateway Development Corporation is also consulting on a comprehensive Section 106 strategy for the wider Lower Lea Valley development programme.

How can London 2012 create a meaningful legacy? Around the UK there are many examples of how community benefits can be built into major procurement projects. There are other examples of how the wealth created by major investments can stay circulating in local communities. East London includes some of the most deprived areas of the country, but it is also home to many enterprising small businesses and communities, many of whom have come to the UK to make a better life for their families. If the wealth creation the Games will deliver can leverage this enterprise and energy, rather than displace it, then the regeneration aims that were so integral to the 2012 bid might still be achieved.

From: Introduction to 'Fools Gold', New Economics Foundation, April 2008.

Available from: NEF

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