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The Aftermath 2012

An article 'What Olympic Legacy?' published in the July 2011 issue of the Chartist with links added

The Olympics is a sports jamboree lasting a few weeks which requires host cities to create a new Park every two years. To make this extravagance more palatable the host city contract requires a legacy after the Games. So London 2012 is supposed to make Britain fit and healthy and undo decades of neglect in East London. Nevertheless a full legacy plan, promised in 2006, is still awaited.

Regardless of the quasi-legal language of inheritance the beneficiaries of this legacy have to pay for it themselves. The already inflated £9.3billion budget does not include the cost of acquiring and remediating the land or the Olympics spending of councils, quangos and government departments. In 2009, based on FoI requests, the Taxpayers’ Alliance calculated the cost at £12billion. 'Much' of the £1.13billion national security budget for 2012 will go on the Olympics, taking it closer to £13billion. [Since this piece was written Sky has estimated the cost at between £12 and £24billion, an entirely plausible figure. My only quibble would be that it includes non-existent transport infrastructure improvements. But then if the Olympics claims them they should go in the budget.] Hundreds of millions of pounds were diverted from Lottery funding for children’s sport and community and arts programmes.

Another cost is the forgotten legacies. London 2012 is a land grab designed to create ‘opportunities for property developers’. A working industrial area was dismissed as a ‘scar’. Business owners were denied the true price of their land, two Traveller communities had to move while the Clays Lane community was demolished, leaving residents on average £50 a week worse off. Open space was lost at Hackney Marshes, Arena Fields, which is registered as common land but was built over for the Media and Broadcasting Centre, now Here East, the Eastway Cycle Track and Major Road while a set of allotments was relocated to a waterlogged site.

Then there are the legacies which never were, like the Athletes’ Village, which the ODA admits would have been built anyway, or the ‘largest new park in Europe for 150 years’ which can only claim to be the largest new urban open space in London since 1996. The European Tourism Operators Association has long warned there wouldn’t be a tourism legacy. VisitBritain finally acknowledged this in 2010.

Next are the doubtful legacies. In 2007 the Commons DCMS Select Committee warned an increase in sport participation was unlikely. Five years later the Sustainability Commission, which feebly monitors London 2012, reached the same conclusion. The original plan for a dedicated athletics stadium has been abandoned while there is a lack of community sports facilities. The swimming centre will be difficult to adapt for public use and the BMX and cycle circuits simply replace the demolished Eastway facilities.

London 2012 has claimed to be a ‘green’ Olympics, but the wind turbines have been abandoned, almost no material has been moved by canal and its record on not using roads rests on the fortunate coincidence that there is a railhead on site. Over 7,000 tonnes of radioactively contaminated soil, including some non-exempt material, is stored on the Park, radioactive material was lost and permissions for work were given retrospectively. Land which did not need to be remediated was dug up creating a radioactive dust hazard for neighbouring communities and most of the Park is covered with a plastic sheet to warn developers that further remediation may be needed.

The Olympics also allows for experimental legacies, like the creation of a special development authority, the alteration of planning rules and powers to take over parkland like Wanstead Flats and Greenwich Park. Extraordinary security measures can be tested, drones overflying the Olympic Park, anti-terrorism exercises on inner city housing estates, armed transport police on the Tube, a top security Park surrounded by an electrified fence and an exclusion zone in which no protest will be allowed. Likewise, British Waterways is using the Olympics to introduce new rules governing boat owners’ use of the canals.

Then there’s the legacy de resistance, the regeneration of East London. Except Stratford already had a regeneration programme, Stratford City, expected to create 35,000 jobs and over 5,000 homes. It also had fantastic transport connections. In fact the authorities agreed development would have happened anyway and the Olympics, by taking land out of circulation, would actually slow that process. Another development programme will further boost property prices making it harder for existing communities to live in Stratford.

On the jobs legacy, the LDA warns that its own projections should be treated ‘with caution’ and are spread over a ‘thirty year economic cycle’. 5,000 ‘dirty’ industrial jobs were removed, to be replaced by new ‘clean’ jobs. In Docklands local unemployment rose even as new jobs were created at Canary Wharf. However, no creative industries have shown any interest in the Media and Broadcasting Centre where these ‘clean’ jobs are supposed to be located.

Finally, there’s the anticipated legacy. In 2002, long before the credit crunch, Game Plan, a Government report signed by Tony Blair, said ‘We conclude that the quantifiable evidence to support each of the perceived benefits for mega events is weak, The explicit costs of hosting a mega event should be weighed very carefully against the perceived benefits…(which) appear to be more about celebration than economic returns’. The party legacy!

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