One year on: the transformation of London’s Olympic park
The Olympic Games were a triumph in 2012 and the Queen Elizabeth Park was the star of the show. But, a year on, the site is a mass of cranes and bulldozers. Jacquelin Magnay takes a look at the real Olympic legacy.
In his hi-tech glass and chrome office in Stratford, east London, Dennis Hone, the chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), is jotting numbers on scraps of paper. Looking up, he points towards the Olympic Stadium, the jutting ArcelorMittal Orbit, the rolling lines of the Zaha Hadid-designed Aquatics Centre, and poses the question with which he and scores of others are now wrestling. ‘Why would people cross the bridge, leave the comfort of retail therapy and go over to the park?’ he asks.
By Hone’s maths, there will be 9.3 billion visitors to London’s newest attraction, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, by 2016. But on this bleak, overcast day the park’s appeal has fallen about as low as the unseasonal spring temperatures. The joy and ebullience of tens of thousands of spectators is long absent; the feats of athleticism, bravery and skill in the park’s various stadiums have given way to the mundane grind of giant earthmoving equipment and scores of purposeful men in hi-vis jackets. Not only do the Olympics and Paralympics seem a distant memory, so do many of the physical elements of this revitalised square mile in east London. Gone are the colossal wings of the Aquatic Centre, and the last of the basketball arena’s skeletal structure. Much of the park is already unrecognisable – not that many people are allowed to see it.
For the past 10 months wire fencing, patrolled 24 hours by security, has shrouded the site of the capital’s greatest modern triumph. It will remain there for the rest of this year, rendering much of the park off-limits to the public.
Yet inside, the long-term vision for this vast space is beginning to take shape. When it is completed there will be two new schools, 1.9 million square feet of retail and entertainment areas, 22 miles of cycle- and footpaths, nine miles of new roads and four miles of waterways – and five world-class sporting venues. To help ease London’s housing shortage there will be about 8,000 new homes. If you were lucky enough to have visited this part of town last summer you might struggle to get your bearings.