Londoners skeptical of lasting Olympic legacy | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 03.07.2012
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Londoners skeptical of lasting Olympic legacy

Ever since London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics, there's been dispute over how funds to host the Games should be used. East Londoners, in particular, are angry over the government's "regeneration plans."

Olympic rings made up of 25,000 flowers are seen at Kew Gardens in London April 18, 2012. The rings were unveiled on Wednesday to mark the 100 day point before the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games, and standing inside the rings were torchbearers, games makers, London 2012 Festival participants and parents of TeamGB athletes. REUTERS/ Lewis Whyld/Pool (BRITAIN - Tags: SOCIETY SPORT OLYMPICS)

Kew Gardens in London

"We're hearing more and more about the amount of public money that's being spent for this five week jamboree, and as someone who's been living in the area all my life, and who intends to carry on living here, I would like to feel more assured than I do that this money is going to benefit local people," East London-based housing worker and campaigner Glyn Robbins told DW when asked how he feels about the upcoming Olympics.

Robbins is disillusioned by his fears that of the more than nine billion pounds (11 billion euros) being spent on the London Games not enough is going to be used for any real regeneration of the East London area.

"Only a fraction of what's being built is going to be made available to local people, for instance housing that anybody here can afford, so that's a very concrete example of a disconnection between what we're hearing from the Olympics PR machine and reality," he said.

The authorities argue that the money has been well spent on building new venues, many of which are designed to last well beyond this summer. Ian Crockford, project manager of the Olympic Park, told DW that an entire area of London will be "basically regenerated."

"We've cleaned up the land and done a lot of work on the utilities and now have a fantastic new park in London and anything else that wasn't financially sustainable, we've actually just built in a temporary fashion."

Londoners hope that Olympic venues will truly be built to last

Londoners hope that venues will truly be built to last

Fed up with deception

Among the venues designed to last is the main Olympic Park near Stratford in East London.

"It's designed for legacy and there's a whole array of sports and cultural uses for it, so it's going to be a fantastic addition to this neighborhood and this area of London, and really get full use," Crockford said.

Julian Cheyne of Counter Olympics Network

Julian Cheyne refers to London 2012 as 'Lying 2012'

This is exactly the kind of rhetoric, however, that has perplexed people like Julian Cheyne, who has first-hand experience of what the regeneration of East London entails. Cheyne was evicted from his home in Clay's Lane in 2007 to make way for the Olympic Park, and he told DW that the compensation he received from the state was much less than he and other evictees would have expected or hoped for.

But what's far more aggravating, Cheyne said, is the way in which Olympics officials are attempting to "deceive" the people of East London.

"The 'regeneration' in connection with London 2012 is more or less a land grab being carried out by the state. Development in these parts of London - Stratford, Newham, the Docks and the like - has been taking place for decades. The organizers, including the British government, are trying to make it look now as if they are bringing 'development' here for the first time. What's actually happening here is a 'legal' seizure of land, one that has held back the natural form of development that was already taking place here."

Boon for developers?

Cheyne is the spokesman for the umbrella group Counter Olympics Network (CON), which is planning a series of demonstrations in the run-up to and during the Games. "We're opposed to what's being done with this land here because it's not in the interests of the people that live in and around Stratford and Newham right now. It's much more in the interests of property developers who have been given land and will be able to construct new housing complexes and charge much higher rents than before. And, honestly, to sell this as a 'regeneration' of an already socially connected and viable community is just not on."

UK and Olympics officials counter such claims with the argument that the sheer scale of the projects being carried out in and beyond the Olympic Park in Stratford means the image of East London will be "enhanced greatly" and thus bring in money from tourism - during and after the Games.

"The park in Stratford will be a very exciting place to be, but there are a lot of other venues going up in the area that will bring an array of exciting experiences for tourists who come here. Just being here, being able to see all the cultural events taking place, will contribute greatly to the way people view East London from now on," John Armitt, head of the Olympic Delivery Authority, told DW.

The sprucing up of East London is one of the four main points of the UK's high-level pledge to establish a lasting legacy from the 2012 Olympics: Point four of that pledge, put out in a document by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), reads: "Ensuring that the Olympic Park can be developed after the Games as one of the principal rivers of regeneration in East London."

Entrance to Stratford City in East London

Stratford City in East London began 'redeveloping' long before London won the bid to host the Olympics

Independent observers of the developments in East London, however, are also skeptical of one of the main promises found in that document concerning the creation of over 5,000 new homes in and around the Olympic Park after the Games are over.

"Wealth is going to remain in the hands of those who already have it," Jules Boykoff, a political scientist who contributes to the Guardian," told DW in an interview. "I would be very surprised if this doesn't mean property developers will have even more opportunities to promote a kind of gentrification that will make it more difficult for those living here now to continue doing so."

The latest statistics suggest that the British people, not just those disillusioned East Londoners like Glyn Robbins or Julian Cheyne, are skeptical of the lasting legacy of London 2012. According to a survey compiled by the international online market research agency YouGov, around 64 percent of Brits say the Olympics will "not be good for people like them," while 40 percent say London "should not have bid" to host the Games in the first place.

Author: Gabriel Borrud
Editor: Helen Seeney