Lower Lea Valley

Lower Lea Valley
London borough of Newham
12 February 2007

Behind Stratford’s soon-to-open international station, the Lower Lea Valley sprawls out: a vast, graffitied, post-industrial wilderness of marshes and football pitches, intersected by dirty canals, scattered with pylons and walled in by factories, warehouses and piles of rubbish.

Stratford’s hinterland is, however, about to be transformed into the showpiece for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. Foreign Office Architects, in partnership with Allies and Morrison and HOK Sport, put together a masterplan for the site, including their own design for the stadium and an aquatics centre by Zaha Hadid. To make way for the Olympic Park, electricity lines need to be buried and warehouses knocked down. The scheme also involves relandscaping the scrublands and widening the waterways.

After the two-week event, the stadium will be scaled down, some facilities removed and flats built on some of the land. But the 2.5 sq km park, the largest built in Europe for 150 years, will remain otherwise intact. Compulsory purchasing has taken place and the bulldozers have already moved in.

The Lower Lea Valley lies in the biggest of the GLA’s “opportunity areas” within inner London, and there are wide-reaching plans for regeneration beyond the Olympic Park. Linked to central London and the Docklands and soon with the continent less than two hours away, Stratford is to mushroom into its own city within a city.

“Stratford City” and the “legacy” of the Olympics look set to change the Lea Valley beyond recognition. current condition was documented, perhaps for the last time, in the 2005 film What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day? by the pop group Saint Etienne.1

Working with the director Paul Kelly, the band wanted to record the landscape where plastic was invented and the Labour movement was born, before it disappeared. In an interview for the Telegraph, the group’s Bob Stanley said: “It seemed important to get this strange hinterland on film before it was transformed for good. It was almost like filming an obituary.”2

One of the most outspoken critics of the Lea Valley’s makeover is writer Iain Sinclair. At the 2004 Clerkenwell Literary Festival, he said: “I think that the proposed Olympic site will end up as something that isn’t used, just a ghost of the future.”3

Writing in the Observer in 2006, his fellow author Will Self agreed.

The Olympics will represent a drain on our purses, a waste of our time, a new nadir in our national prestige and a political debacle that will have public servants blaming each other, with the requisite and costly inquiries, for decades to come.4

The Lower Lea Valley is already in the throes of transformation. The site was cleared and construction of the Olympic Park and venues started in 2007. (Last edited: 20 May 2008)

Update 20 May 2008:

Preparations for the games are on schedule, but many of the plans so far revealed have not been well received. The logo for the games, designed by Wolff Olins, has proved unpopular as it is thought too unconventional. On the other hand, the many critics of the stadium by HOK Sport consider the final design too timid for such an important venue. Even Zaha Hadid’s proposed aquatics centre is seen as having been compromised by the organisers’ cost-cutting.

In spite of this perceived thriftiness, the most controversial aspect of the London Olympics remains their (rising) price. At the time the bid for the games was made in 2005, they were predicted to cost about £4bn, but by the end of 2007 this had been revised to over £9bn.5

Construction is due to start in earnest in summer 2008.

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