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Ten years since London 2012: who are the real winners and losers of the Olympics regeneration game?

·9-min read
Legacy: London College of Fashion and V&A East are set to open in the Olympic Park (Alamy Stock Photo)
Legacy: London College of Fashion and V&A East are set to open in the Olympic Park (Alamy Stock Photo)

A decade ago, London was preparing for the start of the 2012 Olympics. Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Nicola Adams and Bradley Wiggins were about to become national heroes.

But the Olympics is never just about sport.

The 2012 Games were the most ambitious and expensive attempt at regeneration through sport that the UK has ever attempted.

The original bid made a series of far-reaching pledges, not least that it would deliver “the regeneration of an entire community for the direct benefit of everyone who lives there”.

So was this grand vision a success?

The billions of pounds of investment were forecast to create a micro-property boom in the Olympic boroughs. House prices in inner London as a whole have risen 137 per cent since 2005. The only Olympic boroughs to have outperformed this are Hackney, where prices have shot up by almost 174 per cent, and Waltham Forest, where prices rose by 145.6 per cent.

Back in 2005, the year London won its bid to host the Games, Newham had some of the capital’s cheapest homes and most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK. Since then, house prices have risen by 109.5 per cent, from £193,600 to £405,600. Stratford, the epicentre of the Games, saw growth of 116 per cent, from an average £209,000 to £502,600.

Olympic boroughs: house price growth

Since 2005 when London won the bid to host the Games

Barking & Dagenham: 109 per cent

Newham: 109.5 per cent

Tower Hamlets: 111.5 per cent

Greenwich: 117.2 per cent

Waltham Forest: 145.6 per cent

Hackney: 173.9 per cent

Source: Hamptons & ONS

Of course, rapid house price growth is not necessarily the kind of legacy London actually needs; affordable and well-designed homes for young people in neighbourhoods which are functional and well-connected are more urgent concerns.

The target for homes

Sebastian Coe promised 30,000 to 40,000 new homes in and around the Olympic Park, much of which would be affordable and aimed at nurses, teachers and other key workers.

So far, according to a spokesman for the London Legacy Development Corporation, about 1,180 new homes have been built in the park, of which about 39 per cent are affordable and aimed at buyers and renters priced out of Stratford. More are in the pipeline and in total almost 6,000 new homes will have been built within the park by 2032, of which about 40 per cent will be affordable. Once nearby new homes are factored in, the Olympics should have delivered 33,000 new homes by 2036.

The amount of affordable housing varies by development, however. In some sites, half are aimed at first-time buyers and young renters, in others there are almost none.

Priced out

Joe Watson and Connor Taylor first moved to Stratford in 2016 but have since bought a home a few miles south in Plaistow (Adrian Lourie)
Joe Watson and Connor Taylor first moved to Stratford in 2016 but have since bought a home a few miles south in Plaistow (Adrian Lourie)

In 2016, 29-year-old Joe Watson and his husband, Connor Taylor, 26, joined a wave of people moving into the Olympic Park which has resulted in Stratford’s population being boosted by 42 per cent to 73,000 since 2005, according to research by real estate company JLL. Many of these newcomers are young — almost a third of Stratford’s residents are aged 25 to 34.

“I really love Stratford,” says Watson. “The access to green space is great… When we first moved here there were only really the chain restaurants at Westfield but that has definitely improved for the better. There are some nice places in the International Quarter London development, and more bars in East Village.”

But Watson, who works in sales and marketing for a management consultancy, and Taylor, a dance instructor with a studio in Hackney Wick (adoredance.london), also note two key failings.

Last year the couple were ready to buy a house, but found themselves thoroughly priced out. “There are some new houses in Chobham Manor, but they are townhouses, they are still leasehold, and they cost well over £1 million,” says Watson.

Watson and Taylor’s solution was to move a couple of miles south, to Plaistow, where their three-bedroom house cost £425,000.

The other issue is the divide which still exists between the newness of the Olympic Park and “old” Stratford. “It is a bit forgotten about,” said Joe. “You only have to go to Stratford Shopping Centre and then compare it to Westfield across the road to see how dated it is.”

Safety concerns

An even more serious failing is playing out at the athletes’ village, which was converted into apartments. Sam Williams, 31, and his wife Harriet, 32, bought a 30 per cent share of a £390,000 two-bedroom flat in East Village.

Three years later the accountants bought out Triathlon Homes to become full owners of the property, which by 2017 was valued at £455,000. But in 2019 when they were ready to sell up, an External Wall System Fire Review found that their building was covered in potentially flammable cladding (since removed and replaced), alongside safety problems with its timber balconies and fire breaks between flats.

Sam Williams at his flat in East Village (Sam Williams)
Sam Williams at his flat in East Village (Sam Williams)

About 50 homes in the Williams’ buildings and scores elsewhere in the development are similarly beset by fire safety issues rendering them unmortgageable and potentially dangerous. It is hoped their building will be repaired by March 2024.

“If that happens it will have been a five-year wait,” says Williams. “That is longer than it took to actually build the Olympic Village.”

On the map

Looking back at the entire project, Sophie Rosier, a director in Savills’ residential development team, thinks the big success of Project Stratford is simply putting it on the map.

As a knock-on effect, she said, there has also been huge investment south of the Olympic Park, running along the River Lea to Canning Town.

On the flip side she feels that the entire approach to building at Stratford — “big tower block, big bit of green space, big tower block” — has rapidly become outdated. “I think we have learned a lot about master-planning since the Olympics,” she says.

The Olympic legacy: a triumph, or missed opportunity?

New jobs

The promise: More than 50,000 new jobs would be created in the Lower Lea Valley.

The reality: It turns out that the LLDC defines job creation as including relocating existing employees to Stratford.

On that basis, with 5,500 jobs at Here East, a massive 25,000 in the new offices at IQL, and thousands more coming at East Bank (Stratford’s cultural quarter which is, or will be, home to staff from University College London, the London College of Fashion, the BBC, Sadler’s Wells and the Victoria & Albert Museum) this target will be met.

According to Newham Council unemployment in the borough is currently running at 6.9 per cent, well over the 4.4 per cent average for England.

A sporting nation

Pledge: To leverage the games to encourage more people to participate in sport.

The reality: Our Olympians and Paralympians certainly treated the nation to a thrilling and inspiring summer of sport; Alistair and Jonny Brownlee in the triathlon, the British cyclists’ domination of the velodrome, Jonnie Peacock’s record breaking sprint …

Sport England’s Active People Survey ran between 2005 and 2016 to assess  how many Brits took part in sport. In October 2006 34.6 per cent of people participated in sport once a week. In October 2016 that had inched up to 36.1 per cent.

An economic windfall

The pledge: That the cost of the Olympics would be recouped thanks to vast inward investment.

The reality: The cost of staging the games spiralled to £11bn (not including costs after the event, like converting the Olympic Stadium into a football ground).

However a Government report published in 2013 estimated that the boost to tourism, construction, and trade could generate up to £41bn in return.

The LLDC calculates that the World Athletics Championships in 2017 alone generated £107m, while two Major League Baseball matches in 2019 delivered another £47m.

Set against these wins are losses the taxpayer has had to take on. The ArcelorMittal Orbit was always a weird idea, ticket sales have been disappointing, and it is currently some £13m in debt.

The Olympic Stadium cost a cool £486m to build, plus more than £323m to convert it for West Ham’s use. The club contributed around £15m towards the work and pays £2.5m a year in rent. The rest came mostly from the taxpayer. A year later an inquiry denounced the loss-making deal, which still costs the taxpayer around £10m a year.

New homes

The promise: Sebastian Coe promised 30 to 40,000 new homes in and around the Olympic Park, much of which would be affordable and aimed at nurses, teachers and other key workers.

The reality: So far, according to a spokesman for the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), around 1,180 new homes have been built on the Olympic Park, of which around 39 per cent ara affordable and aimed at buyers and renters priced out of Stratford.

More are in the pipeline and in total almost 6,000 new homes will have been built within the Olympic Park by 2032, of which around 40 per cent will be affordable.

Once nearby new homes are factored in, the Olympics should have delivered 33,000 new homes by 2036.

The amount of affordable housing varies by development, however: in some sites half the homes are aimed at first time buyers and young renters, in others there are almost none.

And the housing need in the area is still desperate, with some 34,000 households on Newham Council’s housing waiting list.

House prices

The promise: The Olympic bounce.

The reality: Never an official pledge, but as Stratford’s redevelopment swung into action so commentators confidently predicted that billions of pounds worth of investment would create a micro property boom in the Olympic boroughs.

In fact, the only Olympic boroughs to have outperformed the rest of inner London since 2004 are Hackney (which contains the west side of the Olympic Park), where prices have shot up by almost 174 per cent, and Waltham Forest. Although its games contribution was minimal – synchronised swimming and water polo anyone? – its prices have been driven up by 145.6 per cent.

The winners within the Olympic boroughs, where prices have more than tripled, are E9 (Hackney Wick, Homerton, and Victoria Park), with growth of an astonishing 202 per cent, and E8 (Dalston and Hackney Wick), where prices have jumped 201 per cent. But it has to be said that these areas benefited more from the ripple of buyers out from Islington and Shoreditch and the arrival of gastropubs, art galleries, and bars, than they did from the games themselves.

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