The Olympics - a game-changer for Londoners?

  • Former Oxford Brookes student Niall McNevin is a man with a momentous task on his hands.

    The Oxford Brookes alumnus is Director of Planning and Sustainability at the Olympic Park Legacy Company. That means he's involved in of one of the world's most ambitious redevelopment projects - one that will transform parts of London's east end and have an impact on countless inhabitants for decades to come.

    The hundred-year legacy

    Looking across parklands at the Olympic venues

    The Olympic and Paralympic Games take place over just six weeks but it's hoped the positive legacy they will leave to Londoners will last for a century or more.

    Shortly after the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games on September 9, the organisation in which Niall works takes over the park. London is the first Olympic city to have set up a company specifically for legacy before the Games as planners and politicians saw it as an excellent opportunity to combat deprivation affecting the area of London where the Olympic park is located - as Niall explained during a visit to Oxford Brookes:

    "[London] is a world city. It doesn't punch above its weight, it punches right there as a world city. It's renowned and acknowledged across the globe, although inside it there are issues of deprivation."

    The Games could be the catalyst to transform a swathe of London's east end. Affluence and dizzying property prices characterise the city's west side. But head east towards Stratford - and the contrast is stark. There's crushing poverty, poor housing and forgotten tracts of land.

    East meets west

    The disparity between the rich and poor sides of the city has been a long-standing problem and step changes are steadily being made to try to reverse the growing split between the two with the local Boroughs pursuing a "convergence" agenda.

    Before the Olympics were secured, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link was already planned near the park with the construction of Stratford International station, "So Government agencies and Government - local, national and regional - had already made a decision to invest considerable quantums of money and infrastructure investment in that location."

    The Games were an additional element in the masterplan for London's growth whereby the east gains ground on the west.

    "The Olympic Park and its vicinity is the focus of London's growth. London is moving eastwards and approximately 25 per cent of the population, the new population, is likely to be housed over the next 50 years in this location. Not necessarily the Olympic Park but generally in the east and its surroundings."

    Niall McNevin

    This is quite a vision for an area once used for a hotchpotch of purposes: as a traveller site, allotments, bus depots and rail sidings, a storage mountain of abandoned fridges, industrial cold stores (freezers) sited on permafrosted ground, recycling plants and forgotten canals chocked with rubbish.

    Planning a city's future

    The site was chosen because infrastructure and public transport links are extraordinarily good and due to the proximity to Central London. It was acquired with one of the UK's largest compulsory purchase orders.

    And from the very start, planners weren't looking how to build for the Games, but for legacy and a future inner city population 50 or 100 years from now.

    Sustainable Infrastructure has been installed for a thriving city, not a six-week sporting event. "This has been put in from the very beginning and sized for legacy - not necessarily sized for the Olympic Games.

    "Some would say the scale and size and pace of the development here is unique and I would agree."

    The Sustainable energy centre (a combined cooling and heating plant - CCHP) in the Olympic park is a modular system capable of powering up to 15,000 homes. 8,000 homes are initially planned to be built within the site after the Games.

    Sustainability and green space will be a big feature of the site once it is handed back to Londoners.

    The latest London park

    The Aquatics Centre

    The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has three areas: overall some 100 hectares with 45 hectares of biodiverse land within it. The North Park is the more rural, ecological and quieter zone hosting the stunning Hopkins designed Velodrome while the South Park is the plaza and resembles areas such as London's South Bank. This is where the key visitor destinations lie such as the Olympic stadium, aquatics centre and new Acelor Mittal Orbit tower - some 115 metres high, the tallest sculpture in the UK. 

    "The landscape that has been introduced here is very new. It's very different and it's very big. These are going to be the lungs for the new legacy neighbourhoods and they are going to be available and open after the Games but utilised during the Games."

    Long-term planning is embedded into every aspect of the project. The Aquatics Centre designed by architect Zaha Hadid has additional seating wings to house large numbers of spectators during the Olympic competition which will then be taken off so the size of the venue is reduced for both regular community and elite use.

    "The Aquatics Centre is the model of building something for legacy but recognising it will be used at Games time by 17,500 spectators. There's that ability to consider future legacy by designing for the "wings" to be taken off and putting the windows in afterwards on either side.

    "The key thing here is the Park, Venues and Infrastructure was sized and considered for legacy - for the 100 years rather than those five or six weeks."

    Images courtesy of London 2012.