London

London 2012: Will all the promises come to pass?

Aerial photo of the Olympic Park in east London in May 2011
Image caption The five boroughs around the Olympic Park have worked hard to capitalise on the Games

How big is the buzz as we approach the final countdown? How realistic is the legacy? These are the sort of questions being asked on the streets of the five Olympic Boroughs.

East Londoners have a reputation for having an optimistic, if sceptical, disposition. With a year to go to the Games, these are qualities which will probably serve them well.

Inevitably, the organisers of the 2012 Games have played up the positives and poured cold water on the doubters.

Those closest to the principle venues in the London Boroughs of Newham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Greenwich and Waltham Forest have seen significant changes to their local landscape.

Pop down to the Greenway, which is the path that runs above Bazalgette's northern outfall sewer, virtually any day of the week now and you will see visitors coming to ogle at the Olympic Stadium and the other Olympic venues in Stratford.

Capitalising on the Games

The Olympic developers have still not managed to get rid of the stink that occasionally wafts up from London's effluence.

Likewise, it is unlikely the whole Olympic project will come up just smelling of roses for local people.

I've yet to find anyone who is entirely as convinced as Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales is that the Olympic Stadium's future is absolutely secure.

Several football clubs are still squabbling over the deal that Newham struck with West Ham United with £40m of underwriting funds from a less than transparent local authority source.

There is still ample room for friends and partners to fall out over this one.

The five boroughs have fought hard to get a slice of the action by launching all kinds of Olympic-related initiatives.

Tower Hamlets has looked to get itself promoted as the 2012 "curry capital", although it is pretty much that anyway along Brick Lane.

Olympic branding is part of the fairy dust of the Games that all cities hope for.

Despite the huge disappointment for many Londoners in the race to get tickets, East End pupils will be able to see some of the less popular events through a scheme that targets local schools.

In some respects it is amazing how the deadline of the Olympics has unblocked money from all manner of sources.

It may not be new money but the gate-keepers are more willing to enable the funding to be spent on public infrastructure and facility improvements such as along the Whitechapel Road that leads out to Stratford.

One of the parks, practically squatted full time by those who prefer their liquor strong and in brown bags, will get spruced up in time for all those new curry seekers on the way back from their Olympic viewing exertions.

Whitechapel Market is getting a face lift and, although that would have happened in line with the huge redevelopment of the Royal London Hospital, there is some evidence that it will get finished earlier because of the Games.

Job creation

One of the big selling points of the London 2012 Organising Committee (Locog) was the job generation prospects.

Image caption The public will be encouraged to go along to Victoria Park to watch big screens showing Olympic action

Tower Hamlets has 131 residents working directly for Locog. It hardly makes major inroads into a high unemployment borough, but then the scale of that problem is not one of Locog's making.

One of the star public asset beneficiaries of the momentum created by the Olympics is Victoria Park which has had significant investment over the past few years and which will continue to benefit to the tune of £10m before next year.

Of course, the park needs a decent facelift because it is to be one of four key Live Sites during the Games where the public can congregate to watch the action on giant screens and enjoy a party atmosphere.

I suspect it will be the closest most Londoners will get to feeling they are part of the spectacle.

Another of London's elected Mayors, Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets, sums up the chutzpah that local authorities are busy trying to deploy to maximise the soft returns as a consequence of the Games on their doorsteps.

"I am harnessing the momentum of London 2012 to regenerate areas of the borough such as Aldgate, Whitechapel and Bow.

"I have also brokered a deal with Locog to give Tower Hamlets residents priority to 1,000 jobs, promote Brick Lane as Curry Capital 2012 and give schoolchildren every opportunity to see an Olympic event," he said.

I have visited the Olympics site, the waterways and public spaces closest to the Olympic Park regularly over the past two years and it would be difficult not to be impressed with the scale of the changes to the infrastructure that have taken place.

But claims that all this will have an immediate impact on locals currently seem to be more a marketing mantra than a demonstrable reality.

Feel-good factor?

Over the river in Greenwich local residents are far from convinced of the low impact being predicted for the park where the equestrian events are taking place.

Image caption Locog has tried to ensure residents in the five Olympic boroughs have felt part of the Games

Of course, the fact that so many local people lost out on actually being able to be spectators simple heightens the sense of indignation and "trespass" on public facilities territory.

There will undoubtedly be a huge influx of visitors passing through Tower Hamlets on their way to the Olympic venues in a year's time.

There is still a good deal of scepticism about the immediate benefits that will flow to local businesses and the ticketing disappointments are in danger of undermining one of the key sporting legacy objectives; to encourage children into sport by being directly involved in the events.

But there have undoubtedly already been benefits from staging the Games that have flowed to some of the country's poorest and most diverse local authorities.

Lasting benefits

There is also a feel-good factor which does not necessarily translate into direct benefits.

The hyperbole of the politicians and organisers has been magnificent all along and with the event almost within smelling distance there is still time for more.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman is still full of optimism: "It's not just about the 100 days that make up the Olympics and Paralympic Games. It's about the lasting benefits that residents will still be reaping when London 2012 is a fading memory".

There was always a danger that the whole project would be sold as "all things to all people". That was never realistic.

Now that we are fast approaching the main event itself perhaps more realistic expectations will flourish, in time to stem a potential tide of miserable disappointments.

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