Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Lutfur Rahman

GET UPDATES FROM Lutfur Rahman
 

Tower Hamlet's Olympic Legacy

Posted: 16/08/2012 10:37

We welcomed the Olympics in Tower Hamlets, despite our concerns about its over commercialisation. After the opening ceremony - and its close where we paid especial tribute to the role of the armed services - I hope that the Games' legacy reflects Danny Boyle's exhilarating opening. His evocation of the different peoples in these islands was incredibly refreshing but, above all, his commemoration of the ordinary working people who made this country and their crowning achievement - the National Health Service - highlighted popular British attitudes, of hospitality and caring for each other as opposed to the selfishness preached by conservative politicians on both side of the Atlantic.

In the end, the UK spent £9.3 billion of public funds on the 2012 Olympics. A majority of the public quite rightly believe that this has been worthwhile. But the real test however will come in the following months and years. We shall see whether the promises made by the Government and by Mayor Boris Johnson to build new houses and help create new jobs, actually comes to fruition. For only £1.7 billion of that £9.3 billion has been used for regeneration and infrastructure. Following the Olympic Games, 4,000 homes will be built in the vicinity of the Olympic Park, relieving some pressures on local housing and providing more jobs for the area.

In recent months, the demand for housing has increased, and rents have continued to rise in boroughs such as mine. Government cuts are impacting many people on housing benefits already, with the worst effect yet to materialise. My fear is that increasing number of ordinary and poorer Londoners are going to be forced out of East London, by a combination of factors, including rising rents, cuts in housing benefits and gentrification. The Guardian has already reported on the battle taking place between many of the residents of the Carpenters Estate, and the local authority, Newham that wishes to re-develop the area. No senior politician or political party has even begun to consider an alternative that could include rent freezes and intervention to restrict landlord profiteering.

What we really need of course is a commitment from Ed Miliband and Labour for a massive council home building programme. Successive Governments from Margaret Thatcher onwards have simply failed to recognize the enormous damage done by selling off the public housing stock and not allowing local authorities to build substantially more homes. We also need to see real progress towards creating a 'living rent' for Londoners.

While we have tried to use the Games as leverage to secure speedier government funding for existing developments in the borough, and so we have been quite successful in rehabilitating existing housing and bringing it up to better standards and in promoting affordable housing. Using our own and central government resources we have been pushing regeneration schemes, like Blackwall Reach with 1,600 new homes, 700 of which will be affordable, following on the 4,368 affordable homes that we have completed in the last 3 years.

And we are working on rehabilitating older housing so by 2015, every council home in Tower Hamlets will be brought up to a Decent Homes Standard, set by national government. which provides that homes are warm, weather-proof and have modern kitchens and bathrooms where tenants have the option to select their own fittings.

Continuing Danny Boyle's message, the Olympics have highlighted the essential need for government intervention. If the Games had depended on private investment the Olympics would never have happened. The original plans had private sector funding anticipated at £738 million but that dropped to just £165 million.

The Games and the previous developments along the River, like Canary Wharf and the City Airport have brought investments and wealth into the East End, but while we are the fastest growing borough in the country, but we probably also have the highest disparity between poorest and richest. We will push for investment in Tower Hamlets to continue when the flame dies down in the Stadium.

Is it too much to expect Central Government to remember the sacrifices East Enders made for them to host this year's "Greatest Show on Earth?"

 
FOLLOW UK POLITICS