With one year to go until the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony in London, the question of how much it will really benefit the economy, and Stratford in particular, remains unanswered. A great deal of scepticism remains concerning how much lasting good it will do the locals. Disappointment among locals who failed to receive tickets have already undermined one of the most-publicised legacy objectives - encouraging inner-city children into sport.
Events will be taking place predominantly in the borough of Newham, one of London’s most deprived areas, with the capital’s lowest employment rate. Some events will also be hosted in Greenwich, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest. The regeneration possibilities for these boroughs have been much-vaunted, but it is not guaranteed that they will materialise.
It is not just Londoners who have formed a bleak outlook. A poll out on Wednesday found that the British public's overall sentiments towards the Games was broadly pessimistic. 48% of British people agree that they are not worth the public money being spent and 56% said that they are not excited about the Games at all.
The Labour Government under Tony Blair commissioned the consultants Arup to undertake a feasibility study into a British bid for the 2012 Games. The study projected major regeneration gains for East London, with £70m added economic growth and between £280-507m additional expenditure from tourism. It seems likely that these estimates were flamboyantly over-optimistic.
The Olympics minister, Hugh Robertson, is himself now rather cautious in estimating the extent to which the Games will provide a substantial stimulus to the economy overall, though he does maintain that they will have real benefits to east London. Robertson told the Financial Times with muted enthusiasm: “It has been worth doing as a project”. However, he was even more reserved on the overall economic benefits to be gained, “in terms of the whole of the UK economy, it’s been significant but not a game-changer probably".
Tourism was touted as a major selling point for hosting the Olympics, but Londoners maybe in for an anticlimax, judging from the experiences of Beijing, Sydney and Athens. A report from last year even suggested that the Games might have a detrimental effect on London tourism. The European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) claims that host cities suffer a drop in tourists in the years around the event. So if London followed the same pattern as Beijing, for example, it could end up with 2.5 million fewer visitors post-Olympics. Looking at figures for the past six Olympics the study concluded that the tourism benefits of Games were "wholly illusory".
Billions of pounds are being invested in the area ahead of the Olympics, including the largest mall in Europe, and 11,000 new homes are being built. However, property sales and rental prices have not rocketed as anticipated and many local residents feel that the new homes are beyond their financial reach. Sales assistant Alan Bacon, 54, said: "Locals will be priced out of buying any of the new homes. They will be bought by the City boys as second homes or by east Europeans." House prices are predicted to increase by approximately 14 per cent once the Olympic site re-opens as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, although these 11,000 new homes may now have swamped the market.
40,000 people have been employed in building the Olympic park and it is hoped that this will have eased unemployment in the area. However, Michael Ridge, head of public policy at the Frontier Economics consultancy, believes any such predictions about employment would have to make “massive assumptions” about locals’ employment for the rest of their careers, relative to their prospects without the Olympics. “You don’t really know the benefits until five years after the event,” he concludes.
The traffic situation has been the latest bugbear for local residents and businesses, and has been a realisation for many of the general inconvenience that is surely to follow over the next twelve months. The Olympic Road Network (ORN) is the grid of roads that will be off-limits to residents and public transport so that 82,000 VIPs, athletes and officials can access the Olympic site traffic-free. The lane closures are primarily on very congested roads and will no doubt cause serious traffic problems.
According to a new survey by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), almost half of London’s businesses feel they need more help working around transport disruption during the Games. Two thirds of businesses complained that not enough had been done to help them prepare for transport disruption. Furthermore, a quarter did not know if enough had been done, suggesting that they were still unaware of the disruption the Games may have on their company. Peter Bishop, Deputy Chief Executive of the LCCI commented: “Opportunities can only be fully grasped if businesses are prepared for the disruption that the Games will cause. With one year to go efforts must now be redoubled to ensure that every London business is prepared for travel disruption”.
The Olympic Road Network has left Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales furious at Transport for London, calling their plans “unacceptably poor”. Sir Robin is appealing to the London Mayor to take greater consideration of the needs of local residents, so that they “will enjoy - rather than endure - the 2012 Games”.