Shop owners on Leyton High Road, a typical east London high street, had high expectations in the months leading up to the Olympic Games.
Sitting in the shadow of the Olympic site at Stratford, the busy street was spruced up with bright colours usually reserved for up-market neighbourhoods on the other side of the capital, in anticipation of the crowds expected to be crawling its pavements.
Shop fronts were painted, pavements were cleaned and new streetlights were installed.
Excited local business owners expected profits to boom during the Games, as Waltham Forest Council and Olympic Representatives said that they could expect up to 16,000 prospective customers to be walking up and down the high road.
However, for those visiting Leyton High Road on Thursday, in the middle of the games, there is very little indication that the ‘greatest show on earth’ is taking place just a short walk down the road.
Parking restrictions and road-blocks designed to help traffic flows into the Olympic Park have made access to the high road difficult and local business owners have not only failed to see the Olympic punters, but have also seen their regular customers disappear.
Leyton High Road after its makeover
“Everybody we speak to is complaining”, Mr Mustafa, manager of the Royal Café tells me. “We are 50% down, it’s affecting everyone on the high street.”
When asked if he made any attempts to cash in on the Olympics his answer is blunt “we had a sign outside for 12 years. One day the people from the council said ‘you are not allowed to have a sign’. We had to bring it inside.”
This was also the case for Arvind Patel who owns and manages a local newsagent. “We had a full board outside but they asked us to move it. They wanted the footpath clear so that people could walk up and down easily. They were expected a crowd.” But Mr Patel’s first response when asked what the main problem was simple - the traffic restrictions.
Customers used to be able to park on the street and elsewhere around the area. However during the games parking has been restricted primarily to residents. Anyone hoping to visit the area has to register with the council and pay a fee for the privilege. Regular visitors have been advised to use public transport rather than drive, but many seem to have opted to do neither.
Hasan Akby has been running his Turkish restaurant on the high road for six years. Much of his custom came from people on work sites near the area, but unable to find parking spaces he has not seen many of his regulars since the Olympics began. “The first thing my customers have said is parking… I don’t know when it is going to be lifted. The council have not told me when they are going to lift the parking.”
Hasan Akby, a local Turkish restaurant owner
Whilst restricted parking and road closures do explain the disappearance of regulars to the area, it doesn’t explain why Olympic spectators have not ventured into an area so local to the park.
Mr Akby continues: “They have built a Westfield over there. I think most people would spend their time there, you can spend a whole day over there. This Olympics has not helped at all.”
Despite being so close to the park, Leyton tube station is difficult to access. All of the public entering the park are encouraged to make use of the facilities at Stratford and Stratford international, and only staff working at the Games can access a security gate, from which Leyton High Road is a 10-minute walk.
Rod Springer, landlord of the King Harold had for some time seen much of his custom coming from volunteers, security guards and media workers at the stadium. However, since the games got fully underway there has been no need for them to leave the park, with all facilities available on site.
“It’s a disaster, I don’t get any passing trade. Everything is focused towards Stratford, so even if you are on the site, you’re not going to get directed Leyton even though it’s an easier tube to get to if you’re at the Velodrome.”
With so much focus on Stratford and the area surrounding the Olympic park, the clean up operation seems to have left many of the local business owners bemused as to why it happened.
When asked if he felt the organisers and council and the Olympic Organisers had let the area down, Mr Springer said, “Yes, as much as it’s a good thing for the area as a whole, the local businesses who have done up shop fronts and redecorated in order to capitalise on this haven’t had an opportunity to make anything from it.”
Although the area looks unquestionably better, Rod gives a precise verdict on how the Olympic legacy will be felt in this area for years to come: “We were told people would be here. We had to put up with the constant noise, the digging up of the road for seven years and then come the Olympics, nothing.”
Despite having cleaner streets and nicer shop fronts, for many on Leyton High Road the Olympics will be remembered as something which happened within spitting-distance, but never really touched them.