Tom Copley’s London Eye
So here we are at last. After seven years of careful planning and preparation the curtain is about to rise on what is going to be an absolutely spectacular event.
Of course there will be problems. You can be as sure that there will be some sort of breakdown on the tube as you can be that we will have a torrential downpour of rain (or three). But these Olympic Games promise great things for our city and for the whole country.
There will be downsides of course. For one thing it’ll be more difficult to get into work in the morning. But at least if you opt to walk in you’ll be able to escape the disembodied voice of Boris Johnson as he blurts out travel advice over the intercom.
Given that Johnson’s regular diet consists exclusively of photo ops and ribbon cutting ceremonies the next two weeks are going to considerably fatten his already bloated ego. Let’s just hope he doesn’t embarrass the nation as he did at the closing ceremony of the 2008 Games in Beijing.
So whilst Boris is stealing the limelight it’s worth reminding ourselves why the Games are here in London in the first place. They’re here because almost ten years ago Ken Livingstone together with the Labour government threw their support behind London’s bid. Without Ken, and without Labour, London would not be about to host the Olympics.
There’s a word you’re going to be hearing more and more once the Games have finished. That word is “legacy”. London hosting the Olympics has never been just about a few weeks of sport – it’s always been about securing the regeneration of London’s East End.
The east end of London is one of the most vibrant parts of our city. But it is also one of the poorest. The glittering towers of Canary Wharf rise over the third poorest borough in the country – Tower Hamlets. The presence of London’s second financial centre in the borough means the average salary of those who work there is £69,000, yet almost a quarter of those who live there live on less than £15,000 a year. Neighbouring Newham contains many of the poorest wards in London and is the city’s third most deprived borough. It also has the lowest employment rate of any London borough.
The Olympic Games are a down-payment on the future of the East End. The priority after the Games are over must be to deliver the new housing and communities that were promised when London’s Olympic bid was submitted. There have been worrying reports that less social and affordable housing will be built than originally envisaged. Not to deliver the promises made in London’s bid would be to let down current and future generations of people in East London. It is going to be up to the London Assembly’s Labour-led Housing and Regeneration Committee to keep a watchful eye on the regeneration process.
I’ll leave the last word to Ken. In 2003 he said:
“London has all the physical credentials to host the games, but its most precious asset is its people. With over 300 languages spoken in our schools, every competing nation in the 2012 games will come to London and find a group of supporters here as fervent as the fans at home. London is the place where the world comes together.”
Tom Copley is a member of the London Assembly. He writes here in a personal capacity.