Olympic legacy? 3/4 of the promised 11,000 jobs for 2012 park still don’t exist
The 2012 Olympic Games cost the taxpayer £8.77bn, but promises were made the huge project would generate thousands of jobs and homes. Emma Bartholomew investigates the legacy six years on
The legacy of the 2012 Olympics in Hackney has been put into question as it has emerged most of the 11,000 jobs promised on the park have failed to materialise six years on.
At least 5,000 jobs were lost from the former industrial area, which straddles Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, when businesses were forcibly evicted to make way for the Games’ campus.
Olympic bosses promised it wouldn’t be in vain and there would ultimately be a net gain of 6,000 jobs.
However a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted to the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) has revealed only 447 people are currently employed on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
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The figures do not include jobs at the former International Broadcast Centre and adjacent Main Press Centre which are now known as Here East. However, two years ago a similar FOI stated 222 people were employed there.
Figures have apparently since risen to 2,500, according to the LLDC – still fall far short of the 5,300 jobs across the industries of fashion, art, technology and innovation that were promised at a glitzy press conference attended by former London mayor Boris Johnson in 2012 when it was announced iCITY had won the bid to take on the site.
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At the time, Mr Johnson said the billion-pound deal to secure the future of the £295m taxpayer-funded media centre – or “super colossal hangar” as he dubbed it – was the “single most difficult thing to pull off” in terms of Olympic legacy.
CEO of iCITY Gavin Poole promised a further 2,200 jobs would be created in the community through using local supply chains to generate business, bringing the overall number to 7,500 as a result of his venture.
The 1.2million sq ft buildings had gone way over budget and were nearly demolished, but Hackney Council had already spent a decade lobbying to ensure they remained permanently.
At the same press conference Hackney’s former elected mayor Jules Pipe warned a failure to realise its employment potential would have “betrayed the promises of jobs” made when London won the bid to host the Games.
Paul Brickell, the LLDC’s executive director of regeneration, told the Gazette this week that, despite still being less than half the figure projected, jobs at Here East are “pretty much where we expected them to be”.
“Nobody ever thought you would open a building and have 5,000 people move in on day one,” he said. “What you have is a large place that no one has ever heard of and people don’t tend to go because it’s in Hackney and not Stratford. Then something like Brexit comes along and knocks you off course.
“I think Gavin feels that put them back six months, but it really picked up in December last year, and a lot of businesses moved in.”
He added: “It’s important to understand the sorts of businesses that are coming here. Here East is much about smaller businesses that are coming in. The important thing here is local jobs.”
The Gazette asked iCITY what the cost would be to rent out work space there, but they have yet to reply.
Julian Cheyne, who submitted the FOI on behalf of Games Monitor, a group set up to “debunk Olympic myths”, explained the reason behind his concern: “Here East was built on common land, and was a green open space providing beautiful play space for kids from Gainsborough primary school and the residents of Hackney Wick. Now it’s filled by an incredibly costly and underused building and a massive multi-storey car park.
“Thousands of jobs were lost on the Olympic Park and there was inadequate compensation for companies forced to move from the area, which was not a wasteland or an urban desert.”
Mr Brickell claims that in fact 9,700 jobs have been created on the Olympic Park – a figure not supported by the FOI. His figure includes 6,800 jobs at the International Quarter, which was a security area during the Games. Mr Cheyne pointed out this falls beyond the 2012 site, and is part of the Stratford City development – a £3bn development conceived in the 1990s before the Olympics were mooted.
In 2005 Mayor of Newham Robin Wales expressed his concern that the Stratford City Consortium and the London Development Agency, which existed until 2012, had been unable to reach agreement on a way forward for the regeneration of the lower Lea Valley.
He said: “We have been working very successfully with the Stratford City consortium for many years, and we are confident that the project will deliver huge benefits to east London, thousands of jobs, homes, and community facilities.
“The Olympic and Paralypic games have the power to enhance these benefits substantially, but handled badly, they could have the reverse effect,” he warned.
Mr Cheyne said: “The problem is the Olympics claimed since day one that 2012 is the agent for regenerating east London and this is simply complete and utter rubbish. What the Olympics did was create an area of land that, because of the stadiums in it, couldn’t be developed in the way it was before – you end up with an anti-development programme.”
Mr Brickell, who used to work for Newham Council said: “In the process of planning and delivering the Games we massively expanded our ambitions for Stratford and beyond - so Westfield and IQL are bigger, better and were delivered faster than they would have been; and the parklands and venues, Here East and East Bank are things we never dreamed of.”
On top of the jobs shortfall, the data centre – which formed a key part of iCITY’s bid to run the former press centre – has quietly faded into oblivion.
Great fanfare surrounded its announcement, with high hopes of a creating a “world-class centre of innovation and enterprise”, at a press conference attended by Boris Johnson at the International Quarter. But in August it was announced the V&A museum is going to move some of its collection into Here East, with a knock-on effect that the data centre will never come to fruition.
Mr Cheyne said: “Getting rid of the data centre is a good thing in a way. It’s just a massive computer system. But because they were selling it as this technical hub, it’s been interesting to find out year-in year-out nothing was happening and now it seems it’s actually dead.”
Mr Brickell said the data centre would have had less than 50 people working in a very large space.
“We were always worried about the data centre and weren’t ever keen on it in terms of jobs.
“Some people thought it was going to be a call centre, but all it was, was a bunch of servers and IT equipment.
“Now it’s been partly replaced with the V&A the space for the data centre which would have had almost no jobs will have a lot of jobs in it.”
Plans for the V&A East project at Here East will be revealed next week.