The only thing which has got me interested and excited about the 2012 Olympics (apart from ‘The Garden of Ideas’ legacy use, which I am helping out on) was the proposal from The Welcome Trust to buy up the whole Olympic Park site, including the athletes’ village, and turn the whole area in a science, research, and education cluster with associated homes. I felt that it will be only through the ownership and control of (the right) and single owner that a strong enough vision will be developed to make this area successful: and I felt that The Welcome Trust was the right sort of owner, who had the money and vision in the correct mix.
Welcome make it clear that they required the Athlete’s Village otherwise they would have to withdraw their £1bn offer, so it was a disappointment to hear that the powers that be have ruled Welcome out of the competition for the Athletes’ Village, which Welcome say means they are no longer interested in the whole site. I think they can still make the rest of their plans for the site work without them owning the Athletes Village (although the village has more chance of working if it is owned and run by the owner of the rest of the park), but they know their plans best. However, it appears that it is thought preferable to sell the site to property developers backed by middle-eastern money (with, therefore, rents leaving the UK, and adding to the balance of payments deficit, rather than staying in the country).
Doubly disappointing is that it appears that the park and its assets are to be sold off in individual plots, it being announced yesterday who has been shortlisted to own the Aquatics Centre. It even appears that the whole area will not be designed as a whole, with a single guiding hand, with bids being requested yesterday from those interesting in designing the parkland for use after the games.
It seems to me that a huge opportunity is being wasted by splitting up the ownership and management of the Olympic Park, and it is a shame that someone with the long term vision (and I stress long term), and commitment to quality, such as The Welcome Trust, is being ruled out in favour of a ‘traditional’ property development based approach.
Anyway, Stratford’s loss may be some-wherelse’s gain: I have in mind an alternative site which may serve Welcome just as well – but it is early days yet.
Interestingly, I have just read an article in The Guardian by Ian Birrell, making pretty much the same point I am making here.