London’s Olympic legacy – five years on

It is now five years since London hosted the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Although little has changed inside the arena, there has been significant change in the surrounding neighbourhoods. The athletes’ village is now a residential area, the press centre is a hub for digital businesses, University College London is planning a campus near the stadium, and the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Smithsonian Institute are planning to build galleries there.

However, one of the aims of the 2012 – increased participation in sport – has not been even. Britain’s elite athletes may have had increased success in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic and Paralympic games, but despite some £300 million being invested in community sports since, the proportion of adults participating in sports has not changed significantly.

The economic legacy of the Games is also mixed. The Olympic Park replaced a polluted, contaminated former industrial area, the arena is now home to West Ham United football club, who play their homes fixtures in the re-named ‘London Stadium’. In 2010, the three local boroughs – Hackney, Tower hamlets and Newham, had some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK. By 2015, only Tower Hamlet was amongst the ten most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK.

However, not all the economic regeneration can be attributed to the 2012 games. Much of East London’s regeneration took place in the 1980s and 1990s with the Docklands Urban Development Corporation. Gentrification of Hackney occurred before London was awarded the Games, and Westfield had been showing an interest in Stratford back in 2004.

Before the bid, the UK’s Minister for Sport suggested that hosting the Games would cost £300 million. By 2007, this had risen to £9.3 billion. Trying to estimate the return on the Games is difficult. Some reports suggest between £28 billion and £41 billion by 2020. However, critics claim that official forecasts tend to over-estimate the benefits and under-estimate the costs.

The available data suggest that the economic growth in the Olympic Boroughs was 1% higher than the London average between 1997 and 2005, but only 0.6% higher between 2006 and 2015. Of 21,000 new homes built in these boroughs, only 3,000 were in the Olympic park.

The park’s developers claim that 15,000 new jobs will be created in the area by 2025. According to a poll in 2013, nearly 70% of people felt that the money spent on hosting the 2012 Games had been a good use of public money. However, hosting sporting mega-events is becoming less attractive – Los Angeles and Paris are the only candidates to host the 2024 and 2028 Games, after popular dissent led to the withdrawal of Rome, Budapest and Hamburg.

The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games helped regenerate part of the East End of London, but they did not achieve this in isolation from other major infrastructural development, such as the Channel Tunnel/Stratford rail link.

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