UGEL logo and strapline
Aerial view of Stratford, East London and the Olympic Park area

2013 Geolog archive

23rd December

East Village: to rent or to buy?

There are some difficult decisions to be made by the people who would like to live in East Village. There are two organisations managing the site : Get Living London and Triathlon.

Get Living London is the company owned by the Qatari Royal family which rent their properties at the market rate. The other organisation, Triathlon operates a ” Fair Rent ” ie. cheaper policy. To encourage inclusion the properties of both organisations will be mixed with no obvious segregation.

The starting rate for a two-bedroom flat to rent is £1200 per month for Triathlon properties but more expensive at £1500 for Get Living London and the differential increases for larger three and four bedroom houses. So the less wealthy will probably view Triathlon as the only option.

Another difference is that Get Living London’s properties are for rent only whereas Triathlon offer a part-ownership scheme. The Triathlon option is good for those who wish to get on the property ladder but cannot afford anywhere else in London.

However there is a problem in that for the partownership of 25% people must have an annual joint income of less than £ 60000 per year. This may seem to be a high figure, but for two people this would be less than the London average. So a couple of key workers such as teachers, nurses , doctors and social workers may have slightly more that this and they would therefore be excluded from partownership in East Village which will not alleviate the problem of a chronic shortage of such workers in the Five Olympic boroughs.


18th December

Energy Centre

Christmas is coming and winter is setting in. New residents in East Village, at least, can look forward to reduced energy bills next year. A frequent topic of conversation on many of our sustainability courses is whether apartments are a more sustainable way of living than houses. Undoubtedly they are, for many reasons.

First, the actual living space that has to be heated is less in most cases. I say most cases because, in East Village, there are four and five-bedroom homes, equivalent in size to a house. However, apartments, being built in blocks, lose far less energy through external walls, the heat spreading upwards, downwards and outwards into neighbouring apartments. The apartments in East Village are built to high specifications of energy-efficiency – Level 4 on the government’s Code for Sustainable Homes. As you would expect, they are thoroughly well-insulated and double-glazed. It is the largest development in the country at this specification, though does not reach the top level – 6 – which would be zero-carbon, the energy being used, matched by the energy being generated.

Perhaps, the most sustainble feature of the homes in East Village is that none of them produce their own heat. It is all generated centrally at the Energy Centre in the Olympic Park. This is a combined cooling heat and power station, circulating both heating and cooling water around the neighbourhood, including to all the structures in the Olympic Park. This fact alone enables homes in East Village to be 25% more energy-efficient than a normal home. The Energy Centre is run by Cofely, a subsidiary of the French energy giant, GDF (not to be confused with its national rival, EDF). Residents of East Village pay their heating bills to GDF, though I was rather disappointed to discover their electricity does not come directly from the Energy Centre too. That goes into the national grid and, only indirectly, to East Village.

Over the coming years, the heating and cooling pipes from the Energy Centre are likely to spread further, beyond the boundaries of the Olympic Park, into surounding neighbourhoods, including Hackney Wick and the Carpenter’s Estate (if it is still there!). However, as with all communitiy power schemes, there is a limit to the distance that heated water can travel through insulated pipes.

The Energy Centre is due to open its own small visitor centre soon, though there have been a few health and safety glitches to delay it. A sneak preview suggests it will be worth a visit, particularly if studying sustainability at the Olympic Park.


5th December


Another surprise package has emerged for the Olympic Park. The Chancellor’s National Infrastructure Plan, announced yesterday, revealed plans for a new cultural and educational quarter in the Park, located between the stadium and Stratford Station. It is a joint proposal from University College London and the Victoria and Albert Museum, to be called Olympicopolis.

The idea is based on the achievements of Prince Albert, who used the proceeds of the 1851 Great Exhibition to create Albertopolis, the 86-acre site around Exhibition Road in South Kensington, which includes the Royal Albert Hall, V&A and the Science Museum. The Olympic site would be used for a centre of culture and heritage, a design school, a biotech hub and an educational technology centre. I’m not totally sure what any of those things might look like on the ground, but I’m hoping that someone has thought about it.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better for east London, what with winning the Olympic bid, 2,800 new homes in East Village and Crossrail arriving in 2018, along comes another goody. Of course, it’s only a plan and UCL already have had their fingers burnt in east London. Regular (or, perhaps, any!) readers of this blog may remember they had plans to build a new campus on the Carpenters Estate, just south of the Olympic Park. Those plans fell through earlier this year, amidst controversy over how residents on the estate were going to be rehoused.

Another concern might be how this ambitious plan is going to fit into what is, after all, a relatively small space. Already between the stadium and Stratford Station (a distance of about one kilometre) there is the River Lea, Westfield, the largest shopping mall in Europe, the Aquatics Centre and South Plaza, a new urban park with Britain’s tallest sculpture, the Orbit, as its focal point. Surely, there are only so many attractions that one place can contain? Boris Johnson says, “As the Olympic Park reopens, I want to raise our ambitions for this magnificent site to squeeze out every drop of potential.” He’s certainly doing that.


28th November

Residents move in

This week the first residents of East Village, the former Athletes Village, have started to move in. For the past couple of months, there has been public access to the village but there is an eery silence as you walk around. A residential neighbourhood without residents is something of an oxymoron. The only sign of life has been Chobham Academy, the new 3-18 school in the neighbourhood. It opened in September, taking students from other neighbourhoods close by to East Village.

The first fifty residents this week are tenants of Triathlon Homes, the consortium of housing associations managing the half of East Village in the affordable bracket. ‘Affordable’ in this case, if you are wondering, is about £900 per month for a small apartment. I believe there may be cheaper rents to come for those allocated a home from the Newham Council waiting list, or from one of the other three boroughs around the Olympic Park.

This weekend, the first private tenants of GetLivingLondon also move in. I know a little bit more about this organisation because their marketing suite in the village has recently opened. GetLivingLondon is the brand name for Qatari Diar Delancey, a development company with Qatari finance behind it. They will control all the privately rented property in the village, rather than sell to private investors for buy to let – a good decision, I think, if East Village is going to be well managed. The private rents range from £310 per week for the smallest one-bedroom apartment up to £475 per week for a four-bedroom apartment.

By Christmas the first two blocks, with 400 homes, will be inhabited. It should be an interesting Christmas for everybody getting to know their new neighbours. The large polyclinic, that serves all the medical needs in the community, also opens this week. But, with the opportunities for healthy living promised to residents in East Village, let’s hope nobody needs to visit it!


18th November

Olmypic viewing gallery closes

One event at the Olympic Park has not grabbed much attention.The closure of the Olympic Park Viewing Gallery happened quietly last week without any fanfare. Yet, it played a highly significant part in London’s original bid to host the 2012 Olympics, has seen royalty come through its doors and has welcomed tens of thousands of visitors over the past five years. I received an email to tell me that the gallery had closed without further notice – rather inconvenient as I had four school groups due to use it in the next couple of weeks.

The gallery was purpose-built in 2005 as a rooftop annexe on Holden Point, one of Newham Council’s high-rise residential blocks in Stratford. It was built to provide the International Olympic Committee with a view of the potential Olympic site when they visited London in February 2005, before they made their decision on the bid. I always thought it was cleverly located, to the east of the Olympic Park, looking west over the site with the London skyline in the distance, emphasising not only the large area of available space but also the proximity of the site to central London.

The rest is history. London won the bid and Newham Council – never ones to forgo an opportunity to make money – turned it into a visitor attraction in the run-up to the Games. There were days when school groups (for which I have to take some responsibility) would be jostling with OAP coach parties in the foyer before taking the lift twenty-one storeys up to the the viewing gallery. I’ve lost count of the number of groups I have taken up, and I was just one of many teachers who used the facility. It made a brilliant place to draw a field sketch and to point out all the regeneration projects in east London (Docklands was also visible). On one memorable occasion I was teaching there when in came Lord Coe to join the class!

However, since the Games far fewer groups have been there and it is now deemed uneconomic to run. You might think the elderly residents in Holden Point might be breathing a sigh of relief at having the building to themselves again. But, I suspect, some may miss being at the centre of attention. After all, not many council tenants can claim to have had a visit from the Queen.

And, I shouldn’t finish this blog without a special mention of Jean Jeffries, the lovely lady from Newham Council, who had the job of managing the viewing gallery and who always accommodated our groups (even the ones who decided to run back down the stairs rather than take the lift!). Thanks Jean for your help over the years.


2nd November

Better lane than never!

The new extension to Cycle Superhighway 2, from Bow roundabout to Stratford on the A118 is now in place. This is the section that was not built in time for the Olympics, though I never heard a sensible explanation why. In the mean time two cyclists were killed at Bow roundabout in 2011, hit by lorries turning left. The London Cycling Campaign have welcomed the new extension, describing it as a massive improvement and the closest London has got to a designated, Dutch-style cycle lane.

The extension is also an improvement on the rest of CS2 from Aldgate to Bow which has been described as a ‘strip of blue paint at the side of the road’. Here cyclists have to negotiate parked vehicles, bus stops, unexpected gaps in the lane, as well as the aforementioned vehicles doing left turns. The extension is also painted blue (I heard a story that Newham Council objected to the superhighway on the grounds that blue is a Tory colour!) but, in this case, the cycle lane is separated from the road by a narrow strip of raised pavement. At bus stops the cycle lane detours to the left, so avoiding the danger of buses cutting in front of cyclists or of bikes moving into the traffic to avoid buses that have stopped.

The extension will officially open next week once the signage and traffic signals have been added. The crucial link to Romford Road is still a building site but, overall, cyclists can now cycle more safely from the centre of London to Stratford. The irony is that, for the first time, it is no longer necessary to cycle along the A118. With the recent opening of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, it is now possible to cycle off road from Stratford to Bow, and onwards via canal paths into London. Rather like London buses, you wait years for a safe cycle route then two come along at once!


10th September

National paralympic day in Queen Elizabeth Park

There was a great atmosphere in the Park for the above free event on Saturday 7th September. Many people walked through the former Athletes Village to get a glimpse of the residences and the layout before the first families arrive in October 2013.

In the Park there were lots of activities to celebrate disability achievement and all members of the public participated with enthusiasm. Local boroughs, especially Newham, were prominent with their fitness displays and their encouragement of inclusion which complements the Olympic legacy. Newham Youth Orchestra, among others, provided the music. Food and refreshment stalls were accompanied by various performers to keep everybody happy.

For our family the highlight of the day was the free tickets to the Copperbox to watch the international volleyball match between Great Britain and Holland in which the athleticism of the Paralympians was impressive and the noise from the spectators was deafening. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, received a medal of honour from the Paralympian Committee because of his constant publicity for the cause of the Paralympians.


3rd September

Pedal power

Last night, there was a protest ride by cyclists in central London to demand better safety on the city’s streets. Organised by the London Cycling Campaign, 5,000 cyclists rode to the Houses of Parliament where MPs were debating a report, ‘Get Britain Cycling’. They might find it hard to persuade more people to cycle in London after 14 cyclists were killed on the capital’s roads last year and 657 were left seriously injured. Two of those deaths were at the Bow roundabout, a stone’s throw from the Olympic Park in Stratford. Leading the three-mile parade last night in a wheelchair was John Hartley, a cyclist who broke a leg and an arm in a collision with a 4×4 vehicle in central London five weeks ago.

LCC want to see a 20 mph speed limit on all vehicles in London (some cyclists will have to slow down!) and the separation of cyclists from motorised vehicles on main roads and junctions. For those of you living outside London who might think this is a bit unreasonable, you need to remember the average speed for traffic in London is only 12 mph. 20 mph is not asking a lot. As John Hartley put it, “Some space has to be taken away from motor vehicles and given to cyclists. Some of the traffic would evaporate as more drivers turn into cyclists.”

Boris Johnson, the cycle-riding Mayor of London, has promised £386 million during the remainder of his term in office on new infrastructure to keep cyclists separate from other traffic. One of the first projects will be Stratford High Street (A118), leading from the Bow roundabout into Stratford, where a separate cycle lane is to be built. I’ve ridden many a hair-raising journey along that road, praying that my high-vis jacket will keep the thundering juggernauts and racing cars at a safe distance. The changes can’t come soon enough for me. Ironically, with the re-opening of the Olympic Park, I no longer need to cycle along the A118. Cycle routes across the Park now make it possible to cycle off-road from east to west across the River Lea without dicing with death. Another, positive legacy of the Games.

So safe does the Olympic Park promise to be for cyclists, we are even considering running new fieldwork programmes by bike!


1st August

New school in Queen Elizabeth Park

The first families to reside in the Atheletes Village will soon be given the keys for their new homes. At the heart of their residences will be the new Chobham Academy which will open in September so these are exciting times for students and parents alike. The academy will eventually cater for up to 2000 local students from the ages of three to eighteen. As part of the Olympic Legacy the academy will use the former medical centre and canteen facilities.

The educational legacy should be interesting because as a model of sustainability the children will be able to walk to their new neighbourhood school with its ‘state of the art facilities’ with not a car in sight or a main road to cross. One would assume that the facilites of the Park such as the Copperbox, Aquatics Centre and the Velodrome will be available for the students to use with the promotion of environmental appreciation.

However there is the question of commitment to a longlasting educational legacy. While in the local inner city boroughs such as Newham, wealthier parents have often been willing to send their children to local primary schools, on the approach of secondary education they often choose an option of a school in the outer London boroughs and sometimes of a private nature. So I eagerly await to see if, in years to come, all the parents of the students at Chobham Academy will continue their commitment into the secondary sector within the school to ensure its success.


26th July

One year on

Tomorrow, it will be one year to the day since the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. The year seems to have gone by at the speed of one of Usain Bolt’s runs. Today, is the first day of the Anniversary Games, bringing many of last summer’s athletics heroes back together at the stadium. Over the week-end, the northern section of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will open to the public, along with the Copper Box, last summer’s handball arena.

So, looking back over a year, what has been achieved? Which of the legacy promises have been delivered, and which are still a long way off? So far, all the temporary venues for the Games have been removed as promised, including the basketball, water polo and hockey arenas. The Aquatics Centre has had its spectator wings clipped and they are now being replaced with glass to open up the interior to more light. The Media Centre will be occupied this summer by BT Sport who will enter into competition with Sky, broadcasting football and rugby in the autumn. Hopefully, they will be the first of many tenants at the Media Centre, eventually employing 4,500 people between them.

The future of the stadium is now looking clearer. After this weekend’s athletics, the stadium will close for two years while it is converted into a mutli-purpose stadium ready to host Premiership football and concerts in 2016. Yesterday, an announcement was made for the awarding of the contracts to dismantle the roof and extend it to cover the whole crowd. Retractable seats will mean that athletics can still take place and it will be the venue for the World Athletics Championships in 2017.

The Athletes Village has now changed its name to East Village. The first residents were due to arrive in the spring but, when I walked through the village last week, work was still not complete. The arrival of the first residents is now scheduled for late summer. Prospective residents can now register their interest at a new shop in Westfield and, yes, there will be 50% affordable homes in the village, alongside the 50% that are presumably unnaffordable! Chobham Academy opens in September, though how many of its students come from East Village remains to be seen. There will be plenty of students from other parts of Stratford eager to go there.

New plans for the Olympic Park keep coming. Yesterday, it was announced Westfield have submitted a planning application to the London Legacy Development Corporation for the UK’s largest indoor ski facility (I might have more to say about this!). There are also discussions for a new UCL campus in the Park. This follows the breakdown in plans to build a campus on the Carpenter’s Estate just south of the Park (see my blog on 24th February). It will be interesting to see where this site might be and what it might replace. I can only think it will replace proposed areas of housing or green space, unless they are planning to use the site just south of the Greenway, where the warm-up tracks for the Olympics were. No one seems to know anything about that site.

In short, a lot has happened but a lot remains to happen. There have been delays but, so far, the majority of the legacy promises have been delivered. However, there could be a few surprises along the way. Watch this space!


8th July

A city for people or for profit?

One of the A-Level programmes we run is ‘London – a world city’. The question we focus on is, ‘Is London a city for people or for profit?’. I suppose the correct answer is both but, looking at the changes that are happening, the balance is definitely tipping towards profit rather than people.

This is demonstrated most clearly by housing. Increasingly, it is becoming unaffordable for normal people to live in London. Two of our children, both now in their twenties with full-time jobs, still live at home with us. Their wages would barely cover the rent for most of the accommodation available in east London, let alone think about buying. And, this is supposed to be the cheapest part of the city to live in! If they ever hope to buy, they will have to save as hard as they can for the next few years to get anywhere near the sort of deposit that would get them on the property ladder. And, with prices still rising in this part of the city, the bottom rung of the ladder keeps getting higher even as they save.

If it is difficult for those in employment, spare a thought for those without a job. Council waiting lists are getting longer and longer. It is now six years for a two-bedroom flat and fourteen years for a three-bedroom house. A family waiting for a council house would see their children grow up before they reach the top of the waiting list, though they might be grateful for the house when their children are in their twenties and still living at home! Margaret Thatcher’s right-to-buy revolution has hardly helped. There has been a huge transfer of property from the public to the private sector. In 1981, 86% of housing in Tower Hamlets was owned by the council. Today it is 12%.

The definition of what counts as affordable housing is now 80% of the market rate – still way beyond what a lot of people can afford. The market is massively inflated by foreign investors who have bought up property in London for investment purposes. Even though most of this property is in west London it has a knock-on effect on the rest of London. The only people to benefit from this are the landlords who, having bought up homes in London when prices were cheap, now treat their properties as a cash cow to squeeze those who are not so lucky as them. We are in danger of turning London from a socially diverse capital into a playground for the rich.


25th June


I’ve spent the past three weeks redecorating my study at home. As I spend quite a lot of my time writing – not just this blog, but geography textbooks too – this has been a major upheaval. For a couple of days the wi-fi was out of action and for much of the time I have not been able to get to my desk while the floor was being sanded and varnished, walls painted and new shelves being built. The worst is now over and I’m almost back to normal.

This transformation reminds me of the Olympic Park. In order for the Olympic legacy to become a reality, first, the park had to be transformed. Most people didn’t understand why, after the Games finished last summer, the Park was then closed down again for the best part of two years. It seemed a shame, after the huge excitement generated by the Games, that the momentum could not have been maintained. Transformation was always part of the plan after the Olympics were over. The function of the Park during an intense summer of sport, with up to 250,000 spectators each day, was always going to be different to the plans for its long-term use.

First of all those temporary venues, like the basketball and hockey arenas, had to be dismantled and removed (that has now been done). The Aquatics Centre had to have its wings clipped to reveal the true splendour of its sting ray-like roof (also now done). The wide concourses and bridges that allowed for easy movement of crowds had to be reduced, expanding the space available for new parkland to be created (still happening). Next, over the forthcoming years, will be the building of five new neighbourhoods within the Park, turning it into a new piece of east London.

We are drawing close to the first section of the Park re-opening. On 27th July, exactly a year since the opening ceremony of the Games, the Northern Hub and and area around it will be opened with an all-ticket event. Two days later on 29th they will be open to the public for the first time, free of charge. I’m expecting, rather like the redoration of my study, that all the effort and inconvenience of being unable to use it will be worthwhile. And, I’m hoping, normal service will resume on this blog after three weeks’ disruption!


3rd June

East meets East!

Only a week ago I wrote about changes in east London’s economy. I stood with groups of fifteen year-old students on the edge of the Royal Albert Dock, alongside City Airport, comparing east London’s traditional economy with what has replaced it. Then later in the week, with immaculate timing, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced that a 35-acre site at the Royal Albert Dock is to become London’s third financial district, after the City of London and Canary Wharf. He has signed a deal worth £1 billion to build Europe’s first ‘Asian business port’.

The deal with a Chinese developer will create a gateway for Chinese and Asian businesses to set up their European headquarters in the capital, giving them better access to London’s international markets. Eventually, it could bring 20,000 new full-time jobs into east London and be worth £6 billion a year to the UK economy. It will function as a 24-hour mini-city so Asian businesses can work on Beijing time. The deal has already attracted strong interest from prospective users, with twenty Chinese banks visiting the site last week.

The venture comes as a direct spin-off from last summer’s Olympics. A spokesman for the Chinese developers said they were impressed by London’s ability to deliver the Games on time and so successfully. The Mayor drew attention to the fact that east London is now so accessible, as proved by the ease with which a quarter of a million spectators were able to get to Stratford each day. The proximity of City Airport to the Albert Dock site, together with the arrival of Crossrail in 2018, has got to be another major factor in the decision.

So, my comment to the students that they are fortunate to be living in east London at a time when the UK economy is struggling out of recession, turned out to be something of an understatement!


27th May

East London’s economy

Last week Carlo and I worked with Y10 students from a local school to explore the opportunities for work in east London. The school have replaced their work experience week with a ‘progression week’, giving students a wider range of experiences to help to prepare them for the world of work and/or higher education. As part of the week they do interview practice, plan their own enterprise, visit the University of East London and a further education college.

Our contribution to the week is to run a day entitled, ‘East London’s economy’. It’s not the most exciting title – indeed most students, other than the economists among them, don’t really know what ‘economy’ means. However, judging from the reports we’ve had from the school, students find the day useful. We begin the day at the Royal Albert Dock, alongside City Airport, looking at reminders of east London’s traditional economy (the docks and Tate & Lyle factory) and what has replaced it (the airport, university and Newham Council offices). The rest of the day is spent travelling around east London to visit an interesting selection of employers.

The first visit is to Barclay’s UK headquarters at Canary Wharf. Being surrounded by skyscrapers and purposeful-looking people in pin-striped suits and high heels is a new experience for the students. Even though they live within five miles of Canary Wharf, few students have ever visited there. It is a world apart from their lives. We then travel to Westfield to visit the John Lewis store that is one of the anchor tenants. This is more familiar territory for most students, though they may not realise the range of job opportunities in the retail sector. Finally we visit Stour Space, a social enterprise in Hackney Wick, an area with the largest concentration of artists in the UK. Stour Space provides cheap workshop space for artists and has an award-winning cafe overlooking the Olympic Stadium.

At each location, students meet a representative of the company and have an opportunity to ask questions. The contrast between the three enterprises and the philosophy on which they are built is an another dimension to the day. From the unbridled capitalism of Barclay’s to the social enterprise of Stour Space, with the partnership of John Lewis somewhere in between, students begin to see some of the options when it comes to work. It is not our job to persuade them one option is better than the other. Students draw their own conclusions. Some are attracted to the competitive world of big business with the lure of high pay, while others prefer the idea of working more co-operatively, albeit for less money.

Students may not realise it but, living in east London, they are fortunate in having such a wide range of employment opportunities on their doorstep.


9th May

Barriers – visible and invisible

Cities are complex networks of intersecting and overlapping communities. Communities may be defined by their ethnicity, wealth, post-code or whatever, each surrounded by their own invisible boundary. In the case of the Olympic Park, until now the boundary around it has been very visible, in the form of a five-metre wire-mesh barrier topped with an electric fence. Next year the barrier comes down and the expectation is that the Park will be accessible to everybody, but especially those living around the edge.

Last weekend I was in Northern Ireland, visiting Derry and Belfast, where the barriers between communities are anything but invisible. They actually shout at you. In Derry, the city wall serves as a reminder of the 1689 siege. Communities living around the wall, such as in the Catholic Bogside, are still living that history. I thought I knew what to expect in Northern Ireland but, on this my first visit to the province, I was quite taken aback. Streets and even parks are divided by walls and fences to keep the Protestant and Catholic communities apart. They are euphemistically called ‘peace lines’. One in Belfast is five kilometres long. Although the politicians are keen to get rid of them, communities on either side both want to keep the barriers.

I don’t imagine we’ll see anything like that in east London but, when East Village (formerly Athletes Village) gains it’s first permanent residents this summer, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between those in private-rented and public rented accommodation plays out. Some have suggested there will be animosity between the two groups. There is also the question of how those living in desirable new accommodation inside the Olympic Park will relate to their neighbours in the less desirable areas outside. If the Park is to become ‘a new piece of London’ as its advocates hope, it will need to avoid the creation of new barriers – visible or invisible.


29th April

Orient – upwards and eastwards?

When Leyton Orient suggested sharing the Olympic Stadium with West Ham, not many people took them seriously. “They’re ‘avin a laugh” was the perceived wisdom among local football followers. But, a look at the end of season league tables suggests the idea may not have been so outrageous after all. Orient finished eighth in League One, just one place below the play-off positions. With a bit more luck they could have been heading into the Championship. And, until the last couple of games, it looked like West Ham could have been heading in the opposite direction, dropping down from the Premier League. Imagine, West Ham v Leyton Orient in the Championship – the East London dream fixture. Sadly, not to be…not next season anyway.

Off the pitch, Orient’s fortunes have not been so great. Last week they were denied a judicial review into West Ham’s proposed tenancy of the Olympic Stadium. It looks like chairman, Barry Hearn’s, fight for a stake in the Olympic Stadium has finally come to an end. He has always claimed that the arrival of West Ham in Orient’s backyard would signal the beginning of the end for the club. It is difficult to see how they could stop the haemorrhaging of supporters to West Ham, especially if they were lured by lower ticket prices.

One solution for Orient would be to move out into Essex, where there might be potential for it to grow into a bigger club. They would no longer be stifled by three Premier League clubs – West Ham, Arsenal and Spurs – all within five miles. Wimbledon’s move to Milton Keynes, together with the name change to MK Dons, could be taken as a precedent. How about Billericay Orient or Steeple Bumpstead Tons? I’m sure diehard East End Orient fans, not to mention supporters of Billericay and Steeple Bumpstead (if they have a team), would have something to say. But, it looks almost inevitable to me.


17th April

Goodbye Maggie

I wouldn’t call myself one of Margaret Thatcher’s children but, watching the funeral on TV today, I was reminded of the many ways in which my life has been unavoidably puncuated by her and her policies. I started teaching in 1979 when Maggie had just been elected. Fortunately, it took a few years before her ideas began to have a significant impact on education (take note Mr Gove!). I got married in 1982 on the day Britain declared war on Argentina over the Falkland Islands. In those pre-internet and pre-mobile phone days, we did not find out about the war until we returned from honeymoon! And, whilst I would not call myself a child of Thatcher, my children most certainly are. They, like most of their generation have been brought up in a far more consumerist, self-centred culture than I was.

If I want a visual reminder of Thatcher’s legacy I need look no further than Docklands, looming on the horizon here in east London. I remember in the early 1990s watching from my classroom window in Canning Town as the central tower at Canary Wharf rose above the surrounding skyline to an unprecedented height. Of course, since then, a forest of other glass-clad towers have risen to join it. Nothing epitomises Maggie’s reign better than Docklands. It was her deregulation of the finance industry that led to the appearance of all the international banks we see (or, in the case of Lehman’s, don’t see!) today. Canary Wharf now rivals the City as the financial hub of London.

Docklands is a microcosm of the impact that Mrs Thatcher had on Britain. She was the architect of a more unequal society. Whilst the docks were transformed into a glittering landscape of office blocks and apartments, the surrounding communities remain among the most deprived in London, as they were before the Docklands project began. Only the faces have changed – there is now a much larger Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets.

Her policies created new divisions. In Docklands that was exemplified by the arrival of Rupert Murchoch and his newspaper empire at Wapping. Print workers were torn between taking one of the new, non-unionised jobs with News International or maintaining working-class solidarity. Many chose the jobs and crossed the picket line in front of their former colleagues. It divided friends and even families. Of course, this simply mirrored what happened in mining communities all around Britain.

Council tenants in east London bought their own homes under the ‘right to buy’ policy introduced by Mrs Thatcher. Then they watched the value of their investment windfall grow as house prices soared in London. Later, many were able to cash in and sell their house to move out of east London altogether. The consequences are still with us today. The stock of cheap public housing has dwindled while the price of housing in London is now unaffordable for many people (see previous two blogs).

Mrs Thatcher’s legacy divides opinion, just as she did when she was alive. For some, it was her determination that transformed Docklands and produced the stunning landscape we see today. Others look deeper into the recesses of the neighbouring communities at how peoples’ lives have changed in this aquisitive, go-getting world she created. Maggie has gone to meet her maker, but we can be the judge of what she has left behind.


16th April

Community land trusts

Community lands trusts are a relatively new idea in the UK. The idea has come from the US where they have been widely used to provide affordable housing. CLTs are volunteer-run, not-for-profit organisations that develop permanently affordable housing by separating the value of the building from the land it stands on. They hold the land in trust for the long-term benefit of the community.

The first example of a community land trust in London is the former St Clement’s Hospital on the Mile End Road, only a mile from the Olympic Park. Twenty-one homes will be built on the site for sale to local people at prices determined by local income levels rather than market rates. Increasingly, house prices in London are moving out of reach of all but the super-rich (see my blog on 28.3.13). The pressure for a CLT came from London Citizens working alongside the geography department at nearby Queen Mary College. Together, they have convinced London Mayor, Boris Johnson, that CLTs could be a solution to London’s unaffordable housing problem.

St Clement’s could also become the model for a community land trust at the Olympic Park. Work begins this autumn on Chobham Manor, the first of five new residential communities in the Olympic Park. Unlike East Village (the former Athletes Village), Chobham Manor will be a low-rise development of some 800 homes, 75% of which will be three-bedroom plus and 40% of which will be houses with gardens. There is an option to include 100 community land trust homes in the development, thus ensuring at least some local people will become part of the new community. However, it remains to be seen what attitude the London Legacy Development Corporation, who effectively own the site, have to CLTs and whether they will release the land to a trust.


28th March

Greedy bankers and Russian oligarchs

Cyprus is not the only place that has more than it’s share of greedy bankers and Russian oligarchs. There are plenty in London too. And, while the Cyprus economy has been brought to its knees by their activities, London is not unscathed.

This week I worked with an A-Level group following a new KS5 programme, ‘London – a world city’. Through the day, students investigated the question, ‘Is London a city for people or for profit?’. London has changed beyond recognition from the city of my youth and many of those changes began with banking deregulation in the 1980’s. So, what are these changes and how did we investigate them?

The London skyline has shot upwards in recent years as developers meet the insatiable demand for office space. Just fifty years ago St Paul’s Cathedral was still the tallest building in London. Today it is barely visible. We sketched the London skyline from Tower Bridge, noting all the new financial buildings.

Inequality in London is growing, not necessarily because people are getting poorer (though imminent welfare cuts won’t help), but because a significant minority have grown incredibly rich. To prove the point, that banking is not for everyone, we counted people in suits in the heart of the City of London. The overwhelming majority were white men, with women and ethnic minorities poorly represented.

Gentrification is pushing poorer people out of inner London as property prices rocket and the wealthy move in. We followed a transect from the edge of the City, through Spitalfields into Whitechapel, measuring indicators of wealth and deprivation. The changes in shops and services within one kilometre told their own story.

Finally, rising house prices affect almost every Londoner. We investigated house prices in east London to find out what sort of people could afford to live there. Despite being one of the cheapest areas, even those in professional jobs find it hard to get onto the housing ladder. Admittedly, it’s not all the fault of greedy bankers and Russian oligarchs, but an inflated property market and an influx of the world’s rich, buying up homes in London, doesn’t help.


22nd March

West Ham get stadium

It’s confirmed today, West Ham United are going to move into the Olympic Stadium in 2016. After three years of bids, counter bids, legal battles, thwarted dreams and false starts, the London Legacy Development Corporation has announced today that the Premier League club will become the anchor tenants at the stadium, paying £2million a year on a 99-year lease. It sounds like a bargain.

The truth is, West Ham were able to drive a hard bargain because the last thing the government, Mayor of London or LLDC wanted was for the stadium to become a white elephant. I think it all goes back to 2005 when London won the bid for the 2012 Games. At the time, the New Labour government were severely embarrassed by the Millenium Dome which had laid empty for five years, having cost the taxpayer £750 million (half as much again as the stadium). The stadium was designed with this in mind, to be dismantled after the Games and turned into a 25,000-seater athletics arena. It still could be – all the steel is bolted together rather than welded. But, the Dome turned into the O2 Arena and became the most popular indoor arena in the world. Surely, with a bit of imagination the reasoning was, it would be possible to make more of the Olympic stadium?

However, when all is said and done, the only activity in Britain that can draw in huge crowds on a regular basis is Premier League football. East London happens to have it’s own local team in West Ham. Actually, two teams (see Brian’s blog on 15.11.12). Leyton Orient’s stadium is only two miles from the Olmypic Stadium. They have been a thorn in the flesh of West Ham since they won the orginal bid to buy the stadium. Orient’s legal challenge led to the LLDC becoming the owners of the stadium and having to find a suitable tenant.

We won’t have to wait until 2016 to get another glimpse inside the stadium. It is going to be used this summer for the London Grand Prix athletics event and, hopefully, by autumn 2015 a new roof will be ready for the stadium to host the Rugby World Cup. The main expense will be retrofitting retractable seats so that the stadium can easily switch from football to athletics. If only they’d thought about that in 2005, we could have saved a lot of additional money. The government is paying £60m towards the conversion, £40m will be loaned from Newham Council, £20m from LLDC and just £15m from West Ham United (that’s probably less than their annual wage bill). That still leave a big shortfall from the expected cost of up to £190 million to adapt the stadium.

As a local person, I’ve got to wonder if Newham residents are getting a good deal from this. How many libraries or schools could £40m help to keep open or improve? Whether that loan will ever be paid back, who knows? West Ham are not renowned for their consistency and could just as easily be relegated and find it impossible either to fill the stadium or pay back the money. Not only that, most West Ham fans and businesses around the present Upton Park stadium don’t want the club to move. There is too much history associated with that place and people depend on the club for their livelihoods.

On the other hand, when football fans (and it can often be the other team’s fans) are badly behaved and rampage down Green St shouting racist abuse at passers-by, local people might be glad to be rid of them. I wonder if Westfield realise what sort of new neighbours they might be getting?


13th March


We don’t get so many schools come to do fieldwork in the winter. This winter has been particularly quiet in the post-Olympic lull. In March things usually get busier and this month has been no exception. Except the weather so far this month has been exceptional!

We always advise schools to tell students to wear warm outdoor clothing. I like to think the message gets through. I don’t think it did this week. We had a visit from one school (I won’t name it!) when most of the girls arrived wearing just skimpy skirts and jumpers. There was hardly a coat to be seen among them. The planned day involved travelling around east London by train, dropping off at various locations to assess their potential for tourism. Among the locations was Greenwich Park, including the Observatory at the top of the hill, and the O2 Arena, crossing the river by cable car to Royal Victoria Dock.

Fortunately, before the students arrived, we’d taken the decision to view the Olympic Park inside from the John Lewis viewing gallery, rather than outdoors at the Viewtube (see my blog on 5.12.12). So, the day got off to a reasonably warm start. However, by the time we got to Greenwich there was a horizontal blizzard blowing and we had to abort the climb to the top of the hill. We retreated to the warmth of the Maritime Museum, with its new luxury underfloor heating, to thaw out. When we reached the O2 Arena, the Emirates Airline cable car service was suspended due to high winds. Obviously, this was a disappointment but, as we stood watching the waves on the Thames crashing against the bank, no one suggested the cable car was a good idea.

With the loss of one tourist highlight, I had to think of another. The students – and, it has to be said, most of them were girls – had the obvious solution – “Let’s go to Westfield!”. So we did, but not before they had completed the assessment of east London’s tourist potential. They decided that one of east London’s main advantages for tourists is the bad weather option of Europe’s largest urban shopping mall!


4th March

Don Valley stadium

Sad news that the Don Valley stadium in Sheffield is to close, just twenty-two years after it was built for the World Student Games in 1991. I remember, it was an early example of ‘sports-led regeneration’ that I used to teach about in geography. Only recently was it surpassed by the Olympic Stadium as the largest athletics arena in the country. Yet Sheffield City Council, who have decided to close it, were unable to afford to keep it open. The closure is yet another consequence of local government cuts. So, what does this say about the regenerational benefits of major sporting events and what hope is there for the Olympic Park in east London?

Of course, the Don Valley stadium is most famous as the track where Jessica Ennis trained from the age of eleven, long before she became a household name. She said, “I’ve some amazing memories. I started my athletics career there. Having that iconic stadium in my home city is incredible. To lose that would be such a shame for future athletes coming through.” No one knew about Jess during those years. Hard work, grit and determination, pounding round the track and leaping into the sand pit, got her where she is today. And, through those long years, where were all those corporate sponsors who are now so keen to associate their name with hers? Nowhere to be seen!

Which begs the question, if all these Johnny-cum-latelys are so keen to jump on the bandwagon and grab a piece of Jessica Ennis now she is a gold-medal winner, why were they not around through all the years of toil and tribulation? To put it another way, wouldn’t their millions of pounds in sponsorship deals be better spent supporting the next generation of athletes striving to reach their goal rather than in throwing money at an athlete who has already proved her credentials? Indeed, couldn’t Adidas, Omega, British Airways, BP, Aviva and Olay – just some of Jessica Ennis’ new friends – put their money together to keep the Don Valley stadium open? Then one day, they really could claim to have sponsored some of Team GB’s superstars.


24th February

Carpenters Estate

There is controversy brewing on the doorstep of the Olympic Park. Newham Council propose to demolish the Carpenters Estate, just to the south of the park, to provide land to build a new campus for University College London (UCL). The estate is a mixture of high-rise blocks and low-rise family housing, currently home to about 700 people. There is also a neighbourhood primary school. Local people are angry at the idea of losing their homes and community. The Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, is unable to promise they could be re-housed, either on the existing site or anywhere else that would keep the community together.

To say that this is going against the expressed intention of the Olympic organisers, for the Games to benefit deprived communities in east London, is stating the obvious. The Council’s response is that here is an opportunity to attract a major Russell Group university to help regenerate the area by bringing in jobs and raising educational aspiration in East London. The plan is for UCL to invest £1 billion in the project, creating 1,100 jobs during construction and, ultimately, 3,300 university jobs. How many of those jobs would go to Newham residents, currently among the educationally lowest-achieving boroughs in London, no one has said.

There is no question that the Carpenters Estate is in need of some attention. The three high-rise blocks are almost empty. Residents have been slowly decanted over the last few years as the condition of the blocks has deteriorated. The Council’s stated intention has always been to demolish them. However, that did not stop them renting out the top floors to the BBC and Al-Jazeera as the base for their news output during the Olympics last summer.

It would seem to me there is room for compromise. There is no denying that UCL could bring regenerational benefits to Stratford. But, there is also no denying, it is unfair to turf 700 residents out of their homes. If the current estate is demolished I’m sure there is enough land both to re-house the existing community and to build a new campus. I can’t believe that no one else has thought of that. Or, is it that UCL don’t want to share the land with neighbours who might lower the academic tone of the place? Of course, they would never say that.


10th February

Curriculum change … again!

Last week the government published its revised framework for the National Curriculum in England. For geography, it’s not quite a return to bad old days of 1991, when the National Curriculum was first introduced, but what we are offered this time is hardly going to set the world alight.

We were warned. The government flagged up that the revised curriculum would focus on content and, what they describe as, ‘core knowledge’. If memory serves, in 1991 geographers were confronted with almost two hundred statement of attainment in KS3 alone. The latest revision is not that bad – but it’s not that good either!

For the first time since 1991 there is no mention of geographical enquiry. The government claim they don’t want to tell teachers how to teach, but over the past twenty years, if not longer, enquiry has been at the heart of geography. Without enquiry we are in danger of going back to rote learning or, in the case of geography, to the ‘capes and bays’ approach.

No mention either in the geography curriculum of sustainability. This is another step backwards. Sustainable development was introduced as a key concept in the 2008 geography curriculum. Now, at a time when students need to be aware of the perils faced by the planet and our role in creating those perils, geography of all subjects should point the way to a more sustainable future.

Of course, teachers will still be free to put enquiry at the heart of the way they teach. With an imaginative approach to the curriculum, sustainability can still be included. But, how much better if both enquiry and sustainability were central to the curriculum?

Urban Geography East London will continue to offer enquiry-based programmes to engage and inspire students. And sustainability will still be a focus of many of our programmes, as it is of the Olympic legacy.


31st January

Technology moves East

Tomorrow, work is due to begin on turning the Media Centre at the Olympic Park into a new hub for digital and creative industries, called iCITY. The anchor tenant at the new complex will be BT Sport, who will start broadcasting Premier League football and rugby from August this year. This could be the first of many established and start-up companies to move to iCITY. Eventually, they expect 6,500 jobs to be created.

It had been hoped that Google might set up their new UK HQ at the Media Centre. Instead, the American company have chosen to go to King’s Cross, another mega-regeneration project in London. There is a theory that companies, like Google, at the cutting edge of the digital revolution, prefer to locate in places where their young, well-educated workforce aspire to be. In which case, this is a vote for north rather than east London.

However, another technology-based development is on the drawing board for east London at Wood Wharf. You might have thought Docklands regeneration was yesterday’s story. If so, think again. Crossrail, the new fast route from west to east London due to open in 2018, is the catalyst for the development of Wood Wharf, an 8-hectare site immediately to the east of Canary Wharf. This will be an opportunity for Docklands to diversify from its over-reliance on financial jobs.

Old Street, Shoreditch, the Olympic Park, Wood Wharf……technology is moving east!


25th January

Keep the flame burning

Interest among young people in the Olympics and the Olympic legacy is still strong, six months after the event. That was the conclusion I drew from a GA (Geographical Association) branch meeting I attended in Guildford last night. Over sixty A-Level students and a few teachers turned out on a freezing January evening to hear me talk about the Olympic legacy. To be honest, I’d have been happy if a dozen people had come!

Admittedly, this group might not have been representative of the whole country. We were in the south-east of England after all. Furthermore, a surprisingly high proportion of the students – about half – had been to an Olympic event. One teacher had been a Gamesmaker! Perhaps, this was a self-selected group and because they’d been to the Olympics last year, their interest was greater.

Maybe so, but the impression I get, even outside the south-east and apart from people who attended an Olympic event, there is still a lot of interest in, and goodwill towards, the Olympics. It’s almost as if, having been surprised at the success of the Games, we now want to see more success in the shape of the Olympic legacy and the regeneration of east London.

In which case, it’ll be fascinating to see what happens as the Olympic Park re-opens to the public for the first time later this year.


18th January

Sustainable transport

Yesterday, I attended an interesting event at the Crystal, the new sustainable cities venture next to Royal Victoria Dock, sponsored by Seimens (see Bob’s blog on 30.9.12). The eminent planning guru, Professor Sir Peter Hall was speaking about urban transport.

The Crystal’s location is unique and this was reflected in the different modes of transport people had used to get there. Quite a few had crossed the river from Greenwich on the new cable car (Emirates Airline), which lands a few yards away from the Crystal. Others had come from central London by more conventional means, via the Jubilee Line and DLR. A few had flown from Europe, direct to London City Airport, a couple of stops away on the DLR. I was the only cyclist! Sadly, no one came by boat though, forty years ago when the Docks were still open, that would have been possible.

Sir Peter made the point that, as cities grow, many are also decentralising and this means a shift to less sustainable means of transport – namely, the car. London, however, is bucking this trend with the population of inner boroughs growing faster than the periphery. It has also managed to increase the efficiency of its transport system (at great cost to the passenger) and is the only part of the country where the number of car journeys is falling. No one admitted to coming to the event by car!

Beyond the boundaries of Greater London, however, car use is alive and well – indeed, in some cases, essential. Sir Peter gave examples of European cities and regions that are doing far better than us in moving people around by public transport. The only urban region in Britain with an equivalent transport system is Greater Manchester. Manchester is also one of the few cities in the UK, outside London, that is growing without decentralising. Here, as in London, good public transport appears to be one of the keys to successful regeneration.


9th January

Bet yer gambling hits the poor!

It came as no surprise last week to hear that east London is the gambling capital of the UK. My local high street in Forest Gate has five betting shops within about 200 yards. A report produced by Fairer Gambling – an organisation which campaigns against problem betting – revealed the parliamentary constituencies around the country with the highest and lowest spending on high-stakes gambling machines.

The constituency with the highest spending is Bethnal Green and Bow, where punters spent a whopping £243.3 million on gambling machines in 2012. It was closely followed by West Ham, Bermondsey and Hackney – all in east London (if we count Bermondsey as an honorary part of the East End!). The amount spent in Bethnal Green and Bow is not much short of Tower Hamlets total annual spending on all its services! Needless to say, the constituencies with the lowest spending on gambling were all in wealthy parts of the south-east, outside London.

It’s not just on the high street where east Londoners gamble. The new Aspers Casino in Westfield Stratford City is the largest casino in Britain. It has 40 roulette and blackjack tables, 92 gaming terminals and 150 slot machines. As a gambling virgin, I was under the illusion you had to be wealthy to venture into such places. But, no! My first snoop around inside revealed that most of the punters were ordinary local people and they didn’t look very wealthy.

John Redwood, Conservative MP for Wokingham, rather smugly blamed gambling on the culture of poor people. “They have time on their hands. My voters are too busy working hard to make a reasonable income.” He didn’t seem to think it had anything to do with the betting industry taking advantage of the desperate plight that poor people find themselves in these days.


Footer image of the velodrome in Stratford, east London
Footer image
Footer image of the velodrome in Stratford, east London