My old alma mater, the University of East London (yes, I did my MBA there way back; so far back it was still a poly!), held a cracking seminar hosted by the London Legacy Development Corporation the other evening. It’s title was “Beyond 2012: the Olympics and the Regeneration of East London”. As the blurb said: “Over the last few decades East London has never been short of ambitious development projects and it now has an impressive set of elements (of varying success): a global financial centre, entertainments complex, exhibition centre and now the Olympic Park. These were unthinkable even 30 years ago.” (btw: it was me that added the part in italics in the bracket, natch).
UEL’s own Ralph Ward was in the chair (he’s UKR’s too, of course) and the speakers were those twin poles of luminosity: Martin Crookston, who managed the East Thames corridor for Michael Heseltine (and was the voice of reason on the Rogers Urban Task Force), and Eric Sorensen, who managed the Inner City Directorate of the old DoE before becoming one of the (there were only two who counted) transformational chief executives of the London Docklands Development Corporation. Nobody better really.
We went through the history of the last 30 years and more to work out why we are where we are today and what to do, strategically, to build on the many successes (“the UK economy shrank by a whopping 3% since 2008; this is a fall unprecedented in the lifetime of this audience. Canary Wharf was built when the economy was growing a the rate of 4% per annum”) but also to learn from some of the failures (“there is nothing more dehumanising than these major roads”). Some cracking images illustrating the various points on place making were flashed up, and lessons neatly drawn by our two protagonists.
Followers of Twitter may have noticed that I was tweeting for Britain from that event (last Wednesday evening). This wasn’t so much an attempt to make up for my lamentable performance from Palm Springs, but more a function of how much I understood the debate (which certainly was NOT the case at the conference in Palm Springs).
We had a number of controversial discussions, notably one initiated by Martin Crookston around the number of job opportunities that had not been delivered to the people of Newham, this rather hotly defended by Cllr Conor McCauley from the floor (and certainly there would have been none at all were it not for the tireless efforts of Conor, who is a saint amongst men really and who has never wavered in his quest). This is a very nuanced subject, one which I fully expect UEL to return to in a future seminar.
Another facilitated by Michael Edwards of University College London asked why on earth the (otherwise wholly welcome) proposed UCL move has to involve the razing of homes on the Carpenters Estate, and the destruction and the dispersement of the existing community. And it does seem like something of a cockamamie idea. Mike Edwards made an impassioned plea that this should not happen (he hasn’t changed in the 25 years I have known him) and was very ably supported by the Chair and some of the other residents of the Carpenters Estate Residents Association (who also, incidentally chipped in that neither they nor any of their neighbours had benefited from job opportunities arising from the Games and Park).
The principle of protecting perfectly functional council and social housing estates in London, in the teeth of rising land values and “grand projects” being imposed from above, is one that we keep returning to in this blog. As London continues to overheat, relative to the rest of the country, with foreign investment still flooding in (and, on one level, thank the good gawd for that!) this continues to be a major issue of principle. And one on which Boris should be urged to take a wholly protectionist stance. Residents on such estates must be allowed a proper vote on such proposals. UCL’s interest in locating in Stratford should most definitely be carefully nurtured, but absolutely NOT at the expense of the local community, who now need to see some tangible benefits coming their way.
Hats off to the LLDC for inviting in such a diverse audience and encouraging such plurality of debate. Richard Brown and Paul Brickell of the LLDC both made solid contributions from the floor. It is a brave, inclusive organisation that invites folk who oppose some of its activities into its portals and listens with respect to what they have to say. Bravo, Ralph and UEL. Bravo, LLDC. Oh, and Eric and Martin, you are beacons of expertise and knowledge in a tough – a very tough – arena. I salute you all.