Back from rainy Wales and a week trying to keep up with my son and I am now taking a look at all things Olympics that have been happening, particularly as this Tuesday will see a fanfare of "two years to go" announcements.
Before I went on holiday I interviewed Baroness Ford and Andrew Altman at the Olympic Park Legacy Company about their emerging vision for the Olympic Park post-Games for an interview that has just been published in Estates Gazette.
The latest issue of EG is in fact devoted in large part to the Olympics development.
I found Ford and Altman candid, confident and, most importantly, still hugely excited by the project. They said a lot more of interest than I had space to cover so I will try to include some of that later on.
The link to the feature is here .
If you can't get in to that and want to read it I have published it below:
2012 and beyond
For Baroness Ford and Andrew Altman, the coming week represents a milestone.
On Tuesday, it will be two years to go to London 2012 Olympic Games, which means the clock is also ticking on the duo's chances of delivering a worthy legacy at the 500-acre Olympics Park for the decades beyond.
Ford and Altman - chairwoman and chief executive respectively of the Olympic Park Legacy Company have given Estates Gazette an exclusive briefing on what the market should expect when they finally unveil their vision for the park.
"The next 12 months are the most critical in the OPLC's life," admits former English Partnerships chief Ford. "The mayor has made it clear he does not want us to be distracted from this."
The Ayreshire-born 52-year-old is referring to a series of recent political interventions from government and the London mayor that have given her team "the tools to deliver the project at last" - not least, the vital confirmation two weeks ago that the Park will transfer debt-free into the ownership of the legacy company (see box, p44).
This means that the OPLC can focus on other key issues, such as how much and what type of housing should be built on the site.
There will be some significant variation from the original London Development Agency framework for the site, which was produced and consulted on a year before OPLC came into existence. That masterplan, drawn up by architects EDAW, KCAP and Allies & Morrison in 2008-2009, envisaged between 10,000 and 12,000 homes in six village developments at the park - just one of which would provide low-rise family homes.
But Ford and Altman, the 47-year-old former deputy mayor of Philadelphia, see things differently. For much of the OPLC's first 12 months in operation, they have been evangelical about the need for more family housing.
"The overwhelming feedback from pretty much everyone was we want to see a greater accent on family housing, as that is plainly the part of the housing mix that is most needed in east London," says Ford.
Although the two will not say exactly how many homes will ultimately be built on the park, it is anticipated that the new masterplan will scale back previous LDA ambitions by favouring lower-density neighbourhoods rather than tower blocks, and suggesting a figure of between 8,000 and 10,000 houses.
Altman says the LDA's architectural team has continued to work with the three previous park architects but has also enlisted the help of experts in family housing, such as MaccreanorLavington Architects.
What they have aimed for, he says, is "family terraced housing, great neighbourhoods, crescents and squares, parks and housing around canals and the 1.9 miles of waterways at the site - the neighbourhoods that make London a great place to live".
London Mayor Boris Johnson, they explain, has been instrumental in the change of emphasis.
"A great London estate"
"When I first looked at the masterplan with the mayor, we both said 'this is fine but it could be Amsterdam, Hamburg or Singapore'," says Ford. "The mayor really wanted us to look at what makes London a great place in which to live - its rich traditions and heritage, and the idea that expensive neighbourhoods can sit cheek by jowl with affordable neighbourhoods."
Ford and Altman see the OPLC's role as evolving "a great London estate" in the manner of landowners such as Grosvenor and Cadogan. The pair say the OPLC will take its position as overall landlord "very seriously".
As such, they plan to package up small housing sites for around 200-300 homes and sell them to a diverse selection of developers and housebuilders.
Ford says the masterplan will outline which areas will first be brought forward for sale to developers. She adds that the large amount of land set aside as public realm means that it would not be appropriate to team up with a single developer, or even a couple, as she did in her time at English Partnerships, when she signed the deal to partner Lend Lease and Quintain at Greenwich Peninsula.
Crucially, the OPLC will be able to dictate where and when social and affordable housing is built, and will seek to experiment with innovative development partnerships and ownership arrangements such as community land trusts.
Ford and Altman propose to use part of the Olympic Park site as a kind of test bed for these non-profit-making property trusts, popular in the US and Scandinavia, which are owned in perpetuity by the local community so that they can rent out housing at affordable prices.
"We feel that to plan and hold the sites, like one of the great London estates, is an eminently sensible thing to do," says Ford. "But within that we would like to try to develop a piece of land as a community land trust model - it is an interesting model for the long-term holding of affordable housing in perpetuity."
Ford has also been reviewing in detail how the site can create a sporting legacy for east London, forever linking it to the 2012 Games. "There was not enough of a statement around legacy in the sporting elements of the park," she explains.
Crucial to this will be the future use of the Olympic stadium, which will be the first asset to be handed over to the private sector. Earlier this month, the mayor told the London Assembly that there had been "200 expressions of interest in [occupying] the stadium [after the games], of which there have been three of strong confidence".
The OPLC will not discuss any names, but east London football club West Ham United, backed by Newham council, and US entertainment giant AEG are known to have thrown their hats in the ring, while events organiser LiveNation is widely rumoured to be another serious bidder.
"The mayor is not a million miles out [to say there have been] three serious offers, but there are a few more," says Ford. "We are going to the investment committee with a handful of names to decide who the really serious players are and then we will take this to the next stage."
Ford can, however, confirm that the deal will not involve a sale. "It will be a long lease, not a sale. Given banking sentiment it is no surprise that most people want a long lease as they don't want to tie capital up."
Media centre "misguided"
But if there is gathering confidence that the stadium will find a strong anchor, the same cannot be said of the 900,000 sq ft International Broadcasting Centre and Media Centre, which will be located at the Hackney Wick end of the Olympic Park
The centre has at various times been touted as a potential broadcast home for the BBC and ITV, but Ford says the idea that big broadcasters want large broadcast space in east London "was always misguided", admitting it was always going to be the "toughest nut to crack".
The good news is that the two are feeling bullish just now. Altman has made it his "personal crusade" to drum up interest in the centre and an initial prospectus for it will appear in tandem with the masterplan.
"We would not be going to market if we did not feel we could find an anchor tenant," says Ford. "We would love to create the media cluster that [Hackney mayor] Jules Pipe has really crusaded for, but the tenants may be slightly different than we were initially told would be interested."
So, with only two years to go, are the headaches of the job turning out to be Olympic ones? Altman shakes his head. "In the end, no matter how much the day-to-day fire fighting frustrates you," Altman says, "when you look out of our Stratford office window across the site, the project transcends all of that."
Olympic legacy's problems - and solutions
The OPLC's life may have been a short one so far but the duo at its helm have already faced down a series of crises.
Land and debt Most significantly, as a clearly elated Altman points out, two weeks ago it was confirmed that the new government would rubberstamp a crucial £438m land deal that will see the 500-acre Olympic Park transfer debt-free to the Olympic Park Legacy Company.
Ford is starkly honest about the significance of this: "You can't sell a house if you don't have the deeds. We needed to be seen as the beneficial owner of the stadium and the broadcast centre to begin negotiations on them."
£450m missing from retrofit budget Speaking at a Select Committee meeting in front of the Department for Culture Media & Sport at Parliament in March, the duo claimed that on top of the £350m Olympic Delivery Authority budget for work on dismantling and preparing the 500-acre park after the Games, the London Development Agency had estimated that a further £450m would need to be found to ready the site, and no one was picking up the bill.
Now Ford says: "We are working through this in three chapters. Chapter one: we make sure as much work is done by the ODA as is humanly and financially possible.
"The second chapter is to ensure that, with the sponsors, not a single penny is lost in leaving a permanent legacy [in terms of persuading sponsors to pay for things like facilities and training].
"Thirdly, we are working with colleagues in DCLG to put forward a 'capital ask' [the specific amount of money we need], if you like, which will go into the comprehensive spending review."
Remediation Information contained in a dossier of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, by industrial waste campaigner Mike Wells and analyst Paul Charman, is being used to question whether proper remediation guidelines have been followed at the Olympics site and in particular whether it is suitable for family housing.
The Olympic Delivery Authority and Environment Agency have denied there is an issue. Ford and Altman say they have also sought and received assurances about this from both bodies.
"We have been absolutely assured by the ODA and EA that any human health hazards have been removed or made completely safe on the site - the EA does not say that lightly. I would like to reassure everyone that there is nothing remotely dangerous or concerning about the remediation," says Ford.