Any visitor to Stratford, in East London, these days would be left shell-shocked at the run down state of the Olympic Park, which served as the main venue of the July 27-August 12 Olympic Games only last summer.
As the key hub of the world’s largest sporting spectacle, it was from here that the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps displayed their enormous talent to be labelled as true Olympic icons among the 4.3 billion people across the globe, estimated to have watched the Games on television.
But then, there is no reason to press the panic button as the current state of the park, which has remained closed since the completion of the Paralympic Games, is part of a well-orchestrated plan to develop the 245-hectare site as part of the legacy initiative which formed a core part of London’s bid for the Games in 2005.
Accordingly a sum of £292 million which had been earmarked in the £11 billion budget for the Games itself is being put to good use on two counts: first, the regeneration of the East London and secondly to transform the park, roughly the same size of Hyde Park, to a place fit enough to live, work, play and visit.
The park itself has been rechristened as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park commemorating the monarch’s golden jubilee year and work on the first phase on the project is now expected to be completed within the next 15 weeks so as to enable the authorities to reopen the park on July 27 this year, the same date on which the 2012 London Games had got underway.
And as roughly about 800 workers toil hard 24x7 in shifts, the plan includes the breaking down of all temporary facilities set up for the Games besides downsizing the key permanent fixtures.
The temporary structures being demolished include the athletes training centre, the 16,000-seater basketball arena, the water polo venue, the warm-up track for track and field and the Games-time security area and spectator stands.
Among other major works now in full swing are the downsizing of the 85000-seater main stadium to accommodate 60,000 spectators in the future and the scaling down of the 16,000-seater aquatics centre to a bare minimum of 2,500 and providing it with a glass-covered finish.
Little wonder that the park has remained out-of-bounds to visitors since October last.
But a delegation of visiting journalists were told last week by Andreas Christophorou, head of media of the London Legacy Development Corporation, that, “London has set the blueprint for Olympic legacy and after three years of planning, we are now all set to deliver the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for everyone that will bring new homes, jobs and opportunities for sports and leisure. “While the park will reopen on July 27 this year, its development is a 20-year project and we will continue the high standards that will change people’s lives not only within the park but also those residing in the nearby boroughs of Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.”
Originally, the plan was to cut down the seating capacity of the main stadium to 25,000 but this has been retained at 60,000 as of now to conduct the 2017 World Championships in athletics, already awarded to London. Moreover, with West Ham United gaining the bid to use the infrastructure, the main stadium could also be a venue for the English Premier League fixtures in the future.
The development plan also includes the transformation of the athletes village to 2,818 new homes, the International Broadcasting Centre and the Media Centre, used during the Games, as new work places in the areas of technology and communications while the Arcelor Mittal Orbit is being retained as a tourist attraction.
The park, besides these, will also offer citizens of the nearby areas the facilities of the Olympic velodrome and the Cooper Box indoor arena.
There is considerable enthusiasm for the new facilities coming up in East London but what the city aims is at translating the gains of the Olympic Games to further the cause of sports in Great Britain with an eye on the future.