Legacy was a key feature of the 2012 Games, but have they delivered their promises?
It’s hard to believe that it’s a year since the Olympics came to London and the UK celebrated its best ever tally of 65 medals.
Yet, even before the Olympic bandwagon arrived, the organiser’s attention was firmly fixed on its legacy: seeking to reassure everyone of long-term benefit to the UK. There was much confidence (and hype) about its financial benefits: David Cameron predicted a £13bn economic boost over the next four years, whilst a Lloyds Banks report suggested it could be as much as £16.5bn up to 2017.
But a year later, there is little statistical evidence to support or deny these claims. However, there are real legacies from the Games: the most obvious being the massive redevelopment of east London, the Lee Valley and the creation of the Olympic Park itself. Closed for almost a year since the Games’ finished, it has been reborn as The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Whilst the first section, the North Area opens to the public almost a year to the day that the Games closed, the Park itself remains an ongoing urban regeneration project and will not be complete for another two to three years.
The Park and venues including the stadium, Aquatic Centre and Copper Box have been made ready for “everyday use”. The Park has a calendar packed with summer music and cultural festivals, whilst the Stadium is now home to West Ham football club and will host the 2017 World Athletics Championships.
In terms of developing new communities, the Olympic legacy is already evident: homes at East Village, the first of Park’s new neighbourhoods are already on the market. A mixed development of private properties and new affordable homes (created from the athletes’ village), East Village will become home to over 50,000 people in the next two decades.
Similarly, the new Westfield Stratford City development will leave a considerable legacy: 1.9m square metres of retail and leisure pace, offices, hotels and new homes will create more than 18,000 permanent new jobs. Its much improved transport links and the new Stratford rail station will provide jobs and the infrastructure for future generations.
The Games’ Media Centre has also delivered its legacy targets: rebranded as iCITY, an enterprise centre for digital and creative industries, it has secured ongoing funding and is more than 40% pre-let to business tenants. Amongst its new occupants will be BT Sport whose new production, studio and broadcasting operations will be based there from July and Loughborough University which will establish an academic campus there in 2015.
Whilst the physical legacy of the Games is obvious, assessing its financial and attitudinal impact is more complex. During the Olympics, many hoped that the “feel good” factor it generated would be a significant legacy. Whether this is sustainable (particularly in tough economic conditions) remains to be seen: as does the Games’ financial benefits for UK business and the wider economy. A recent study by tourism promoter, VisitBritain showed that the Games had strengthened the UK’s brand overseas and that more people now wanted to visit the country. This may – or may not – bring business to the UK, but it’s unlikely to generate the economic benefits suggested by David Cameron or Lloyds Bank ahead of the Games.
The Games’ legacy probably needs several more years before it can be assessed effectively. However, the long-term evidence from recent Olympic hosts such as Athens, Sydney, Atlanta and particularly Barcelona shows that the business benefits are considerably less than anticipated. Only time will tell if London proves the exception rather than the rule.