Olympic Games 2012: Legacy

Lord Mawson rose to call attention to building sustainable communities and securing a worthwhile legacy for the London Olympics; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to introduce this debate today, and I am encouraged by the interest shown by Members of your Lordships’ House. I have lived and worked in the Lower Lea Valley in the East End of London for nearly 25 years. In 1984, I founded the Bromley by Bow Centre, which is 300 yards from the Olympic site. I have worked with a team of very able people and members of the local community to grow a community project which has gained a national and international reputation in community development and innovative approaches to the delivery of health, education and other public services.

In 1998 I was asked by the then Secretary of State to become a founding member of Poplar HARCA, the first local housing company of its kind in the UK to take over responsibility for housing from the local authority and to pioneer an approach that would not simply build and renovate housing but would use the capital development programme as an opportunity to develop community regeneration. Our belief is that legacy is not just about land and buildings, as I fear much of the present Olympic rhetoric suggests, but about people, places and sustainable communities. Legacy is also, of course, about sport, but I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Coe, will forgive me if I do not focus on that. He is after all rather more qualified than I am to do so.

Today this £300 million housing company owns and manages 8,500 properties. In 2007 it won the Housing Corporation’s prestigious Gold Award for empowering communities and, in a recent ballot, 78 per cent of the residents of 900 homes on three estates voted to transfer their homes to Poplar HARCA. This company is now putting together a £1 billion capital development programme on an area of land on the opposite side of the road to the Olympic site, and equal in size. Yet to date it has not been possible to hold conversations about this with the London Development Agency and the Olympic Delivery Authority as prospective development partners.

In 1998 I was also asked by the London borough of Tower Hamlets to be a founding member of Leaside Regeneration, a regeneration company that spans the Lower Lea Valley and which for the first time brought together councillors from the London boroughs of Newham and Tower Hamlets, social entrepreneurs like myself and business entrepreneurs. At Leaside Regeneration, we do not just write strategy documents but build practical projects that create employment, stimulate the growth of new community-based businesses and put in place towpaths, bridges, road crossings and stations that knit together this fragmented and desolate river valley. One recent project, completed in December, was a £7 million DLR station at Langdon Park, at the centre of the valley, which connects isolated housing

estates, opens up dead land for redevelopment and brings top-quality design into an area which was for so long treated to poor-quality materials.

In 1999 I joined two people in a room at the Bromley by Bow Centre and we began to dream about bringing the Olympic Games to east London. We realised that the Lower Lea Valley was probably the only place in London with enough available land. Not all were convinced, but we persisted with our thoughts, and I went to see the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside, to check that we were not in cloud-cuckoo-land. We thought that if the Olympics were to come to east London, they could act as a catalyst to turn round the fortunes of the Lower Lea Valley and build what we called the Water City—a practical vision that would use many miles of waterways in the Lower Lea Valley to lift land values and once again drive the economy of east London.