Time to talk legacy?

There’s bound to be some stiff competition to get into Private Eye’s Olympicballs column this week – but let’s give it a go….

It’s still unfashionable to be sceptical about the likelihood of a legacy for the games, but let’s not forget that the original vision behind London’s bid for the Olympics was about regenerating a huge swathe of the ex-industrial east end, and providing tonnes of new homes in shiny new neighbourhoods.

So as the celebrations finish and the builders move back into the Olympic Park, now seems a good moment to remind ourselves of what’s planned for the physical legacy of the games – and to ask whether it will really deliver once the spotlight of global attention moves on.

The first homes to become available will be the Athletes Village – now rebranded as East Village E20. Although they’ve been home to thousands of athletes for the summer, they need to have kitchens added before mere mortals can move in next year. But when they do, it really will be a whole new neighbourhood of nearly 3,000 homes.

About half of these will be affordable homes run by partnership Triathlon, including 675 units of old-fashioned social housing – possibly the last that will be built with central government subsidy, as the grant was awarded before the introduction of Affordable Rent effectively ended central support for new social homes.

The affordable housing mix is higher than anything we may ever see again, it’s well distributed throughout the site, and there’s a decent amount of family housing. And unlike the Thames Gateway and other proposed massive house building programmes, the Village actually exists – it was planned, funded and built in a mere five years!

An interesting question is what will happen to the 1,439 private homes. These have been bought by QDD, a partnership of Delancey and the Qatari royal family who have been buying up high-profile chunks of London for some time. With my post-games optimistic goggles on it’s tempting to see this as the glimmerings of the long awaited dawn of institutional investment in the PRS – clearly QDD are not your average amateur buy to let investor, and have already said that they are looking at offering five or ten year rental contracts ‘on the European model’.

Securing longer, more stable tenancies for private renters is an issue close to Shelter’s heart – but QDD’s interest is clearly driven by good business sense.

With a whole new neighbourhood appearing over night thanks to the Olympic timetable, serious thought needs to be paid to building a real community, and fast. Few things are more damaging to community cohesion and engagement than a high proportion of transient private rented homes, occupied by renters who know they have little or no control over their homes.

Of course, East Village is just the start of the legacy. It is the first of six new neighbourhoods planned by the newly renamed London Legacy Development Corporation, so what happens to the Village will be critical to shaping the whole of this new bit of city.

The wider Olympic area represents a rare example of large scale residential development, of the type that went out with the New towns. Is this to be an anomaly, driven by the once-in-a-lifetime event of the games? Or might it offer a vision of how a confident public leadership and serious investment can transform places, and actually build some homes?