In 2010 David Cameron claimed he wanted “the Olympics legacy [to] lift East London from being one of the poorest parts of the country to one that shares fully in the capital’s growth and prosperity.”
It is claimed the Olympic “legacy” will help regenerate five east London boroughs. The reality for working-class residents is very different: displacement, gentrification and in the words of housing association chief executive officer Gill Brown, “social cleansing”.
In Newham the “9,000 new homes, many affordable for local people” promised by Lord Coe have not materialised. Instead, the local council wrote to Brighter Futures housing association in Stoke-on-Trent offering them the opportunity to house 500 families.
Newham council says it cannot house people in private rental property because the housing market is starting to “overheat” due to the “buoyant young professionals market”.
Jumping on the regeneration bandwagon, University College London has said it will build a new campus on the site currently occupied by Carpenters Estate, the largest housing estate neighbouring the Olympic site.
Hackney residents began expressing concern for Hackney Marshes as early as 2003. In July 2003 Neale Coleman, an advisor to the London Mayor, informed a meeting set up by the Hackney Environment Forum that there was “no question of permanent or temporary facilities on any part of Hackney Marshes”.
A condition had been attached to planning applications that the developing agency must provide land in exchange for common land and open space taken up by the Olympic developments. However, in 2005 Guy Nicholson, the Hackney Council Cabinet Member for Regeneration, informed residents that planners were defaulting on their obligation.
The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Bill was altered to remove the imperative to provide land in exchange. Part of the Marshes will be tarmacked over to build a coach park. Another promise has been made that the land will be restored.
The picture of turn-a-profit development and broken promises is a familiar element of many so-called “mega-events”. Brazil is now preparing to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic games. On 22 January São Paulo, one of the host cities for the World Cup, saw an estimated 6,000 people evicted from the Pinheirinho favela by the military police of São Paulo.
The 1988 Seoul Games saw 720,000 people displaced, the 1992 Barcelona games saw 2,500 evictions, the 1996 Atlanta Games saw 30,000 evictions, 2,700 were evicted for Athens 2004 and 1.5 million for the Beijing 2008 games. There were no reported evictions for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but house prices more than doubled between 1996 and 2003 in the city with rents increasing by 40% between 1993 and 1998.
Between 1988 and 2008 the Olympic Games have caused the eviction and displacement of more than two million people.
How many will be added to this rising total by the 2012 London Olympics? In the midst of a housing crisis the labour movement should demand that the energy and resources being put into “developing” the Olympic boroughs (i.e. pricing out working class residents) should be poured in to a nation-wide project to construct social housing.
And tenants’ groups resisting evictions must be given the full support of left-wing activists.