The carpet has been laid out with all the trimmings, including the special “Games Lanes,” renovated parks and the fully constructed Olympic Village. With an estimated £9.35bn being spent on renovations and an estimated influx of 5.5 million visitors, London is all but overrun with the world media, athletes, bureaucrats and tourists on a spectacular scale.
London’s Olympic preparations began in 2005, with ambitious plans to locate 61 per cent of the Olympic Village in Newham. However, there has been disturbingly little critique on the rapid developments and treatment of the residents as London gets ready for its big party this weekend.
With the UK having the second highest settlement of Pakistanis abroad, it is no surprise that London is home to a Pakistani community of approximately 200,000. The highest percentage of these Pakistanis reside in Newham – the home of the Olympics – in towns such as East Ham, Stratford, Manor Park, Upton Park and Forest Gate. Pakistanis residing in the area mostly hail from the Mirpur district in Kashmir and surrounding districts of Jhelum, Rawalpindi and Gujrat in Punjab, as well as Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. Newham, however, is not termed the highest non-White ethnic group area in the country, with over 60 per cent of its population, on the basis of its Pakistani community alone. It also comprises an equally large Bangladeshi community, as well as Indian and African Muslims.
However diverse it is, you only needed to pass through the area to see why it is equally well-known for its relative poverty. As the fourth most deprived local authority area in England and Wales, the local government has attempted to combat the high levels of unemployment and dependency on state benefits. An area traditionally famed for its shipbuilding and industrial expertise, the decline of industry over the years has increased the levels of poverty.
It was the prospect of overcoming these troubles and rejuvenating the area that was instrumental in securing London its bid for the 2012 Olympics. The bid was heralded by one of the locals as “the best thing that’s ever happened to London”. The mainstream media reported on the opportunities for tourism, development and sport this would provide, but seven years later it is clear that the reality has left the local community extremely polarised. One thing is certain: contrary to the city’s claim, these are not “Everyone’s Games” and if you lift the Olympic carpet, you are likely to be surprised by what you find brushed underneath.
The Olympics have served to systematically marginalise the working class and effectively ‘cleanse’ it of the poorest and most undesirable members of society. It all began before the building work even commenced. The London Development Authority (LDA) served 425 social housing residents with a Compulsory Purchase Order for the Olympic and Paralympic Games at the Clay Lane Housing Estate. The bid was won on its claim to sustaining the community and as Mohammed – a local – explains, the residents had been promised a ‘community move’ but that never materialised. As a result, some like Mohammed were relocated to a larger property in their chosen location with some compensation. However, an estimated 25 social housing residents were left in damp properties or forced into emergency accommodation in hostels. Individuals in private housing were denied re-housing altogether and this resulted in the constitution of an appeals panel to assess the ‘reasonableness’ of the relocation and compensation. In one case, however, the LDA refused to accept findings and as former resident Julian Cheyne explained the residents refusing to move were legally evicted and refused legal aid as “the High Court and Legal Aid Commission held that the Olympic Project was too important to be threatened by legal challenges.” With the Olympic Charter explicitly prohibiting “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” it is fair to say that these voices will be left unheard.
The plans for housing after the Olympics are equally controversial with local residents complaining that the properties will be unaffordable and they are being priced out of the market. Hassan Adani, 48, worked as a street cleaner for 20 years before a medical condition left him unemployed said “Spend a night sleeping in a homeless hostel with doors banging throughout the night and your priorities will change. To say the houses available in the Olympic Park will be ‘affordable’ is ridiculous.”
The displacement of these people is confirmed by the 2007 UN-funded Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) which released a report detailing that with more than two million evictees between 1988 and 2008, the Olympics is one of the top causes of displacement in the world.
Pakistanis in the area had varied opinions on the famed Olympic property boom that this would bring. Ahmed – who purchased a property to rent in Newham – explained, the local area is under-performing compared to the rest of London by 10 – 20 per cent due to the huge supply of new developments and exorbitant costs of local living. Property analysts are confident the rental market will pick up after the Olympic rush as 2,818 apartments in the village will become part of a new housing district – E20 – split between social housing provided by the local authority and private sector apartments from the Qatari Diar and Investment group Delancey (QDD).