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By Avril Ormsby
LONDON, April 18 The attention of the world will
be on London's Olympic Park in 100 days' time, but Nigerian
tourist Olatunde Ojo's more immediate focus is spending money at
the adjoining super-sized shopping mall.
"I've come to see Westfield," the 32-year-old public health
worker said, taking photographs of his friends standing outside
the shopping complex.
"My friend told me to come to the newest mall in town."
Westfield will be the main gateway to the Olympic Park in
Stratford, and politicians hope it will help a previously
neglected part of east London become a place of destination,
attracting investment and tourists.
Ojo already counts Westfield, Europe's largest shopping
centre of its kind, alongside more traditional tourist
destinations such as Trafalgar Square.
Locals fear, however, the old Stratford could be left
When Ojo walked up the steps to Westfield from Stratford
train station, which has had a 125 million pounds ($200 million)
refit, he did not glance back. If he had, he would have seen the
old Stratford shopping centre on the other side of the road.
Divided only by a strip of tarmac, the road might as well be
a boundary between two worlds.
On one side is more than 7 billion pounds of new
infrastructure, an island of new stadiums, shops, and hotels
surrounded by waterways, roads and railway lines.
On the other, is one of Britain's most economically deprived
areas, ethnically diverse, and blighted by unemployment and
A new metal sculpture of shimmering lime, green and yellow
outside the 1970s shopping centre cannot disguise its
Inside, shops advertise items costing less than a pound.
There are pawnbrokers, burger restaurants and market stalls
selling jellied eels and whelks.
PIE AND MASH
The Olympics are the much hoped-for catalyst for a
long-planned regeneration of east London.
Once known as "stinky Stratford" because of its noxious
industries and slaughterhouses, it has been in need of
investment ever since the nearby docks, once the largest in the
world, closed in the 1970s.
Unemployment reached 20 percent shortly afterwards, similar
to rates during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Sitting on a hard bench in a white-tiled traditional 'pie
and mash' cafe, once the staple of the poor in Victorian London,
Sharon Falcone said the area used to be "the pits".
"When people talked about the east end they would have the
image in their minds it was all gangsters and guns," the
57-year-old said, pushing a hair back from her forehead and
revealing a ring on every finger.
"They will see it in a different light now."
'WHIFF OF CHINA'
Regeneration of the east end began in the late 1980s, with
pockets of wealth created nearby, including Canary Wharf, now
home to many financial institutions.
However, it took the Olympics to provide the kind of impetus
never before seen in Britain in terms of pace and scale, helping
speed up regeneration by about 50 years, experts say.
Even Westfield was brought forward by between five and seven
years to meet the Games deadline.
"It's kind of a new start," said Tony Travers of the London
School of Economics. "It's bristling with cranes and towers -
just a whiff of modern China about it. A bit chaotic but on the
other hand it's economic activity.
"Most cities would give their eye teeth for this kind of
Dozens of businesses were bulldozed to make way for the
Olympic Park, mountains of discarded fridges and shopping
trolleys removed from the grimy waterways, and two million tons
of contaminated soil cleaned of petrol, oil, tar and poisons
such as arsenic.
During the next 20 years, up to 11,000 new homes will be
built, a new 33 million pounds academic hub and a polyclinic
The Olympic Park has provided 46,000 construction jobs, with
about 20 percent of the workforce coming from local boroughs.
The 1.4 billion pounds Stratford City - a complex of hotels,
offices and homes - that includes Westfield, has created
thousands more jobs.
Developers have already constructed brightly coloured blocks
of luxury apartments in the surrounding area, dwarfing the drab
properties put up in the 1960s by town planners belatedly
rebuilding after the damage caused by Germany's Luftwaffe in
World War Two.
"What we have to say is: come here, but don't just go to
Westfield, go over the bridge, come and have a look at the old
part of town, have a look at the Olympic Park as well," said
Cathy Low of promotional body Stratford Renaissance Partnership.
'STILL A DUMP'
Not all the locals are supportive, fearful they will be
"You've got to have this," said one man rubbing his thumb
and first two fingers together, indicating money.
They argue the construction jobs have gone to foreign
workers and the new homes and Olympic tickets to the wealthy.
Hundreds of jobs were lost when businesses were forced to
make way for the Olympic site, and nearly 80 companies are still
in dispute with the local authority over compensation.
House prices and rental prices have failed to take off as
anticipated after an initial spurt, and have underperformed
relative to the rest of London during the past four years,
property analyst Hometrack says.
However, the improved infrastructure should help in the
long-term, estate agents believe.
"It should be remembered that as a regeneration project, the
area is still in its infancy," said Richard Donnell, director of
research at Hometrack.
London Assembly lawmaker Andrew Boff said the legacy might
have been better if the body responsible, the Olympic Park
Legacy Company (OPLC), had been involved from the start.
He said Olympic organisers had been focused "just on a good
Games", which should have been a secondary consideration.
The Olympics have failed to impress local Raymond Plume, 52,
who was drinking coffee outside a cafe in Bow, a neighbouring
borough southwest of the Park.
"The area was a bit of a dump, it still is a dump - a new
dump," he said.
"The stadium looks a prefab. It's a mishmash of nothing. I
won't go to the new pool. If I want a swim, I'll go to a beach
Some locals are not even impressed with Westfield.
"I still prefer the West End for shopping," said Alan Jones,
66, a former club owner sharing a coffee with Plume, dressed in
a smart blue cap, long blue coat and purple shoes.
"It's got better quality of shops."
There are signs the old Stratford centre will survive
In the cafe serving pie and mashed potatoes, 64-year-old
Barbara Beasey said: "I still go there. I want a decent cup of
coffee that doesn't cost three pounds."
Les Barry, who runs a market stall selling smoked hams, said
value for money could also keep customers coming.
"People still like a bargain," he added.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)