In the summer of 2012, billions across the World enjoyed the spectacle of the London Olympics. In the UK alone, 23m watched the tremendous, tear jerking opening ceremony and overall the event has been hailed as @one of the most successful ‘games ever”.
We’re now less than a year forward and the arguments continue about a key facet of any national spectacle once the TV crews have gone – the legacy.
Different events have created differing legacies. Ask the residents of Sheffield who are still paying for the 1991 Student Games or conversely the folk of Manchester who’ve seen regeneration and investment on the back of the 2002 Commonwealth Games – and arguably the recreation of Manchester City as a leading edge football club. (I’m not a football fan, so no need to argue on this point!)
With todays news that our national treasure, the Olympic Stadium in East London, will require additional taxpayer money (about £60m in total) to convert it into a suitable asset for West Ham FC to occupy is, in my opinion, a smear on the success of the ‘games and something that shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet.
I can see the arguments for additional investment. No-one wants to see such a great piece of architecture (and frankly, huge capital investment) fall into disrepair. A cracking and weed ridden monument would do nothing for the reputation of London or the UK – we have all seen the desolation of stadia and amusement parks in New Orleans, or the shells of industry in Detroit that the URBEX community place on YouTube…
What doesn’t chime well for me is that the UK is pebble-dashed with national treasures which also require investment and in their own right these are equally important. These treasures are often supported by local charities, voluntary groups or are owned by overburdened businesses, beset by regulation and legislation.
If I think locally, we have the Birnbeck Pier and Tropicana in Weston super Mare which, with the right cash injection, could create much needed, long term income for the town.
A little further afield, other treasured seaside towns and their piers are struggling to survive. Take Hastings pier now closed and Eastbourne pier which again needs commercial support to help maintain it’s position as one of the finest examples of Eugenius Birch engineering.
The reason for my interest in this topic is a personal belief that we can use our great heritage to regenerate our lost towns, involve local communities, improve civic pride and in turn create commercial / fiscal inflow.
The discussion for me is one of scale. We spent £12bn on last years ‘games. We’ll spend an additional £60m to make the main stadium rentable, but why are we not sweating the asset more, before paying for a commercial enterprise to occupy this space?
In the ocean that is UK debt, £60m is nothing, but to the projects and towns that I’ve highlighted above, it’s a considerable amount that could help get regional investment off the ground.
I’m fortunate to have lived in and visited many towns in the UK, north and south, east to west. There are examples of national treasures at every extremity of our ‘green and pleasant land’ that need looking at through a different lens and I hope that others out there share my passion. You know where I am!