Urban renewal or rich enclave in east London?

The organisers of the London Olympics hope their mammoth �9.3 billion investment will regenerate east London, but critics fear it will only create an island of prosperity amid run-down neighbourhoods.

The London Legacy Development Corporation, which is responsible for the area's post-Games legacy, argues that the Games, with a budget equivalent to $14.5 billion or 11.6 billion euros, have already speeded up the regeneration of a once polluted site.

"There was a dirty hole in the Lee Valley and it's become a biodiversity spot," said the agency's Chief of Design Kathryn Firth.

But critics of the development fear that what has actually been created is a rich enclave like Canary Wharf, the steel and glass district of banks and apartments a short distance from the Olympic Park.

"A new part of the city has been grafted on, rather than giving priority to seeking to improve the living conditions of the people who live there," said Manuel Appert, a geographer who specialises in urban London.

Just as in Canary Wharf, "you go from the very richest on one side of the street to the very poorest on the other", he argues.

The area where the stadiums are located, Stratford, was very poor, but it was home to many residents and businesses before the bulldozers moved in.

Thousands of inhabitants and more than 200 companies employing 5,000 people were displaced in order to build the Olympic Park, including a smoked salmon factory which received new, larger premises paid for from the budget.

The development agency has promised thousands of new homes, a huge green space, three miles (five kilometres) of trails along the River Lee, schools, nurseries and other public facilities.

It is hoped a new business centre will provide much-needed jobs for the borough of Newham, an ethnically mixed area which has an employment rate of just 56 percent.

Stratford resident Farhat Monin, 25, believes the Games will boost prospects for the majority of locals, providing that businesses favour Newham inhabitants when hiring new staff.

"It's good that people get to know the area better through the Olympic Games," she said. "The area is changing, it's being taken care of."

The new landscape is futuristic, with trains and subways leading to a huge railway station, which has direct underground access to the new Westfield shopping centre, the largest in Europe.

But if you cross a footbridge spanning the railway lines you reach the "old" part of Stratford, where a much smaller and older shopping mall is struggling to survive the competition from Westfield.

In the high street, the furniture store has closed. The manager of the bedding shop next door, Mehmet Stewart, acknowledges that "Westfield is definitely taking customers" but is optimistic. "People will return, our prices are more reasonable," he said.

Atif Khan, who manages a mobile phone shop, has experienced a "20 to 25 percent decline in sales", and fears that the residents of the area will be priced out once the Olympics finish.

"The city looks nicer, safer, and cleaner," he said. "I'd like to live here, but housing is more expensive."

The borough of Newham is in dire need of affordable housing with 36,000 people on waiting lists.

The transformation of the Olympic Village, which will house 2,800 athletes during the Games, into 1,379 "affordable" homes should help alleviate the problem.

But only 25 percent of those will be available for social housing, according to Manuel Appert.

One half was sold to Qatar's sovereign wealth fund, which is expected to rent out its properties at market prices.

The other half was sold to housing associations, who had to limit the amount dedicated to social housing in order to obtain bank loans.

After the Games, the Village will be converted into a mini-city complete with an education complex, shops and public squares.

"There will be around 11,000 homes -- so that's maybe 40,000 people -- living there 20 years from now," said Richard Burdett, professor of urbanism at the London School of Economics.

For Burdett, the true post-Games test "is if it feels like a normal piece of city -- and I think that's the ambition of the project".

An aerial view of the Olympic Stadium and the Aquatics Centre in an image taken on March 24, 2011 and released by the Olympic Delivery Authority press office. The organisers of the London Olympics hope their mammoth �9.3 billion investment will regenerate east London, but critics fear it will only create an island of prosperity amid run-down neighbourhoods.

A boat passes along the River Lee near the London 2012 Olympic Stadium in Stratford, east London, on June 26, 2012. The organisers of the London Olympics hope their mammoth �9.3 billion investment will regenerate east London, but critics fear it will only create an island of prosperity amid run-down neighbourhoods.

This aerial view shows the Olympic Stadium in the Olympic Park in east London on June 20, 2012. The organisers of the London Olympics hope their mammoth �9.3 billion investment will regenerate east London, but critics fear it will only create an island of prosperity amid run-down neighbourhoods.

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