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Page last updated at 13:37 GMT, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Stratford's last stand


The allotments and the Olympics

By Debbie Hartley
Assistant Producer, Building the Olympic Dream

Watch episode two of Building the Olympic Dream, The last stand at Stratford, on BBC Two on Wednesday, 11 March at 2100 GMT or afterwards on the BBC iPlayer. Episode three follows at the same time on 18 March

How would you react if you were told your home, your business, or even your well-tended allotment was about to be flattened to make way for an Olympic Park?

That is what happened to several hundred people living and working on the 700 acre site for the 2012 London Games.

Situated in the heart of the city's east end, the area was often described by the media during the bid process as a wasteland.

A former landfill site, it was criss-crossed with pylons and rivers and had largely been neglected for years.

Lord Coe, the Chair of London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Locog) believed the Games would be an opportunity to revitalise and regenerate a deprived part of London.

However, as I was to discover, nothing is ever that black and white.

I was surprised to find that although rather shabby, the site was not only home to flourishing businesses and more than 400 residents on the Clays Lane Estate, but there was also a cycle track, a travellers site and a century old allotment society.

More than 9bn of public money would be spent to develop the site - but in order for the land to be levelled, the rivers cleaned up and a whole new infrastructure built, everybody would have to be moved off.

It was a sober moment filming the destruction of the plots and sheds

Assistant producer Debbie Hartley
The aim - as well as hosting the Games - was to create the first large park in London since Victorian times. And the Olympic Village would be converted into more than 3,000 much-needed homes once the Games had finished.

Inevitably not everyone was pleased about being forced out - although the London Development Agency (LDA) the body responsible for acquiring the land for the Olympic authorities was offering compensation.

A total of 94% of the land was secured by negotiation - the rest was acquired through a Compulsory Purchase Order.

There was something very British about what unfolded over the next year with resistance to the plans coming from some unexpected quarters.

One of the groups of people campaigning to stay and be incorporated into the Park was the Manor Garden Allotment society. Many of the members could see the Olympics could bring great benefits to the area but wanted their concerns to be taken into consideration.

When I first spoke to the assistant secretary, Julie Sumner on the phone she suggested I should see plots for myself in order to understand why they were so reluctant to move.

Hackney Wick certainly didn't strike me as an obvious place to want to have an allotment.

Julie Sumner working on her plot
Sumner had a plot on the Manor Garden Allotments for 14 years
I walked past car breakers yards, print works and meat factories, behind a bus garage and over the River Lea where I discovered a little green oasis, nestled and hidden away from the industrial surroundings.

What struck me was how beautiful it was and I could immediately see why they were putting up such a fight.

We filmed with the Manor Garden Allotment Society for over a year, watching the seasons change and seeing a community being tried and tested by the prospect of relocation and their battle to stay.

Although as one plot holder ruefully admitted: "It's Chelsea versus Leyton Orient - money against nothing I suppose."

We filmed with business-savvy Lance Forman - owner of a successful business supplying smoked salmon to the luxury end of the market - who was determined to secure the best deal possible - he described dealing with the authorities as like playing poker.

When we asked if he felt he had done well out of the relocation he admitted he had landed a prime site - but was quick to point out that his business had been right on the site of the main stadium and unless he moved there would be no running track.

The Olympic authorities were delighted to take control of the land in July 2007. Their sense of excitement was palpable - and with an immoveable deadline to reach before the start of the Games - there was certainly a lot of work to be done.

Even the most hopeful of the allotment holders realised their fight was over.

However this didn't stop many of them continuing to tend their beloved plots (which were now practically surrounded by bulldozers on all sides) until September 2007 when they were finally moved.

It was a sober moment filming the destruction of the plots and sheds. It really did feel like a chapter in the history of the East End was closing forever. I could understand that change which is forced on people is always painful - even when it may be for the greater good.

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see also
Behind the Beijing bus
04 Mar 09 |  Olympics
London takes over as Olympic host
24 Aug 08 |  London 2012
Reaction to the Olympic handover
24 Aug 08 |  UK News

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