Land clean-up to lay foundations for Olympic regeneration

Turning a neglected part of East London into an Olympic village by 2012, later to metamorphose into a model 38,000 home community, will start with a massive land clean-up effort.

Large parts of the 300 hectare future Olympic site situated in the lower Lea Valley are scarred by past industrial activity, with much of the land vacant, contaminated or inaccessible. The challenge is to turn this jumble of bitty industrial development and derelict land criss-crossed by railway lines and polluted waterways into an environmentally exemplary Olympic park.

“Remediation will be a massive challenge. There are considerable amounts of contamination,” said director of Olympic Games development at the London Development Agency, Gareth Blacker.

Dealing with these types of contamination is not new to the LDA, but the sheer scale of the clean-up makes it unique, he explained. A provisional estimate puts the amount of excavated material to be removed from the site at 450,000 tonnes – although the LDA is considering the option of treating the contaminated material onsite.

Additionally, the authorities face the challenge of cleaning up the area’s polluted waterways and making them fit for recreation and wildlife.

The timescales can also be daunting. “The programme is incredibly tight. In six years we must deliver, and to extremely high environmental standards,” said Gareth Blacker, speaking at the London Olympics: Sustainable Regeneration conference in the capitalLondon’s Canary Wharf. The land should be assembled (mapped out? Bought up?) aquired by July next year, and ready for development by 2008, he said.

The expectations for London 2012’s environmental performance are high. Green goals are clearly set out in London’s Olympic Bid document, and include not only the regeneration of the lower Lea Vvalley, but also the ambition of embedding sustainability in all planning and implementation to set a global example.

Eco-friendly Olympics have a relatively short history – environment and sustainability were only included in the Olympic charter in 1994, and Sydney 2000 was heralded as the “first green Games” by Greenpeace.

Now the London Olympics has already been dubbed the “Greenest games ever” by the WWF, the “one planet Olympics” by the Bid team, and the “low carbon” Games by the UK development ministry. The results are yet to be delivered.

“People will be held accountable for these promises,” Tom Woolard of Environmental Resources Management told the Waterfront conference, pointing to the challenges of land remediation and river clean-up.

“This is a one in a lifetime sporting event, and the environment won’t feature large as we’re watching the games. But it will feature if we get something wrong.”

More information on the London Olympics and sustainability can be found on the London 2012 website.

Goska Romanowicz

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie