Olympics: Legacy relies on investment in people

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The legacy of the Olympic Games will be lost if insufficient attention is paid to the people living around the park, according to Newham mayor Sir Robin Wales.

He told a gathering of peers at the House of Lords that investing in skills was essential to ease the poverty that had blighted the area for more than 100 years.

He suggested that in many ways "Westfield is a bigger prize than the Olympics" because of the opportunities it presented.

He told the All Party Parliamentary Group on Urban Regeneration that he was "very bullish" about the developments on the Olympic park but said the billions spent there was just seed money.

He said: "Early on the question was asked - will this £6billion solve the problem? You do not solve the problem of a century of poverty by spending £6billion. It is not enough, it is just not enough. I'm sorry, it's going to cost more if you want to transform the East End."

He used the example of Canary Wharf as a project that was a high point in regeneration, yet failed to integrate.

He said: "Canary Wharf is one of the greatest achievements of the last few decades. A fantastic development massively generating wealth for our country - so we're not critical of it.

"The biggest generation of jobs in the country is in Tower Hamlets yet Tower Hamlets has the biggest level of non-employment in the country so it's not enough just to regenerate, you have to look at what you're doing with the people.

"I don't blame the Canary Wharf people for this. I think this is a political issue. Politicians have to ask: 'what are we going to do to make things happen?'"

He said he was concerned that residents were not being prepared for a jobs market in which the competition was global.

He cited Newham's own training initiatives which had a result of placing thousands into work - but to achieve "convergance with central London" in terms of skills, health and child poverty, Newham would "need to get 20,000 people in to work who have never worked or are long-term unemployed. Never mind the other [Olympic] boroughs. A huge challenge."

"We have to understand that bringing the Olympics, spending that money - the job is only partially done."

Failure to exploit the opportunities would continue to drain the public purse whereas "Oxford Economics have done a study that says, if you transform the East End it will generate £13billion".

He added: "Unless we invest in people so that they are able to be selected by businesses, we will not transform the East End."

In response, Olympic legacy minister Bob Neill said: "Government is there to help but to suggest there is massive amounts of public money beyond that which we have already committed I don't think is realistic."

Lord Richard Rogers, who has been championing regeneration of east London long before the Olympics, agreed that people held the key to the success of the games.

He said: "The critical part of this from my studies of previous games and their successes and failures is whether you get local people involved and engaged and whether they feel that they are stakeholders.

"If it happens, they will use the park, they will be desperate to use it, it will be key part of their lives. And that will make the park work.

"Much has been done and we have taken it on beyond any previous Olympic city and that's a real credit but we won't know until we look back in another 30 years time whether or not we will have achieved the legacy we aspire to."

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