There are those who will never be reconciled to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park . For some it represents a vacuous waste of public money; for others it has come to represent the “vanity” of the Boris Johnson years; and for others, still, it is in the wrong place. That is to say, not in their constituency.
For those politicians who hold these various views, one element of the park crystallises their negative emotions – the ArcelorMittal Orbit , Sir Anish Kapoor’s swooping art installation-cum-helter skelter.
The addition of the £3million slide was the turning point for the Orbit, transforming loss into an attraction with a surplus. But for the implacably opposed, like members of the London Assembly regeneration committee, this is putting a swirl of lipstick on a pig.
For them, the Orbit is not a tourist magnet but a lightning rod.
Chief executive of London Legacy Development Corporation David Goldstone, faced hostile questions from the London Assembly regeneration committee as usual and all but threw his hands into the air at the barrage of criticism.
To a sceptical audience he said: “The Orbit was requiring subsidy but now we’ve turned it around so it is now generating a surplus so it is starting to generate the receipts that contribute to repaying the debt. It only opened in June but in this first year it will make £170,000 but we haven’t had a full year.”
There were no cheers for this rags-to-riches tale which projects 200,000 a year will take the plunge, drawing tourisst from across London, the country and the world.
The money came from the sponsor, part-grant and part-loan on favourable conditions but there is no escaping the initial debt with which the Orbit, and Mr Goldstone were saddled.
Assembly member Andrew Dismore, a relentless critic, said: “However we look at it, it’s going to take an awful long time to pay off this debt and I just think it was a folly to start with. Boris’ vanity project.
“Obviously lots of people are going to use it in the first year for novelty value but the question is whether the 200,000 a year figure going to be sustainable in the long term.”
Chairman Navin Shah said: “What value it has in terms of legacy? It’s a pretty hideous structure that we are trying to make work. It was making losses then we added a slide – but we are still talking about repayments.”
How the slide changed things around
Member Tony Devenish saw it as symptomatic of the entire project. “If you are running a regeneration project with many strands and you have got one bit that doesn’t have to stack up financially it does make me worried whether anything else has to stack up. That’s how you get a whole load of white elephants – you get one and they multiply.”
Mr Goldstone fired back: “I don’t believe we have any white elephants. The visitor numbers of the Orbit are already 50% over what they were for the whole of the last year.
“It has genuinely helped bring more people to the park, those who want to have a swim but want to create a day out, there’s other things to do and it has been very popular.
“Whether individually we like the look of it or whether we’d like to go down the slide is not the point. Lots and lots of people do.
“And it’s part of a package that brings a lot of people to the area and that supports jobs and housing and creating long-term sustainable regeneration on what was derelict and waste land previously.”
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