The board of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) has today made some big decisions. Another shortlist has been produced in the tortured struggle to fill the Olympic stadium with viable users after the Games. There are four names on it: West Ham United FC (again); Leyton Orient FC; a Formula 1 business vehicle; and the UCFB College of Football Business.
Three potential developers of Chobham Manor, the first of the five park neighbourhoods to be built after the Games, have also been selected, although European Union rules prevent these from being named for a few days. But perhaps the greatest relief surrounds the choice of a preferred potential inhabitant of the park’s press centre and international broadcast centre (IBC) after the sports journalists have gone.
The successful candidate is, as expected, the data store operator and digital developer iCITY. It was the only one remaining from an original shortlist of three after the withdrawal last week of UK Fashion Hub following reports that iCITY had it in the bag. However, there had been speculation that new LLDC chair Daniel Moylan, who was appointed by his follow Conservative politician Boris Johnson in May, would seek instead to have the IBC demolished and the land sold for housing instead.
I understand that this has always been unlikely to find favour with the board: numbers had been crunched and provided the wrong answer. Moreover, Mayor Johnson’s advisers have seemed to have remain supportive of the job-creation option. But such an outcome would have been a hammer blow to Hackney Council, which has the two buildings within its borders and has fought a seven-year battle to ensure they are transformed into centres for creative and digital industry employment. The iCITY bid anticipates creating 4,600 jobs directly on the site with a further 2,000 resulting from a local supply chain, shops and cafes, based on a report by Oxford Economics.
Hackney’s Labour executive mayor Jules Pipe, a member of the LLDC board, describes himself as “a very, very happy man.” He wouldn’t say that his “seven-year slog” is over just yet, but he can now dare to dream about the finish line.
The borough’s most palpable piece of potential legacy has endured many vicissitudes. Pipe has had to fight off suggestions that the media space would end up somewhere else, with perhaps half of it disappearing to Salford. Then there was the torment of the BBC thinking it might move its EastEnders operation to the Lea-side, then deciding after all that it would not. “All those ups and down,” sighs Pipe. “We’re so delighted that a strong bidder wants to take up the whole space.”
A large part of the IBC will be a data store, the sort of thing (I’m told) that you might drive past on a motorway without noticing. However, the rest of it and the smaller press centre is earmarked for “start-up businesses, established global companies, investors and social enterprises,” and hosting “media studios, a university, a digital academy and a new business incubator to develop a technology cluster of international significance.”
Pipe has always said he’s looking for a full range of employment opportunities from the high end to entry level and all points in between. He points out that Hackney is now producing plenty of the well-qualified school-leavers needed to secure the more desirable situations vacant. The chief executive of iCITY, Gavin Poole, promises “a sustainable legacy for the local community.”
It all sounds nicely aligned with the government’s Tech City ambitions, although there might be a psychological distance between the Olympic Park and Shoreditch to be bridged. Time will tell. The detail of iCITY’s plans will need to be hammered out with the board over the next few months – the LLDC mentions “tough but achievable requirements” – focusing largely on adapting the IBC to make the most productive use of its ample space.
Until all that is taken care of, a demolition scenario cannot be officially ruled out. But Tuesday was the day that it appeared to recede into the distance.
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