For a few glorious weeks last summer the world’s greatest athletes converged on east London to occupy Stratford’s Olympic Village for the 2012 Games. Ten months on that village looks, from the outside at least, almost exactly as it did when Jessica Ennis and 27,000 other sportsmen and women and their coaches and helpers moved in.
However, step inside the buildings — arranged around 11 landscaped courtyards — and you will see that all has changed. The bedroom suites shared by the competitors are being reconfigured into 2,818 flats and townhouses.
This summer the first of them will become available to London’s “Generation Rent” — young people unable or unwilling to buy.
Renamed East Village, the former athletes’ accommodation is not only a valuable Games legacy for London, but an experiment in developing long- term, large-scale housing for rent.
'Sadly there are no reminders of who slept where or London 2012’s celebrity status. Future residents will never know if they are living in the same space where Tom Daly applied his tan or where Mo Farah practiced the Mobot'
Qatari Diar, the property arm of the Qatari royal family, and property developer Delancey are running this scheme. The firms have set up a new company, Get Living London (getlivinglondon.com), to own and manage 1,439 homes on the site, the first tranche of which — about 370 — will be made available this summer. The first residents are expected to move in by August and September.
The remaining 1,379 homes on the 67-acre site beside Stratford International station are being managed by Triathlon Homes, which will sell some on a shared-ownership basis to first-time buyers, and let the rest to people on the housing waiting lists in the five “Olympic boroughs” — Newham, Hackney, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Greenwich (triathlonhomes.com).
Derek Gorman, chief executive of Get Living London, believes the model represents the future of renting in London — direct from a professional company rather than small-time landlords. In fact, there will be no estate agents or other middlemen involved in the deal, no administration fees, and no service charge. Tenants will be able to sign up for three years — though they will, with two months’ notice, be able to move out after the first six months.
An on-site management team will deal with any problems. “What we are trying to do is offer people flexibility,” said Gorman. “More and more people are renting in London — 25 per cent of Londoners live in the private rented sector, but often with a poor quality of service.”
The elephant in the room is how much will the properties — which range from one-bedroom flats to four-bedroom townhouses — will actually cost to rent. Despite their imminent launch Gorman is declining to say, other than promise that rents “will reflect the market in Stratford”, and probably undercut nearby Canary Wharf.
As a guide, a three-bedroom house in Stratford now costs about £450 a week to rent, while two-bedroom flats in the area, of which there is a glut (300 are advertised in the E15 postcode) cost about £350 a week. Penthouses in new-build blocks in the area are advertised at £400-plus a week rising to £1,325.
Pros of village life
The apartments, a choice of furnished or unfurnished, are decorated neutrally if predictably with white walls, pale wood or carpet flooring, smart grey-and-white gloss kitchens, and neutral brown and off-white bathrooms.
Big windows mean they are extremely light and, depending on exactly where you are on the site, views range from the iconic (the Olympic stadium and ArcelorMittal Orbit tower) to dreary (a criss-cross of railway lines, building sites and factories).
Transport links are excellent, with services to Canary Wharf in 12 minutes, the West End in 20 minutes, and St Pancras International in seven. An annual season ticket to St Pancras on the super-fast Javelin trains costs £1,192.
East Village will have a school, health centre, shops, bars, restaurants and a gym. The Queen Elizabeth Park is just around the corner and the northern section will open this summer, while the Westfield Shopping Centre is nearby.
On the down side, this kind of large-scale “institutional investment” in property is an almost untried model in the UK, and the athletes’ village, while box-fresh and arranged around green courtyards, is high-density housing with the risk of soulessness.
Most flats have balconies but these are often exposed with little privacy, and the arrangement of blocks around squares may seem dated compared with the trend back to creating conventional streets.
Gorman counters that he has an “enlivenment strategy” to breathe vibrancy into the village, promoting pop-up shops, and regular markets in Victory Park, the main open space on the site. “We envisage a thriving and active community,” he said. “We anticipate letting the units rapidly and within a year the shops, pubs and bars will be in place.” So far 18,000 people, for whom renting is becoming a way of life, have registered.
One recent study by housing charity Shelter found that 55 per cent of private renters do not believe they will ever be able to save for a deposit and a home while living in a city where the average rent is now over £1,100 a month.
Who slept where?
Sadly there are no reminders of who slept where or London 2012’s celebrity status. True some of the streets have been named with the Olympics in mind — Prize Walk, Cheering Lane, Medals Way and Celebration Avenue — but the future residents will never know if they are living in the same space where Tom Daly applied his tan, Mo Farah practiced the Mobot, or Usain Bolt discussed, er, training regimes with members of the Swedish women’s handball squad into the early hours.