We all know London will benefit from the 2012 Games, but the ripple effect is expected to reach miles out towards the east. David Blackman looks at the possibilities for this neglected area known as the Thames Gateway

As soon as London won the 2012 bid, nearly every residential developer with a site east of the Tower of London was promoting its new homes on their proximity to the 2012 site in Stratford. Developers are well known for being canny at spotting an area that is on the up, and for selling it. And figures published this summer by the Halifax building society showed that house prices in the East End have outstripped those in the rest of London on the back of the success.

In Hackney, one of the four boroughs straddling the main Games venue, house prices rose 19% from £233,774 to £278,749 in the year ending July, nearly double the Greater London average increase of 10.4%. “There has been a strengthening of the market in the East End, led by Hackney where prices have risen by close to 20% as the 2012 Games encourages regeneration and attracts home buyers to the area,” says David Whitehead, regional manager of Halifax’s estate agency arm.

But as well as this boost to the capital’s housing prices, the proposed regeneration of east London and beyond into Essex and Kent emerged as pivotal to the success of the London 2012 bid team’s success in demonstrating London’s potential legacy through regeneration.

London mayor Ken Livingstone has made no secret of the fact that he was not drawn by a great love of sport to back London’s 2012 bid. Livingstone, who has always been more interested in Westminster than West Ham, wanted to see the Games because of the spur they would provide for the regeneration of east London. The delivery of the Games is to work in partnership and spark a wider project to revive the 20-mile long corridor that stretches from London into Essex and Kent, known as the Thames Gateway.

This area, according to the government’s Sustainable Communities plan, is designated for more than 120,000 homes and infrastructure over the next decade. The problem however is that since this announcement of the plan in 2003 there has been little implementation of the plans, much to the frustration of local authorities and regeneration agencies in the area. It is now hoped that the transformation of Stratford, the host city for the London Games, will act as a catalyst to drive through the ambitious Gateway plans.

As a result of the 2012 bid victory, regeneration attitudes in the Gateway have been changing. Everybody involved in promoting the development of the gateway can see a political will to deliver the development in the area. The placing of power lines underground in the Olympic Park is prompting the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation to explore extending this work all the way down the valley to Canning Town and possibly beyond to release land for development. The Olympic Delivery Authority anticipates that there will be plenty more of this to come; both in the run up to the Games and way beyond, marking immense opportunity for the area, which could be beginning to put into action imminently.

The great thing about 2012 is it’s time limited. In a country where projects proceed at a snail’s pace, it’s a short sharp shock

Professor tony Travers, LSE

One of the big selling points of the Games is that it imposes a strict deadline. With the eyes of the world on the UK, the political imperative to deliver the project on time will be overwhelming. And this will be vitally important for the delivery of the housing plans in the gateway and regeneration as a whole. Delay is a perennial problem when getting difficult brownfield sites back into use, and sites don’t get much harder than the Lower Lea Valley, the location of the Olympic Park.

Although it is only a few miles from the City of London, much of the valley is derelict and criss-crossed by power lines that put off people from wanting to live there. “The great thing about the Games is that it’s time limited. In a country where projects often proceed at a snail’s pace, it’s a short sharp shock,’ says Professor Tony Travers of the London School of Economics.

The second selling point is that the 2012 site’s buildings have the critical mass to spur wider regeneration in the gateway. Ralph Luck, ODA development director, says: “With the increased affordable housing and improvements to the environment, this part of London will be changing more than anywhere else.”

Industry leaders believe the Games will help to drive businesses eastwards; the hope is transport in Stratford can have a knock on effect in neighbouring areas. Lorraine Baldry, who is an ODA board member, chair of the ODA’s planning committee and chairs the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation, says Stratford could provide front office facilities for firms relocating in the distribution facilities in areas within an hour of the 2012 site, like Shellhaven in Essex.

Will McKee, chairman of Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation, says his area will benefit as it provides a good place for firms that have been displaced by the Games to relocate to. “Hosting the planet’s biggest sporting event will be good for raising the profile of the gateway as a whole”, he says. With all eyes focused firmly on the Games, local authorities and regeneration agencies in Kent and Essex are understandably nervous they will suck resources from their areas. But the so called “Olympic effect” on property prices and a major new international transport and shopping hub to be developed at Stratford are likely to drive investment eastwards and the realisation is of that the potential for new enterprise zone within the area of the Thames Gateway is very real.