Flotsam and jetsam. Photo & text: David Secombe (4/5)

Middle of the Thames, west of the Barrier. Photo © David Secombe, 1997.

David Secombe and Katy Evans-Bush write:

The current wave of Olympic propaganda serves as a reminder of what was lost when the facilities in the Lea Valley were built. A sweetly romantic backwater of the Lea, a wild and mysterious haven for wildlife and Londoners alike, an oasis within the eastern London industrial sprawl, has been swept away in favour of a corporatised theme park. Canal boat dwellers on the River Lea are fighting draconian tightenings of rules and increases in fees from British Waterways that will break up a longstanding community and render them effectively homeless –  an attempt to make the river suitably anodyne for the tourists (and presumably pave the way for future commercial ventures).

As usual, the destruction of the irreplaceable is described by its proponents as ‘regeneration’, offering ‘opportunities for business’, etc., etc.  Bit by bit, we continue to lose that older, gentler, more open and more intimate city, in favour of a controlled, corporate-sponsored environment.

The new Olympic desert is the second time in recent years that a locally important riverside enclave has been destroyed under the flag of ‘national pride’. In the late 1990s, it was south-east London’s turn to get its sanitised corporate make-over, in the run-up to the Millennial fiasco at ‘North Greenwich’ (i.e. Bugsby’s Reach). The Dome was created on a stretch of industrial wasteland, yet there was an intriguing riverside community thriving in the vicinity – including, ironically (see Tuesday’s post) a young Damien Hirst, planning his bid for domination of the world’s art markets from a ménage-a-trois in a riverside cottage.  Clearly, this Ealing comedy-like backwater was going to be out of place next to Blair’s vaulting dome, and was duly vapourised – except for a ‘picturesque’ riverside terrace, which was retained within the Dome’s landscaped environs: thus is young Damien’s home preserved.

The gentlemen in the above photo were members of a boating club located a few hundred yards downriver of the Millennium site. The club was too near the Dome, then under construction, for the comfort of the planners, and was duly cleared as part of the riverside ‘improvements’. And what exactly have been the long-term benefits of the  Millennium Village?

(See also: Domeland series, starting here.)

… for The London Column.


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