Speech by Lord Haworth, 17th January 2008
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for allowing me the opportunity to speak in this debate about the regeneration of what he rightly described as the fragmented and desolate river valley that the LowerLeaValley is. My only qualification for speaking is that I lived for more than 20 years in the LowerLeaValley in Old Ford. I may be one of the very few Members of your Lordships' House who has lived for such an extensive period of time in the area in question. Not only did I live at Old Ford for more than 20 years, I was married at Bromley-by-Bow registry office. When I participated in part, which is rather a long time ago, I used to play squash regularly on a Monday morning at Eton Manor, a facility that the Lea Valley Park Authority provided in those days. So I know the area fairly well.
Our house was in Tower Hamlets but less than a minute's walk from Hackney and probably only three minutes' walk from the London Borough of Newham. Hackney Wick station, one of the most desolate places on the railway network which for years has been unmanned—not only was no one selling tickets at the station, there was not even a machine from which you could buy a ticket—was my local railway station.
Some 15 years before living there, in the very early 1970s, my first connection with what is now very much in the centre of the Olympic park was as part of a working party of the governors of North-East London Polytechnic when I was the student representative. We were anxiously searching for a site to build housing on for students and young persons because there was an acute accommodation shortage for students at North-East London Poly and other educational institutions in the early 1970s. I vividly remember identifying a football field at Clays Lane as a suitable place to build relatively inexpensive social housing, which was to be organised on a co-operative basis for students from the polytechnic and other young local authority workers and the like. The problem with that site was that the overhead power cables, which are shortly to be removed from the Olympic site, meant that we could not build our flats higher than two stories.
Those flats were built in the late 1970s and I discovered subsequently, rather to my embarrassment, that one of the blocks of flats had been named after me. "Howarth Court" came into being and, to my chagrin, I discovered that they had spelt my name wrong. It is not only the annunciators in your Lordships' House which occasionally make that error. It has been a source of embarrassment for many years that I had a block of flats named after me with the spelling wrong. After 30 years, they have recently been knocked down.
This brings me to a point that I want to emphasise—the importance of social housing. If housing was a serious problem for young people in the early 1970s, it still is now. All the units of accommodation that we were successful in getting built have now been knocked down to make way for the stadium, so I am glad that in the legacy plan that the mayor has published, a copy of which came in this morning's post in time for this debate, there is a serious emphasis on housing and a commitment that the Games will have an immediate legacy of 9,000 high-quality homes—a great deal more than the ones that were knocked down at Clays Lane—of which at least 30 per cent will be affordable to Londoners on low incomes. There is an aspiration for considerably greater housing development after the Games are concluded in the peripheral areas.
I shall not say very much about jobs, although they are crucial in the area. I merely emphasise, as did the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that east London has more people of employment age who are out of work than almost anywhere else in the United Kingdom. I was going to say something of the importance of the transport link but the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has covered that fairly comprehensively.
I appreciate some of the difficulties that have been referred to in the debate today, and probably there will be some more, but, on an optimistic note, a tremendous amount of work is already going on that I find encouraging. I went back to the site yesterday and walked down the Greenway, newly tarmacked, signposted and better lit public footpath that takes one over a bridge on Marshgate Lane in the centre of the site. The vision of the activity is phenomenal; I have seen nothing like it anywhere in the world, except in China. There must have been a dozen huge earth-moving machines and a dozen large trucks; a fantastic degree of activity was taking place on that site yesterday. It staggered me and the friends of mine who came with me to look at the work that was going on on that site.
There has been a lot of talk about legacy, but some of it is already happening. On the fringes of the park, at Hackney Wick station, new housing developments are taking place. Street lighting is being improved and the station has already been improved. This is a place where I was mugged a few months before moving away from the area, not long after I came into your Lordships' House. It happened on a dark night. The area was an extremely lonely place to go and many people have asked, "Why does anyone want to use Hackney Wick station late at night?". Already that environment is being transformed. The housing being built there and the street lighting make it safer. The legacy is already with us; I am very optimistic about that.