Concern over Hackney jobs as London 2012 media centre bidding opens

Olympic Park Aerial

Aerial view of the Olympic Park looking South East with the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) and Media Press Centre (MPC) in the foreground. Photograph: Anthony Charlton / ODA

Bidding has formally opened for the post-Games use of the Olympic press and broadcast centre. Interested parties have until 2 December to submit proposals for the one million square feet of commercial space, but there are fears that the bidding process will sideline the promise of hi-tech local jobs in nearby neighbourhoods suffering from low skills and high unemployment.

Legacy plans for the £330 million site, on the bank of the Lea Navigation, have been shrouded in uncertainty for years. Several ideas have been floated only to prove unviable, leading some to brand the centre a ‘white elephant’.

The site cost the taxpayer some £100 million, and was billed as providing a lasting source of employment for the area – a central promise of London’s Olympic Bid. This legacy now looks to be in jeopardy.

Andrew Altman, Chief Executive of the OPLC, insists that there has been “a huge amount of commercial interest” in the site, with more than 200 organisations from a variety of industries considering bidding.

Boris Johnson echoed this optimism: “As well as providing them with a world-class facility to tell the story of the Games, we aim to make the fantastic International Broadcast Centre the focus of a new high-tech creative hub to benefit the capital for years to come.”

But it is feared that the bidding process will sideline the promise of hi-tech local jobs in an area suffering from low skills and high unemployment.

Guy Nicholson, Hackney Council’s cabinet member for Regeneration and the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, told the Citizen the media centre’s infrastructure presented “a great opportunity to enable a wider community to take part in that prosperity”. He hopes the centre can boost Hackney’s creative economy, rather than being turned over to the financial services sector.

In the current economic climate, however, there are concerns that some firms bidding might be unwilling to train up local workers, instead outsourcing jobs to more affluent areas. Mike Smith, Olympic Liaison for the Trades Union Congress, admitted that it was “too early to say whether we’re going to fulfil the Olympic legacy”.

“The theory is that as the high-skill jobs come in, one would hope that they upgrade the skills of local people, and require support services such as cleaning and catering”.

But until an occupier is found, there are no guarantees. Year-long negotiations with the BBC have broken down, and several other bids have been rejected. One proposal from the Wellcome Trust sought to buy up the entire Olympic Park and Village and build “a world-class centre for technology and innovation, and up to 7,000 high-quality new jobs”.

London is the first Olympic host city to build a permanent media hub for the games. Cheaper options, like using a temporary venue or a part of the Westfield Stratford City complex, were declined on the grounds that they would not ensure a long-term employment legacy.

Building the centre, which will house 20,000 journalists and a number of shops and leisure facilities, required Tessa Jowell to approve a £100 million taxpayer bailout after private investors pulled out during the recession.

The Olympic Park Legacy Company will draw up a shortlist of bids in February 2012. Successful tenants will be able to open their doors in the spring of 2013.