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'Poverty Games' comes to Glasgow

Visitors from Vancouver will join local people to carry the Poverty Olympics Torch in Glasgow's East End today, protesting at scandalous profiteering and evictions, as the city council implements its corporate vision for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

The Poverty Olympics were launched in Canada's seventh largest city when the Winter Olympics of 2010, staged with the usual promises of regeneration and positive legacy, went down the same path. There is particular local anger that promises to build housing for the homeless never materialised.

As London braces itself for the Olympic onslaught, the same scenario is playing out there. The benefits will be entirely for the corporations while the £24bn cost will be paid by the public and in particular Londoners. As to the much-vaunted “legacy” cliaims, a report from global real estate firm CBRE states: "The ... greatest legacy will be the land that was assembled to host the Games thereby changing the landscape of East London.”

The report cites 4 million square feet of commercial space at Stratford, in addition to the massive Westfield Centre, private housing for sale by Inter IKEA on a site next to the Olympic Park and the sale of the Olympic Athletes Village to a Qatari developer.

Meanwhile, tenants in London are being priced out of their homes. Landlords are using six-month shorthold tenancies to get tenants out in time for the Olympics, or even telling them they can stay, but vacate for the Olympic period. Monthly rent on a two-bedroom flat in Tower Hamlets or Hackney would normally be about £1,400; now they are being advertised as high as £7,500 a week to attract wealthy tourists coming to London for the Olympics.

In Glasgow, families, small businesses and the Accord Centre for people with learning disabilities, have been displaced to make way for the Commonwealth Games. The treatment of the poor and the rich by the council could not be more different.

Wealthy Mayfair property developer Charles Price bought a parcel of land in Dalmarnock that was already earmarked for the Games for £8 million sometime between 2002 and 2005. The council could have put a compulsory purchase order on it. Instead they paid £17 million; with £3m VAT that's £20 million pounds of public money.

Readers of this blog will know about Margaret Jaconelli and her family, who held out for months refusing to leave her flat because the council offered her a paltry £30,000, not enough to buy a flat anywhere in the city. In the end she was carried out by force, and she has still not received any compensation.

Plans for the area after the Games include a 160-bedroom hotel, a supermarket, various food outlets (you can guess which ones) and executive apartments priced well beyond the pockets of hard-pressed East Enders.

Modern Olympics and Games are in reality state-financed and public-subsidised land grabs, and regeneration is a myth. Any developments that are of benefit to the public – schools, hospitals – remain locked into the public/private partnership model, where the profit is privatised and the risk socialised.

The local authority – whether in Vancouver, London or Glasgow, buys land at inflated prices from developers, and uses compulsory purchase powers to evict householders, allotment holders or small business people who can't afford lawyers.

The money is all up front from the people's purse, but the benefits are nebulous and mainly unrealised. They pay to recapitalise derelict land and build new infrastructure, then the corporations move in.

The Olympic and Commonwealth Games have moved far away from sporting territory. It's time to boycott them entirely and focus instead on taking back control of our communities, and our sports facilities, making sure the majority benefit and not the wealthy few.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
15 March 2012

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