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London’s Olympic Legacy: 'Silicon Roundabout' to 'Tech City'?

The evolution of east London’s “Silicon Roundabout” – already rechristened “Tech City” – could take another leap forward following the 2012 London Olympics.

Proposed design for iCITY
Photo courtesy: LLDC
Proposed design for iCITY

The media center at London’s Olympic site has moved one step closer to being transformed into a world-class technology hub with the potential to generate more than 4,000 jobs.

The London Legacy Development Corporation has awarded new set-up iCITY sole preferred bidder status to become the long-term tenant of the Press and Broadcast Center.

iCITY is an idea developed by Infinity, an IT firm that stores large computer databases, and financially backed by property company Delancey. Their proposal is to change the space into a place for global businesses and creative technology industries. iCITY will now have several months to submit credible business plans to show it can deliver a lasting legacy for London 2012.



Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, said he hoped the news would act as a springboard for major job creation for local people.

“No other host city has been this far advanced with its legacy planning before even the first starting gun has been fired,” he said in a statement.

A rival plan to turn the building into a fashion and textile hub was withdrawn last week and iCITY became the only remaining bidder for the 99-year lease on the 1 million square foot site.

The center cost £295 million pounds ($462 million) to build and will be used by 20,000 journalists from all around the world during the games. It’s thought the center could be reassigned and be ready to open by March 2014.

“iCITY will provide a sustainable legacy for the local community through the creation of thousands of jobs, apprenticeships and training opportunities.” Gavin Poole, chief executive officer of iCITY, said in a statement.

“The incredible track record of startups and entrepreneurs in east London is growing at an impressive rate, and this is a chance to provide additional connectivity, capacity, investment and highly advanced infrastructure.”

East London Tech Hub

London already has an entrepreneurial cluster around the areas of Old Street and Shoreditch nearly four miles closer in the heart of the capital. Previously dubbed “Silicon Roundabout” it was renamed “Tech City” after a government initiative was set up to foster this community. It’s estimated this burgeoning group of businesses comprises of 3,200 VAT-registered firms employing 48,000 people.

The UK government is eager to build on this. British Prime Minister David Cameron has previously spoken of how this current site could be extended further east and connected to Stratford.

“Here’s our vision for East London tech city – a hub that stretches from Shoreditch and Old Street to the Olympic Park,” he said in a speech in 2010, hoping the area could one day rival California's Silicon Valley. However, not everyone shares these views.

Simon Prockter is CEO and founder of Housebites.com, one company that began life in Shoreditch.

He has no doubt that the Olympic site has the ability to attract start-ups and sees it as a good idea, but highlights accessibility and nightlife as key issues in making sure a workforce is kept happy.

“People make a place,” he told CNBC. “It doesn’t matter where you are, it’s not a deal breaker and staff is the biggest issue, their well-being and welfare.”

He added that Shoreditch managed to build a very successful hub helped by the bars, clubs and restaurants in the area that made it a nice place for people to network.

He believes that Stratford may be more suited for large business parks rather than a hub for small startups and is adamant that the two sites would be isolated from each other, rather than east London becoming a hi-tech corridor.

A report in June by a politically independent think tank was skeptical about the idea. The Centre for London, part of Demos, concluded that it was unlikely that the media center would become the next Silicon Roundabout as the competition from other locations was too strong.

“Inner East London firms feel little connection with the Olympic Park, which is seen as distant, inaccessible and with no obvious connections to the Shoreditch community,” the report concluded.

Drummond Gilbert is the CEO of gocarshare.com which currently operates from Old Street.

“I can imagine it feels a bit like Canary Wharf with large spectacular buildings. It’s hard to give something character overnight.” he told CNBC.

Gilbert hasn’t seen the proposals but thinks the prospect is positive. Rather than the two different tech clusters being separate he believes it’s important to link the two so people feel they are part of the same community but concedes that it would take time.

“They want to show that the Olympics has a genuine legacy,” he said. “If they can use it then it makes sense. As long as there’s a clear link between Old Street and Shoreditch then I can see it working.”

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