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New lease of life for River Lea

Cover Story - Creation of the Olympic Park will transform the River Lea.

In east London, a walk along the banks of the River Lea and the canals which historically connected it to Britain's inland waterways is not a pleasant experience. Much of the river is lined with high concrete or sheet piled retaining walls.

'Water is a major aspect of the whole topography of the Olympic precinct, ' says Buro Happold rivers and coastal group manager Alan Travers.

'The river has been very heavily modified, creating an unpleasant environment with water quality problems.'

The Olympic Park plan is to turn the river into a public amenity again by breaking out the retaining walls. These will be replaced with less severe gradients leading down to a more accessible water course lined with reed beds and wetland areas. It is hoped the resulting park will have clearer water thanks to the cleaning effect of aquatic vegetation.

The approach is essential to the legacy plan for the site, and for the Games themselves. The river needs to be realigned to make way for the western edge of the Olympic stadium.

It will give spectators somewhere to go between events. There are even plans to set up Wimbledon 'Henman hill' style television screens close to the water for spectators without tickets to view key events.

At the same time the canal system, which used to feed into the river, also needs reestablishing as part of the long term regeneration plan for the site. This work is incorporated within the Olympic Park masterplan.

The network used to connect the Hertford Union canal and the Limehouse Cut when goods had to be shipped by barge to the east London docks. Over the last century they have fallen into disuse with some areas filled in and the connection to the main River Lea shut off.

The aim is to reconnect this back to the inland waterway and the River Lea, and to attract leisure craft and waterside developments.

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