The BBC’s presence at a council-owned block of flats overlooking the Olympic Park is having a big impact on residents’ lives. Martin Hilditch reports
Source: Jon Enoch
‘This building is in lockdown.’ A security guard in a black t-shirt blocks my way as I walk towards the entrance of 21-storey Lund Point, on the Carpenters estate in Newham, east London. I’ve got an appointment to meet a resident - Warren Lubin - on the 20th floor of the block, but according to the guard, I’m going nowhere.
‘The building is in lockdown,’ he repeats. ‘No one can go in or out.’
I explain I am visiting someone I know but I’m told there are no exceptions. When I ask if Mr Lubin can come down and speak to me I am told (again) that the block is in lockdown. He won’t enlarge on reasons. For now, according to the guard, residents must remain in the building if they are already there and can’t go home if they are not.
Strangely enough, I first met Mr Lubin after visiting the site a couple of days earlier because some residents - not, however, Mr Lubin himself - were complaining that their daily lives were being disrupted by the activities of the block’s newest occupants. For the duration of the Olympic Games, Lund Point has morphed into a strange fusion of residential tower block and TV studio. The top five floors - bar the flat containing Mr Lubin - have been rented to the BBC (they were being decanted anyway as part of Newham Council regeneration plans). It is an unusual combination, to say the least - a bit like being on the other side of the cameras in the Big Brother house.
A man arrives next to me and is also shrugged off by the security guard. The man frowns.
‘I’ve got to go in,’ he says. ‘I’m due on the one o’clock news.’
I use this opportunity to slip away and stroll round to the opposite side of the building and its other entrance. A woman has just walked out of the door, which is watched over by two other security guards. ‘Are you with the BBC?’ she asks.
‘Erm,’ I say noncommittally. As the security guards are helpfully holding the door open I walk into the building. If the ‘lockdown’ is still in operation it is policed in a casual manner.
The entrance hall to Lund Point currently sits in an uneasy mix of styles. On the one hand are the garish yellow walls, creaking old lifts and a sign saying ‘no ball games’ - standard stuff for a residential block. The BBC, however, has moved in a red, BBC Breakfast-style sofa, a flat screen TV live-streaming its news channel, and a reception desk accompanied by a plethora of receptionists.
Given that I’m visiting a resident and not George Alagiah - and I’m a bit uneasy about being ‘locked down’ again - I ignore everyone and press the button for the lift. As it clanks slowly upwards to the 20th floor a man in a neon-yellow jacket - the style favoured by construction workers and lollipop people - tells me he thinks the lockdown was caused by a resident throwing some water out of a window at one of the security guards.
I arrive at the 20th floor. No one is around and I walk down the corridor to Mr Lubin’s flat peering in at the other doors, most of which are open. Flat 159 contains BBC Radio, BBC Language Services and the World Service are at 158, and a catering company occupies flat 160. Basically, it’s a mini-version of Television Centre and right in the middle of it is Mr Lubin’s home. It’s worth bearing in mind that this is a borough so short of cheap residential accommodation it has been writing to landlords across England to see if they have any spare properties.
Living with the media
What is life like then for Mr Lubin and his fellow residents? Are they basking in the glamour of this exciting new world - or would they rather the disruption went away?
Walk into Mr Lubin’s front room and it is immediately apparent why the BBC chose Lund Point. The view from his balcony over the Olympic Park is spectacular - the perfect backdrop for Huw Edwards or Fiona Bruce, who broadcast from a specially constructed studio two floors above.
For the most part Mr Lubin seems to shrug off his new neighbours, although he is annoyed when he finds out about the ‘lockdown’.
‘They can’t stop people from visiting residents,’ he says, adding that he has never had any trouble getting in or out of the block.
He is less happy, however, with the noise. This started long before the BBC began broadcasting its main bulletins from Lund Point - as the floors around Mr Lubin had to be converted for the broadcaster and the studio was constructed. An electronic hoist, which runs up the length of the building, and piles of rubble and rubbish at the base of the block, point to the extensive work that has been carried out. ‘On one occasion they were using the hoist at 4.30am,’ Mr Lubin states.
‘They are apologetic but the communication hasn’t been the best. They have been working late with no notification.’
Despite the noise and general disturbance - something all the residents I spoke to raised - householders have not been offered any compensation for the disruption to their lives.
‘We were told the money [that the BBC has paid to occupy the block] is going to the mayor’s legacy fund,’ Mr Lubin states. ‘But the mayor [Sir Robin Wales] hasn’t had to put up with it.’
Some residents in the block, which - handily enough for news teams in need of space - has been partially decanted because it is likely to be demolished in a forthcoming regeneration scheme, are less happy with the state of play than Mr Lubin.
No family allowed
Colin Green, who lives on the fourth floor of the block, says he is angry about the disruption. He says his brother has had problems getting past security. ‘They asked where he was going. They asked what floor the flat was on and what number I lived at. I had buzzed him in already, so what’s the problem?’
Two weeks ago Mr Green, along with a group called Carpenters Against Regeneration Plans or CARP, which is opposing the council’s regeneration plans for the estate, tested the system. They arrived at the estate with more than 20 people, and tried to get in. Mr Green told security he had invited them to his flat.
According to Mr Green, they were all refused entry. ‘They said “you can’t come in”,’ he states. ‘I said “can we [Mr Green and his family] get in by ourselves?”. They said “no”. They didn’t give any reason - just that they were waiting for authority.’
Eventually, the group were told by police they could enter the building. ‘It was a big egg on their face really,’ Mr Green states. While he might take satisfaction from this victory, Mr Green is clearly still angry.
Some residents, however, are happy with the BBC’s presence in the block and are obviously enjoying the Olympic spirit. When I visit the Gbenubo family, on the eighth floor, they are looking forward to watching the fireworks and light show of the opening ceremony, which is taking place that night, from the comfort of their flat.
They say they don’t mind the BBC although they all state that it has been difficult to access the lift and that the lobby is cramped because of the reception desk and BBC visitors.
‘When you come back from work you just want to get home,’ Kenny Gbenubo states. ‘[Instead] you have to stand outside for 20 minutes [waiting for the lift]. When you are there queuing for the lift it is always up there,’ she adds, gesturing upwards.
Another resident, who didn’t want to give his name, adds that it has ‘been a bit difficult because the lifts are always busy’, but apart from this the presence of the BBC ‘has been OK’.
A spokesperson for the BBC says that ‘at no point’ has BBC security prevented residents from entering Lund Point.
Responding to Mr Green’s complaint about being denied access, he states: ‘Once it became clear that non-residents had been invited in by a resident they were admitted without incident.’
The broadcaster met all residents on the floors on which the BBC would operate, he adds. Each resident also has 24-hour access to the BBC head of production if they have complaints, he states.
The broadcaster will not pay compensation, ‘as we are paying a lease to Newham Council and so are also residents’, he adds. ‘Any issues about the logistics of the building are the responsibility of Newham Council.’
A spokesperson for Newham Council says it will not disclose how much it has been paid by the BBC - or Al Jazeera, which has occupied the neighbouring Dennison block -because they are ‘commercial arrangements’.
‘We are clear that any profit will be reinvested to provide services for young people and other residents,’ he states.
‘The BBC submitted proposals to minimise disruption as part of its planning application and these proposals were deemed more than adequate,’ he adds. ‘Strict restrictions, including levels of noise, were also put in place to protect residents and we will not hesitate to enforce these if they are breached.’
As for the ‘lockdown’? ‘To be clear, the building was not in lockdown but the rear entrance was closed off by the police and BBC [because of a security concern], and broadcast partners accessing Lund were re-directed to the shared residents’ entrance,’ the BBC spokesperson adds.
Just to be fair I wonder down the road to the Dennison tower block, which currently has a futuristic Al Jazeera studio perched on its roof.
I don’t get anywhere near the door.
‘This is in lockdown to all non-residents,’ a similar t-shirted guard explains, as the day turns full circle.