TODAY is the official deadline to object to the stupidest planning application since somebody tried to build a life-sized copy of Buckingham Palace out of processed cheese. The Olympics want to come to Greenwich Park, and aren't we all thrilled? No, actually: of the 286 responses received by the council so far, 265 - or 92.7 per cent - are against.
That won't be the final figure - there are some big wodges of objections still to be registered - and in practice you can carry on submitting objections until just before the planning meeting, which I strongly recommend. Over the next few weeks, as councillors look through the application, I'll be unpicking some of its key weaknesses.
Let us start this week with London 2012 (Locog)'s legal obligation (under the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations) to assess alternative sites and explain why Greenwich Park is better. A potentially tricky task, you might think, given that (a) the alternatives are spacious existing equestrian courses, used to hosting tens of thousands of spectators and (b) Greenwich Park is a cramped, totally virgin site, needing to be transformed from scratch, that has never handled such an event in its life.
The assessment is given in chapter 4 of Locog's environmental statement, the key planning document (downloadable from the council website). The criteria include the ability to use "existing facilities where possible;" the ability to "provide facilities which meet International Federation and IOC standards;" the ready availability of public transport, the need to ensure "no potentially significant impact on amenity for local residents" and the need to avoid "potentially significant environmental constraints."
That's clear enough, then - Windsor Great Park it is! As the document admits, Windsor "has existing facilities which could be used... there are public transport services... approximately 0.3 miles from the venue... there would be no temporary loss of public amenity."
The stunning fact is that even in Locog's own assessment, Windsor scores higher than Greenwich Park on facilities and the ability to host the contest, and the same on all the other criteria I've mentioned.
And the reality, of course, is that Windsor outscores Greenwich on most of those other criteria too. Completely dishonestly, the Locog assessment scores Windsor and Greenwich the same for "impact on amenity for local residents." But while large parts of Greenwich Park will be closed for eight months, and smaller parts for five years, no local resident in Windsor would lose a single inch of park for so much as a single day if the Olympics were held there. As the document itself admits, the Windsor site which would be used for the Games "is not currently open to the public."
Furthermore, the number of local residents around the Windsor site, though not nil, is vastly lower than the number of people living around Greenwich Park, and the traffic problems the event would cause in Windsor are far lower than in Greenwich.
Equally dishonestly, Windsor and Greenwich are given the same score for "environmental constraints." But they would not have to chop bits off any trees to put in a cross-country course at Windsor, or level any ground to build a showjumping arena.
There is, admittedly, one criterion I haven't mentioned on which Greenwich scores higher than Windsor - that of "close proximity to the Olympic Park." The sole, slender thread justifying the despoilation of Greenwich is the mantra of a "compact Games" with riders able to live in the Olympic village and be "competitors, not commuters." But this is simply not a good enough reason to ignore the advantages of Windsor.
Most riders will, in any case, not live in the Olympic village - they will stay with their horses; and since Greenwich Park is too small to stable them all, many are likely to be widely dispersed across south London. Even the Olympic village is a 25-minute commute away from Greenwich Park. The planning application predicts there will be 35,000 competitor vehicle movements to the Park during Games time - also suggesting that there will be a certain amount of commuting going on.
If the "compact Games" slogan were taken to its logical extreme, we would have the rowers on the Thames at Woolwich - never mind if they drowned in the tides or got run over by the ferry. The rowers are, in fact, going to - well, quite near Windsor, as it happens. They won't be wedged into the Olympic village - they'll be in spacious and almost-new student accommodation blocks at Royal Holloway College, in Egham. If the equestrianism was at Windsor, the riders could be there, too
The fact is that the riders could stay much closer to their competition venue in Windsor than in Greenwich. Royal Holloway College is five minutes' drive from Windsor Great Park - and, contrary to another dishonest claim in the planning application, there's plenty of room.
The only other argument produced for choosing the massively inferior site at Greenwich is the need to host the showjumping element of the modern pentathlon in London. This is true, but a red herring. The riding part of the modern pentathlon does need to be in London to be near the other four sports which make up the event. But a pentathlon riding arena is far simpler and cheaper than an equestrian one, reflecting the fact that the entire horse part of the pentathlon takes just three hours over the whole Games (90 minutes each for men and women.)
This year’s modern pentathlon World Championships - a “class A” event equivalent to the Olympics - are being held in the athletics stadium at Crystal Palace at a total cost to the taxpayer (for all five events, not just the riding) of £660,000. They could put the horse bits of the pentathlon there, or in The Valley - or indeed in a big enough back garden.
In short, Locog is asking for planning permission for a venue which is not just destructive, but which even they concede is inferior to the alternatives.