AS GREENWICH Council today prepares to rubber-stamp the planning application to close parts of Greenwich Park for up to five years - for an Olympic equestrian event lasting two weeks - we can reveal that even the park's owner, the Royal Parks Agency, has started to have reservations about this fantastically ill-defined plan.
In its submission to the council, the agency calls on Locog to "reconsider the extent of the stripping of soil and grass that needs to take place," saying that "the method of reinstatement of acid grass as set out [by Locog] is not recognised by us as a tried and tested method."
"We question the need to strip top-soil and grass as a general approach towards producing a cross-country course," it says. "We request that further consideration is given to minimise this measure and the resultant impact on the Park fabric and ecology."
Like almost everyone else - except, no doubt, the council - the Royal Parks also seems concerned with the conspicuous lack of detail in Locog's planning application. It speaks of its "reservations" about tree works and calls on the council to require an "arboricultural impact assessment" and "full details of methods of protection of trees." The lack of such an assessment - a really basic flaw in the application - must give the lie to Locog's bland assurances that no permanent damage will be caused to any tree. How can it say that if no assessment has been done?
The agency also says that the restoration of the park "will be contingent on Locog providing the necessary funds. We are assured by Locog that this will be forthcoming." Previous Locog assurances have, of course, included the assurance that the Games will only cost £2.4 billion (actual cost £9.3 billion). As the Royal Parks points out, Locog's submission "does not fully explain how the remedial work will achieve the results set out as objectives."
The agency also charges Locog with "not fully explaining the intermediate period between the test event in 2011 and the main events in 2012" and "not fully mitigating the impact on birds."
These criticisms are all the more significant because the Royal Parks has been, and remains, a supine supporter of the Olympic juggernaut - regularly proclaiming its complete backing for the event. As I mentioned in my column last week for the Daily Telegraph, the Royal Parks have in this way and other ways demonstrated their unfitness to be in charge of Greenwich Park, or any other park. This appears to have been recognised with proposals by the Tories to abolish the agency and bring it under the control of the Mayor of London.
Another serious objection has been raised by Thames Water, which says that the development "may lead to sewage flooding" and adds that "with the information provided, Thames Water has been unable to determine the waste water infrastructure needs of this application." Thames Water further says: "The existing water supply infrastructure is currently unable to meet the additional demands for the proposed facilities."
Each of these criticisms is further evidence of the fundamental lack of specific information given by Locog, something which surely undermines the planning application in its entirety. How can councillors decide on an application from which so many crucial details are omitted?
Surely the time for a tree impact assessment is before the plans are passed, not after? Surely the method of the the stripping of the very soil of the park should be settled before the plans are passed, not after? Surely the finance to restore the park to its current condition should be totally nailed down before the plans are passed, not after? Surely the not unimportant question of the project's impact on SE10's sewer system should be settled before the plans are passed, not after?
Much smaller imprecisions and vaguenesses in the planning application to redevelop Greenwich Market were a key reason why that was rejected by the council. Any planning authority which was doing its job properly would postpone consideration of the Olympic application until it had the actual details of what it was being asked to pass.
But of course with the Olympics, no boring planning considerations will intervene. Because for Greenwich Council, this is not a planning application. It is a crusade. The council made up its mind that it wanted the Olympics in the Park years ago. Its official slogan is "Carrying the Torch for 2012." Its leaders have spoken at length about the immense benefits that the Olympics will bring the borough (even if they haven't quite yet managed to articulate what any of those benefits are.)
The fury of the local community will make no difference. The rational arguments of the community will make no difference. The only people the council is listening to are Locog and its Hare Krishna-like cries that the Olympics will be "great" and "put Greenwich on the map."
The plans will be passed tonight, in all their terrifying lack of precision - giving Locog effectively carte blanche to do whatever it chooses in certain areas, and giving the community no way of stopping it. Nobody, by the way, is saying that Locog intends to harm the park - but as deadlines approach, and money becomes tight, the temptation will be to do damage and cut corners, and in many areas there will be no effective way of preventing the park from being harmed, if that's what London 2012 deems necessary to get its show ready on time.
Tonight's meeting will be no more than a formality to endorse a decision taken in about 2006 and clung to ever since, despite the increasingly overwhelming evidence - even now from its own supporters - of its destructiveness, pointlessness and stupidity. It will not, however, be the final word: I think you can be sure of that.