After giving the Olympics planning permission in March, Greenwich Council may dare to hope that the issue is over. I’m much less sure. It would, for instance, be wrong to see the recent council elections, at which Labour was re-elected, as providing any endorsement for the council’s policy. All the opposition parties supported the Olympics, too.
More importantly, and more dangerously for the council, the way Greenwich made its decision appears to be in direct breach of two key principles of planning law and the Local Government Code of Conduct, and of broader legal principles governing the way in which public bodies must make decisions.
Under these rules, local authorities and their members have a duty to approach planning applications with an open mind and without prejudgment. They are under an absolute legal requirement to invite objections, consider them properly and go through a full consultation process. They are supposed to judge each application on its merits, carefully examining the details presented to them for compliance with their planning policies.
And there were many details. Locog's application amounted to thousands of pages - setting out all the things the council was supposed to think about before it gave the go-ahead. We can, however, definitively prove that the entire process was a charade. Long before any actual application was presented, the council stated publicly that its mind was made up. Before even a single objector was heard, the council said, in effect, that they would all be ignored. Before even a single page of evidence was produced, the council made clear that the application would be passed.
The key piece of evidence is Greenwich Time, the council's propaganda newspaper, performing a useful service for perhaps the first time in its sorry life.
On 9 September 2008, more than a year before the planning application was even submitted, a Greenwich Time headline about the proposal piped: “Course the Royal Park will be fine!” and described the park’s hosting of the events not as an if, but as a when (“The o2, Greenwich Park, Woolwich Barracks - three world-class venues that will put Greenwich firmly on the world stage when they host up to a third of the events at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”)
On 30 September 2008, Greenwich Time trumpeted: “A first look at the new [Olympic] cross-country [course] map - and it looks just great!”
On 6 October 2008, Greenwich Time described the park’s use for the Olympics as a “field of dreams” and stated: “The Olympic and Paralympic Games are coming to London - and Greenwich - in 2012... at the 02, Greenwich Park and Woolwich Barracks... Let the excitement sink in." It described the use of the park as a “’natural’ for the Games” which would offer an “unparalleled opportunity” for the area. This is the council's official voice speaking, don't forget. Does it sound a bit like prejudgment to you?
On 8 December 2009, just after the planning application went in, Greenwich Time announced: Greenwich will host a number of Paralympic sports in 2012... The Paralympic equestrian events will be held at Greenwich Park.” The same words were used in an official council press release, four days before.
And on the morning of the planning meeting itself, 23 March 2010, Greenwich Time plopped onto my mat complete with a big map showing the Park as an Olympic venue and a double-page spread on how “a temporary arena will be built within the Park to host the equestrian events.” Actually, boys, at that stage it was still theoretically an “if” – because you hadn’t made your decision, remember?
In an age when even the most trivial decision has to be consulted on, at the risk otherwise of being struck down by the courts, Greenwich Council has left a huge flank open here. Of course, many such decisions are fixed well in advance. Consultations and suchlike procedures are usually shams. But great care is normally taken to pretend, to go through the motions of open-mindedness. I can't remember any case in the past where a public authority has so blatantly announced the outcome at the beginning of the decision-making process.
This indisputable evidence that the council acted with predetermination and a closed mind seems to me to offer significant scope for legal or other challenge.