Apart from the acronyms, LOCOG (The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games) and NOGOE (No to Greenwich Olympic Equestrian Events) haven’t found much common ground over the past year. On this site both Sev D’Souza of NOGOE and Andrew Gilligan have highlighted many residents’ continued opposition to the Equestrian events at Greenwich Park. Their protest was borne out of concerns about potential damage to the park, and the considerable inconvenience to the residents caused by the closure of the park, with no demonstrable benefits. In light of this I went to the LOCOG meet and greet session at the park on Saturday and spoke to Equestrian manager Tim Hadaway and press officer Fran Edwards to ask their side of the story, and to find out what their perception is of local views about the Olympics at Greenwich.
As part of the advisory group that recommended Greenwich, Tim was directly involved in the decision: “Greenwich won out on its good transport links, proximity to Stratford and scope to host elements of the Modern Pentathlon.” Asked why these were such key enticements, Tim says “the bid was won on the strength of these being the London Games - we need to keep as many of the events as we can within the city”. Sites outside London would have been “far more challenging, both financially and logistically speaking”. He is also philosophical about Zara Phillips’ pro-Windsor comments, calling them “one person’s opinion” and saying that representatives of Zara’s have since written to NOGOE asking not to be connected with their campaign.
On the locals’ concerns regarding potential damage, Tim believes LOCOG have made good headway: “When we first started speaking to people, they would say ‘you’re cutting down all the trees aren’t you?’ They had visions of a Grand National-style motorway of horses carving up the whole site.” Now, however, Tim feels that initial misconceptions regarding damage have been largely corrected: “We can’t [damage anything] – English Heritage and The Royal Parks wouldn’t let us even if we’d wanted to.” So the trees will stay in their entirety then? “There will need to be some slight pruning on the lower branches of some trees for the cross-country, but nothing that won’t grow back. We won’t be cutting down any trees.”
Regarding the cross-country course, it will only last 1 day and Tim says the hoof damage from the 75 horses will be “minimal”, with the preparation focused on improving the grass’s irrigation leaving the ground “in a better state than before”…
However, the enduring bugbear - the park’s entire closure for the cross-country - is unavoidable. Fran says the lockdown is necessary “for the venue to be swept to ensure it is secure and to ensure that all facilities and buildings are in place. We take security very seriously”. The entire closure will last a maximum of 6 weeks, with the area that will house the main arena staying closed for at least 3-4 months. LOCOG are hoping for a phased re-opening of the park as early as a few days after the end of the cross-country.
The road closure plans are not yet concrete, so all I could get was the perennial promise of “minimal disruption” and although Romney Road will now fall outside the perimeter of the course, it is likely to be closed for at least the fortnight of the events to facilitate spectators.
Some would argue that these inconveniences are a small price to pay for the general excitement and prestige of having this event on our doorstep. LOCOG also believe that the much-debated legacy of the games will result from this prestige: “This event will become part of Greenwich’s history, people will remember the images they see of Greenwich during the Games and want to come and hunt it out after the Olympics.” They again speak of bringing equestrian sport to a new audience by having it in an urban setting, however they are vague when asked about ticket provision for locals. Apparently Greenwich Council are keen to allocate some tickets to local schoolchildren, but LOCOG are far from committed to this arrangement, and competition for tickets is likely to be high in the equestrian world. In other words don’t expect a ticket to be dropping through your door.
Overall LOCOG do admit that Greenwich has been one of their most notable PR headaches. Neil Walker, Community Relations Manager, attributed this to people being “frustrated” in the beginning because the nature of the Olympics means that they work back from an end date rather than having an upfront plan, so they “couldn’t always give all the answers people wanted.” It may sound a little ‘back foot’ to some, but Tim feels confident that they’ve been “open” as plans change. Fran and Tim even talk of being “pleasantly surprised about the positive reaction from locals”, boasting support from the Greenwich, Blackheath and Westcombe Societies, as well as Friends of Greenwich Park.
Despite the institutional support for the equestrian events here, both Fran and Tim admit that many residents will remain unmoved. “You will always get those people whose minds you can’t change and this may be the case with NOGOE”. With the planning application to be submitted near the end of this year, the way will soon be open for the mandatory public consultation that is now looking likely to be the final standoff. Watch this space.
What do you think? Are you convinced by LOCOG's assurances? Do you believe their timescales for closures?