"Platform" is our new magazine strand where contributors make the case on an issue they care about. This first article has been compiled by Sev D'Souza from NØGØE (No to Greenwich Olympic Equestrian Events).
I am a committee member of NØGØE ( No to Greenwich Olympic Equestrian Events) and I am writing to ask your readers to join over 2300 others in signing an e-petition opposing the use of Greenwich Park. They can visit our website where there is a link to the petition. Now’s a good time to apply pressure because the Olympic Board is reviewing the original decision following a review by KPMG, whose terms of reference are secret but are unlikely to have included damage assessments.
NØGØE was dismissed as an alarmist group representing a tiny minority but, after the publication of a poll in the Evening Standard on 24 October showing that 51% of respondents were against the use of Greenwich Park, we feel we are now representing the concerns of a growing majority of Londoners.
NØGØE was formed by members of various local amenity societies who felt that more active opposition, rather than co-operation, was needed to stop the decision to use the Park. A whole team has worked together and put considerable thought and research into our case for opposition, which we would like to share with your readers. We are against the use of the Park on the basis of size, damage, disruption and legacy. Before we outline our case, it is worth examining how this decision was taken.
Through Freedom of Information we have found out that the decision to use the Park was based on the scenic backdrop, the proximity to the Olympic Village, and to promote riding in urban London. No cost benefit analysis was done on the Park or any other venue. The organisers (LOCOG) over-estimated the capacity of the Park by having a plan for the bid that was not drawn to scale. Would any accountable business take a multi million pound decision on such a basis? (Figures of £12m and £20m have been mentioned for using Greenwich Park). LOCOG are privately funded to stage the Games, but any losses are underwritten by the Government, so it is in tax payer’s interests for costs to be minimised and revenue maximised (for example 250,000 people can attend cross country riding in Badminton, about 5 times more than in the Park). LOCOG are holding consultations on 15, 20 and 29 November. Check their website for details, then please go along and ask “Seb & Co” some searching questions.
A revised plan of the cross country course has now been published, and three points stand out: first, only about 25% of the course covers the lower half of the Park, so the famous backdrop looking towards Canary Wharf will have very little exposure; and secondly, the space is so tight that it will probably limit horse movements and spectator numbers, and also impact on the space needed for temporary structures and equipment,and indeed probably affect evacuation in the event of an emergency of any kind; and thirdly, the limited space for stabling will mean that horse transportation will probably have to be done in stages with resultant impact on congestion of local roads.
It has been 3 years since the bid was won, and yet there appear to be no impact assessments of environment, built heritage or historic landscape available, and timing is very tight if a move is to be considered. LOCOG state that there was no damage to the course in Hong Kong but, without getting too technical, comparisons between a man-made golf course and a sensitive heritage site are spurious. In HK millions were spent on digging up the track and turfing with a tough, hoof-resistant grass; this can’t be done in the Park mainly because of the trees and the archaeology. We have walked the proposed x-c course and made the following observations:
1. It is possible that mature trees may be cut down. We could not see how it would be possible to avoid cutting down quite a large number of the smaller trees, maybe about 20, perhaps more. The lower branches of a large number of trees, in particular mature trees, are likely to be lopped off. Damage to tree roots is also a possibility. Will vulnerable trees be fenced off as protection against unsupervised sub-contractors?
2. Running the course through the flower garden could risk damage to many cedar trees. It was not clear from the map whether the course would actually go through the lake in the flower garden but, even if not, might this have an effect on the water fowl and other wildlife? The stag beetles are an endangered species and the tawny owls (protected by law) could be affected by floodlighting.
3.The position and type of fences are not shown on the plan. It is fairly obvious that these need to be positioned well away from trees since they will have to be secured into the ground.
4. The course goes right over one of the Saxon barrows which is south of the path
5. It goes straight through the ridge and furrow remains of medieval cultivation south of the bandstand. Will additional earth be used for levelling off, thus affecting the topography?
6. By running alongside the wall from the flower garden northwards it runs the risk of unearthing more Roman remains if the ground should be muddy. It is customary for an archaeologist to be present if ground surface is penetrated. Will the organisers take measures for safeguarding archaeological material? Recent material was found a few inches below the surface and the Park, already with 76 archaeological features, is growing in importance as a heritage site.
7.Horse manure will destroy the acid grasslands and the related wild flowers and wildlife at a time when the Government is committed to increasing bio-diversity in London.
8. The track itself is likely to be damaged, especially if wet, by 75 horses galloping through over a 4 hour period.
9. Will there be a cast iron assurance that dedicated trees will not be moved? And, if dedicated benches have to be moved, will relatives be notified so as not to cause distress?
10. There is a risk that the Government could breach undertakings made to UNESCO regarding environmental conservation and protection; and thus endanger the Park’s WHS status.
In a letter full of weasel phrases from Jackie Brock-Doyle of LOCOG, she states that “damage will be minimised”. That’s an acknowledgement that there will be damage. Surely any damage to a world heritage site is unacceptable for the sake of a sporting event. We would rather take note of David Starkey’s assertion in the Evening Standard (24 October) that the Park will be damaged by this event and the Times leader (25 August) suggesting “irreparable damage”. Hugh Robertson MP is also “concerned”, and so is Boris Johnson, who thinks (report in London Lite 31 October) that significant damage may be caused.
There are three aspects of concern, relating to construction, closures and logistics.
First, the construction of the arena in front of the Queen’s House: With a 23000 capacity( 83% that of Charlton Athletic’s Valley) this is a major building project which raises many problems/questions:
1. The IOC have very particular standards for the dressage and jumping surfaces and in Hong Kong ground levellers were used to improve land drainage. There might also be a requirement for very high, “Broadcast Quality” floodlighting, the mountings for which in HK were driven into the ground. There will need to be quite a number of power generators (41 in HK), cabling, restaurants, toilet facilities, hospitality areas etc. Also in HK there were 311 temporary structures, including a VIP viewing gallery.
2. Where will stabling for all the horses be located, and how will the odour, ventilation, waste disposal and sewage affect the area if additional tunnelling and drainage is required?
3. The horses, riders, support teams – vets, nutritionists, farriers, trainers, grooms and their supplies – including vast quantities of water - will require accommodation plus acclimatisation areas, warm-up and cool down areas – including stretches to canter and gallop. Will these be located in the Park?
4. The large transportation boxes for the horses – where will these be accommodated and how will they enter and leave the park?
5. During construction of the arena, what measures will be taken to protect residents from noise and inconvenience?
6. How will local residents be protected from the arena noise – PA system, leisure and filming helicopters and other intrusions?
7. Main roads are likely to be closed for weeks; severe parking restrictions might be applied for residents and visitors; and one lane of the Blackwall Tunnel is likely to be closed for all but the “Olympic Family” during events.
Secondly, Park closures: Once again the LOCOG letter stated that “talk of months of closures are not accurate”. Yet later at the AGM of Greenwich Society LOCOG confirmed that building of the arena would commence in April 2012. With the Paralympics ending in September, it means that the bottom end of the Park could be closed for 7 months. This is the most popular part of the Park, with school trips and sports days during the week, and thousands of visitors at the weekend. These people tend to arrive by public transport and spend money in the town. They won’t necessarily go to the top end of the Park and, if they stay away, it might impact on the local economy for 28 weekends.
Closures will also affect the Flower Garden during preparation of the course and the event itself. This area is where mothers and babies congregate, and hundreds of children come to feed the squirrels and ducks, and see the deer. To deprive local people access to this valuable ‘countryside in the town’ is unacceptable.
Thirdly, the logistics: Imagine the construction traffic along the congested Trafalgar Road, not to mention the horse boxes, the equipment and support services. Then consider the 23000 spectators coming by train and DLR putting further strain on the transport system. No one knows how many spectators will line the x-c route (20,000?). What’s clear is that the disruption will be unfair to Park users and a nightmare for a densely populated neighbourhood. It is madness to hold such a major event in an urban park that is a ‘lung’ for congested SE London.
In choosing Greenwich Park, there is an attempt to promote equestrianism in an urban environment. However, if by now ordinary people in towns have not taken up the sport, there are probably very good reasons - space, stabling and cost. Both Greenwich Council and Nick Raynsford MP have stated that free riding lessons for under-privileged and disadvantaged kids would be a wonderful legacy. Such a legacy is probably not sustainable. Anyway there is no evidence that winning in elite sports inspires grassroots participation. Indeed a Chinese equestrian competitor has stated in the official Beijing Olympics website that cost will deter people from taking up riding as a sport. Back home, the Chairman of a House of Commons Public Audit Committee stated that, “if young people don’t take it up because they don’t see public school boys and girls (who make up 80% of medal winners) as role models, there is effectively no legacy - just wasted money”.
It appears that financial and environmental impact assessments were not carried out before Greenwich Park was chosen. LOCOG say that final plans will be submitted for planning permission in Autumn 2009. What if it’s then too late to change venues despite confirmation of negative impacts? There are indications to suggest that this is a ‘done deal’; that opposition is futile; and that ‘consultations’ are to listen to concerns, not to review decisions made, however un-democratically they were taken. We hope that, through heightened public awareness of the problems, pressure can be brought to have this decision reversed.
Now is the time to change this outrageous decision. The extensive Park closures are an imposition on ordinary people without gardens, and for thousands for whom it is a “Green Gym”. The impact from months of disruption from traffic congestion and construction work is disproportionate for an event lasting a few days. Also importantly, there is a risk of irreparable damage to the fabric of the Park. Greenwich Council base their support for using the Park on “assurances secured from LOCOG” (GT 5 November). But why believe them before an Environmental Impact Assessment? In terms of legacy, the only real one could be the loss of diversity, and damage to the ecology, topography and archaeology of the Park.
NØGØE’s plea to the Olympics Board is: Just to be close to the Olympic Village, and for pretty TV pictures to please the sponsors, equestrian federations and the IOC, don’t risk going down in history as the people who trashed Greenwich Park.
What do you think about Sev's article? Use the comments feature to add your thoughts, or if you think you can write your own article to feature in the new Platform section, please get in touch.