Last week, we published an open letter from NOGOE's John Hines to local MP, Nick Raynsford. We now publish Mr Raynsford's response.
Thank you for your open letter of the 3rd December. I have always believed that debates on any issue should be held in a respectful and civilised manner. I have been grateful that you and I have been able to discuss the issue in a non-confrontational way.
This, however, has not always been the case with other members of NOGOE who have repeatedly distorted the evidence and predicated their arguments on a mixture of fear and rhetoric in opposition to the planned Olympic and Paralympic events in Greenwich Park.
You stated in your letter that opposition amongst local residents to the use of the park for the equestrian events stands at some 66 per cent from those who responded to Gareth Bacon’s survey. The reason why I do not accept the veracity of that survey is because it was an unscientific survey prompted by political motives. By contrast, the polling carried out by an independent market research company, Nielsen, shows that just shy of 85 per cent of the residents of Greenwich support the use of the park for the Olympic and Paralympic events. This reflects the balance of opinion among constituents who have discussed the issue with me.
Whilst I will always be open to fresh evidence which indicates a change of opinion, I will not accept the credibility of a survey designed to promote a political point when it is so evidently debunked by independent polling. As the local MP, I have to listen to the views of all constituents, not only those who are the most vocal.
NOGOE has used some very effective campaigning methods. Indeed, I have a poster in front of me now which has a picture of the park with an accompanying caption which reads “This will be a NO GO area in 2012 for several months”. This, with respect, is scaremongering, and a complete misrepresentation of the facts.
LOCOG have been very clear that the park as a whole will not be closed for several months. Indeed, the flower garden and the children’s play area will remain open to the public throughout the run-up to the games with a complete closure of the park only on the one day of the events themselves. This, understandably, is for reasons of security.
NOGOE was continuing to perpetuate the myth that the park would be closed in a BBC report in October of this year in which a spokeswoman said that it would be “socially and morally wrong” for the park to be closed, despite knowing that this would not be the case. LOCOG have also stated, quite clearly and repeatedly, that there are no plans for any trees to be cut down and claims that the park and its flora and archaeological heritage will suffer serious damage are unfounded.
I am extremely disheartened that certain elements within NOGOE are misrepresenting the facts in this way and are continuing a campaign of misinformation to oppose the application without considering the facts of the case. I hope and trust that this is not something of which you would approve.
I have received numerous representations from both sides in this matter and will always listen to evidence put before me. I am not an uncritical cheerleader for LOCOG - I support the LOCOG plan because I believe that it will bring substantial benefits to the local area and I am reassured by the plans that they have put forward.
I attended a public meeting on 23rd September at Blackheath Halls where local residents were able to directly question members from the LOCOG team about the plans. It was my impression from the meeting that many people, who had arrived as sceptics, were won over by the calm and fact-based approach of the LOCOG team, who answered the concerns of people who had been led to believe by the NOGOE campaign that the park would be seriously damaged by the Olympic events and closed for long periods of time.
With regards to the forthcoming planning decision, LOCOG will be required to make all aspects of their plan publicly available, as is the case for all planning applications. The application will have been made, mindful of planning regulations and following public consultation. The council will consider the application based on those regulations and I hope that the debate, which will no doubt take place before the planning committee, will be well informed, based on evidence and will provide all interested parties the opportunity to have their say on an equal basis. Sadly, this has not been the form of the debate over the past eighteen months and I can only hope that matters improve in the near future.
Nick Raynsford MP