Sunday, April 12, 2009

Boris pledges to protect Greenwich Park
There has been considerable controversy locally and in the press about the use of Greenwich Park for the Olympic horseriding events in 2012. It's quite a difficult issue for me, because I am instinctively supportive of those who want to protect the park, which is one of the most splendid public spaces in London, if not the whole country. It also has a wonderful history, as the oldest of the Royal Parks, enjoyed by Tudor and Stuart monarchs.

But it is actually this history which makes me also sympathetic to the plans to hold the Olympic equestrian events there. History is not a frozen moment in time, it is the blend and sweep of events. Conserving our heritage is therefore a tricky balancing act - what to conserve? The London Olympic games will themselves be an historic event, and weaving them into the history of the city should not automatically be seen as cultural vandalism.

Henry VIII used Greenwich Park for riding and hunting, so it is not as though horsemanship is an alien concept there. With the 500th anniversary of Henry's reign nearly upon us, it could be an appropriate piece of historical symmetry. So I have taken quite an open-minded view of the concept of horse-riding events taking place in this wonderful place.

But there are real concerns. The romanticism of the image doesn't blind me to that. People are rightly concerned that the park could be closed for a prolonged period of time, that historic trees and features of the park could be damaged, and so on. My Conservative colleagues and I have had people raise these points with us, and we have a duty to take them seriously. We raised them at Council when officials from LOCOG came to brief us on the plans, and were given reassuring answers, but these of course remain merely good intentions.

Earlier this year I wrote to Boris Johnson to set out the position of Greenwich Conservatives - that we support Olympic events being hosted in Greenwich, but want assurances that these real concerns will be addressed. The Mayor replied, giving an assurance that: "I am personally determined that the hosting of the equestrian events does not result in lengthy closures and that the ecology and historic nature of the area is respected."

This gained some coverage in the local press, although in one report, the "NOGOE" campaign group remain sceptical. I appreciate there is still much to be done to ensure that concerns are addressed, and we will continue to work to make sure the strength of feeling is taken onboard and that the plans minimise any potential for damage. I certainly think the Labour council is being too dismissive of the concerns that exist, and we'll be pressing them to take them more seriously. As the local planning authority we have signficant influence, and we should use it positively.

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