There has been some controversy about the plans for the Olympics in Greenwich, and in particular about the holding of the horse-riding events in Greenwich Park. A local campaign group* has mounted a vocal campaign arguing that the venue is inappropriate, and will have negative consequences for the park.
I have a lot of sympathy for people who are concerned - Greenwich is the oldest Royal Park, and is one of the most beautiful places in London. I love spending time there, as do many other Londoners. So it is not surprising that people become highly alarmed when they hear stories about it being closed to the public for months, and about lasting damage to its trees and historic features. I and my Conservative colleagues have been active in ensuring that these concerns are heard by LOCOG (the London 2012 organising committee), by the Council, and by Mayor Boris Johnson.
It must be said, however, that many of the worst fears are based on misconceptions and, in some cases, wilful distortion of the facts. LOCOG are not invading barbarians intent on destroying our much-loved green and pleasant land. For a start, the plan to hold the events there is supported by the Director of the Royal Parks - not someone who you would expect as a willing accomplice to wanton vandalism. And when LOCOG officials made a presentation to the Council last year, they gave firm commitments that there would be no damage to the Park, that the cross-country event will last just one day, and there would be no prolonged closure (see their information here). But, understandably, fears remained on these points, and about issues such as traffic disruption and road closures.
Last night, LOCOG officials gave a further briefing on their revised plans, which have been adapted following the representations made to them, and wide consultation with local people. By any measure, they are much improved from the original proposals. The main points are:
- The showjumping arena will now be sited in the Park, not in the National Maritime Museum grounds, meaning...
- There is now no need to close Romney Road to traffic at all.
- The traffic plan has been adapted to mean works and other traffic will enter from the Shooters Hill Road end, avoiding congestion in Greenwich town centre.
- The cross-country course has been adapted, avoiding the majority of the flower gardens and its lake, which can therefore remain open to the public.
- The children's playground by the boating lake will remain accessible and open throughout.
- The period during which the majority of the park will be closed is restricted to just four weeks.
As well as these revisions, there were detailed assurances that no trees will be cut down (2000 have been surveyed, and their roots will also be protected), and far from damaging the fabric of the park, the work to prepare the course and return the surface to its original state afterwards will actually improve the grounds, so much so that Royal Parks have asked for parts of the course to be widened so the benefits of the reconditioning of the grass can be spread across a greater area. The Beijing site in 2008 was actually a golf course, a rather more manicured quality of parkland than Greenwich, but the surface was back in use just weeks after the games.There are still issues that need to be closely monitored (I am not wholly convinced by some of the spectator access arrangements, for example), and of course having been made these pledges, we need as a Council to ensure they are met. But I am certainly reassured that the concerns which have been expressed have not been ignored.
I know many of the opponents of the Park's use will accuse me of propaganda for this post, but that accusation cuts both ways - many of the wilder accusations against LOCOG are untrue or unfair, and have been exhaustively addressed by the project team. I hope the team make the presentation available online, because it really needs to be widely seen and understood so we can have a proper debate based on the facts, and ensure Greenwich 2012 is a positive thing for the Borough.
(*"NoGOE - No to Greenwich Olympic Equestrian Events")