Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Greenwich Park: A fair debate

There has been renewed focus on the use of Greenwich Park for the 2012 Olympics' equestrian events, now that the planning application has been submitted to the Council. As I am not a member of the planning committee, I am free (unlike those who are) to give my view publicly.

Firstly, I think we should recognise and give credit to LOCOG for the efforts they have taken to engage with local people on the issue. They have produced regular updates, organised meetings for local people, and recently set up shop in Greenwich town centre to display their plans. Now the application is in, they have put the papers on their website, along with extensive explanatory material.

Greenwich Conservatives have wholeheartedly supported having the Games in Greenwich, and we believe being an Olympic Borough in 2012 offers many unique opportunities in terms of local jobs, tourism and a range of other benefits. We also support the principle of using the Park for these events, which will provide a magnificent setting and project the stunning beauty of the park to a worldwide audience. But our support is not a blank cheque.

Local people understandably have concerns about such a massive event taking place here, and the possible disruption that it will cause. And all those - myself included- who love the Park want to ensure it is not damaged and is accesible for as long as possible. As an opposition, we have insisted that the Council takes proper note of those concerns, and does not simply dismiss them. I know my colleague Cllr. Geoff Brighty in particular has been very active in meeting and representing residents, and both he and I have raised their concerns with LOCOG and with the Council on a number of occasions. I also wrote to Mayor Boris Johnson earlier this year to seek his commitment to protecting the Park, which he gave.

The strong local feeling was clearly the reason the plans were substantially altered to reduce the need for lengthy closures, to move the cross-country part of the course away from the flower garden, and so on. These were very positive improvements which we welcomed, but they are not the end of the story.

Now the period of formal consultation is open, I will be seeking detailed views from local people on the plans, and am willing to present those views to the committee myself if needed. I hope very much that the public debate, including in the media, will be conducted sensibly, and with honesty. I have been rather concerned by some of inaccurate information that has been repeated in the media and by some campaigners against the use of the Park, and this serves no-one's interests. Let's have a debate, but a fair one.

UPDATE: (Weds, 13.16) The battle on the issue over at greenwich.co.uk has become rather personal. As I put it on Twitter, calm down dears!

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