Saturday, 23 May 2009

You don't know what you've got til it's gone

This excerpt is from a message of support recently received by NOGOE.

"When one of my daughters was about two years old, I remember her taking the heads off daffodils in the garden and then trying to fix them back on again - the promised plan to restore Greenwich Park to its orginal state after an equestrian event shows a similar level of maturity I feel. I hope this is one battle that really will be won".

Thursday, 21 May 2009

In the EU election campaign, the first casualty is the truth

This morning, there are Labour Party Canvassers at local railway stations handing out leaflets about the European elections. Nick Raynsford's photo is on the leaflets (as local MP). If you ask the canvassers about the Park closures for the Olympics, they swear that the Park will be closed only for three days in 2012. Three days - even LOCOG is not making that ludicrous claim.

For NuLabour, as ever, lying and misleading the public is all in a day's work. For NuLabour, the ends justifies the (lying) means.

Update: in the aftermath of the MPs' abuse of expenses scandal, Parliament faces a huge task of regaining the trust of the electorate. Local Labour Party activists still do not get it. In a democracy, it is not acceptable to say that the ends justify the means. This huge task of reinstating the reputation of the UK political system has to begin at the grassroots. No more lies.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Nature helps to heal revealed and concealed pain

Greenwich Park bench dedicated to the memory of Lady Daphne Saunders

BBC Radio 4's You and Yours on 24 April 2009 featured an item on the Olympics in Greenwich Park.

This clip starts with a young mum explaining that she visits the Park three times a week with one or all of her three children. As she has no garden, and there being no alternative within walking distance, she is worried about the effect that closures of the Park would have on her family. She subsequently wrote to NOGOE and, with her permission, her letter is reproduced here because it highlights another point that has been overlooked by the organisers of the Games.
"I always notice something new when I go to the Park and yesterday, a glorious day I enjoyed with my three year old, was no exception. First, I noticed a school group taking their PE lesson near the tennis courts and then at least four or five people using this beautiful space as a place of quiet contemplation and, it appeared, remembrance. When you look closely you can see that most of the avenues and footpaths are lined with seats of remembrance. Where are the people who use these seats as a means of coming to terms with, and indulging, their loss to go during the Park’s closure?

Plus, of course, the Park’s open spaces and beautiful walks, as well as the Pavilion Tea House, are often used by those working with the disabled and mentally handicapped.

I just thought I’d pass on these thoughts so that you can flag them with the powers that be. I don’t know whether more reasons for not closing the Park are needed but you never know".

There are thousands like this young mother. The therapeutic value of the "countryside within the city" that is Greenwich Park is too inconvenient for LOCOG to think about. We know that in this great green space the bereaved find solace, and people convalescing after surgery can take gentle exercise. There are dedicated benches and many young saplings planted in memory of loved ones. Although an assurance has been given that no trees would be cut down, there is no guarantee that these young saplings might not be moved if they are in the way.

The organisers do not understand how much local people love Greenwich Park, as it is, and have no idea of the unique role it plays in the local community. To close the Park, merely to showcase an elitist sport, is an insane idea.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

I spy with my little eye - LOCOG in the Park, up to no good?

Photo credit:

Why were Tim Hadaway (LOCOG's Sport Competition Manager for equestrian events) and some young men in smart suits taking photos of the escarpment at One Tree Hill on Tuesday this week (5 May 2009)? Last year LOCOG gave an assurance to the local amenity societies that there would be no earth-moving works in the Park. NOGOE has asked LOCOG to renew that assurance, as local suspicions are again awakened that "reprofiling" of the escarpement is being planned as part of the cross-country route route.

What are the UNESCO World Heritage Site executive doing, to fulfill their duties to protect and preserve the integrity of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, this Baroque landscape?
From The Royal Parks web site page about Greenwich Park:
Of particular interest are the grassy slopes where the soil is less acidic and more nutrient-rich. A good place to visit is the path that runs diagonally up the south west side of One Tree Hill. Here you can see a mixture of tall grasses and wild flowers and the area is just buzzing with bees, butterflies, grasshoppers and other wildlife. There are also a number of plants of fiddle dock, an unusual plant in the London area
Does Tim Hadaway even know about the fiddle dock or care about biodiversity?

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Olympic 2012 legacy - Greenwich Society - missed point error

In its latest newsletter (May 2009), Greenwich Society chairman Tim Barnes writes,
"there should be a real legacy aspect to Greenwich hosting the Olympic events in 2012. At the top of everyone's list is the redevelopment/regeneration of Cutty Sark Gardens ... There is also talk of pedestrianisation of College Approach ... improvements to the Blackheath Gate and to the area around the General Wolfe statue. So I do not accept the frequently heard refrain that Greenwich will be getting no permanent legacy from hosting the Games."

This is not a Section 106 agreement: just what - in the name of all that's wonderful - has Cutty Sark Gardens, pedestrianisation, etc got to do with sport? Nothing at all. The Olympic legacy is meant to be about leaving sporting facilities that were not there before, for use by the people of the host city.

Friday, 1 May 2009

When is a consultation not a consultation? ("Have Your Say" in the Park, November 2008)

Last November LOCOG held a public consultation in the Tea Pavilion in Greenwich Park, staffed by representatives of LOCOG and Derek Spurr (who is about to start working for LOCOG as an Olympics liaison person). The map - on which to mark what you considered to be the sensitive areas in the Park - was not in use at first and was fished out only when NOGOE representatives made a point of asking for it. A young woman in charge of the map went to some trouble to mark the problem areas and register the reasons on the postcards. By late Saturday, the map was pretty full of stickers all over.

Where is that map now? No one knows. A couple of months ago (on/around 13 February 2009) two members of LOCOG - the Equestrian Competition Manager, Tim Hadaway, and the Course Designer, Sue Benson - were walking around the cross country course with representatives of NOGOE. When it became clear that the course was still going through sensitive areas, the LOCOG people were asked why no notice had been taken of the map in the "Have Your Say" November consultation, to which they replied that they knew nothing about its existence.

NOGOE has taken this matter up with the relevant LOCOG people and, to date, there has been no response to the whereabouts of the map. So is a "Have Your Say" all for show? Not a real attempt to listen?

The other remarkable thing at the "Have Your Say" in the Park were the answers given by different LOCOG people to the same set of questions put by members of the public, which left one with the impression that LOCOG's PR people were just saying anything to make people go away. Three different LOCOG representatives told one NOGOE representative that the lower branches of ALL THE TREES needed to be cut anyway to "safeguard cyclists and walkers". Which is ridiculous: any Park user knows, cyclists use the paths and "roads" through the Park alongside which the trees are set well back so that their lower branches do not have to be cut back. (Clearance for a horse and rider is about 15 feet, a lot more than for a cyclist.)

As this blog reported at the time (Questions for LOCOG I), the prize for the most ludicrous claim went to Derek Spurr for saying that a jogger (human) has greater impact than a horse and rider because in the latter case the weight was more distributed. LOCOG must be desperate: if anyone has any doubts what horses hooves do to turf, watch the racing on tv and then take into account that racehorses shoes are much lighter weight than the shoes the Olympic horses wear. Racehorses actually wear lightweight shoes called racing plates. A Olympics competition horse weighs about half a ton, is moving about 25mph, and its steel shoes are about half an inch thick, with studs fitted to give them extra grip but which churn up the grass very quickly and cause long term damage. A human jogger, who weighs nowhere near half a ton, is wearing shoes made of rubber or plastic. RM/SD

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Why does LOCOG think trashing an ancient Park is preferable to using existing eventing venues?

At Badminton, they have been preparing the 2009 cross-country course for the horse trials (7-10 May 2009):
"the grassland management programme consists of vertidraining to improve drainage and aerate the roots of the grass; soil enhancement with sand and some compost; additional seeding, weedkiller, fertiliser and above all regular mowing during the growing season ... the main arena and warm up areas ... get the same treatment. the autumn or early winter ... Willis Bros start work with anything that is going to disturb the ground, to ensure it is fully settled by the following spring. ... it is important to decide on what test is wanted at a particular site and then use the appropriate portable [jump]if available, rather than list the portables and then design to accommodate them."

It isn't credible that the IOC would find acceptable an Olympic cross-country course in Greenwich Park that was less well prepared than the one at the Badminton Estate. But how do you preserve the Roman and Anglo Saxon remains that lie just below the surface of the ground from your "vertidraining"? And enhancing the soil and mowing would completely alter the grassland character of Greenwich Park.

Furthermore, Badminton has just agreed a new deal with BBC tv for its coverage of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, which has been unbroken since 1956, for a further three years inclusive of 2012. "The new contract will guarantee live red button and broadband coverage of cross country day, as well as a two hour programme which combines the best of the cross country and dressage with previews and the live conclusion of the show jumping." RM/AG

Tuesday, 28 April 2009


NOGOE has received some comments from LOCOG to its reports. LOCOG’s deputy chairman said that NOGOE had got its facts wrong (but has ignored a subsequent request to say what facts were wrong). Its director of communications and public affairs subsequently said that, having read the reports in detail, she could assure NOGOE that it had not raised any issues or factors of which the organisers are not already aware, but did not say that anything was wrong with the information provided. What is LOCOG up to? You can read a proposal from NOGOE to Lord Coe at the end of its letter to him (link to follow).

NOGOE has also published its response to the "myths" alleged by Lord Coe in the Daily Telegraph in a recent article (17 March 2009) about the proposed events in the Park in which he said, "Olympic mythology is not just rooted in the ancient Games. The modern Olympic movement is also subject to myths."

The truth is that, by selecting the Park on the basis of a summary and wholly unresearched assessment, LOCOG and its predecessors bit off far more than it can chew. It should do the decent thing and implement the plan - a more suitable alternative to Greenwich Park for the 2012 equestrian events - that it must have prepared. JH

Monday, 27 April 2009


This is a new word, not yet in the English dictionaries. In essence it means being economical with the truth. The meaning is derived from the practice by professional spin doctors at LOCOG whose aim is to emphasise the positive and suppress any negative implications of the Olympics in Greenwich Park, and it is manifested in various forms: weasel words, unsubstantiated assurances, telling people what they want to hear, inconsistent assurances, stating intentions but not delivering.

The first evidence which exhibits most of the forms of this art is taken from a letter circulated to Friends of Greenwich Park (18/07/08) from Jackie Brock-Doyle, Director of Locography (sorry, Communications and Public Affairs):
LOCOG sweet-talk

  • Not our intention to damage the Park irreparably.

  • There is enough space to accommodate a course of 6 km.

  • Designing a course around sensitive areas such as around the tumuli and acid grass.

  • The design will include community input and consultation.
  • BEF and FEI are happy to meet local residents to discuss concerns.

  • We will always ensure that we keep as much of the Park open for as long as possible.

  • Suggestions that the Park will be closed for months or years are inaccurate.

  • The 2011 test event will not cause substantial disruption.

  • We will minimise any need to close roads or alter normal road use in the borough.

  • Minimising disruption to the Park and its various activities.

  • Determined to ensure that you feel fully engaged going forward.

Lord Coe and other LOCOG members in his team are also masters of the art of making unsubstantiated statements and giving information without spelling out the implications.

Last November after a presentation at City Hall Lord Coe reassured a member of NOGOE that the cross country course would not go through The Flower Gardens. A few days later at the O2, Tim Hadaway and Sue Benson showed a course design that went through the Flower Gardens. Hadaway went on to assure the audience that no damage would be done to the Park. His only substantiation was that no damage had been done to the golf course in Hong Kong.

Lord Coe wrote in the Daily Telegraph on 18 March that "equestrianism as an Olympic sport does not attract huge viewing figures". Here are some figures which cast doubt on that assertion.

Sydney Games: tickets sold for all sports 86%, for equestrian sports 91%
Athens Games: tickets sold for all sports 66%, for equestrian sports 97%

Lord Coe also referred in the same article to "the minority voices against Greenwich" but what evidence did he have for this? All the indications available, in the absence of a local opinion survey, are to the contrary – over 3400 signatures on the Downing Street e-petition, Friends of Greenwich Park and Blackheath Society both voted to oppose the cross country event in the Park, over 5000 in Facebook groups against the Games in Greenwich, the bulk of editorial comment - of letters to the press (including online), of local blogs - are all against the use of Greenwich Park, and a sample of local, residential shopkeepers say that 90% of their customers are opposed.

Another example of "locography" appeared in the same Lord Coe article when he said, "Greenwich Park will bring equestrianism closer to a new audience". What evidence is there for this? Recently an attempt was made to do this in Cardiff with the holding of express eventing (a sort of 20/20 for riding), and the impressions are that it attracted the usual spectators. The sponsoring of a riding school in Greenwich borough by the BEF seems more like a token gesture than a sustainable project.

Having established the practice of this art, we ask members of the public to be on the look-out for positive spin during forthcoming community engagement, and we are in no doubt that there will be further examples of "locography". SD

Thursday, 23 April 2009

There's absolutely no 2012 legacy in Greenwich so we'll have to make some up

swim4free logoWednesday 1 April 2009 saw the launch of the UK government's two-year £140m national "public swim programmes" which aim to encourage people of all ages to swim regularly as a way to improve their health and well-being, and which are open to everyone but free for under 16s and over 60s: the Swim4Free programme is part of the £75m social marketing campaign Change4Life launched on 3 January 2009 and being run by the Department of Health to help prevent childhood obesity.

Local councils up and down the country are participating in the Swim4Free pilot scheme, from Rochdale to Harrow, from Chichester to Wakefield, and in Kirklees, Lancaster, Leeds, Exeter. (But in some councils children have been able to Swim4Free since about 2004.)

In Greenwich (and on parts of the BBC), Swim4Free is being "spun" as if it was part of the planned legacy of the 2012 Olympics. "Legacy" of the Olympics means after the Olympics, so Swim4Free cannot be an Olympic legacy as the scheme ends in March 2011, more than a year before the Olympics. (Click on the image on the left to bring up a larger version, if you wish to read the text.)

The Olympic Delivery Authority must be absolutely desperate, scrabbling around and "annexing" existing initiatives to demonstrate "legacy" to the IOC. (Note to Lord Coe and Councillor Fahy: Swim4Free is a two-year scheme that ends in March 2011, so it can't be a "legacy" of something happening a year later.) RM

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Is it always "green" to stage the Games in a green oasis?

The London 2012 website makes great play about how this will be the "green" Games. On the sustainability page it states four ways the organisers are going to achieve their goals. Let’s see whether it passes the Greenwich Park test.

Enhancing bio-diversity
Greenwich Park is blessed with acid grasslands which enhance bio-diversity, but which would be destroyed by horse manure. Even the Park's mounted police exercise their horses along the paths, not the grass. From LOCOG's latest issued 'indicative' map of the cross-country course, it is clear that competitors' horses would have to pass over this sensitive area. It is hypocritical to teach our children that bio-diversity and conservation are important - unless it gets in the way of a month-long exhibition of elite sports.0/10

Encouraging healthy living
Greenwich Park is a focus for sports and recreation: walking, jogging, exercising dogs, football training, cycling, childrens playground, school playground, infants sports day, tennis, cricket, real frisbee - you get the picture. However the whole Park is expected to be closed for 6-8 weeks in the peak summer months in 2012. In this densely populated part of London, where many people do not have their own gardens, there is no accessible alternative to the Park. If Greenwich Park is the venue for the 2012 equestrian events, more people would be denied access to the Park than would be able to attend as spectators (and, perhaps, be inspired to take up riding). How is closing the Park for the Olympics going to address childhood obesity? 0/10

Reducing waste
How does building a huge 23000-seater stadium and then taking it all down reduce waste? What would be far less wasteful would be to enhance the facilities in an existing equestrian venue and only remove those that are not sustainable.

Combating climate change
Building a temporary stadium from scratch is going to have a larger carbon footprint than developing existing facilities; as would transporting jumps to Greenwich Park (to reduce closures) instead of building them in situ; as would transporting ground protective materials which would not be needed if the equestrian events were held at another, more suitable, venue. Incidentally all the transport and construction vehicles would have to travel through notorious bottlenecks to get to Greenwich Park. 0/10

The greatest environmental impact would probably come from levelling the ground for the arena. It is planned to key-in polystyrene blocks, the type used for bridge building and supporting roads, to make the arena level. As each block would have to be custom cut to fit, presumably it wouldn’t be re-usable nor recyclable for that matter. There is also the additional transport carbon footprint which wouldn't be incurred were the venue a place that already had a stadium.0/10

We challenge the spin doctors at LOCOG to tell us why they think using Greenwich Park for the 2012 equestrian events is "green". How is promoting equestrianism in London is more important than saving the planet? SD

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Greenwich Park as a Procrustean Bed

If you were going to have a "garden makeover" - and you were spending your own money - you would not give your garden designer a plan of your garden that was drawn to the wrong scale, so that your garden looked twice as big as it was in reality.

You wouldn't - but the people who drew up the UK's Olympic bid did that with their plan of Greenwich Park and the UK taxpayers' money. It is unlikely thatGreenwich Park would have been considered the venue for equestrian events at all if they had got the measurements right in the first place. Yes, there is the "iconic backdrop" but Windsor has an iconic backdrop to top them all.

Section 8.6 of the Candidate File (containing the original Bid for the Games) includes maps of the venue plans for Greenwich Park: show jumping and dressage in Table 8.6.1 and cross country in Table 8.6.2. But you will not now find these tables on the London 2012 web site - dear me, no - for, although the Candidate File is still viewable in the London 2012 web site, those tables have been removed.

Table 8.6.2 , which shows the Park itself, is not depicted to the scale shown on the plan of 2cm to 300m. The scale used is in fact 2cm to 200m. On the basis of this inaccurate scale, the Park is measured at 1425m x 1150m, to be compared with actual dimensions of 950m x 775m. Using the inaccurate linear measurements results in more than doubling of the area of the Park from 76 hectares to 164 hectares.

This explains why LOCOG are having so much trouble fitting in the Olympic course. You have to wonder: if the cross-country event is forced to run in Greenwich Park, after the course has had to be shortened in order to squash it into the Park, will the winners really be "Olympians"? From the outset, NOGOE have been saying that the Park is too small but LOCOG won’t admit this. The British Equestrian Foundation are said to be looking for a scapegoat, er, we mean the individual who signed off the plans. RM

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus)

(photo credit: UK Biodiversity Action Plan)

In 1992, the UK government signed the 'Rio Convention' and committed this country to halting biodiversity loss through the 'UK Biodiversity Action Plan': London is one of nine regions which form part of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan which is trying to increase the numbers of stag beetle.

The stag beetle is a globally threatened species, protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), and listed as a priority species for the UK and London Biodiversity Action Plans. The London Bioversity Partnership advises

Managing for stag beetles is easy; it's more a case of 'leave alone', than doing something special (although in some cases this may be required). It is all to do with providing dead wood.

Moreover, the Royal Parks Foundation's "exciting plans for 2009" include the opportunity to adopt a stag beetle for £15
"The stag beetle is the gentle giant of the insect world. Despite an ancient reputation for summoning thunder and lightning, the stag beetle is entirely harmless. With greatly reduced numbers across the UK, the presence of stag beetles in Richmond Park was instrumental in its designation as a National Nature Reserve. Stag beetles can be encouraged in every garden (just leave some dead wood lying around - they'll live there for years), but adopting this lovely Lucanidae will help us protect the nationally important colonies living in the Parks"

Unless the 2012 equestrian events proposed for Greenwich Park wipe out the stag beetle colony.

Greenwich Park as a whole is a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation and it supports a large population of stag beetle as well as a diverse range of woodland birds including, among others, nuthatch, tree creeper, goldfinches and greenfinch, tawny owl, green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker and lesser-spotted woodpecker.

LOCOG has so far said nothing at all about protecting the stag beetle's habitat from being destroyed. Perhaps they are unaware that people can be prosecuted for destroying habitat of protected species. The penalties range from fines up to £5,000 to six months imprisonment. Ignorance is no longer a defence, for, under legislation enacted 21 August 2007, "No longer will it prove an adequate defence to suggest that damage to any European protected species or their habitat was accidental, or due to lack of knowledge of the existence of a species on a specific site" Jon Abbatt, ADAS development sector manager.

A bitterly hypocritical "legacy" that would be, teaching our children that biodiversity and conservation are important to the survival of the planet - unless, of course, it gets in the way of a month-long exhibition of elite sports. RM

Friday, 10 April 2009

Where will Fido go?

Walkies Day in Greenwich Park (photo credit: Dave Levitt)

Where will the responsible dog-owners of Greenwich exercise their dogs during the 2012 Olympics (6-8 weeks total closure of the Park)? Most breeds of dogs require at least two walks a day, and that should include at least half an hour off the lead (which cannot be done safely on the street or on the Heath). Large and/or powerful dogs like Siberian huskies (of which at least three live in Greenwich), rottweilers, Staffordshire bull terriers, labradors, need a lot of space to let off steam every day; otherwise, they develop behavioural problems.

Even the six-eight month month partial closure of the northern end will be very inconvenient for owners and dogs from the densely populated areas of West and East Greenwich. We know that 4 million people visit the Park every year, and in the summer that is about 60,000 per day. But has anyone carried out an audit of the number of dogs visiting everyday - would it be in the hundreds or thousands?

There is of course no other significant green space in this part of Greenwich for dogs to run around or do their "business" (dogs are not allowed into the grounds of the National Maritime Museum and the Old Royal Naval College). No doubt nearby pavements will be used but will Council dog fouling enforcement patrols be stepped up? SD

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

No evidence that winning Olympic medals influences participation in the community (legacy)

(Photo credit:

If only the tabloid newspapers were as excited about the activities of the Public Accounts Committee as they are about what "celebrities" are saying or wearing or doing any day or night. Then everyone would know that there will be nil legacy from holding the 2012 Olympic equestrian events in Greenwich Park.

Here are a few quotes from House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, Preparing for sporting success at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and beyond. HC 477 Published on 24 July 2008 Remember, this was before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the synchronised collapse of the global financial system, the bank bail-outs (which the banks held onto, so as to make it look as if they were in profit, instead of making it available to businesses).

Page 5
"There is no clear evidence that elite sporting achievement influences people to take up sport in the long term, and Olympic medallists in certain sports such as rowing and equestrianism do not represent the make–up of the wider population, with a disproportionate number coming from privileged backgrounds."

Page 6
"The Department has yet to begin raising the £100 million it needs from the private sector to fund elite sport, even though we first raised concerns about the size of this challenge nearly two years ago. "

Page 7, paragraph 6: "there is no conclusive evidence that winning Olympic and Paralympic medals influences levels of participation in the community."

Mr Ian Davidson, asking questions in the oral evidence section:

"things like equestrianism, for example, it does help obviously to have a horse and there are not many people in my constituency that either have a horse or have ever had a horse or whoever indeed are likely to have a horse!"

"if we find that there is a disproportionate number of people in the elite sports group who have public school origins that might very well be a good role model for other public school youngsters, but youngsters at schools in my area would not necessarily see a public school boy or girl on a horse as being a role model because they would see that as something that was just beyond their capacity ­not only possibly physically but also financially"

Later, Mr Bacon asks

"I would just like to turn to Mr Davidson’s question about the social background of participants in these different sports. Do you happen to know, Mr Steele, what proportion of medal winners went to public schools? ... I have heard that it is as high as 80%. This is only an anecdotal figure but it sounds like this information is available."

The Chairman says

"actually it is a serious point because if we are talking about widening participation it is pretty worrying if £700 million is going into advancing our cause in elite sports and 80% of medals are won by people who went to public school."

It doesn't matter how much money is spent on "equestrian legacy", if young people don't take it up because they don't see public school boys and girls as their role models, there is no legacy, just wasted money.

The oral evidence taken on 2 April 2008 is gripping reading. You can see photos of two of the people from UK Sport giving evidence, here

UK Sport has formally been in existence since 1 January 1997, and although its budget has always been millions of taxpayers money it has never had a Finance Director. RM

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The finest baroque landscape in England

A recent sunny Sunday afternoon in the Park (see picture). Yet, from March 2012, here where you can now see people enjoying the fresh air and green grass in an open space near where they live, this area will be a construction site for the temporary stadium for the equestrian Olympics, and closed to the public for 7 months right through the summer until October.

Will the magnificent herbaceous border be dug up? Who knows but it seems more than likely that the paths running east to west will be closed to the public, depriving thousands of people each day of their delightful "commute" on foot across the Park. Every morning commuters on their way from Maze Hill and Vanbrugh Hill have a pleasant walk to the DLR and Greenwich mainline stations; while, in the opposite direction, the buggy brigade head from West Greenwich towards the playground and leisure centre. The alternative for these mothers and their babies and toddler is to walk along the 2 metre-wide pavement in Romney Road, breathing in the polluted air alongside this busy arterial road used by large lorries as well as cars, where the traffic is often at a standstill.

During the day this part of the Park attracts tourists, walkers, joggers, elderly folk relaxing on the dedicated benches, and a continuous stream of toddlers in push chairs and kids on bikes. From late afternoon the area is filled with school children returning home, students playing football and teenagers just hanging out. Did I mention school trips and school sports days?

It’s socially unjust to close this part of the Park for such a lengthy period. These users of the Park might have been "public-spirited" to endure this misery if there were no alternative. But there are venues that are much more suitable for the Olympic equestrian events than Greenwich Park. SD

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Will the Olympics in Greenwich Boost the Local Economy?

Ask anyone who knows about inward investment and you’ll learn that such hard-nosed business decisions are taken on the basis of quality of workforce, returns on investment and transport links, not because the horsey Olympics are happening nearby.

The fact is that the Greenwich business community, being almost entirely made up of SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises), is in no stronger position to win Olympics contracts than they were at the end of the 1990s when preparations were being made - and millions spent - to make Greenwich the hub of the national new millennium celebrations. When the New Millennium contracts were being handed out, local printers and local suppliers of coffee and tea did not even get a sniff of a contract. The ranks of "locally based" employees recorded as working on the Dome site on the Greenwich Peninsula were swelled by the fast hordes of construction workers from all round the country who took temporary lodgings in rooms above pubs and could therefore give a Greenwich address.

According to a report in the Evening Standard (31 March 2009), a French firm (with a presence in 80 countries and an annual turnover in 2008 of "9,5 milliards d'euros") employing Portuguese workers is being lined up to build the Olympic Village. Bouygues is one of five firms shortlisted to build flats in the £1bn athletes' accommodation in Stratford. (Here is a list of Bouygues UK's top 10 projects completed in this country, for hospitals, universities and the Home Office.)

Gordon Brown famously said, "British jobs for British people"? Did not the Leader of Greenwich Council talk about local companies obtaining contracts? How likely is that to be more than political "aspiration"?

Take as a fr'instance, the huge jumps for the cross-country equestrian event. LOCOG has already said that the jumps will be constructed elsewhere before being assembled on the course. How likely is it that Greenwich companies will be able to tender for this work with any chance of winning the contract? They would be bidding against other companies in this country and overseas with perhaps 15 years or more experience in building and delivering Olympic standard jumps that fulfil safety requirement, and in liaising with Olympic course designers.

A major part of the work will be the construction and then dismantling of the 23,000 seater stadium and the security fencing around the perimeter walls. Will British companies get this contract? Will local companies win this contract? Or will the local employment just consist of temporary, low-grade, security jobs?

If truth be told, when it comes to Government contracts, unless your company has a turnover of more than £1 million/year, you are probably wasting your time bidding for the work.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Paging Dominic Cooper, paging Dominic Cooper

"History? It’s just one f------ thing after another". This is one of the lines that got the most laughs in Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys. Actor Dominic Cooper, who played the part of Stuart Dakin in the original production of Bennett's play at the Royal National Theatre, is a local boy who made good (he attended the Thomas Tallis School).

There is a lot of ill-informed "history" being promulgated in Greenwich at present. For example it has been suggested at local amenity society meetings - and the error is assiduously cultivated by the Council in its house newspaper - that, as Henry VIII hunted in Greenwich Park, there is nothing wrong with riding horses round it. The truth however, according to an eminent local historian, is that Henry VIII (1491–1547) did not convert it into a hunting park. Rather, it was used as a deer larder. If any hunting took place it would have ranged over the site that extended beyond Blackheath southwards to Kidbrooke and Eltham. The enclosure of the Park by the Duke of Gloucester dates from 1433, and the parkland was bounded by a simple paling fence until 1620 when the wall was first built.

The Evening Standard interviewed Dominic Cooper recently (9.3.2009) and in answer to the question - Do you have a favourite view of London? - Dominic said

"From Greenwich Observatory, in Greenwich Park, at 2am. You can see the whole of London."

We agree - it is a stunning view. But the proposed 23,000-seat Olympic stadium in the Park will spoil that view: it will dwarf the Queen's House. More about that in a later blog post.

What does "history boy" Dominic Cooper think of the Government's proposals to site the 2012 Olympic equestrian events in Greenwich Park? RM

Friday, 3 April 2009

The Greenwich Society Through The Looking Glass

On 29 January 2009, a Special General Meeting of the Greenwich Society considered a Resolution proposed by Sir Frank Berman, seconded by Michael Goldman, and supported by at least 69 members of the Society: to oppose the holding of the Olympic 2012 cross country equestrian event in Greenwich Park. (The other two major amenity societies - The Blackheath Society and the Westcombe Park Society - had already supported the resolution.)

To the world outside of Greenwich, the Greenwich Society sounds important, so naturally the Chaiman of the Society, Tim Barnes, was diligent about ensuring that the outcome of the meeting would be one that pleased the Government. To this end, Tim Barnes not only opposed the resolution - and his opposition was seconded by the Secretary - but also chaired the meeting. He generously allowed many comments from the floor, not quite all of them from well-primed Executive Committee members who obediently followed the "whip".

Some welcome light relief was provided by the Secretary who was permitted to make an impassioned appeal for "public spiritedness", although the relevance of this to the resolution and/or the objects of the Society eluded most who heard her.

But the organisation of the voting was what will live on in Greenwich folklore for generations to come. Unusually, the ballot papers did not record votes For or Against the resolution but Yeses and Noes, and this ensured that some people voted the opposite way to the one they intended. Even so, it must have appeared to the Chair and Secretary that, despite all the command-and-control procedures, the result might still go "the wrong way" and therefore, in an exciting re-enactment of life in pre-Olympics Athenean societies, couples who held one Society membership between them were nevertheless allowed two votes, one each.

At the end of the evening, having by these creative devices achieved the result that would make the Minister happy - 86 to 58 against the resolution - Tim Barnes and the local MP rambled off together into the sunset: mission accomplished. MG/RM

Thursday, 2 April 2009

"Two arrested over street stabbing"

This headline appeared on the BBC News Channel online on 31 March 2009. The report was related to the murder of a man in Greenwich Church Street in the early hours two days before, on Sunday.

The relevance of this story is that it was possibly the third fatal incident in the centre of the town in recent years. The night time economy has been allowed to grow in Greenwich. A recent application by a fast food restaurant was granted, enabling it to stay open till 1.00am, despite opposition from the sheltered housing block located opposite. A current application by The Fan Museum to hold events in their garden finishing at 11.00pm is understood to have the recommended approval of the planning officers. Put in context, the Museum is part of a terrace of Georgian town houses with residential properties either side of it, and neighbours are worried about the detrimental effects of noise, inability to park, privacy and erosion of the residential nature of the neighbourhood.

There is a fine balance between attracting visitors to Greenwich and protecting the living environment for residents. The holding of the Olympics, yards from the centre of a small, congested town will alter that balance to the detriment of the local residents. They are being asked to suffer pain with no long term gain either for them or the town. Appealing to their public spiritedness is unfair when there are alternatives available.

Local angle
More details here, where Andrew Gilligan writes about local concerns about safety in Greenwich on the Greenwich portal.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

1st April 2009 : Olympic Fools Day

"Don't play Games with Greenwich, Lord Coe"

This was the headline in the Evening Standard on 23 March 2009 for Andrew Gilligan's article that suggested that Seb Coe was in denial of the facts that made Greenwich Park an unsuitable choice. It's worth reading the whole piece on the link below but what is a must-read is the hilarious comment from a Martin Murphy of Greenhithe, drawing similarities with "The Emperor's New Clothes"

This article was in response to an interview given by Lord Coe in the Daily Telegraph of 17 March 2009 in which he tried to correct a few myths, as he described them.

First, he stated that viewing for equestrianism in the Olympics was low. WRONG - THEY SOLD MORE TICKETS FOR THESE EVENTS THAN AVERAGE IN SYDNEY AND ATHENS.

Secondly, he said that an inner city location would bring equestrianism to a new audience. HOW EXACTLY?

Thirdly, he appeared to insult existing venues in saying that they were not equipped to host three events simultaneously to Olympic standard. REALLY? WHY THEN CAN THEY NOT BE UPGRADED WITH TEMPORARY YET SUSTAINABLE FACILITIES, THEREBY LEAVING A LEGACY FOR THE SPORT.

"Carry ID, or you won’t get home"

This was London Lite’s headline on 30 March 2009. The article referred to the fact that hundreds of people living near the G20 Summit will have to carry photo ID to get past road blocks to their homes.

This is a foretaste of what it could be like during the 16 days of the equestrian Olympics for Greenwich residents whose houses are on the roads - Crooms Hill, Nevada Street, Park Vista and Maze Hill - bordering Greenwich Park.

Hundreds of houses are only yards from the Park, many actually back on to it. Circus Gate, at the bottom of Crooms Hill, would be very close to the stabling for over 200 horses and security is bound to be at the highest level. It would not be surprising if cars were banned from these roads, and is it unthinkable that residents could be denied access to or from their homes without vetting? With such draconian powers available to the police, human rights go out of the window.

Local angle
Think of the impact upon the Greenwich Theatre. Imagine arriving at the security cordon with your theatre ticket but having forgotten your ID, with the result that after you had gone home and returned with your ID you actually got to see only half the performance because you were late and (in order not to disrupt everyone else) had to wait until the interval before you were allowed to take your seat.

Then, too, will we always remember to take our ID before we set off to find something delicious to buy from the delicatessen?

The equestrian Olympics don’t have to take place in a small, congested urban centre not used to holding events on such a massive scale. There are alternatives.

Update 4.4.2009: some lawyers have suggested that those residents who live closest to the Park could be forced to evacuate their homes for security reasons. If this worries you, write to your Councillor and request written assurance that this will not happen. If you don't get any joy from your Councillor, contact us at the Save Greenwich Park blog.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Carry On In Denial Up The Council

The three and a half months public consultation period - on the Department for Transport plans for the Olympic Road Network (ORN) - ended on 19 March 2009, before Council officers had even got around to having a meeting to discuss it, never mind actually respond on behalf of the thousands of Greenwich Council Tax payers and road users who will be affected by the proposals. Greenwich councillors finally got their act together and met to talk about the proposed Designation of the Olympic Road Network, er, five days after the deadline expired.

The News Shopper reports that The Council has hit back at the accusations, saying it did manage to get its response in on time and had held it back until the last minute to "reflect the most up to date situation". Their response was presented to Cabinet on 24 March.

For six weeks or so, disruption to life in Greenwich - due to around 44 roads being closed or to special traffic regulations (including designated "Games Lanes") - is expected to be massive. Parts of the A2 (eg Shooters Hill Road and Blackheath Hill) will come within the Olympic road network; and roads around Greenwich Park, where the equestrian events are to be held, will be at the very centre of the network and heavily used by Olympic traffic. Ordinary road users who stray onto the ORN face heavy fines (£5,000 per offence has been suggested). Shops and restaurants whose loading bays are in the way of the ORN will find the loading bays swept away and will have to porter their supplies from other streets. See for instance, Olympic express routes will cause chaos, for more about the proposed clampdown and its effects.