The story of Save Leyton Marsh
- The Save Leyton Marsh cause, its supporters and friends have brought to local, national and international attention the outrageous landgrab that has taken place shamefully on Leyton Marsh, in the name of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
- The landgrab is not just about abusing a large area of greenbelt land in opposition to the local residents. It’s not just about creating a precedent for this land to effectively become brownfield and so ready for other development. We have uncovered that it’s also a Trojan horse whereby the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) will be able to more easily implement its pre-existing (but publicly unknown) proposals to knock down the adjacent Ice Centre in Lea Bridge Road and build something double its size. We challenge the claims that Leyton Marsh will be returned to a pristine condition by 15th October, as the planning conditions and the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) licence require, and we suspect that after 15th October a new battle to retain the green space will begin.
- Our ultimate goal is the restoration of the land of Leyton Marsh to a completely open access, uncommercialised and unspoilt green field, by 15th October 2012. We are campaigning for all relevant authorities to sign up to a joint legally-binding agreement to restore Leyton Marsh by October 15th to its character as a plain and simple green open access space.
- Before all this became apparent, Save Leyton Marsh started out as a slogan for a group of people, many from Hackney, who went on to (alas, unsuccessfully) oppose Waltham Forest’s Planning Committee decision of February 7th to allow the construction of a three-storey high basketball court building in the middle of the field behind Lee Valley Ice Centre. So the protest, by then joined by people from Waltham Forest, then went to the Leyton Marsh itself, and throughout March and the beginning of April regular Saturday community events were held on this land which is open access recreational space.
- We took the view that we had as much right to enjoy this open space as anyone else, and so we organised games of boules on Sandy Lane, the unmade-up access path, in the mornings. The lorries delivering supplies to the Olympic building site simply had to stop. The police were called, but went away again, having said that there was no breach of the peace or public order, and that it was up to the LVRPA to administer its own bye-laws. This happened on several occasions. The construction work came to a halt for two weeks.
- It became apparent that the ODA and LVRPA had both failed to plan for a guaranteed access route for lorries and expected that they could share with pedestrians, children, dogs, horses and bikes the common land between the Lea Bridge Road gateway and the entrance to the construction compound in the middle of the field.
- On 24th March, we were joined by people from the Occupy Movement, and they established a Community Support Camp, through which they supported our cause by providing a permanent presence on the Marsh, right next to the building site that by then had been fenced off.
- This whole scenario of local residents combining with Occupy campers panicked the authorities, namely the LVRPA on whose land it was happening, the ODA and their contractors, who had a deadline to get the basketball courts built by 2 June ready for the training period. The solution they went for was at the High Court, where on 4th and 5th April two Injunctions were granted, one preventing Persons Unknown from obstructing the construction work, the other evicting Persons Unknown from occupying the Park land. The claim by ODA that they had incurred costs of £335,000 still remains potentially awarded in a future action if a named person can be found, and the provisional Injunction of 14 days was extended on 18th April to the end of the Olympic Games period. Four people who, on one occasion, stood in front of a lorry after the injunctions came into force were unable to pay their fines of £200 each, let alone £335,000, so they were flung into prison for five days.
The issues that Save Leyton Marsh is grappling with
- The fact that the LVRPA cynically offered up Leyton Marsh as a potential venue three years ago to the ODA, then entered into an agreement to lease the land with them last July 2011, and yet the public were not informed about the proposed construction until mid-December 2011 and were given until 2nd January 2012 to object.
- The fact that there is almost no legacy value to the residents of Waltham Forest or Hackney in this construction. Save for the ‘field of play’ planks minus their foundation or building.
- The fact that it is ecologically unsound to put up a building, on a Greenfield base, for a few months and then knock it down.
- The fact that Leyton Marsh is the next-door buffer territory for the Site of Special Scientific Interest that is the Walthamstow Marsh. Leyton Marsh accommodates the kind of rough and tumble public activity including unleashed dog-walking, cycling, jogging, children’s games, young people’s leisure pursuits, all of which would be potentially harmful to the rare species of plants and insects and protected animals on parts of Walthamstow Marsh. This part of the Lea Valley is the last wetland left in London – everything else has been spoilt or purloined.
- The fact that there were fifteen other locations such as schools, colleges and sports centres, on the list of possibles to provide the four courts needed. Although two were selected – Hackney Community College and Barking Abbey School – the ODA says that Kelmscott Leisure Centre and other schools are too small. Yet Kelmscott hosts the Walthamstow Wheelchair Basketball Club on its courts. The Score Centre in Leyton, another obvious choice, had been grabbed by the USA National Olympic Team a long time ago. Why did the Waltham Forest not suggest one of its schools, perhaps one where BSF funds to develop a sports hall had fallen through only last year? The Olympic money could have created a good legacy.
- The fact that in spite of its appearance the Leyton Marsh is in fact a green cover over a 1940s – 1960s landfill site, during which time rubble from World War 2 and the aftermath was dumped, without having been decontaminated or checked for unexploded ordnance. Nature has done its job over the last seventy years, yet the Lee Valley Regional Park, in whose custody this green space sits, sees fit to dig up what should be left undisturbed.
- The fact that the ODA and contractors knew in advance they would have to excavate more than the 15cm they proposed to Waltham Forest Planning Committee, yet failed to put this in their application, then immediately set about digging down to 0.5m for foundations – for this ‘temporary’ building. Waltham Forest Council turned a blind eye to the subsequent retrospective planning application for permission to go to this further depth.
- The resulting excavations have produced huge mounds of contaminated rubble, containing bricks, cement, chimneys, lintels, pipes, sash window weights, you name it. On 14th March a UXB was found and removed, without the local residents being warned or informed.
- These huge piles of rubble have been exposed to the elements for weeks, the coverings are blown away by the wind and the rain lashes down, potentially washing the contamination down into the ground and into the Lea. This was never in the plans put forward to Waltham Forest. If it had been, Waltham Forest would have needed an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which would have involved external agencies earlier, and more stringently.
- Waltham Forest Council, the Environment Agency, English Nature, British Waterways, are all hiding behind superficial analyses of the rubble and deny the hazards, and yet the contractors admit that protective management arrangements have been put in place to safeguard the workforce from asbestos, lead and other contamination and the prospects of finding another UXB.
- The truth is that no-one in authority of any kind thought of the environmental, health and safety impacts during the construction period itself, only of potential effects on the athletes once inside the newly-built venue. This is we believe a combination of incompetence on the part of some authorities and cynical connivance on the part of others.
What have we learned
- Principally we have learned that the weight of state oppression is on us. Save Leyton Marsh originally set out to be a local environmental campaign, and the group would have opposed whoever, whichever public body decided to start digging up Leyton Marsh for whatever reason, for whatever period of time. We have learned that because the purpose of this shameful destruction of our green fields is the London 2012 Olympic Games, we are not free to object, protest or campaign as we should be.
- Members and supporters have found themselves in the High Court of the land, being heard by a Master of the Rolls, in a ludicrously excessive and punitive attempt to remove peaceful objection and protest from our own recreational space.
- Other individuals have been charged under public order laws and given harsh sentences way out of proportion to the charges, assuming the charges to have been justly made and judged. On release from prison they were met with further High Court summons.
- We have commissioned a Contaminated Land Expert to examine and critique the samples of rubble and earth that various agencies have excavated from Leyton Marsh.
- A small group of individuals are preparing a Judicial Review to challenge the original Waltham Forest planning decision.
- We have invited a friendly lawyer to examine the Injunctions and various individual cases and hold a seminar with us about what they mean, how they affect people’s rights on Sandy Lane etc.
- We are planning a fundraising event at the Rose & Crown.
- We are planning a mass Witness on Leyton Marsh on 15th October.
We welcome the involvement of all individuals and groups who wish to help protect Leyton Marsh from further damage, and who wish to challenge the authorities on the way in which this calamity has been allowed to happen.
SAVE LEYTON MARSH