It was a strangely emotional experience being ushered through the gate and into the fenced off area we have been forbidden from accessing for such a long time. What a huge waste of time, money and energy this has all been, just so some people could practice bouncing a ball around for a few weeks. And the environmental destruction is nothing more than a monumental tragedy.
There were representatives from Nussli, Capita Symonds, the ODA, LBWF and Save Leyton Marsh at the meeting, which I suspect was arranged just for us (so let’s take a moment to celebrate the fact that all our efforts have finally convinced the ODA to take community engagement seriously, although I would argue it is too little too late). I raised three main issues:
1) The pH of the fill: When the 6F2 fill was tested at source it was found to have a pH of 12. We are now being told that the pH of the actual substance brought on site is 8.4. I have asked for the documents that prove this. I am told that the makeup of what is delivered to the site is always different from what is tested at source and that it is only sent away if it falls outside a previously agreed range. My queries about the consequent validity of the original test results was met with the response, ‘that’s industry standard’, a phrase I was going to hear more than once during the meeting!
2) The storage of the topsoil: We have been told on numerous occasions by the ODA that the topsoil has been stored in bays so that it is possible to identify the topsoil for the short mown grass and the long mown grass areas. I asked to look at these bays and it is clear that they don’t exist. All the topsoil has been piled up together. Sure, it was divided up into cells AFTER it had been piled up to facilitate testing but the contractors have absolutely no way of identifying which topsoil came from which part of the site. This led me on to question the testing for contaminates. We were told that each cell was tested and those cells found to be containing contaminates were removed. ‘OK’, I said, ‘that sounds reasonable. But, if all the topsoil was piled up higgledy piggeldy from different parts of the site – which you have just confirmed is the case because you can’t identify the topsoil from different parts of the site – then how do you know that the contaminates are only in the cells you have removed?’ The answer: ‘We have tested all the cells.’ But the fact that the site was closed down because they thought they found an unexploded bomb on Friday makes it very clear to me that they can’t have tested all the cells thoroughly enough to determine whether or not the topsoil is contaminated. Sure, they might be following industry standard practices, but that doesn’t mean that what is being done is appropriate or adequate.
3) The compressing of the topsoil as it is laid: The topsoil is being laid on top of a membrane from the outside in. This means that soil already laid is being constantly compressed by the huge diggers laying the topsoil at the centre. And if you need an idea of how much compression is going on, we could feel the ground shaking while we were standing nearby. I queried the logic of this methodology and was told by the contractors that they are just following the plan and that there isn’t time to work from the inside out (presumably because they are still levelling the centre). ‘Don’t worry, they said, the people who lay the turf with loosen the topsoil before they put down the turf.’ Yet anyone who grows flowers or vegetables knows that it is ‘a bad thing’ to compress soil and that fluffing it up after huge diggers have driven all over it is like trying to put out a ranging inferno with a child’s watering can!
There is no doubt that it is good to see the building come down and to know that we’ll be able to walk freely across Porter’s Field again soon, but please don’t lose site of the fact that there is absolutely no way that the ODA will be returning the land to us in the state it was in when they took it away from us. Sure, a quick glance across the grass next Spring might lull the uninitiated into believing everything is alright, but it will be a very different place. And it’s no exaggeration to say that this fact breaks my heart.