Save Leyton Marsh Group Demand Action on Leyton Marsh at Lea Valley Exec Meeting

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Save Leyton Marsh breaks news of botched reinstatement plans to LVRPA Executive and Authority meetings

Holding aloft giant photos of the failed reinstatement of Porter’s Field Meadow on Leyton Marsh, six supporters of the Save Leyton Marsh campaign, much to the consternation of the chairman Derrick Ashley and his staff, entered the 25th October meeting of the LVRPA’s Executive Committee at Myddleton House, Enfield, and took up seats reserved for the press and public.

A report to the LVRPA Executive Committee, relating to item 4 paragraph 8 of the agenda, stated in respect of Leyton Marsh:

“Excessive rainfall has impacted the completion of the reinstatement works, which is expected to be completed on 26 October”.

If SLM supporters had not gained entry to the meeting and demonstrated visually using the photographs that 26th October could not possibly be achieved, the Executive Committee members would have been none the wiser.

The paragraph 8 had been listed under the heading:

‘Income Generation and Business Development – Progress Update: One-off Income Generation Opportunities’,

and went on to propose, in respect of the daily rate to be paid by ODA for overrunning the contractual 15th October deadline, that:

“any additional income resulting from the later handover date should be re-invested into the site”.

It is apparent therefore that the LVRPA sees financial aspects of the reinstatement and handover as paramount, and that there has been no discussion or even recognition of the ecological and environmental issues, nor of the continued exclusion of public access to the area. It was clear from the Committee papers and officers’ reports at the meeting, that the Executive would have heard nothing about the damage done to Leyton Marsh during the ODA’s excavation and construction works for the temporary Olympic Basketball Training Venue, and neither would they be considering any consequent implications, had the SLM not intervened.

Having been informed by the chairman that they should leave the room – since they would not be allowed to speak or ask questions – the SLM supporters nevertheless declined to move. A tit-for-tat ten-minute recess called by the chairman came to an end with his offer to SLM of a five-minute slot to address the committee. Claire made the following points to them:

  • The LVRPA’s decision to hire Leyton Marsh to the ODA was taken without thorough investigation into the inevitable implications of what evidence now shows is long-term damage to the land
  • Leyton Marsh has not been reinstated according to the LB Waltham Forest planning conditions, nor will it be in time for the absurd date of tomorrow, 26th October, on the Committee’s report
  • The Reinstatement Plan in any case was flawed, even though local people, since the spring, had argued that the turfing solution was unworkable and would be environmentally unsound both to Leyton Marsh and to the neighbouring SSSI.
  • Reinstatement methods have produced, as predicted by SLM, an unintended monoculture of grass species, with other seeds having failed to germinate. This will now require lengthy restoration works of scarifying and replanting.
  • This will be costly in time and money and the LVRPA should resist making the Council tax-payers responsible for this unplanned work.
  • This whole incident is a betrayal of the trust that people have placed in the LVRPA to look after the land, and the continued exclusion of people from the full use of the land is unacceptable and contrary to serious promises given.
  • The LVRPA, when looking at its proposed Contaminated Land Strategy should learn from its mistakes in respect of Porter’s Field Meadow.
  • This land should never be built on again and a statement confirming this should be issued, signed by the chairman and the Chief Executive.

It was apparent that much of this was news for many Executive members, and some appeared to be really shocked to hear it. However apart from one disparaging question pertaining to the amount of space that the venue had taken up on Leyton Marsh, there was scant challenge to the officers.

At the main Authority meeting held in the afternoon chaired also by Derrick Ashley, SLM had negotiated five minutes to speak to the agenda items “Olympic Project Update” and “Contaminated Land Strategy”. Caroline and Charlie continued to enlighten the LVRPA about Leyton Marsh.

Caroline, in informing the Authority that their choice of Leyton Marsh as an Olympic venue was not something they could be proud of, offered “an alternative vision for Leyton Marsh”, one that does not envisage it as an income-generating resource nor seek to plunder it for commercial gain, but one that would be invaluable in other terms, to the community, by bringing wildlife to the fore, protecting species and involving local volunteers. She advocated that the membrane that has been installed in Porter’s Field with such disastrous effect on drainage, be removed, and that the use of pesticides and herbicides be ruled out, in tandem with a ‘no-mow’ regime.

Charlie explained to the Authority how their poor choice of Leyton Marsh as an Olympic venue was exacerbated by the limitations of the planning system. The application for permission to build a ‘temporary’ structure assumed the capacity of the topsoil to support it. When that failed to happen an unnerving hiatus resulted where no-one seemed to know what was going on or would admit that the huge piles of contaminated waste remaining on site were hazardous. Charlie therefore advocated that good relations with local people are vital in the context of a Contaminated Land Strategy. He also advised that the proposed draft strategy appears to leave issues of radioactivity, of which there are examples on LVRPA land, outside its scope, something the LVRPA could ill afford to ignore.

In the subsequent discussion, Bob Sullivan (councillor delegate from LB Waltham Forest) challenged the original decision to use Leyton Marsh as a venue, and asked why Leyton Playing Fields had not been considered. He complained that the arrangements had all been very late and therefore the Authority appeared to have had no option. He feared that this scenario was continuing with the Legacy Board – over which he thought LVRPA would have little influence. Cllr Corbett of LB Newham disingenuously scolded Bob Sullivan for ‘playing to the gallery’ and for speaking of a parochial matter.

The Authority was brought to order by an officer who assured them that they are (apparently) getting everything they want from the ODA in terms of return of venues. Shaun Dawson the Chief Executive further assured the Authority that the Contaminated Land Strategy and Biodiversity are key policy areas, although he had to apologise that there were no detailed action plans as yet. All this slightly palled the mutual back-slapping and self-congratulating over the LVRPA’s other Olympic venues, with even the Chair remarking in summary that “we are awash with self-congratuation”.

Apart from one member who raise the need for public involvement, there was no other challenge or mention as to why, even though the LVRPA has been in existence since 1966 and now wants to make more money out of its land and venues by development, the contamination right across its territory has never been thoroughly investigated. Leyton Marsh is a case in point: the LVRPA knew that underneath the topsoil there was contaminated waste, but did not know the precise nature nor extent: this did not stop the LVRPA from being tempted to offer up Leyton Marsh as a moneymaking venture.

SLM is determined that this will not happen again. However all of us, including Jane, Vicky and Len, came away doubting the capacity and will of the LVRPA to protect any of its land in the face of commercial pressures and short-term environmental solutions.

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