SAVE LEA MARSHES’ CAMPAIGNERS ATTEND THE LEE VALLEY REGIONAL PARK AUTHORITY’S MEETING, 24TH JANUARY 2013: WHAT WE SAID, AND WHAT WE LEARNED.
In October 2012 SLM supporters had staged a sit-in at the previous LVRPA Authority and Executive meeting, refusing to leave until our complaints about the failures by ODA to reinstate Leyton Marsh to the required standard after demolishing their temporary basketball training venue there. Eventually we had been allowed to address the Authority and we showed them photographs of the damage done to Porters Field Meadow, to the gasps of those present.
Since then, SLM supporters individually and as a group have been lobbying and campaigning far and wide with Hackney and Waltham Forest Councils, GL Assembly Members, MPs, local press and various levels of the ODA and the LVRPA itself, to point out the continued shortcomings of the reinstatement – some of which are visible, some that are explained by documents and correspondence between agencies and contractors that we have obtained, and some that remain unexplained.
Hackney Councillors Ian Rathbone and Barry Buitekant approached Shaun Dawson, the Chief Executive of LVRPA with a view to meeting him about these matters. In a surprise move, Shaun Dawson ‘s correspondence back to Ian included information about a proposed feasibility study for the development of a new enlarged Ice Centre, with prospective locations to include the current site. This prompted anger and outrage among SLM campaigners, and at our meeting in January 2013 we decided to take our opposition to this idea to the LVRPA next meeting. Celia and Vicky got themselves accredited to address the Authority; Charlie and Abi did much of the homework.
LVRPA Members present at the Authority meeting at Myddleton House on 24th January included Bob Sullivan (LB Waltham Forest). In attendance were Martin Page and Dan Buck (staff of LVRPA). Chris Kennedy (LB Hackney) sent apologies for absence, again.
This time, SLM members were welcomed into the Authority meeting by the Chairman, Derrick Ashley (one of the Members for Hertfordshire), and our speakers were given proper name cards. Shaun Dawson, the Chief Executive, probably in a pre-emptive attempt to reassure Members at this second deputation by SLM to their meeting, stated that there would be a more informal meeting between SLM supporters and LVRPA Members following the Lower Lea Valley Committee meeting on 7th February at The Waterworks Centre. Later the Chairman endorsed the request that the statements made by Vicky and Celia be emailed to LVRPA so that they may be used as the basis for discussion on that occasion.
- Main points delivered by Vicky to the Authority members about the reinstatement:
Leyton Marsh is suffering extensively from deep-rooted poor drainage (but only where the land was excavated, used and/or built upon) and is in effect a botanical mono-culture. The key outstanding issues are –
- The fill:
- The original free draining subsoil, which contained a lot of soil full of micro-organisms was replaced with compacted Type 1 crushed concrete as a foundation for building on. In the reinstatement plan, this was to be removed, a membrane put down and another type of fill put on top. Instead, the original compacted material was left in the ground and the membrane placed on top of it.
- The topsoil from the marsh was to be stored carefully so it could be re-used. Topsoil from different parts of the site was to be stored in separate bays and returned to the areas it came from. This didn’t happen.
- Poor project management and damage and incompetence by contractors led to valuable original topsoil being discarded and replaced with imported material. This resulted from incorrect handling and storage, compaction, and last-minute replacement of wet soil in a rush to get the turf down. We still don’t know how much of the original soil has been lost.
- It is doubtful whether turf and additional seeding specification was followed at all. The turf appears to contain only ryegrass and some white clover.
- Examination of it when first laid showed it to be suspiciously young and never mown – though it was supposed to have been already established in May.
- STRI have produced a number of excuses, one of which is that the wildflower seeds failed to germinate as expected, and that they’re waiting to germinate in the spring. This is unlikely given the sowing supposedly happened in June.
- AND they have failed to produce any validating documents to demonstrate they followed the specification or to confirm the provenance of the seeds and grasses.
- It was clear that these conditions were never met and we witnessed day after day, workers laying out the turf, rolling it back up, pumping out water, laying it again, rolling it back up – all of this in almost continuous rain. There is a real danger that the STRI will try to use the failure to follow their requirements to invalidate the warranty, leaving the LVRPA to deal with the consequences.
Lastly, Vicky suggested that LVRPA should hire independent consultants to examine the causes of the water-logging and recommend solutions, as no-one could have any faith in the ODA or its contractors/ sub-contractors NUSSLI/ STRI. She demanded also the details, with evidence, of what seeds were sown when, and of the original turf specification and the promised ‘snagging’ list.
Reaction to Vicky’s statement:
- The member from Barnet called on officers to respond about the Marshes.
- Bob Sullivan said it was good that people who care about the Park as much as the members do had come to the meeting. He warned that the outsourcing of the reinstatement by the ODA is now reflecting on the LVRPA to their detriment, and called for the contract to be adhered to and to be successfully completed.
- Shaun Dawson replied that the LVRPA was forced into that arrangement by the ODA and the outsourcing had not been done by LVRPA. The need for so much excavation was not made clear at the beginning, and unfortunately it became apparent only subsequently: it is this that is ultimately impacting on the completion of the reinstatement, he said.
- Main points delivered by Celia to the Authority members about the proposed development of a new and/or enlarged Ice Centre:
Celia underlined that:
- Save Lea Marshes campaign is not against ice skating, nor does it want to prevent LVRPA from maximising income as such but she urged that members should think very carefully about what to do with this site in terms of its Metropolitan Open Land designation and environment
- Any examination of the map of Lee Valley Regional Park shows that the Ice Centre sticks out as an aberration in the middle of otherwise open green space
- The current Ice Centre is an eyesore and doesn’t fit in with any of its surroundings, the public transport access to it is limited and the Lea Bridge Road is regularly clogged.
- The current Ice Centre has been, and will in future, be a catalyst or trigger for other developments and subsequent chains of encroachment. Undoubtedly this includes already the Essex Wharf residential development and the Olympic Basketball Courts neither of which would have been granted permission otherwise
- No-one in SLM would ever want to spend another summer like the one of 2012 when we were fenced in, checked and guarded following our protests. Even the swans had disappeared. Yet during that time we got to know each other.
- Reactions to Celia’s statement:
Referring to Celia’s statement in a later contribution, Shaun Dawson stated that the LVRPA would look at potential Ice Centre development either where it exists now, or elsewhere in the Park. In the same breath he said that they would be looking at the right mix of activities at Picketts Lock at the same time as taking forward development of the Lea Bridge Road area, an important priority.
In a further discussion on the budget for the next three years, in which the Ice Centre feasibility study was labelled a budget ‘uncertainty’, it was confirmed that there was nothing as yet built in for any potential costs of redeveloping the Ice Centre, nor was there any planned increased potential income contribution from it.
- Other points emerging from the Authority meeting – an interpretation
- Shaun Dawson introduced a presentation by finance staff on the Business Plan to 2014/15, which had already been examined by the October meeting and the Executive, and at a budget workshop.
- LVRPA is receiving three major assets from the Olympic Legacy body: the White Water Centre; the Velodrome; the Eton Manor Hockey & Tennis venue. All of these present financial issues to LVRPA, particularly in terms of the business rate liability. Operationally, these are now the three major priorities of LVRPA now and they loom large in terms of effort and focus needed.
- On the other hand there was a view that the Olympics have been a gift and the sites in the Olympic Park now firmly place LVRPA as not just a regional entity. Almost as an aside now, there had been a hiccup with the Mayor in December, who had not been aware of the potential role of LVRPA in the post-Olympic environment. This has since been sorted, it was stated. There were calls for an alliance with other parties to co-ordinate events at the three LVRPA venues and other venues in the Olympic Park. Bob Sullivan wondered if the LVRPA could get any monies from the TV rights to the national and international championships, tournaments etc that would take place at the LVRPA venues, but it seemed this is already sewn up and all funds go to the promoting sports companies and event agencies.
- The issue of the levy being charged by LVRPA, as a precept from the counties of Essex and Herts and all London Boroughs, was discussed in terms more (as Bob Sullivan suggested) of the PR aspects, than the financial imperatives. The aim is to get the levy down to 99p per head of population, from a current level of £1.06, as this was felt to be more acceptable. No mention was made of how demographic changes might affect this.
- Finance priorities are around income generation and maximisation of returns on investments through modernising, sponsorship and the dreaded ‘naming rights’ (use of brand names). LVRPA will continue to add land to its portfolio accordingly.
- Some members urged that the Park could be made more attractive to schools from the west London boroughs, but officers warned of the need to plan ahead and have lots of equipment available (eg BMX bikes). There was a flutter of disquiet about the Wandle Valley leisure development in south London and the effect on LVRPA’s potential to attract visitors let alone sustain the precept.
- The £17.45m receipt from selling LVRPA land for housing development in the Olympic Park was mentioned, and the expected £500k investment income from the cash was being included in revenue. No member asked how this money would be best used. As this capital receipt represents both a sacrifice of mature wildlife habitat and intrusion of housing into the LVP we feel it should be used to mitigate this elsewhere by acquiring strategic land for habitat creation and protection from development. Such as the Thames Water land.
- Bearing in mind that January is still an early stage in the budget preparation, Members nevertheless approved the proposed deficit budget, the gap being caused mostly by the Olympic legacy venues liabilities. The budget is financed roughly 50-50 by cash from operations and from the precept; £0.8m is provisionally earmarked to come out of reserves to pay for the deficit.
- In terms of the LVRPA’s stated focus on ‘Community’ it was mentioned that the Lea Bridge Road priority would be to appeal to hard-to-reach groups, identified as ethnic minorities. There was optimism at the forthcoming re-opening of the Lea Bridge railway station. But any attempt at being community-focused seemed to go out of the window when a hastily-proposed motion from the Deputy Chairman (the member from LB Enfield) to ban completely all customer payments by cheque was seized on and only at the last minute amended to allow cheques for advance payments. Together with the fact that biodiversity got only one mention and was nearly last on the list of priorities, with almost no discussion or amplification of it, the meeting seemed to end quite disgracefully.
The date of their next meeting is Thursday 25th April 2013. The meetings are open to the public.