For a Council that prides itself on being a premier cycling borough and not providing car parks in its leisure and entertainment areas, the London Borough of Hackney (LBH) has proven itself strangely determined to put cars on our marshes. The Council is presently applying to the Planning Inspectorate for approval for plans for not just one but two car parks – reinstating the East Marsh Car Park (that wonderful legacy of the Olympics which it has already constructed without consent) rather than restoring it to green as originally planned. SLM campaigned vociferously against this unlawful construction and now an application is being slipped in with the North Marsh Sports Pavilion and its extended car park. This week’s “Hackney Gazette” carries the ‘story’ of the pavilion, told by Cabinet Member Jonathan McShane to Shekha Vyas on page 2.
You will see the application for planning permission involves the demolition of the existing North Marsh Pavilion building and the erection of a single-storey building to provide changing rooms and associated facilities, provision of cricket nets, associated car parking and landscaping and the “reinstatement” (sic) of a car park on East Marsh. But from reading the application, the following vital information about loss of present green space on our marshes is excluded:
- CONSENT: Save Lea Marshes don’t support this application, we have been clear throughout the process that we only support vital plans to improve sporting provision entailed in constructing the original building planned, which had two additional changing rooms for the cricket and football teams and was located on the footprint of the present facility. This plan received permission in 2009 from the Planning Inspectorate. The delays in providing the sports teams with adequate facilities since then have been down to Hackney Council alone, redrawing their plans at public expense, to increase car parking. The present plan entails a huge new car park and construction on green space adjacent to the iconic poplars. We are not mentioned in the Council’s planning application, which suggests there is no organised local opposition to the present plans.
- MONEY: the Council is now claiming the reason they can’t build on existing footprint is that they would have to provide a replacement during the construction process and they don’t have the money to do so. This is the very first time they have used this argument, previously they argued that the original plans had to be ditched due to the location of a water main. SLM publicly proved this to be false, as was reported in the Hackney Gazette newspaper. It is problematic to trust the Council’s arguments when they are continually making new unverified claims, then shifting the goalposts once these claims are exposed. The Council have already spent £17m on ‘marshes improvements’ which have mainly involved the vast increase of hard-surfacing on the marshes. Presumably this figure also involves the £750,000 they spent on the Radio 1 Weekender which ruined the pitches for a whole season and required serious remedial works. It is the Council who are responsible for wasting vital funds that could have been spent on sporting provision for the whole community.
- PRIVATE INTEREST: The Council have used public funds to hire FirstPlan, a private consultancy firm who work on contentious applications, to assist them with pushing through the plans for a private astro-turf pitch on Mabley Green and now with this application. When not assisting Hackney Council at our expense, Firstplan have also been lobbying on behalf of private developers to relax the Metropolitan Open Land rules in the next revision of the London Plan. Hackney Marshes is Metropolitan Open Land.
- CARS: The basis of this proposal is bringing more cars on to the marshes – this is the real reason they cannot consider alternatives. It is patently against their much lauded transport policy about reduction of car use in the borough, which they use to justify higher parking fares. The choice is between having the facility with a limited size car park and having a facility with a large car park. The Council however, are presenting the alternatives as being between a huge car park out on presently green space or a huge car park occupying the whole existing changing room site and more. Having a large car park will make the marshes even more vulnerable to flytipping, will increase pollution and decrease safety for marshes visitors due to traffic hazard.
- FUNDERS: the Council claim the funding is dependent on this particular facility being constructed as a one-storey building, entailing construction on green space. However, as we’ve said before, and was verified by local cricket groups, 2 storey cricket pavilions are standard. When we contacted the ECB, they said the specification for a one-storey building was not a condition of funding and that they were happy to work with the community on a beneficial design.
- CONsultation: The nature of the consultation is crucial in understanding the claims Hackney Council is making about the popularity of their plans. They ran a misleading consultation that did not allow respondents to clearly be able to understand a range of proposals and their respective pros and cons. Since the questionnaire did not include a question about where respondents lived and/or worked, it is not possible to distinguish the responses of locals from the responses of outsiders. The survey did not separate out general agreement with the need for the facility with the specific details planned for the construction. The majority of the positive responses to the proposed application were from people who travel to the Marshes by car (and are therefore probably outsiders), while the majority of the negative responses are from people who do not travel by car (and are therefore probably locals).Moreover, this survey needs further scrutiny. Our group have been told that we are not able to access information about the IP addresses from which the survey was completed, this suggests that the Council have manipulated the survey. From the very uneven pattern of responses to the questionnaire it is clear that no attempt was made to obtain a truly representative sample of Hackney Marsh users.
Under no circumstances should there be further incursions on to presently green space of the marshes. This is not what local people consider to be an ‘improvement’. They value our green spaces because they are green open spaces in a built up environment!
For those that wish to object, we will publish a pro forma objection letter in the next few days. Yes to sporting facilities, no to more car parks on our marshes!