Spin Doctors Employed to ‘Remake the Marshes’

London Borough of Hackney hire planning spindoctors Firstplan to give themselves permission to build on Marshes.

Hackney Council are again spending thousands on planning consultants Firstplan, to mastermind the charade of obtaining planning permission from themselves for two new car parks and an extravagant mega-pavilion out on the supposedly protected open space of Hackney Marshes.

Firstplan specialise in helping unscrupulous developers evade planning restrictions and inconvenient policies such as flood risk zones and  Metropolitan Open Land, and get permission for environmentally harmful proposals which generate widespread objections.

Their website boasts of success winning planning approval in the face of such ‘challenges’ as:

  • “very significant and organised objections from the public, Council Members and MPs” (Ferme Park concrete plant)
  • “drive-thru Costa Coffee unit in flood risk zone 3b, following objection from the EA” (Derby)
  • “High density of the development (approximately double the policy target)”  (housing development in Bow)
  • “Overcoming policies which restrict further restaurant development” (Nando’s)

Firstplan were previously hired by Hackney Council to bamboozle its own Planning Committee into granting permission for the giant 2-storey architectural folly of the Hackney Marshes Centre, despite it falling foul of the rules restricting development on Metropolitan Open Land (M.O.L.). Firstplan boast on their website, on which they describe the building as “changing rooms”, that a key challenge was “restrictive policy designations”.

Developments like this on M.O.L. are in theory supposed to maintain the openness of the landscape, be small in scale and essential to open air recreational use of the land.

Yet the upper floor of the Hackney Marshes Centre which looms over the open space has nothing to do with open air recreation –  as this wedding planning website enthuses:

“The main bar and terrace give guests stunning views over the vast green space. These are perfect for summer weddings looking for both inside and outdoor space. Adjoining these rooms are the meeting rooms, perfect for seminars and smaller break-out meetings. The venue also offers 184 car parking spaces and a dedicated event manager for all events.”

Firstplan and Hackney Council are pulling the same stunt with their new application for the mega-pavilion on North Marsh.

What was originally to be a genuine provision of new essential changing rooms on the site of the original block has now mushroomed into a sprawling edifice stretching out over pristine green, with a palatial bar and viewing area – ripe for rental to private clients.

As well as attempting to drive through planning permission for what is clearly another inappropriately commercial enterprise, FirstPlan have dreamed up a number of fictitious, misleading and contradictory arguments for the Council to use.

In their planning statement, FirstPlan claim that The Transport Assessment explains that the Hackney Marshes North Pavilion will not generate any new trips from users of the sports pitches (paragraph 6.56). This is in direct contradiction to a statement Hackney Council tweeted on 29th August claiming the car park would attract new users of the sports pitches: “@juliancheyne current car park is adequate because few people want to use the existing changing rooms. The new pavilion will have more users.”

At certain points to justify the new car parks, the statement resorts to Orwellian logic, for example: The new entrance to the [East Marsh] car park is situated closer to the existing bus stop and will therefore encourage access by public transport (paragraph 6.59). If it wasn’t contradictory enough to claim that car parks encourage use of public transport, we could still ask why on earth would people arriving by bus be expected to enter through a car park?

An entire “extensive consultation” on the East Marsh car park has been fabricated on the basis that it had been inconspicuously included on a tiny map in a 7 year old publicity leaflet but otherwise never mentioned.

The same document simultaneously claims that both carrying out landscaping and not carrying out landscaping to disguise a car park ensure the openness of Metropolitan Open Land. For North Marsh car park, they claim: “the car park landscaping includes planting between the proposed car parking spaces to green the car park in a way which is graduated to be consistent with the edge of the Marsh. The use of cellular reinforced grass will also ensure that there is minimal visual impact when the car park is not in use. Therefore the car park proposals will not harm the openness of the M.O.L.” Whereas they claim the complete opposite when describing the proposals for East Marsh car park, also on a wooded edge, where they claim “the proposals for East Marsh do not include any landscaping in order that the openness and long views across the marsh are protected.”

Para 4.4 states The Cow Bridge project is another element of the Remaking the Marshes programme and the refurbishment of Cow Bridge was included to open access back onto the Marsh which was stopped in 2004 when the bridge was deemed unsafe for vehicles.  Therefore the reality is that for some 10 years there was no parking at all in the vicinity of the North Pavilion as it was inaccessible to cars. The main claim the Council are making, that they are reducing car parking spaces for North Marsh from an apocryphal “approximately 240” to 68 (plus coach parking) is somewhat brought into doubt by the fact that for the majority of the last ten years, there was zero car parking actually accessible on North Marsh at all.

The Council, in particular Cllr. Jonathan McShane regard this ‘Remaking the Marshes’ programme as a ’21st century’ endeavour. It certainly is! Using public money to exort the maximum construction potential from green spaces, enriching corporations at public expense, is certainly all the rage these days.

 You can still sign our petitions against these proposals here

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