Anyone who has followed Save Lea Marshes in the last few years will be aware of our campaign against the planned cricket pavilion for Hackney Marshes, a design which involves building on green space in order to accommodate a large car park on North Marsh.
During our campaign, which led to a public inquiry, evidence was coming to light of the damaging effect of air pollution on Londoners, especially children. Exposure to air pollution stunts lung growth and even impairs children’s mental development. Car parks, we argued, make marsh users and sports players particularly vulnerable to air pollution since cars emit the most damaging pollution when engines are starting up. The new car park will be situated adjacent to one of the cricket pitches. Ironically, the fact that children will be playing on these pitches for the benefit of their health was one of the main arguments for the creation of the new pavilion.
Our evidence was largely ignored, both at the inquiry and by Hackney Council, although it was stated at the inquiry that one of the supposed advantages of siting the pavilion out in the middle of the marshes was that it would shield “users” from pollution from the car park. Clearly whoever wrote that thought that the only “users” who matter are those playing games out in the middle of the marshes – not those playing in other areas or walking round the edge by the River Lea Navigation! The significance of the arguments we made about moving beyond private car use and protecting cleaner air zones, such as the marshes, for the health of all residents are underscored in the light of new evidence.
It has emerged that in addition to the high death toll from air pollution in the capital, estimated at 9,500 deaths per year, toxic air pollution has now been linked to brain abnormalities. A newly published study reveals that toxic nano particles from air pollution have been discovered in ‘abundant quantities’ in human brains. The detection of the particles, in brain tissue from a sample of 37 people, is alarming because recent research has suggested links between these magnetite particles and Alzheimer’s disease, while air pollution has been shown to significantly increase the risk of the disease.
Whilst we were debating with sports users and the Council over the issue of the pavilion, it was said that we did not fully appreciate the benefits of sport to health. We do. However there is now no doubting the seriousness of air pollution and the urgency to act to protect public health.
Hackney Council had the perfect opportunity to design a sports facility which encouraged sustainable transport use and lead the way on reducing air pollution in the borough. Instead it opted to create an enlarged car park, sacrificing green space in the process and encouraging private car use. Transport for London made its permission dependent on the reduction of the number of parking spaces over time, a condition announced and promised by the Council at the inquiry. This condition has recently been scrapped at the Council’s bidding. Whilst we are appealing this move, experience has taught us that conditions crafted to make a proposal more environmentally friendly can often be sacrificed with little difficulty or oversight.
The Council needs to demonstrate a genuine commitment to sustainable transport and environmentally sound decision-making for the marshes, as for the borough. The increase in car parks and buildings on green spaces is halting progress towards a ‘Greener Hackney’.