Campaigners want a public inquiry into plans to build an equestrian centre on land at Shooters Hill, after Greenwich Council’s planning board backed the Olympics-linked scheme last week.
Woodlands Farm Trust chair Barry Gray says the scheme will be “a significant overdevelopment of metropolitan open land“, and that the board’s decision was “ill informed, irrational,” and influenced by a report from council officers that contained “a significant number of inaccuracies”.
The council’s planning board split on party lines for the issue, with the five Labour councillors – including leader Chris Roberts – backing the scheme and the two Tories opposing it.
Dr Gray has written to the Department of Communities and Local Government and London mayor Boris Johnson to outline his worries. In it, he says…
“I believe that the decision reached by the Planning Board of the London Borough of Greenwich was ill informed, irrational, and partly based on a report from officers that contained a substantial number of inaccuracies that affected the final decision.
“This has led to the granting of planning permission to an inappropriate development on MOL which has commercial components and is entirely inappropriate. Aspects of the so called ‘evidence’ within the officers report were mere assertions with no base of evidence.
“There are serious material inaccuracies within the report relating the very special circumstances, for instance, it is stated that there are no riding facilities within the Borough, but there are riding facilities, and this was brought to members of the planning board attention at the meeting.
“There are riding facilities at New Lodge Riding School in Mottingham and also in Mottingham Farm Riding School. These riding facilities are signposted on Greenwich Council’s own website, and in the case of New Lodge riding school was recently the subject of an extensive article in Greenwich Council’s own publication, Greenwich Time.
“How council officers could have made such a serious mistake in reporting to the Planning Board is beyond comprehension. Therefore a key element put forward by officers as a very special consideration for inappropriate development does not exist.”
He adds that there is also no evidence that the centre is essential for the smooth running of the Olympic Games, and “there is no guarantee that there will be any sporting advantage or cultural advantage to the local population”.
“No evidence on pricing, funding or the degree of community benefit, (if any), is provided,” he says, commenting that a proposed equine therapy centre shows there would be a commercial benefit from the development which would be above any community benefit for building on the site.
Dr Gray, who led the 1990s campaign to stop a motorway running through Oxleas Woods, also criticises the “peculiar aspect” of Greenwich Council effectively applying to itself for the development.
“The permission was determined in favour of development by members of the planning committee who have clearly spoken out in favour of the Olympics, the Equestrian Skills Centre and the so called legacy value of this centre in the past,” he says.
“It is therefore essential, in order to establish public confidence in the process, that a public enquiry be called so that the decision can be tested by examination of the evidence and cross examination.”
My own observations on the issue, for what it’s worth, can be read here.
3:50pm update: LOCOG confirmed this afternoon that it is not planning to use the Shooters Hill equestrian centre as a staging point for next summer’s Olympics – despite having used the site during the test events – and is looking for an alternative site in Greenwich borough.