I went to last night’s meeting at the Indigo venue in the Dome expecting fireworks – London 2012’s proposed use of Greenwich Park for equestrian events has kicked up a voiciferous campaign against it.
But in the end, what we did get was more light than heat, thankfully – I thought the LOGOG representatives were, on the whole, frank and open to criticism, while the anti-equestrian people really didn’t do themselves any favours, in my book. If you want a top line from it, it’s that LOCOG insisted there would be no permanent damage to Greenwich Park, no tree would be felled, that they said equestrian events in the park would have the backing of participants and the IOC because it’s so close to the main site in Stratford, a lot of people grumbled about how Greenwich’s lousy transport network would cope, and a few anti-equestrian types harrumphed, tutted, and hissed a bit.
I should point out that the following is my personal recollection of what went on, from scribbled notes on two A4 sheets of paper, and doesn’t seek to advance a particular cause – in the wake of some lousy media coverage (the anti-equestrian Evening Standard’s not devoted much space to it) I simply hope people find this useful.
The venue was pretty much packed – although there were a few empty seats dotted around. Greenwich Council had offered loads of tickets to community organisations throughout the borough, who mostly asked friendly questions, given the impression (firmly denied) that they were plants. Indeed, Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Webbewood has told The Greenwich Phantom that council staff were being offered tickets yesterday. I’ll come back to this later, but a result of this meant that where they didn’t use all their tickets, ordinary residents like 853 commenter Gillian were shut out – possibly because they live in Lewisham borough, which borders Greenwich Park, which is pretty disgraceful when there’s so much concern in Blackheath and Greenwich.
The whole thing was magisterially chaired by Sir Bob Scott, who led Manchester’s unsuccessful Olympic bids and now lives in Crooms Hill, next to the park. He said he hoped everyone who wanted to come along had got in. Whoops…
Lord Coe acknowledged people’s worries, telling the audience LOCOG was “not just on transmit, but also on recieve”. He stressed the benefits to young people, namechecked Charlton Athletic, and drew parallels with Bradley Wiggins, the London-born cycling champion. He talked of the massive logistical task involved in staging the games – a world athletics championship city, he said, had six years to prepare for one championship event; while an Olympics host had seven to prepare for 26 championships.
He also talked of his experiences at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, when events were so spread out that many participants felt left out and it damaged the atmosphere of the event. This was something London was hoping to avoid, he said.
Coe also talked of sport being “a hidden social worker” – to which a posh lady behind me huffed loudly. It wasn’t going to be her last contribution to the evening, and she greeted Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts with a muttered “fuck off”.
Roberts didn’t look comfortable on the stage, and introduced a video I’ve seen too many times at Charlton games, bigging-up the borough as “Destination Greenwich” (there were loud titters from across the hall when it mentioned excellent transport links). “We will assent to nothing which damages our venues,” he told us (posh lady huffed), adding he recognised the council held “a legacy in trust for our young people”. Like Coe, I he emphasised the benefits for youth (cue another huff from behind). And Roberts praised Coe in what was possibly the biggest bit of arslikhan I’ve ever seen, talking of the boy from Sheffield who saw tye 1968 games and was inspired to become a champion, a member of parliament “and a peer of the realm”. Ouch.
But Roberts’ presentation started to go awry when he introduced another DVD – no video of young sports hopefuls set to a Fatboy Slim soundtrack is ever going to win over a sceptic who hasn’t set foot in Abbey Wood for years. The whole thing started to feel like a council PR event when two of its terrified-looking stars were wheeled on stage to conduct an excruciating “interview” about the games. One of them, who now works for LOCOG, told of his time at John Roan School and how he had cherished memories of “having lessons” the park (posh lady tutted at that). (I went to John Roan and there were lots of things going on in the park, but we never called it “having lessons”…) As prizes were given out to people involved with the Greenwich Starting Blocks Trust, the whole thing was leaving a nasty taste in the mouth.
And therein lies London 2012’s biggest problem south of the river – Greenwich Council. Later, Chris Roberts did say there were some disagreements between LOCOG and the council – he wants free tickets for schoolchildren, and he’s concerned about their transport plans. To be credible, we need to hear more of his scepticism, because every time the council appears to be thick as thieves with LOCOG, it looks like there’s something to hide. (The same applies to the council’s intimate relations with Dome owners AEG.) The questions from friendly organisations added to the feeling of stage-management. He needs to remember he’s elected to represent the people of Greenwich, not Lord Coe.
Then it was the LOCOG officials’ turns – venues director James Bulley talked about the Dome (North Greenwich Arena 1 in LOCOG-speak since a sponsorship term like “O2” is banned), the temporary arena which may be built nearby (NGA2) and the Woolwich Common shooting events.
This actually looks exciting – little arenas dotted around Woolwich Common, either side of Ha Ha Road and Circular Way. People will enter via Nightingale Vale, meaning they’ll be encouraged to come through Woolwich, which will be an incredible boost for the place. But the transport details (there’d be a lot of road closures) and how to maintain access to Queen Elizabeth Hospital have still to be finalised. Their timetable is in the photo above.
Equestrian manager Tim Hadaway then stepped up to talk about the park – I’ve included some video clips of his spiel. (Of course, since this is citizen journalism, I did it with my camera and left the digicam and trippod at home…)
Here he is talking about the equestrian course, pointing out the event consists of 75 horses traversing the course just once:
He told how LOCOG had helped kids at an Eltham primary school to get their first experiences on horses (posh lady behind me tutted) and talked of how using Greenwich Park was to avoid building a “white elephant permanent venue” elsewhere. The IOC wouldn’t sign off Greenwich Park unless they thought it was suitable, he said, adding grooms would be hosted in the Devonport House hotel, the old nurses’ home on Romney Road (cue tut from behind).
LOCOG would need to build the arena south of Queens House some months in advance, he said, and would need to close the whole park two weeks in advance of the Games.
But he said the organisation hoped to re-open parts of the park before the end of the games, adding that parts of Beijing’s equestrian course (in Hong Kong) were returned to the public within five days. (“It’s bollocks,” Posh Lady grumbled.)
He also said LOCOG would look at leaving behind improved grass in Greenwich Park (another tut from behind). And LOCOG’s chief executive Paul Deighton told of the “thought and care” going into the plans for the park (Posh Lady snorted with derision).
And so to the questions… which were an odd lot. One about encouraging Asian athletes (“we’ve enough sub-postmasters and grocers” didn’t get the laugh it deserved), Chris Roberts revealing that Charlton’s venerable Tudor Blinds was one of the first local firms to sign a contract with LOCOG, some people from London Citizens on about housing, someone wanting to save the Hervey Road sports field in Kidbrooke (Greenwich Council wants to build a school on the site), chaps from Royal Blackheath Golf Club and Meridian Sports Club wanting to know if they could get involved.
And yes, questions which definitely looked like plants even if they weren’t, like the young girl who got up to say how excited she was (“bollocks!”, grumbled Posh Lady) and the someone from an organisation called Greenwich Young People’s Council who said how grateful they were that a LOCOG official had come to talk to them (“I bet you did,” Posh Lady said.) Chris Roberts, who’d relaxed a bit by now and looked a bit less like Mayor Quimby in The Simpsons, also said there was a plan to plant 2,012 trees in Greenwich borough in 2012 (“fuck off”, said Posh Lady).
And one question, about walking access to the games, was laughed off – a pity, when transport (a point which cropped up a couple of times in response) is such a big issue from day to day, never mind with an Olympic Games.
As for the opposition? Well, NOGOE leader Dermot Glynn asked about aspects of the recent KPMG report into the Olympic venues (he is a former chief economist there himself), said some of it had been kept secret, and claimed the whole thing was a waste of money.
Yet this isn’t the point. If something comes to your neighbourhood which is going to change it for the better, you don’t complain it’s a waste of money, you complain about whether it works or not. While LOCOG’s early PR has been ham-fisted, and Greenwich Council’s blind devotion is a hindrance, they were being upfront about it last night.
Indeed, two people said they had been converted to the pro-Games cause by last night’s presentation (to the audible disgust of Posh Lady behind me). My own suspicion is that the opposition to the Games in Greenwich Park is led by those who don’t see deprived areas like Woolwich as being part of their neighbourhood, who don’t come into contact with the areas and the people who desperately need a lift, and whose children have (or more likely, had) plenty of opportunities in life, so why would they need the Games to bring them any more? Much like opposition to the games in London as a whole, where Notting Hill-dwellers won’t get the benefits that Stratford residents will.
Posh Lady spent the evening harrumphing, tutting, swearing and snorting at other people’s contributions, hissing some, but didn’t actually volunteer any questions herself. And at the end, where was she? Handing out NOGOE leaflets outside the venue.
Trouble for them, is they’re looking increasingly like scaremongerers in the face of LOCOG’s assured presentations. Sebastian Coe said he came to the meeting to listen – the NOGOE representatives behind me were doing anything but in return. Yes, LOCOG need to be made to keep their word. But this kind of unconstructive opposition which looks increasingly like NIMBYism will get them nowhere – and will do us, the people of Greenwich, harm as well, by discrediting our genuine concerns.
LOCOG did a good job and seem to have won over many people last night, despite the seemingly-planted questions and the council’s reluctance to disagree with them. As for the protestors – where do they go from here?