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What a merry-go-round! ODA buys Blackheath Circus Field

The Olympic Delivery Authority, ODA, has bought the Circus Field at Blackheath to overcome the provision in Section 4 of the Metropolitan Commons Supplemental Act 1871 which bars the Management Board for the heath, now Greenwich Council, from enclosing any part of the Circus Field. This purchase enables the ODA to use Section 36 of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Act 2006 to achieve exactly that result!

This planning sleight of hand is reminiscent of what is also happening at Wanstead Flats, where the Epping Forest Act 1876 has been set aside by a Legislative Reform Order made by the Home Secretary to allow use of that piece of common land for a Police Muster Briefing and Deployment Centre.

This circumvention of Statute at Blackheath was discovered by NOGOE2012, who had asked Greenwich Council to explain why the Crown Estates had become involved in the use of the Circus Field. Greenwich's Senior Planning Solicitor then responded:

Dear Mrs Mawhood

Mr Brown has asked me to respond to your e mail requesting clarification of how the leases granted by the Crown Estate to the ODA of Circus Field relate to the scheme of management of the heath made under the Commons Supplemental Act 1871.

You correctly point out below that the Council, as successor of the "Board", cannot permit the enclosure of any part of Circus Field by section 4 of the scheme of management for Blackheath confirmed under the 1871 Act. However, section 36 of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Act 2006 empowers the ODA to purchase land for the purpose of the London 2012 Games and expressly provides that no enactment regulating the use of the commons, open spaces or allotments shall prevent or restrict the use of the land for construction, other works or for any other purpose. Therefore the Council's duty under section 4 is overriden by the 2006 Act.

I am unable to let you have copies of the leases as the Council's legal officer's were only permitted to inspect these on the basis that they are confidential. As these leases have been granted for a short term there is no requirement to register these at the Land Registry.
Susan White
Senior Planning Solicitor

It does not seem this purchase had been made public even though LOCOG's planning application was before Greenwich's Planning Committee and the question of what power the authorities had to enclose this piece of land was central to the application. Despite the ODA having the power to purchase and enclose common land planning permission for the project is still needed, not that there is much doubt that Greenwich will oblige.

NOGOE has pointed out that the language used in the Olympics Act refers to 'commons' whereas the Circus Field is Metropolitan Common Land, a different category of land which is not referred to. Armed with the precedent set at Wanstead Flats where the Home Secretary's manoeuvre for overcoming the Epping Forest Act was accepted by the courts without demur, the ODA's lawyers will no doubt be sanguine about such an objection.

Exceptional mega-events require exceptional mega-methods.

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