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Consultation and removal processes

There has been a pronounced attempt to institutionalise consent via borough-level consultation procedures, and an unevenness in application. As outsiders, at each point in the process we were invited to consider possible benefits only, not harm, and bribed with free use of local sporting facilities as the bid neared its deadline. Environmentalists complain of a lack of more formal consultation and a lack of notice for consultation meetings which, at times, forced an absence of group discussion or even presence. Conversely, Travellers at Clays Lane and Waterden Crescent point to a surfeit of consultation over relocation with very little substance. Allotment holders at Bully Point were not initially consulted about their prospective decampment, although some efforts have been made toward dialogue since the new site was approved under duress. Clays Lane Housing Co operative were treated to an all singing and dancing presentation extolling the benefits for regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley of winning the bid, and then informed of their forced removal. Only in February 2006 did the LDA recruit a liaison officer to advise individual tenants and mediate their concerns, and concede funding for independent legal advice (an item fudged in the Grampian conditions of the 2004 planning applications).

All the residents [at Waterden Crescent] have participated in a great deal of consultation but so far very little has come out of it because we still do not know where our new sites will be. We feel our site is under threat and we are vulnerable to being moved to a place we don't want to live. We were told by the LDA that we would be consulted on land for new sites by the end of 2004 and we are still waiting to hear about this. We have not been told the reasons for the delay but it appears that the Council and the LDA are blaming each other for holding things up. We are now tired of empty promises, we now want definite commitments from both Hackney Council and the London Development Agency. We are not prepared to leave the land we are living on until new sites in a suitable place are guaranteed. [...] [At Clays Lane], [w]e are very unhappy with the consultation that has taken place about the relocation of our site. We were told by the LDA that we would be consulted on land identified for the relocation of our site by June 2005. We have been told that we will be given a range of options and that we will be properly consulted on where we will move to. We are still waiting for this to happen.
Travellers living on local authority sites in the Olympic zone: Statement from the Waterden Crescent Residents Group and the Clays Lane Travellers Residents Association, January 10, 2006

Tenants are having to indicate their preferences with no information as to the options and how they will work out. Questionnaires from a comprehensive survey carried out by Fluid in the summer of 2004 have been withheld on the grounds of confidentiality even though residents have said they want the information released as it was provided for their rehousing. CBHA then launched a new, much more restricted survey, which about 15% of tenants have refused to fill in. Now after months of refusing to release the original questionnaires, the LDA has finally given way and allowed them to be handed over to CBHA. However, because its second survey failed to cover the same ground as the Fluid survey, the LDA is complaining that it doesn't have information about people who want to move as part of a community. This question was covered in the Fluid survey but not the CBHA survey.
Julian Cheyne, VOCAL activist, Clays Lane Peabody Estate (formerly Clays Lane Housing Co operative)

It is telling that Finer Stephens Innocent, a firm employed to give advice and legal support to firms based on Marshgate Lane threatened with displacement, has been subject to what amounts to official persecution. When the firm submitted their bill to the LDA they were accused of overcharging (an allegation rejected). The LDA also questioned the expertise of partner Mark Stephens who had been handling the case, and suggested that he had billed for time engaged on active resistance to the bid, accusations Stephens described as "blatantly untrue". Michael Finlay, director of one of the firms to be displaced, countered that the LDA have been presented with time sheets on a monthly basis, and stated that it was unfair of the LDA to reject them at the close of contract. Mark Stephens told The Guardian newspaper (H. Muir & P. Kelso, August 10, 2005):

The LDA are trying to welsh on a deal when they should be trying to settle with my clients. They have failed to grasp that my responsibility is to offer independent advice to my clients without fear or favour. Once the LDA realised that my advice was that the London Games would not be in the interests of the businesses because of the unfair terms being offered they became hostile [...] Next week for example I am chairing a[n] [unconnected] planning inquiry, which does not suggest a lack of competence. The truth is that this is a tactical game being played by the LDA to deflect attention from the fact that they are still to reach agreement with scores of firms in the area.

Marike van Harskamp, an urban sociologist, who undertook a research project on the consultation process in 2003 2004 has this to say about the systematic exclusion of dissent and the absence of discussion of regeneration priorities:

Like the bidding process itself, the consultation period was typified by a lack of public debate and input. Both the LDA and London 2012 claim to have run a thorough and successful community consultation process during the two years between the bid announcement and London 'winning' the 2012 Games. These claims can be challenged in many ways, almost all of which highlight the undemocratic nature and tokenism of the consultation.

The consultation process included pre-statutory consultation events in the autumn of 2003, and a further two statutory consultation rounds in the first half of 2004. The latter were guided by the Joint Planning Authorities Team (JPAT), whilst the former were organised by a company specialising in facilitating community engagement. During each of these stages the emphasis was firmly on the regeneration masterplans.

The masterplans set up a firm top-down approach to local stakeholder input, despite claiming that these drew on previous consultation responses from the initial Lower Lea Valley regeneration proposals of the LLV Matrix Group. In addition to this restriction of public deliberation, the consultation worked with a confusing mix of Olympic, non-Olympic and Legacy versions of the masterplan. Information and feedback on, for example, housing, transport, employment and anticipated costs, was often absent, ambiguous or inconsistent. Typically, especially during the more 'participatory' pre-statutory phase, much of the information and discussion was focused on, or (re)shaped by, issues relating to the Olympic event itself rather than wider concerns of 'regeneration' in the Lower Lea Valley area.

Local and grassroots input was squeezed further from the interplay between (official) 'public involvement' and political/strategic decision-making, due to the pressure of IOC (bidding) deadlines. Such time limits also restricted the scope, depth and research of the consultation. Out of necessity, the LDA started land acquisition in the Lower Lea Valley prior to the July decision. IOC rules and requirements for Olympic facilities quite clearly did not sit comfortably with (claims for) 'community-led regeneration' or, even more modestly, specific local needs and desires such as existing recreation grounds, as the debates about East Marsh clarify.

As so often with deliberative and even participatory approaches, the consultation process discouraged and at times was prohibitive of dissent, opposition and alternative forms of public involvement. For instance, posters and banners opposing or criticising the Olympic-led regeneration plans have been systematically removed, even when hung up legally. Critical contributions made during the pre-statutory public meetings ('talkshops') were often downplayed and sometimes ridiculed by the 'expert panel' of masterplanners, London 2012 and LDA representatives. Letters of discontent were usually answered with an envelope of 'Back the Bid' material, underlining again the very thin line between consultation and marketing.

In any context of global events being used or promoted as 'catalysts for regeneration', especially when such events are 'awarded' in an undemocratic manner, it is unsurprising that consultation cannot be more than a token gesture toward local and other stakeholders. The current absence of a continuing community consultation and involvement in the regeneration process merely appears to confirm this.

This essay is part of the Games Monitor briefing papers available for download from our Media Centre page.