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London Development Agency Marsh Lane Fields allotment plan rejected

Wednesday evening brought bad news for the London Development Agency whose bid to acquire land related to the Olympics was turned down by planners at Waltham Forest Town Hall. The LDA was applying for planning permission for allotments on Marsh Lane Fields where they want to relocate the existing Manor Gardens allotments, currently located within the proposed Olympic Park.

Local residents and the LDA were allowed three minutes to argue their case. Members of the public talked passionately against the loss of their open space, which they describe as a piece of the countryside in London. The LDA was somewhat less convincing, when they tried to sell the loss of this open space on the back of the supposed advantages of the Olympics in general.

Users of the existing Manor Gardens Allotments do not want to leave their site. It is a beautiful place with a real sense of community. They have been campaigning and organising to save their land. Much of the land the LDA wishes to secure for the Olympics has a rich history. Manor Gardens was given by Major Villiers, a friend of Winston Churchill, to be used “in perpetuity” as gardens by local people. The Gardens’ proposed relocation site at Marsh Lane Fields is what is known as Lammas Land, and is in theory protected as metropolitan open space.

Hackney Marshes are also former Lammas Lands. These were meadows on which parishioners have the right to graze cattle. These rights date back to before the Norman Conquest, and possibly pre-date the Roman era. Locals at Marsh Lane Fields use these rights to graze their horses. The LDA’s plans to take various other open spaces including part of Hackney Marshes for a coach park serving the Olympics are likely to face legal challenges due to this status.

Within and surrounding the proposed Olympic park are many areas that have been off the developers’ radar which have grown organically to develop their own flavour and authenticity. An authenticity which is increasingly rarely found in London. Both the sites affected by last night’s planning decision are examples of this. Places where money doesn’t have to be spent for recreation, their character is not contrived or there for anyone’s profit.

Romantic places where people graze horses, dig their veg, or just hang out and chat over roasting chestnuts. Determined campaigns are running to save such places under threat from what many see as the Disneyization proposed by Olympic planners. How the Olympic brand identity is supposed to fit over the authenticity of the existing area is an unanswered question. How for example will junk yards on the periphery of the Olympic Park square with the image of London 2012.

After yesterday’s victory Waltham Forest’s debating chamber echoed with the sound of cheering as local objectors celebrated. However as Rosemary Johnson, who gave evidence against last night’s proposal, says … “the LDA will be back” meaning they will most likely mount an appeal, and so the battle for Manor Gardens Allotments and Marsh Lane Fields is far from over.

It is however a serious delay for the LDA who are under increasing pressure as the clock ticks relentlessly towards 2012. It is one of many battles the LDA will face, with many who remain unimpressed by the Olympics.

Written by Mike Wells

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