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This Green and Pleasant…Scar?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or so they say. This certainly applies in the case of the Lea Valley. Below are two contrasting beholdings of the Lea Valley Park.

The Lee Valley Regional Park – London’s biggest open space

The Lee Valley Regional Park stretches an incredible 26 miles along the leafy banks of the River Lee, from Ware in Hertfordshire, through Essex, to the Thames at East India Dock Basin.

Regional sports centres, urban green spaces, heritage sites, country parks and nature reserves provide a unique leisure experience for everyone. Whether it’s athletics, golf, horse riding, ice skating, fishing, cycling, bird watching, camping or simply exploring the countryside, the Lee Valley Regional Park is a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered.......

Lea Valley Regional Park Authority publicity

Or ‘a scar’. An alternative viewpoint from the man overseeing its ‘reconstruction’.

"the white stretch down the middle of that slide is the Lea Valley, the lower Lea valley, and in the middle of that is the Olympic site. And what that shows is essentially a scar, a scar of unreconstructed land that is the effect of long term infrastructure that's often run into decay or industrial legacy that hasn't been repaired."

David Higgins, Chief Executive, Olympic Development Authority, keynote speech to Thames Gateway Forum, 22nd/23rd November 2006.

This reminds me of the planning application to remediate the Eastway Cycle Track, which was a part of the ‘scar’. I submitted the following comment as a part of an objection:

"The LDA is destroying an enjoyable piece of open space along with a useful existing sports facility, which could be incorporated into a larger park attached to the neighbouring Eastway Sports Centre, also closed, and the open space attached to that centre along with some other pieces of open land in the Waterden Road vicinity, as part of an extension of Hackney Marshes, at little expense to create a park roughly the same in size as that proposed by the LDA for this sector of the Olympic Park..

It is described as Metropolitan Open Space and a protected Green Space by Newham, a Site of Nature Conservation Importance and Bully Point Pond as a Site of Borough Importance for Nature Conservation, Grade 1. According to the application the site as a whole is listed as

‘a Grade 1 Site of Borough Importance due to its size, the variety of habitats it contains, namely tall ruderal, broad-leaved plantation and semi-natural woodland, dense continuous scrub, young trees and rivers/streams and its value to the public, supporting a range of flora including a number notable in London. The site also supports a range of terrestrial invertebrates and breeding and foraging birds.’

None of these protections count for much in the face of this programme. Sections will be lost altogether to housing and sports stadiums either during or after the Games.

The LDA rubbished the site in the evidence presented to the CPO Inquiry by Mr Strike, their witness on Open Space and Recreational Land, in an attempt to justify its destruction. He simply referred to ‘a road cycle circuit and off-road cycling areas which pass through open grassland, interspersed with areas of shrubs and trees.’ He did not refer to the site as a whole being listed as of Borough Importance Grade 1 or that it is Metropolitan Open Land, a site of Nature Conservation Importance and a Borough Protected Green Space. This application actually refers to woodland being present on the site. Mr Strike could not bring himself to refer to woodland. He went on to assert, dismissively, ‘The topography of the land varies considerably, reflecting the history of the area as a landfill site.’ This makes no mention of the deliberate creation of small hills and valleys to create an interesting landscape which includes streams, plantations and dense scrub valuable to the public with flora notable in London. The LDA should now acknowledge its earlier arguments put before the CPO Inquiry were based on false assertions about the quality of the open space and was, therefore, misleading evidence.

There are, at one time or another, herons, kingfishers, cormorants and kestrels on the land or in the streams and nearby River Lea, as well as other waterfowl.

The resulting Olympic Park will be a highly managed open space, overlooked by stadiums and lack the depth of open space and wildness of the existing park.”

The Eastway, of course, also contained the Manor Gardens Allotments, regarded as a threat to civilisation as we know it by Mayor Livingstone because he thought Al Qaeda terrorists could hide out there ready to suicide bomb the Games, along with a community woodland planted by local people, the sort of enterprise constantly praised by all and sundry until it gets in the way of a juggernaut like the 2012 Olympics.

As an indication of how far agencies like the LDA will go to get their way, the LDA claimed, in its evidence to the Compulsory Purchase Inquiry, that Clays Lane residents were ‘isolated’ by the green space at the Eastway and also asserted that only about 12 people had expressed any concern in the 2004 Fluid survey about living next to a green space, while knowing that over 75% had said this was either very important or important to them in the same survey.

This was a space they really enjoyed. Not something Mr Higgins would, or could, understand.