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REAPing the Olympic park!

After writing about the new and reduced park I found myself involved in an email discussion about replacement funding. At the risk of repeating myself I thought part of it deserved a little airing. Below is part of an email from a Hackney Councillor, Christine Boyd, in response to a discussion about REAP funding which was meant to compensate local communities, notably at Hackney Wick, for loss of open space.

‘Now to come to your point about REAP funding. To give some background, the REAP fund came about because Wick Councillors were concerned about the temporary loss of Metropolitan Open Land which is needed for the Olympics. Although the borough has water tight legal agreements that this will be given back to the borough (and in fact we get more back in legacy) we did not feel that this addressed the temporary loss to the community.’

‘Temporary loss.’ There is no ‘temporary loss’ of land at Arena Field. It’s gone for good. Even if land is gained elsewhere, which is uncertain, this will be in a different location and not as easily accessible for those at Hackney Wick. In addition there is the loss of land to other communities at Marsh Lane Fields in Waltham Forest, Major Road Park in Newham and Hackney Marshes in Hackney. Who knows whether this will be recovered? Temporary moves have a habit of becoming permanent. Then, of course, some residents, like those at Clays Lane, have lost their parkland for ever. They were just kicked out.

‘Water tight legal agreements.’ The park is getting steadily smaller. Earlier planning conditions on the size of the park have already been broken. Ms Boyd seems to be unaware that the usual rules on the replacement of lost open space were set aside for the Olympics by Act of Parliament. Who are they going to sue? Arena Field isn’t going to be given back.

‘More back in legacy.’ At the moment, at great expense both in money and to some communities, the Olympic park has gained seven and a half hectares, although this doesn’t take into account the hectares lost at Marsh Lane Fields, Major Road park and Hackney Marshes. The park is diminishing at an alarming rate. Newham will suffer a net loss in open space. The 100 hectare park includes existing parkland at East Marsh, the remnants of the Eastway park and riverside land at Stratford City, which is owned by Continental Railways. The ODA failed to provide any evidence to support the claim that the new park was the largest new park in Europe for 150 years.

Then, of course, we could see how concerned the LDA was about the importance of green space in their rubbishing of parkland at the Eastway Cycle Track to justify its destruction, their abusive assertion that Clays Lane residents were ‘isolated’ by neighbouring green space and the manipulation of survey results when they claimed only 12 Clays Lane residents were particularly bothered about living near a park when the real figure was over 300!

‘Officers were therefore asked to negotiate with the LDA to get a mitigation fund that could be spent on projects suggested by the community that specifically focused on the environment and recreational activity – hence the £1M REAP fund was born and people were asked to submit ideas and bids.

Of course there are many problems with this approach, very often community groups don’t have the experience, will or capacity to put together suitable bids, there are problems getting permission from land owners (and planning permission where needed), there is also need to demonstrate, where necessary, how schemes will be maintained once established. We did not want people to be deterred by this and were anxious that they should be able to suggest things without having to do all the work themselves. So for example when the Trowbridge pensioners said they wanted a couple of benches, they were not expected to fill in forms or project manage it, rather the housing office was asked to handle all the necessary arrangements. As another example, people have complained for years about the state of Buxhall bank (there are difficult land ownership issues here), but no one in the community put in an application to sort this out, so we were more than happy when Newlon Housing Association did it on their behalf. Even Bushberry Road and Benn Street playground where the TRA successfully made the bid application for the new playground they decided that this could best be delivered by Hackney Homes who not only own the land but have expertise in procuring play areas.’

This is astonishing stuff!

‘When pensioners asked for a couple of benches... they were not expected to project manage it.’ Project management for buying a couple of benches! No wonder people don't apply for funds. According to another councillor, Chris Kennedy, the ‘REAP bench project hasn’t started yet’!

‘People have complained for years about the state of Buxhall Bank, but no-one in the community put in an application to sort this out.’ No-one? Maybe there is a little clue in there somewhere. ‘People complained for years’!

‘Very often community groups don’t have the experience, will or capacity to put together suitable bids, there are problems getting permission from land owners (and planning permission where needed), there is also need to demonstrate, where necessary, how schemes will be maintained once established.’

Even when a TRA ‘successfully’ made an application they decided this could be ‘best delivered’ by Hackney Homes ‘who not only own the land but have expertise in procuring play areas.’

Smell the disempowerment! They all have to deal with authorities like the LDA and the local council.


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