Last night’s Greenwich Olympics consultation meeting

I went to last night’s meeting at the Indigo venue in the Dome expecting fireworks – London 2012’s proposed use of Greenwich Park for equestrian events has kicked up a voiciferous campaign against it.

But in the end, what we did get was more light than heat, thankfully – I thought the LOGOG representatives were, on the whole, frank and open to criticism, while the anti-equestrian people really didn’t do themselves any favours, in my book. If you want a top line from it, it’s that LOCOG insisted there would be no permanent damage to Greenwich Park, no tree would be felled, that they said equestrian events in the park would have the backing of participants and the IOC because it’s so close to the main site in Stratford, a lot of people grumbled about how Greenwich’s lousy transport network would cope, and a few anti-equestrian types harrumphed, tutted, and hissed a bit.

I should point out that the following is my personal recollection of what went on, from scribbled notes on two A4 sheets of paper, and doesn’t seek to advance a particular cause – in the wake of some lousy media coverage (the anti-equestrian Evening Standard’s not devoted much space to it) I simply hope people find this useful.

Lord Coe

The venue was pretty much packed – although there were a few empty seats dotted around. Greenwich Council had offered loads of tickets to community organisations throughout the borough, who mostly asked friendly questions, given the impression (firmly denied) that they were plants. Indeed, Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Webbewood has told The Greenwich Phantom that council staff were being offered tickets yesterday. I’ll come back to this later, but a result of this meant that where they didn’t use all their tickets, ordinary residents like 853 commenter Gillian were shut out – possibly because they live in Lewisham borough, which borders Greenwich Park, which is pretty disgraceful when there’s so much concern in Blackheath and Greenwich.

The whole thing was magisterially chaired by Sir Bob Scott, who led Manchester’s unsuccessful Olympic bids and now lives in Crooms Hill, next to the park. He said he hoped everyone who wanted to come along had got in. Whoops…

Lord Coe acknowledged people’s worries, telling the audience LOCOG was “not just on transmit, but also on recieve”. He stressed the benefits to young people, namechecked Charlton Athletic, and drew parallels with Bradley Wiggins, the London-born cycling champion. He talked of the massive logistical task involved in staging the games – a world athletics championship city, he said, had six years to prepare for one championship event; while an Olympics host had seven to prepare for 26 championships.

He also talked of his experiences at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, when events were so spread out that many participants felt left out and it damaged the atmosphere of the event. This was something London was hoping to avoid, he said.

Coe also talked of sport being “a hidden social worker” – to which a posh lady behind me huffed loudly. It wasn’t going to be her last contribution to the evening, and she greeted Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts with a muttered “fuck off”.

Roberts didn’t look comfortable on the stage, and introduced a video I’ve seen too many times at Charlton games, bigging-up the borough as “Destination Greenwich” (there were loud titters from across the hall when it mentioned excellent transport links). “We will assent to nothing which damages our venues,” he told us (posh lady huffed), adding he recognised the council held “a legacy in trust for our young people”. Like Coe, I he emphasised the benefits for youth (cue another huff from behind). And Roberts praised Coe in what was possibly the biggest bit of arslikhan I’ve ever seen, talking of the boy from Sheffield who saw tye 1968 games and was inspired to become a champion, a member of parliament “and a peer of the realm”. Ouch.

But Roberts’ presentation started to go awry when he introduced another DVD – no video of young sports hopefuls set to a Fatboy Slim soundtrack is ever going to win over a sceptic who hasn’t set foot in Abbey Wood for years. The whole thing started to feel like a council PR event when two of its terrified-looking stars were wheeled on stage to conduct an excruciating “interview” about the games. One of them, who now works for LOCOG, told of his time at John Roan School and how he had cherished memories of “having lessons” the park (posh lady tutted at that). (I went to John Roan and there were lots of things going on in the park, but we never called it “having lessons”…) As prizes were given out to people involved with the Greenwich Starting Blocks Trust, the whole thing was leaving a nasty taste in the mouth.

And therein lies London 2012’s biggest problem south of the river – Greenwich Council. Later, Chris Roberts did say there were some disagreements between LOCOG and the council – he wants free tickets for schoolchildren, and he’s concerned about their transport plans. To be credible, we need to hear more of his scepticism, because every time the council appears to be thick as thieves with LOCOG, it looks like there’s something to hide. (The same applies to the council’s intimate relations with Dome owners AEG.) The questions from friendly organisations added to the feeling of stage-management. He needs to remember he’s elected to represent the people of Greenwich, not Lord Coe.

Then it was the LOCOG officials’ turns – venues director James Bulley talked about the Dome (North Greenwich Arena 1 in LOCOG-speak since a sponsorship term like “O2” is banned), the temporary arena which may be built nearby (NGA2) and the Woolwich Common shooting events.
Woolwich Common shooting timetable
This actually looks exciting – little arenas dotted around Woolwich Common, either side of Ha Ha Road and Circular Way. People will enter via Nightingale Vale, meaning they’ll be encouraged to come through Woolwich, which will be an incredible boost for the place. But the transport details (there’d be a lot of road closures) and how to maintain access to Queen Elizabeth Hospital have still to be finalised. Their timetable is in the photo above.

Equestrian manager Tim Hadaway then stepped up to talk about the park – I’ve included some video clips of his spiel. (Of course, since this is citizen journalism, I did it with my camera and left the digicam and trippod at home…)

Here he is talking about the equestrian course, pointing out the event consists of 75 horses traversing the course just once:

He told how LOCOG had helped kids at an Eltham primary school to get their first experiences on horses (posh lady behind me tutted) and talked of how using Greenwich Park was to avoid building a “white elephant permanent venue” elsewhere. The IOC wouldn’t sign off Greenwich Park unless they thought it was suitable, he said, adding grooms would be hosted in the Devonport House hotel, the old nurses’ home on Romney Road (cue tut from behind).

Greenwich Park Olympic timetable
Greenwich Park Olympic timetable
LOCOG would need to build the arena south of Queens House some months in advance, he said, and would need to close the whole park two weeks in advance of the Games.

But he said the organisation hoped to re-open parts of the park before the end of the games, adding that parts of Beijing’s equestrian course (in Hong Kong) were returned to the public within five days. (“It’s bollocks,” Posh Lady grumbled.)

He also said LOCOG would look at leaving behind improved grass in Greenwich Park (another tut from behind). And LOCOG’s chief executive Paul Deighton told of the “thought and care” going into the plans for the park (Posh Lady snorted with derision).

Here’s a couple of the images from Hong Kong, of how it could look and how that site recovered…
How Greenwich Park may look
Will the park be damaged?

And so to the questions… which were an odd lot. One about encouraging Asian athletes (“we’ve enough sub-postmasters and grocers” didn’t get the laugh it deserved), Chris Roberts revealing that Charlton’s venerable Tudor Blinds was one of the first local firms to sign a contract with LOCOG, some people from London Citizens on about housing, someone wanting to save the Hervey Road sports field in Kidbrooke (Greenwich Council wants to build a school on the site), chaps from Royal Blackheath Golf Club and Meridian Sports Club wanting to know if they could get involved.

And yes, questions which definitely looked like plants even if they weren’t, like the young girl who got up to say how excited she was (“bollocks!”, grumbled Posh Lady) and the someone from an organisation called Greenwich Young People’s Council who said how grateful they were that a LOCOG official had come to talk to them (“I bet you did,” Posh Lady said.) Chris Roberts, who’d relaxed a bit by now and looked a bit less like Mayor Quimby in The Simpsons, also said there was a plan to plant 2,012 trees in Greenwich borough in 2012 (“fuck off”, said Posh Lady).

And one question, about walking access to the games, was laughed off – a pity, when transport (a point which cropped up a couple of times in response) is such a big issue from day to day, never mind with an Olympic Games.

As for the opposition? Well, NOGOE leader Dermot Glynn asked about aspects of the recent KPMG report into the Olympic venues (he is a former chief economist there himself), said some of it had been kept secret, and claimed the whole thing was a waste of money.

Yet this isn’t the point. If something comes to your neighbourhood which is going to change it for the better, you don’t complain it’s a waste of money, you complain about whether it works or not. While LOCOG’s early PR has been ham-fisted, and Greenwich Council’s blind devotion is a hindrance, they were being upfront about it last night.

Indeed, two people said they had been converted to the pro-Games cause by last night’s presentation (to the audible disgust of Posh Lady behind me). My own suspicion is that the opposition to the Games in Greenwich Park is led by those who don’t see deprived areas like Woolwich as being part of their neighbourhood, who don’t come into contact with the areas and the people who desperately need a lift, and whose children have (or more likely, had) plenty of opportunities in life, so why would they need the Games to bring them any more? Much like opposition to the games in London as a whole, where Notting Hill-dwellers won’t get the benefits that Stratford residents will.

Posh Lady spent the evening harrumphing, tutting, swearing and snorting at other people’s contributions, hissing some, but didn’t actually volunteer any questions herself. And at the end, where was she? Handing out NOGOE leaflets outside the venue.

Trouble for them, is they’re looking increasingly like scaremongerers in the face of LOCOG’s assured presentations. Sebastian Coe said he came to the meeting to listen – the NOGOE representatives behind me were doing anything but in return. Yes, LOCOG need to be made to keep their word. But this kind of unconstructive opposition which looks increasingly like NIMBYism will get them nowhere – and will do us, the people of Greenwich, harm as well, by discrediting our genuine concerns.

LOCOG did a good job and seem to have won over many people last night, despite the seemingly-planted questions and the council’s reluctance to disagree with them. As for the protestors – where do they go from here?


  1. Thanks for a great write up – I now have the image of ‘Diamond’ Chris Roberts as Mayor Quimby firmly planted in my head 🙂

    Whilst I’m still not convinced that Greenwich Park is a suitable venue for the equestrian events, I agree that NOGOE aren’t doing themselves any favours with their scare-mongering. I only hope that if everyone manages to keep an open mind and LOCOG are kept in check, Greenwich will be better off as a result of the Olympics.

    However, it’s slightly worrying that they haven’t yet given much (if any) thought to transport (surely this should have been one of the deciding factors when they were choosing venues?) and I think the response to that chap’s question about walking to the games was very poor.

  2. Er, they well and truly got you. Where do I start with trying to undo all the brain-washing? I am really tired of pointing out that the grass on the HK golf course is exceptionally tough (and actually recommended for equestrian events), unlike the species of grass in Greenwich Park. HK also has high temperatures and extremely high humidity. It is dishonest of LOCOG to use pictures of paspalum and zoysia to “prove” that rye grass and brown top bent and rare acid grasses will be just as undamaged.

    I think I know the lady who sat behind you; and she did have a question to ask but wasn’t called. She has since submitted it in writing to Seb Coe and several others.

    Were you aware that Greenwich Park is the finest Baroque landscape in England? You can’t “put back” a Baroque landscape, once you’ve messed it up.

    NOGOE are not scare-mongering – they are working to ensure that the protected species in the Park are not harmed, that the authenticity and integrity of this World Heritage Site is not vandalised – and LOCOG has yet to show how all the “horse infrastructure” will be fitted into the Park: the fact is, it can’t.

  3. Indigo – “Er, they well and truly got you. Where do I start with trying to undo all the brain-washing?”

    When you’ve finished with your copy of How To Win Friends and Influence People, could I borrow it, please?

  4. Thanks for the write up, I missed the meeting as I was in Germany enjoying the Christmas markets.

    It seems that LOCOG are doing the right thing by the community and the park, they are being open and honest, and helping to get it right before they even start.

    I do wonder if the NOGOE people would have campaigned against Henry the Eighth as he rode round the park in search of Bambi’s mum. The park has dealt with stuff like Film festivals (I swear the NOGOE people were against those in a different organisation) the marathon and many other events.

    Bring it on, and where do I get tickets from?

  5. How can it be brain-washing if you actually go and listen to all sides and make your own mind up!?

    All I get is that the complainers like Indigo and the potty-mouthed posh bird think more of grass than people. Very sad.

    If you don’t want the honour of being part of the Olympics, we’ll have it here in Bromley please.

  6. Thanks for this report Darryl. The more I hear from the likes of Indigo and Andrew Gilligan, the less worried I become about the Olympics in Greenwich. I mean if they’re so strongly set against it there must be something to be said for it after all.

  7. Great account, I was near a similar rude old protester who also seemed to have lost the ability to articulate a case and have an honest discussion.

    Rudeness goes nowhere. The next time I find one of their crappy leaflets littering my park I’d love to tell NOWHERE exactly where they can stuff them.

    NIMBYism at its worst. When they lose they’ll be the first in the queue for tickets.

  8. Apart from the damage to the park, digging to put in drainage,( horses need a lot of water), digging up the boating pond( for the water jump), ruining the grass, lopping trees and damaging roots of old trees,( eventing horses are large and the riders are not jockey size so the trees would have to be lopped for them to safely get under them ), and galloping over the cricket pitch, ( these are obvious points however L.O.C.O.G. glosses over or denies them). For me just as important is the fact that the park will be closed. Many people who live in this area do not have gardens. I suggest that those who are so keen on this event do not use the park. For us who use the park both just to sit in peace and quiet in the flower garden or take children to play any closure of the park is criminal. This is particularly so when the Great Windsor Royal Park, situated close to the rowing event and with accomodation available two miles down the road at Holloway College, actually would like to host the event. We will be left with a damaged park no legacy and in the summer months no use of the park.
    If L.O.C.O.G think we are taken in by them giving the children from one primary school free riding lessons they must think we are particularly naive!

  9. Ann – thank you for commenting here.

    One point I see from NOGOE people, and one you’ve repeated, is that there will be “no legacy”. What sort of legacy are you looking for, and would ease your fears?

  10. If 853 had bothered to look round he would have seen I had my hand up most of the time, I had several questions, and the comment that thanks to NOGOE the arena has been resited and the course route has been altered and now avoids the acid grasslands and what Sue Benson referred to as the duckpond (some of us like to call it a lake). As a result, the course is now much shorter, and the equestrians may not like that after what happened at Cardiff last week on a level but very twisty course.
    Did anyone else get the impression that the promotional video said that one third of the Olympic events were to be in Greenwich? And only a very slight reference was made to events outside the O2 being moved somewhere else.
    And I’m a Lewisham resident. I got that email telling me the event was over-subscribed, but I got in, and was surrounded by empty seats.

  11. That is the point. There can be no legacy. Our park is too small and so unsuitable ( hills, trees, public use , etc. ) for the equestrian event. Whereas if the event was held say at Windsor they would have the legacy of an upgraded equestrian facility. Our legacy would be if they left the park alone and allowed us to continue to enjoy and appreciate it.

  12. Lady, posh or not – unless you were wearing fetching boots, you may be a different lady to the one I kept hearing, because her row and the ones behind her were full up. And I certainly didn’t see her with her hand up. But anyhow… I certainly didn’t catch a mention that thanks to NOGOE anything had changed, but there definitely was mention of the route changing to avoid the duckpond because of public concerns (in fact, it’d changed in the 10 days or so since they had that stall in Greenwich Park, yet I shan’t claim credit for that change since I mentioned it…)

    Ann – do you not think an emotional legacy, and a legacy which maybe benefits people from nearby areas who have few opportunities to see top-class sport is as valuable any kind of physical legacy?

  13. The problem is NOGOE are only interest in a physical legacy, yet don’t want the park changed in anyway.

    The social legacy is massive, having the venues in the borough are crucial to this happening, the opportunities for kids, young people and adults, and there may be a physical legacy, an improved boating lake, new kids play areas from the jumps, improved spaces in the park.

    Waltham Forest is suffering from having it’s venues pulled, Greenwich can probably afford it less.

    I don’t understand this Cardiff stuff either, it was a small tight stadium course like Olympia where the horse of the year is, and they were showjumping courses. Yet small courses aren’t the issue, on cross country, Horses die every year in a huge site like Badminton, Hickstead and Windsor. Greenwich Park will have a Olympic sized stadium for show jumping bigger then Cardiff and Olympia, and the course will be long enough to have a decent cross country.. Fatalities happen, it’s the nature of the sport.

    As for the grass in the park, the course is actually a small narrow lane, horses will go one by one, and not the Grand National type event people are being made to believe is going to happen, it will recover, in the same way it recovers from every major event in the park, and the way it recovered from the Tudor days.

    NOGOE seem to want to conflate a load of different issues, and hope enough fear is whipped up, but there arguments are pretty thin when held up

  14. Troll alert. Remembering an exchange, way back, on another blog: Rothko is almost certainly Cllr Chris Roberts.

    Whoever he is, anyway, Rothko is wa-a-a-ay behind – the cross-country course is NOT “a small narrow lane”: it is a 3m wide prepared route. The jumps will be portable – brought in and taken away – there will be nothing to be a legacy of “new kids play areas”. The best “play areas” for young and old in the Park are the wide green spaces.

    Rothko appears to be unaware, also, that the fact of Greenwich Park being the finest Baroque landscape in England is the best social legacy it could have. People need to have links to the past to reinforce their sense of place and history.

    Rothko is very cavalier (hahahaha) about horses dying. Every one that has to be put down is a disaster.

  15. Darryl, I do want to commend and compliment you on all the work you have done here, putting your photos and video on your blog. You have done a real public service, and your visitor traffic must have soared in recent days.

    Your testimony will make it much harder for LOCOG and the Council to rewrite history, so I hope you will not come under any pressure to remove the video. If you do, please let me know (

  16. “I hope you will not come under any pressure to remove the video.”

    Why would he? How far do you think the sinister tentacles of LOCOG extend?

  17. I think I recognise my fetching boots – “Posh” ? – well my old Mum’d be proud. Not so proud of foul mutterings for which I am ashamed – but was and still am seething – that was the 5th meeting I have attended and I have written dozens of letters and all we get is a load of PR blather and a determination to run “Roughshod” over us………Tim Hadaway (having had his presentation squashed by a badly planned agenda) has shown those HK Golf Club slides twice and they don’t apply to Greenwich. I have asked Tim & LOCOG to show how the arena will look and he hasn’t – they are still bandying about a totally wrong artist’s impression – I joined NOGOE because the (much posher than me) folk at The Greenwich Society and misnamed “Friends of Greenwich Park” have done so little to protect Greenwich and The Park – obviously they don’t want to upset The Establishment. I am astonished that anyone can’t see through LOCOG’s transparent presentations.If you listen hard and read between the lines you will realise that MUCH of The Park (the most used end – the end you can WALK to easily)will be closed for some of the summer of 2011 and MOST of 2012 – and be sure that once the contractors get briefed they will move in earlier and leave later – and where do the Pensioners, soccer-kicking youths, dog walkers, parents and young children, joggers and people without gardens go then? Most are furious that to close it for a day would be plenty – AND whatever the Council or LOCOG promise, it is impossible The Park will not be trashed. I had my hand up to ask a question about security and was overlooked 3 times so gave up and wrote in – but like other letters it will be unanswered – or the usual statement, “The Equestrian Events Will Go Ahead In Greenwich Park” and no solutions or tangible answers….and what do they promise us in return? – A horse jump in the extended childrens play park…..and Greenwich Council can’t even get decent disabled access to The Dome so am not over-confident they have the organisational skills to deliver a world-class Olympic event……….

  18. Nothing changes with you does it Indigo, someone disagrees with your narrow view, and you throw the insults about. As much as I’ll love to run Greenwich Council the opportunity is hardly going to come my way.

    3m, so about the lenght of a Mini wide, in my eyes, that’s pretty narrow in a large park.

    As for animal welfare, I don’t want to see horses die, but it happens in the sport, if they can be avoided then great, but you seemed intent to compare the Millennium Stadium to Greenwich Park, when the comparisons are not there.

    As for the landscape, tell me where it will be massively changed, post games? Are we going to lose the Bandstand? or the Cricket pitch, or the Observatory or the tea hut? Nope.

    So what is your arguement then? the state of the grass? the safety of horse and rider? the lack of physical legacy?

  19. Rothko fell into my trap. Plonk. Rothko knows zip about what he is talking about.

    The cross-country course is actually 10m wide – 32.5feet wide, in old money.

    If you don’t believe me, look up the stats for the 2008 Olympics.

  20. Rothko, do you actually know anything about how the Park came to look as it does now? Do you know why it is described as Baroque? (Clue: nothing to do with bandstands or tea huts.)

  21. So about a double decker bus, well still pretty narrow to me. or your didn’t have a clue until you googled it to look clever?

    As you are the brain of the back streets of Charlton, tell us all about the Baroqueness?

  22. That Greenwich Park is the finest Baroque landscape in England was one of the reasons given for inscribing it as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Don’t you know anything, Rothko the philistine?

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