A couple of years ago, when the London 2012 organisers were trying to sell their vision of Greenwich Park to local people, I suggested to a LOCOG representative that it open up a shop in Greenwich Market.
People would be able to see what was planned, have a point of contact with Olympic organisers, and LOCOG would be able to sell 2012 souvenirs to passing tourists. The whole thing would feel like less of an imposition, and everyone would feel a bit happier.
This was not possible, the LOCOG rep told me – the company simply didn’t have the money for fripperies like a shop in Greenwich.
So when I entered the Olympic ticket lottery last week, it was a was a surprise to see there are now official London 2012 shops at Heathrow Terminal 5, St Pancras International, Paddington Station and inside John Lewis at Oxford Circus.
My column in Snipe (in all good venues very soon) this month deals with the failure of London 2012 to communicate properly with the people who have to, and will have to, live their lives around construction sites and huge crowds.
It deals with failings on both side of the river, but it’s been inspired by a few weeks of watching events around this area.
Woolwich Common still looks like “a battleship”, blocked off by forbidding grey hoardings and with no indication to locals that this will be the site of the Olympic shooting events. Indeed, I understand Greenwich Council was unaware that the closure of the London Cycle Network route across the common was about to take place – believing that Circular Way would only be closed occasionally. Cyclists now have to mix it at the main traffic lights on the South Circular Road instead.
In Greenwich Park, LOCOG is still being blamed for an “information vacuum” which is allowing rumours and worries to spread. That criticism, by the way, came at the test events planning meeting from Gordon Baker, chairman of the Westcombe Society – the man who banned journalists from a LOCOG briefing for amenity society members in 2009. Even those lucky enough to be on the inside with LOCOG are getting hacked off with them.
Greenwich Council hasn’t helped itself, of course – it could have insisted on stronger community links instead of a secretive “societies consultative group” when it gave LOCOG planning permission last year. But as I mentioned last month while talking about the Cutty Sark, councillors now face a 2012-shaped gun to their heads – kick up a fuss, and they risk being accused of ruining the Olympic project.
The kerfuffle over the plans to cut train services through Greenwich is another prime example – this genuinely caught even Greenwich Council by surprise. Yet the responses from Southeastern that have been sent to Chris Ferguson, writer of another local blog, Abstractnoise, are hair-raising – basically, blaming the Olympic Delivery Authority. It all looks like another “screw you” from Olympics organisers to their neighbours.
Yet all this could be avoided by having proper engagement with local people and local media; providing regular, public bulletins on what is going on; and by remembering that we’re meant to be proud to live next door to Olympic venues – not resentful because we’re being kept in the dark. Did you know LOCOG are holding “drop-in sessions” in Greenwich Park from 12-14 May? Well, you do now. I only found it out from the website of NOGOE, the anti-equestrian lobby.
Londoners are a stubborn bunch and don’t like being left in the dark. We’ve less than 14 months left, but if LOCOG and the ODA don’t get their act together quickly, cut the arrogance and start listening, they may end up with a very nasty surprise on their hands next summer.
PS. As for Greenwich Council, Chris Ferguson tells me that he offered to write something for Greenwich Time on the Olympic rail cuts issue. The council’s weekly newspaper refused to print it “because of a reference to a blog”. Why would Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper put its disagreements with “a blog” ahead of informing local people about major issues?