Bored on the 4th of July: That Greenwich Park protest in full

London’s only evening newspaper last Friday:

“Hundreds of protesters” at Greenwich Park, 8:45am this morning:

I counted no more than 25 people outside Greenwich Park – requiring a load of security fencing and four police officers to keep an eye on them. NOGOE tell me that at its peak, the protest hit 30 people, and claim some 50 passed through. Either way, this looked like a display of English eccentricity rather than deep-seated anger at the horsey takeover of the park. One passer-by I spoke to had some sympathy for them, a man taking his kids to school heckled them: “It’s a public park, it’s what it’s there for!”

Which goes to the nub of it. These are people who regard the park as their back garden. Beyond that immediate area around the park, and beyond those who think the Olympics as a whole will be awful, far fewer people share their point of view that this will be a disaster.

But the photographers lapped it up, and no doubt NOGOE will get its day in the sun. The protesters aren’t giving up, claim it’s actually illegal to ride horses through Greenwich Park, and there’s talk of trying to get a judicial review of the planning decision (surely a bit late now). It’s all very well claiming the support of 5,000 locals, but if only 25 show up to your demonstration – huddle together now, it’ll look good on the telly if they zoom in – what happens next?

Even the placards were perplexing. If you don’t know the backstory to the Greenwich Park saga, holding banners with pictures of stag beetles just makes you look like members of a strange, secret society rather than a mass protest movement. The most baffling banner read “go Piggy go!” – a reference to British rider Piggy French.

Especially the day after a man was shot dead ten minutes’ walk from the gates, proving there’s more pressing issues around here, the park protest looks ever more like a niche interest.

With the argument arguably lost, there’s still room to spread misinformation around the place. NOGOE handed The Greenwich Phantom some photos implying the cross country course was running via the Saxon burial mounds to the west of the park. Not so.

There’s a course laid out for the horses to walk around – they were having a gentle trot around on Sunday – but it’s not the cross country course, and it skirts around the edge of the burial mounds. No big horror there.

In the meantime, LOCOG have lucked out with the weather, with day one of the test events taking place under blue skies. LOCOG could do more to tell people it’s still business as usual in the park – the closure to through traffic is wonderful, but it’s not clear that walkers and cyclists are still welcome in. These are minor gripes, though – a bit like complaining about a trotting route around the park.

Rob at is in the arena today. For those of us without tickets, Tuesday’s cross-country event will provide the best chance to grab a glimpse of the action. If you’re free, I’ll join you peering through fences…


  1. Darryl – LOCOG don’t have planning permission for a warm up track over the ancient tumuli and on the acid grasslands. Do your research, first, before you make out that it is OK. Also, the fencing around the warm up track was moved, from all over the tumuli to nearer the Avenue. You need to get up earlier in the morning, Darryl.

  2. Indigo, how protective were you of the park’s ancient tumuli and acid grasslands BEFORE the Olympics?

    For example, what did you do about the hundreds of thousands of park-goers trampling over them, all year and every year (as they have done for the past couple of centuries)?

    The park is left seriously damaged every single year by all its visitors….yet, every spring, without any re-turfing and minimal other human intervention, it is as good as new.

    Resistance is truly futile.

  3. Still not sure what is being tested here. There is nowhere near the amount of spectators that there will be next year so it can’t be transport, catering or seating arrangments. It can’t be the course as it’s not the same as next year either. And we all know horses can run around in a park and on a man made show ground. So what is the point of this. It’s just annoying people more and more.

  4. Scott – it’s stadium and course logistics. The arena is almost the same size as the one that’ll be used next year, albeit with 80% less seating. Better to have a small-ish rehearsal now than no rehearsal at all.

  5. Christ, sometimes you talk some nonsense.
    Whatever your view there are some basic facts. The event would have been better for horses and riders at a more appropriate venue; the park will be closed (or much of it) to the majority of locals for a long period; nesting bird, and species of bat will be moved during their most sensitive breeding time, and chemicals banned elsewhere will be used on the grass. Like it or not that is what is happening. The park should have been used as an open party with screens for those of us who didnt get tickets for the olympics (and local trader could have sold their produce).oh, don’t worry those of us who use the park regularly will know that a childrens climbing frame will be the legacy.
    Neverrmind, you will still be able to continue to make your anti-west Greenwich comments, and despite your class ridden moaning at least we can spend some money on (our) the Greenwich Festival and save some on spending money on other people’s children….

  6. The NOGOE charm offensive strikes again.

    Anyone care to explain why the Greenwich Phantom was handed a misleading line about the cross-country course? Or are you just going to keep on lobbing insults at anyone who disagrees with you?

  7. Speaking of charm offensives, whoever is posting the comments on every story on the telegraph site is really not doing the NOGOE cause any favours. Calling a national newspaper journalist sunshine? That’s sure to win you support.

    I really do understand how upset and frustrated NOGOE supporters must be. But sooner or later they are going to have to accept that the event is going to go ahead whether they like it or not. If they were to concentrate their efforts solely on monitoring LOCOGs activities and ensuring that they stick to their promises, I’m sure we could all get behind them. After all, if the promises ARE stuck to, the park will be left in a perfectly good state and that is surely an acceptable outcome for everybody.

  8. “If they were to concentrate their efforts solely on monitoring LOCOGs activities and ensuring that they stick to their promises, I’m sure we could all get behind them.”

    Good idea!

  9. I think if the protesters had the PR experts and millions of pounds of LOCOG and Seb Coe then their campaign would have been much more media-friendly. So, you can’t expect a slick campaign and I must say I don’t think it was very well planned. I also think a lot more people would have attended had it not been a work day morning (and more to the point, most people are resigned to the events now anyway). Whether this means they don’t have a point is a different question.

    Still, protest skills aside, I’m not sure I understand your LOCOG = the people and protesters = West Greenwich/posh equation. Is East Greenwich all working class? Really? And even if this were true, it doesn’t make their concerns invalid. And since when has horse-riding been a mainstream passion? I think it’s very easy to attack anyone who dares raise objections to powerful forces. The fact is, these people have helped make sure LOCOG have taken extra care, so in a way they have done some good anyway.

    I met a couple with their granddaughter who couldn’t get into the Flower Gardens by the Vanbrugh Park gate (closed the other day for some reason) and they seemed like both pretty ordinary (that is, not rich) and pissed off, just as you saw someone who heckled the protesters and said “that’s what it’s for”.

    The disturbance from all the construction (next year will be much bigger) has to be a concern and no one has yet said how the fertiliser can be removed from, yes, the acid grassland race route. This grassland has its varied colour and rare species precisely due to not being fertilised – if you fertilise it, it becomes yet more sterile green lawn. It would be a shame if it were to be damaged after hundreds of years just for a brief event (but I hope it won’t be – the point being, no one has said so!).

    My view is that I think the Park belongs to everyone to use for free, a valuable space in an urban area, not to be fenced off for just those people who can afford tickets and corporate sponsors. In my view, that’s what it’s for.

  10. Any NOGOE activists care to clarify the following points:

    1. You claim support in the region of 5000 people but could only must 30 for your demo. Where is the back bone of your supposed support?
    2. Are you actively seeking the opening of Gloucester Circus as has, I believe, been previously mooted?
    3. Blissets point above. Sounds reasonable to me……..what about it?

  11. Hello Jack. The NOGOE campaign *was* media-friendly at the start, though. It had the likes of historian David Starkey, comic Arthur Smith and actress Sophie Aldred appearing in viral videos for them. But where these friends when it came to the crunch? At the March 2010 planning meeting, where were these passionate, articulate advocates for their cause, to match the slick presentational skills of Lord Coe and co? They’ve certainly been nowhere to be seen in the 16 months since then.

    It’s only the commenters here that have made this West Greenwich v East Greenwich. But as someone brought up in East Greenwich, I can confidently say there’s more people there who’ll benefit from the investment the Olympics will bring than there will be in the west of the town. The real benefits, though, will be in places like Woolwich – which, like it or not, we share a borough with and so grand projects will use Greenwich to benefit its neighbouring districts. Personally speaking, I don’t begrudge that.

    Since when has horse riding been a mainstream passion? Since when has SE London been full of equestrian experts, quick to damn the park as an unsuitable venue?

  12. Hi, fair point about some places benefiting, but I think there are other events in Woolwich such as Shooting which seems to be less controversial. And I realise you didn’t bring up this class thing either.

    I’d be the first to agree that the campaign hasn’t done well to win people over and posting Telegraph articles etc isn’t helpful (same goes for Indigo’s comments, I’m afraid). I have no idea where the famous figureheads went, but I suspect that that rather negative tactics of Nogoe may have put them off. It’s a shame as it’s turned people against them and, more importantly in the process against their arguments.

    Also, many people may agree, but not everyone wants to or can demonstrate on a weekday. That doesn’t mean people don’t have sympathetic views. But the Locog campaign is well-funded and it’s sanctioned by the powers that be, so there’s not much anyone can do to oppose it without sounding like they’re moaning!

    Re: Blissett’s point, I agree that energies would be better used to monitor Locog and prevent any further damage now. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to keep an eye on contractors, do we have to trust them 100% not to cut corners? These are the same people that thought the park was twice the size it is (apparently).

    My point about horse riding was only along the lines of the heckler who shouted “that’s what it’s for” – I just think it’s better not to fence off the park in high summer, affecting a lot of people (from East and West!) who would like to play football, sunbathe, walk, see views, chill out and so on, just so this random horse thing can be held.

    And I don’t think people are saying they’re experts exactly, just that they’d rather the park was not fenced off for weeks and that in a relatively small space there may well be damage (and I wish someone could explain how the acid grassland can recover after being enriched, but anyway…). This doesn’t sound like an unreasonable point of view to me.

    I’m not totally convinced by the financial benefits either, I mean, isn’t Greenwich already a tourist magnet? How will the inevitable transport troubles help? Will Olympic visitors benefit East Greenwich any more than the thousands who will visit anyway and want to see views etc/walk about unhindered? We’ll see, I guess!
    Anyway, it’s good to have a discussion on here.

  13. True, it’s better once the shouting stops and the discussion starts. Unfortunately, the whole process around Greenwich and the Olympics was all shouting (on both sides) and little discussion – the grown-ups never really entered the debate.

    You’d be surprised how little people from outside the UK know about Greenwich – the key, I think, is developing a weekday tourist industry that isn’t just tour parties and French teenagers (because it’s packed out during the weekends). I’d be amazed if there isn’t a massive, massive influx of interest from the US or China because of the Olympics.

    As for Woolwich – I’ve made a few points here about the sudden, unexplained closure of Woolwich Common, and the ODA/ LOCOG’s lack of communication with locals (or even bothering to stick a sign up explaining what’s going on). Not many shrill types to rush to Woolwich’s defence, though.

  14. Thanks Paul for the links, I’ll have a look.

    Sorry Darryl, I’m new to this blog and haven’t read your comments about the Woolwich proposals. If people had stood up for Woolwich more, that would surely have been good, wouldn’t it? So apart from the relative wealth of the area, I don’t see why so many people on here are so antagonistic towards the Greenwich protesters – they’re just trying to do what they can to make sure there’s minimal damage and the place is respected, and there’s only so much energy to go around. We need people like that for all places, including Woolwich, rather than laying into those who are bold enough to take a stand.

    Protesters may be annoying for some people, and it’s very easy to mock, but at the least the developers or whoever know they are being watched and have to be very careful, and this is a good thing! For example, I think they even moved the course a bit to avoid some sensitive areas, which wouldn’t have been done without some kind of opposition.
    Imagine if no one said anything, why should anyone care what happens to trees or whatever, whereas currently the planners have to justify every decision, and this may make them realise they don’t have to do as much as they originally thought.

    I think any interest from the US or China may not necessarily benefit the areas you’re referring to… the money always seems to go to the centre or to luxury developments. Not sure if big business interest is necessarily a good thing, but only time will tell. And I don’t know if Greece, China and other places benefited from their Olympics or not… If we learn from their experiences Greenwich can avoid impulsive mistakes.

    I agree about the discussion, there should have been real consultation (especially with Woolwich, by the sounds of it) from the moment they were deciding on the venues, much less spin and less shouting from all sides.

  15. But the protesters’ sole interest has been to move the Olympics out of Greenwich. There’s nothing about minimising damage, they simply want to deny Greenwich the honour of hosting part of the Olympics. There’s been no middle ground.

  16. To be fair to LOCOG and as a local of Woolwich Common, LOCOG delivered details on the build on Woolwich Common on a regular basis, whether people read it, is another thing

  17. “But the protesters’ sole interest has been to move the Olympics out of Greenwich.”

    That has been the only message I have received from NOGOE.

  18. I have been a minimal activist in the NOGOE campaign since I realized last year the various effects that staging the 2012 Olympics would have on my favourite local park – my family and I have been enjoying its qualities for the last 60 years. I know that part of the NOGOE argument all along, against having the Olympics in Greenwich Park, has included concern about the damage to the trees, animal wildlife, rare grassland and historical sites and underground caves. Latterly concerns were highlighted about the unsuitability of the course for the Equestrian riders and their horses -information gleaned from articles written by various famous Equestrians and also the negative effect the influx of 25,000 people into Greenwich town centre would have on ANYONE who hoped to visit Greenwich, not just the local residents. Arguments at the final council meeting at Greenwich Town Hall, Woolwich which I attended last year included many points about all these issues. The studies done proving what damage would be wreaked was so strong that I hardly believed the outcome of the vote i.e to hold the Olympic Equestrain event there… so to Darryl and Lara I say, perhaps you have not read ALL the info that NOGOE has publicised nor attended the council meetings where these fears were raised again and again ad nauseum.Thank you Jack for your reasonable comments and a voice of sanity in the wilderness. I have a photo exhibition doing te rounds of local S.E. London cafes and pubs if anyone is interested…………….

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