Hackney cyclists’ plea - don’t leave us with Olympic “white elephant”
10:19 20 July 2011
Hackney’s competitive cyclists are up in arms over revised plans for the 2012 Park site which they claim could damage the sporting legacy and leave an “Olympic white elephant.”
Eastway Users Group spent two years with the Olympic Delivery Authority drawing up the current approved plans for the high speed competitive cycle circuit, which crosses the River Lea to the east of the velodrome.
But the body which was created in 2009 to oversee the park’s longterm development - the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) - submitted revised plans in March.
They want to move the cycle track eastwards, keeping it on the north side of the river, creating a park in Hackney’s northwest parklands on the other side of the river with unrestricted views across to the velodrome and access to the river.
Housing intended for Newham will then be squeezed out, but the ODLC wants to submit a planning application within 15 years to build mock-Georgian housing in the Hackney parkland, in the style of central London’s Regent’s and Hyde Parks.
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But Michael Humphreys, chair of Eastway Users Group - which used to have unrestricted access to 24 hectares of open parkland for cycling before the Olympic site was compulsorily purchased – opposes the new scheme, along with British cycling and national governing body Sport England.
Mr Humphreys believes squeezing the track into a smaller space creates dangers - with a hair pin bend on a high precipice, which could leave cyclists seriously injured.
“The OPLC scheme delivers fewer homes, comes at a greater cost, and removes employment opportunities and a satisfactory sporting legacy,” said Mr Humphreys.
“We worked for two years to make something of regional and national importance, and if the OLPC has its way it would struggle to be a facility of local importance - it’ll be an Olympic white elephant.
“We are the only community group that was doing sport on the land before the London bid, surely they should be looking to satisfy us.
“Having seen a large number of objections, the applicants have picked out some minor elements for slight change, but the scheme overall still will not sustain and will not provide properly for our sports in legacy.”
But Andrew Altman, chief executive of the OPLC, said they wanted to create a park that provides a great legacy for everyone.
“The Legacy Company’s role is to balance the needs of cycling with creating the most accessible and usable parkland for the community,” he said.
Hackney Council accused of perverting planning process
A front page article of Hackney Council’s free sheet Hackney Today backed the OPLC’s plans, saying it would create a higher quality of parkland for residents.
But Mr Humphreys believes the council’s declaration of interest could bias the planning process, and has made a formal complaint to the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA).
The final decision about the cycle park rests with the ODA Planning Authority, where one Hackney councillor - Geoff Taylor - sits on the committee of 11.
Mr Humphreys also believes that by supporting the scheme Hackney Council is opposing its own action plan for Hackney Wick, by building housing on consented public realm open space parkland.
A Hackney Council spokeswoman said the council believs the OPLC’s revised scheme represents the best possible option for the majority of Hackney residents.
“The piece in Hackney Today is very clearly intended to reflect that but also makes clear that that opinion is not shared by the competitive cycling community and Sport England,” she said.
“Hackney councillors that sit on planning committees are independent in their decision making - they do not represent the council.”
Cllr Guy Nicholson added that the Hackney Wick area action plan supports both employment and residential development within the Hackney Wick area of the Olympic Park.
“Exactly what that will look like is still being planned,” he said.
“We believe we can have a safe, top class cycle circuit as well as a new uninterrupted park for Hackney residents.”