Save Lea Marshes group slams Hackney Council for “sham” consultation

The protest at the drop-in meeting against the council's plans to hold three major events on Hackney

The protest at the drop-in meeting against the council's plans to hold three major events on Hackney Marsh each year, with people wearing specially made T-shirts - Credit: Archant

Campaigners have attacked Hackney Council’s public consultation on staging three major public events on Hackney Marshes each summer on the scale of last year’s Radio 1 Hackney Weekend concert.

Birkbeck Orient protest about plans to hold three events on Hackney Marshes each year

Birkbeck Orient protest about plans to hold three events on Hackney Marshes each year - Credit: Archant

Members of Save Lea Marshes (SLM) group held a protest against the plans inside and outside the Hackney Marshes User Centre in Homerton Road last Wednesday.

A petition with over 850 signatures was handed into council officials by campaigners wearing “Keep Our Marshes Open and Green” T-shirts and carrying placards reading “Mud Money” and “Your profit = our misery”.

Campaigners labelled the consultation a sham because the council’s parks and green spaces events policy was already changed to approve the plans last summer, when cynical opponents labelled the move a money-spinner for the cash-strapped council.

Before the plans can become a reality, consent must be obtained by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS).

Before an application can be made to the body the council was obliged to hold the consultation with local residents which ended on Tuesday.

SLM has complained about the nature of the “informal” consultations attended only by minor council officials rather than the cabinet member responsible for the plans, Jonathan McShane.

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SLM spokeswoman Caroline Day said: “If the council want to be taken seriously and if it’s not an empty exercise then those responsible for making the decision should be willing to be accountable and talk to people, and relate to them why they have made those decisions.

“Instead of drop-in sessions where individuals talk to officials one-to-one, there should be a public meeting with those making the decisions, prior to them making the decisions.”

She continued: “It would restore trust for the council to carry out consultations before they decide on policy.”

SLM has joined forces with several local groups including Hackney Marshes User Group, Old Streetonians Rugby Club, Birbeck Orient Football Club, Stoke Newington Cricket Club and the Hackney and Leyton Football League who have all stated their opposition to the plan.

In a statement provided through the council’s press office, Cllr Jonathan McShane, cabinet member for health, social care and culture, said: “The two consultation drop-in events were attended by up to five officers with the most detailed knowledge so they could answer peoples questions. “All the responses we received will be analysed before making a decision on whether or not the council applies for PINs consent.

“If we go ahead with the application, residents will have another chance to have their say by taking part in the statutory consultation run by PINS.”

Footballers and cricketers were devastated after Radio 1’s Hackney Weekender last June because their pitches were ruined by lorries setting up stages for the pop concert, which saw more than 100,000 people trampling over the land.

Cricketers were forced to call off the season after some of their brand new £750,000 pitches were destroyed, and questioned whether more events of the same kind would threaten the future of cricket on the site.

The council picked up the tab for £195,000 instead of splitting it with the BBC, after it was decided the damage was not outside the normal wear and tear expected from such an event.

Nature lovers were also upset that the Marshes were closed off to the public for a whole month before the concert to allow time for construction of the stages.

Should the council be granted the go-ahead, events could be held on the Marshes between May 1 and August 31 for five years.