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Olympic Games 2012: Greenwich Park

Volume 702: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they intend to take to protect the environment and maintain public amenities in Greenwich Park in the context of its planned conversion for the three-day equestrian event at the 2012 Olympics.

My Lords, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Ltd is working closely with stakeholders on the detailed plans for Greenwich Park as a temporary venue for the equestrian event at the 2012 Games. LOCOG’s aim is to protect the ecology and historic nature of Greenwich Park, including the buildings and archaeology that form the backdrop to the venue, and to avoid any sensitive areas. The site will be fully restored after the event.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, I find it a stretch of the imagination to understand how it can be restored when presumably a large number of trees will have to be demolished in order to make way for the 170-acre utilisation of the park for the creation of a three-day-event venue. That will be significantly less than the 1,800 acres used in the other principal establishments in this country for the same sport. Given that we have some medal aspirations for this sport, is it not unreasonable to restrict the crowd to about 25,000 compared with the 200,000 or so who can be accommodated elsewhere? How would the Olympic budget cope with the loss of revenue represented by such a restriction on the crowd?

My Lords, the main stadium, which will be in the grounds of the National Maritime Museum, will cater for 23,000 spectators. There will be more spectators around the course. It is a restricted site in comparison with others, but it has the supreme advantage of being very close to the main Olympic facilities. This is London’s bid and it is only appropriate that these important events should be located within the capital if possible. The bid met with the full approval of the vetting authorities in those terms. However, a great deal of work needs to be done.

My Lords, the present car parking arrangements will obviously be inadequate for this event. Is it the Government’s intention to concrete over the ancient cricket and rugby fields, which have been in use for more than 100 years?

My Lords, detailed plans have not been finalised because there needs to be a great deal of consultation with local stakeholders, as I indicated in my initial Answer. I do not have a direct answer for the noble Baroness, but she and the House should accept that LOCOG is well aware of the significant historical nature of this site. It is of great value to all people in the United Kingdom. Nothing will be done to damage the site.

My Lords, if we accept that the London Olympics must, in principle, have its main events—the equestrian event is clearly one of them—in London, can the Government assure us that they will put as much pressure as is reasonable on LOCOG to ensure that we never lose any sporting facilities permanently? For example, the football pitches at Hackney Marsh were supposed to disappear, but they are not going to; they will come back in better condition. Will LOCOG ensure that anything that is disrupted is improved, and that, if we lose the odd tree, we plant two instead?

My Lords, on the question of facilities, the legacy plans of the Olympic movement are to ensure that opportunities are enhanced, not restricted, after the Games. That is why I am confident in answering the noble Baroness’s question about whether facilities will be lost. If it proved absolutely necessary to take some away permanently, there would be an obligation to replace them elsewhere. As far as trees are concerned, there is no doubt that there is local anxiety about the issue. The removal of trees must be kept to a minimum.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the development of the Olympic sites will involve the principle of the maximum use of public transport and, therefore, the minimum provision of car parks? Will this apply in Greenwich, as it will in Stratford?

My Lords, that is certainly the objective, but it is more easily realised at Stratford, with its superb communications, than at Greenwich. We all appreciate that Greenwich, by comparison, has greater difficulty with regard to public transport. Nevertheless, my noble friend is right. As far as possible, these will be the green Games. In order to be the green Games, public transport must play a significant part.

My Lords, is it not correct that some of the football is, sensibly, going to be played in Manchester? In those circumstances, when some of the finest three-day-event areas in Britain are in other parts of the country, is it not rather ridiculous to insist on having it in Greenwich Park, which will suffer so much damage?

My Lords, football will be scattered because it will have many series of games in the Olympic tournament. The Greenwich site will be used only for the equestrian events and the running and riding parts of the pentathlon. Its use will be much more limited. A crucial part of London’s bid is that the vast majority of events should take place within London. Greenwich has always figured as the site for these events. That must be fulfilled, while respecting the sensitive issues that have been presented by noble Lords today.

My Lords, will the Minister undertake to write to those who have expressed an interest in the issue of trees? He blithely says, “I’m sure the trees will be replaced”. We are talking about a park which has very ancient trees, including the hollow tree where Elizabeth I played as a child. These are very important sites, and I am not sure that the Minister has grasped the importance of those trees. He seems to be too focused on the wood.

My Lords, bearing in mind all these anxieties, Friends of Greenwich Park, which is an important community group, seems satisfied that the site can be constructed. Of course the noble Lord is right that care has to be taken of trees that are not easily replaced; that certainly includes trees associated with Elizabeth I.

My Lords, will the noble Lord think again about having the event in Greenwich, as opposed to Badminton? After all, the lottery funds are being raided for the London Olympics. Is it not about time that somewhere else in the country other than Manchester, for football, had some hope of seeing some of the Games?

My Lords, if the noble Baroness will forgive me, it is a little late in the day to suggest that there may be better sites elsewhere in the country. Of course there are specialist sites elsewhere, but we are talking about the London Olympics. That is why the bid was made in the name of London and was successful over Paris—because the vast majority of events are to be located closely together in London. That was one of the great virtues of the bid, and it is why we won.