Basildon is latest signing to Disgruntled First XI

Residents of Basildon are beginning a petition against yet more prospective public land sales to private developers in the wake of the agreed Sporting Village project. The public-private partnership between the council and construction company Morgan Sindall is part of the ‘Olympic Games’ Legacy’, and has already claimed a substantial piece of Gloucester Park, the town’s gymnastics club and Markham’s Chase Leisure Centre.

However, despite funding from sizeable organisations such as Sport England, there is an outstanding £19 million of the £38 million projected cost still to be paid, which means that other public areas have now been targeted by the council as expendable, notably including the Pound Lane Recreation Ground which is used by local clubs and youngsters.

Olympic preparations are already reducing local opportunities for sports activities

With the land in the hands of private developers, it will not only be used for the promised top-grade sporting facilities, as planning permission has already been sought for 73 homes on the former Markham Chase Leisure Centre site, and also 25 new houses on Northlands Park playing fields. This story is becoming a familiar sub-plot in the narrative of London 2012, with Hackney Marshes and Drapers Field in Waltham Forest also conspicuous casualties of the Olympic legacy.

Although the actions appear reactionary in frantically (and apparently reluctantly) trying to raise money for the benefit of the local area, the significant gap in funding suggests the opposite; that these areas of public use have been previously marked out for redevelopment at the expense of affordable – and often free – opportunities for local residents to play sport with the ultimate product being private gain. Many residents are also anxious that the planned facilities will be too expensive for them to use, and will only be exploited by elite sportsmen and women.

500 signatures have so far been garnered by those organising the petition, underlining the top-down approach to so-called public land.

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Park to be tarmaced for Olympics

Drapers Field, a park in Leyton that consists of all-weather football pitches, playing fields and an arts centre, is to be tarmaced over to serve as a storage depot for the London Olympics. While Waltham Forest council admitted that this would be a significant loss to the community – the park is used by around 100,000 people every year, including the Norlington School for Boys as well as 23 clubs – it still went ahead with the proposal, in the hope that the community will be granted substantial compensation.

Hackney Marshes – one of several parks to be redeveloped for Olympic facilities

This decision has caused uproar with local people because of the glaring contradiction of trying to promote sport as a co-operative, public activity whilst reducing opportunities for actively participating in sport. It also seems to be nonsensical to turn a park into a depot, search for alternative sites for sports activities and then restore the original site after 2012, when all the council or the ODA (Olympic Delivery Authority) would have to do is find an already existing depot in the area. These admittedly are of course hard to find in East London.

This is not the first requisition of public green space in the interest of the upcoming mega-event; a substantial chunk of Hackney Marshes has already been pocketed for the development of a VIP coach park.

This must also be frustrating for residents in a location where local sport – particularly in the shape of Leyton Orient FC who make use of the amenities – plays a positive role in the community. In the meantime, Norlington School for Boys face an uphill struggle to find fields for activities, and most likely a further dip into the school budget.

Click London Olympics for more blogs
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Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

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