Thursday, November 19, 2009
Olympic updateThe back streets of Fish Island may be less than four light years away, but I was reminded of Douglas Adams' wise words when attempting last night to find an Olympic exhibition hidden inside an industrial unit at the back of a gloomy trading estate in a windswept corner of E3. A non-illuminated sheet of A4 stuck to the front door pointed to an unstaffed side entrance, then up some twisty back stairs overlooking a knifing chamber and finally into the exhibition proper. Unsurprisingly, the room was not packed.
It must be the week for planning consultations."There's no point in acting all surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display in your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you've had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it's far too late to start making a fuss about it now."
The location was H Forman & Son, former salmon smokers of Marshgate Lane, and now the proud owners of a state-funded state-of-the-art pink factory. They inhabit an attractive fish-slice-shaped building with an upstairs function room overlooking the Olympic Stadium. Ideal for conferences, parties and exhibitions, I don't doubt, so long as the participants can actually find their way there. No delicate fishy nibbles for yesterday's visitors, but there was a nigh-untouched table laid out with juice and coffee.
This was day 2 of the consultation events for the London 2012 parklands [pdf]. Once the £9.3bn month-long Olympic jamboree has passed, this is what remains. Get it wrong, and there'll be a bleak unvisited desert between Stratford and Hackney Wick (much like things were before 2007, to be honest). But get it right and East London's legacy is a top notch greenspace increasing leisure amenities and transport infrastructure for all.
Here are a few things I discovered:
» It's planned to have most of the Olympic Park open in Spring 2013. That's only about six months after the Paralympic closing ceremony. That's impressive.
» Some of the trees that'll be planted immediately after the Olympics are already paid for and growing somewhere else. So expect some deceptively mature-ish woodland.
» The allotments will be back. There'll be more than there were before, and in two chunks (one up to the north and one down to the south).
» The new Velopark will boast a cross country circuit that crosses the River Lea, twice.
» Yes, there will be roads (and bus services) through the Park, including the re-opening of White Post Lane and Carpenters Road. A long-blocked fortress will finally open up.
» The post-Olympic Olympic Park will have 17 entrances. Planners hope that members of the local community will occasionally choose to use at least one of them.
» The last bits of the Park to open will be the swimming pool and the Olympic Stadium. It's proving nigh impossible to plan for the stadium in legacy because no politician can make up their mind what it ought to become.
» In amongst the park will be fifteen large "development platforms", upon which will be built homes and offices and flats and stuff. But only when a developer is ready to develop them, which may take a while (particularly if the recession drags on).
» The Olympic Park Legacy Company will be responsible for shaping the future until 2037. You just missed the opportunity to apply for one of their six top jobs.
I had the opportunity to have a long chat with one of the ODA workers at the heart of making this transformation happen. I had the opportunity to have a very long chat, because there was nobody else queueing behind me to have their say. A handful of other visitors came by, but there were more than enough Olympic people on hand to chat to them too. We asked questions, and looked at the display boards, and even found time to inspect an additional 'Wick Lane' project piggybacked onto the parkland consultation. But although all the staff listened, and answered, there seemed to be no urge for anybody to actually write anything down. There were "Have your say" cards to fill in, but I wasn't asked to, and I didn't. I only saw one card get popped into the box by the door, and I can't believe there were many more inside.
So I've learned a few important lessons from my week of attending local planning consultations.
i) Most public consultations are merely a box-ticking exercise. They have to be seen to be carried out, but merely slow down the inevitable.
ii) Only a minuscule proportion of the local community are ever consulted, because most people never notice there's a consultation on, and 99.9% of the rest aren't interested enough to take part.
iii) Only a minuscule proportion of the local community are ever consulted, yet their responses are deemed to be representative of the majority.
iv) The outcomes of any privately-funded consultation should always be treated with a huge pinch of salt (but probably won't be).
v) If you visit a consultation event and your opinions aren't written down, your opinions are probably going to be ignored.
vi) I go along to public consultations to find out what's going on, whereas I ought to go along to public consultations to have my say about what's going on. I'm doing it wrong.
vii) As a concerned resident who actually gives a damn, I have undue influence over the local planning process. And yet I completely fail to use it.
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