One of the interesting side-effects of living on the edge of Stratford is that the Olympic Delivery Authority sometimes send you letters. Dear Householder, they say, and then let you know about something 2012-related they plan to do on your doorstep. It'll be something that's bound to happen whatever you think, but they need to tell you about it because they have to tick the box marked "public consultation" .
Our latest local planning application is for a Vehicle Screening Area to be used during the Olympic Games in 2012. Organisers don't want any spectators turning up by car, but lots of vehicles still need to enter the park to make the Games work. Handymen to keep the place ticking over, deliveries of McDonalds burgers, visiting dignitaries in luxury coaches, that sort of thing. And it's clearly essential that none of these vehicles get inside the perimeter with a cargo of high explosive on board - hence the need for vehicle screening areas dotted around the edge of the park. We're getting one of these in Tower Hamlets. Squashed between the A12and the River Lea, north of the mainline railway and south of Fish Island. Nowhere lovely, nowhere that'll be greatly missed. But planners still have to ask whether anybody minds, because that's the law.
You might expect that a planning application like this would be online. Well, if it is, I can't find it. I can't find it on the official ODA Planning Register, because that's an unfriendly mess with a godawful mapping interface. I can't find it on the London 2012 website's Planning Consultations page, because nobody's thought to include it there. And I can't find it on the webpage where information's held about "living near the Olympic Park". Admittedly there is a hotline telephone number to ring, but nobody's going to phone that on the off chance that there just might be plans for a Vehicle Screening Area round the corner. If I hadn't had the letter through my door, I'd never have known.
So, with zero information available online, I went along to yesterday's drop-in session at my local library. One venue, one day only - one chance to find out. There were no posters in the building, no announcements - nothing signposted. If I hadn't known the two folk in the corner were Olympic-related I'd have walked straight by. But yes, they had the plans for the screening zone out on a table and were only too happy to talk.
The entire takeover of the railway sidings and surrounding plant will be temporary, and the area will be returned to normal after the Games. There are two options, depending on whether the landowner of the northern half signs up or not. It'll be back of house vehicles parking up here, not spectators. A newly remodelled road junction will be created at the Old Ford turnoff on the A12. Really, it'll be nothing earth-shattering. Unless you're my one reader who lives virtually nextdoor, you wouldn't be interested.
But the bloke giving me the Olympic spiel let slip one particularly interesting snippet of advance information. Included amongst the many Vehicle Screening Areas there'll be one out east for Stratford's new Westfield megamall. As you might expect, shoppers driving into its multi-storey car parks during the Games should expect to be police-checked. More unexpectedly, these random screening checks will begin early, several months before the the Opening Ceremony takes place. There you'll be popping into John Lewis for an Easter gift or barbecue set, and your car might just be flagged down for an anti-terrorist once-over. The E15 police state kicks off prematurely, it seems, because security chiefs can't be too careful.
Our conversation was highly professional, and the ODA employees were able to answer all my questions. It was only after I'd turned to leave that I realised they hadn't once asked me what I thought about the plans. This had been a one-way transmission exercise, from them to me. They hadn't offered me one of their response cards piled up on the table and asked me to fill it in. They hadn't asked whether I was in favour or not, they'd just assumed. Indeed, in common with several other so-called'consultation'events I've been to round here over the last few years, no direct consultation actually took place.
The Tower Hamlets Vehicle Screening Area will be built whatever local people think, however the authorities decide. In this particular case, that may be no bad thing. But in their general approach to public consultation and stakeholder engagement, I fear the ODA are merely ticking boxes .