News / 15 January, 2012

Olympics expansion on Hackney Marshes ‘stifling’ local sports clubs and ‘vandalising’ land

Critics condemn Olympics as waste of money better spent on projects of real and lasting value to Hackney residents and the local environment

Johnnie Walker

On the Marshes: Johnnie Walker. Photograph: Antonio Curcetti

Johnnie Walker shakes his head as he looks down over a drizzly Sunday morning of football on the Marshes. “The Olympics has cost us dearly,” declares the chairman of the Hackney and Leyton Sunday football league.

From the first floor of the recently-built South Marshes Centre, the pitches across the largest expanse of playing fields in Europe stretch out as far as the eye can see. They are home to around 1,500 regular players and have nurtured such talent as David Beckham and Bobby Moore over more than half a century.

But now the iconic leagues are under threat as the Olympics swallow up the land around them.

“We’ve lost some of our best pitches permanently in the Arena Field,” Johnnie Walker says.

They have been replaced by a five-storey media centre which was initially struggling to attract a buyer post-Olympics [Ten bids have now been received from would-be tenants].

“We used to play our cup finals there.”

Meanwhile up the road on the East Marshes, a further 12 pitches are being engulfed in tarmac for a temporary car park. There is a written guarantee that the land will be handed back by 2013. However, Mr Walker is wary after a string of broken promises from the London Mayor’s office and the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA).

“I’ve learnt not to trust them anymore,” he says. “We had to play the whole of last season up there without facilities after they were knocked down early. They also took three of our pitches before they were supposed to.”

“This is all supposed to be ‘legacy’,” he adds, gesturing to the empty room that should be the player’s bar. “It has been empty for 18 months. There are only 26 changing rooms downstairs. We’re changing two teams in one room. It’s a great big complex and such a waste of space.”

Mr Walker calls the temporary and permanent Olympic developments on the Marshes, ‘vandalism’ – a description that chimes with local environmental activists who are angry at the level of damage to wildlife.

Russell Miller has been campaigning through the Hackney Environment Forum and the Hackney Marshes User Group since the work started. Last month he condemned the “unnecessary loss of a large area of woodland and meadow”.

Among the most worrying of all the projects, he says, is the damming of the River Lea with the new Three Mills Lock.

The £23 million project was supposed to enable up to 1.75 million tons of construction materials to arrive by boat as part of the commitment to the ‘greenest Olympics ever‘, but he says it has seen only one barge per week serve the giant Olympic site.

The damming has also taken its toll on wildlife whose natural habitat is along the river, by “significantly interfering with fish migration”.

Mr Miller believes the real objective of the lock was to protect the river from tidal changes, creating clean canals, free from unsightly mud banks – ideal for prime real estate.

It is a theory that is shared by a number of people on the Olympic watchdog site, Games Monitor.

The site published a report in 2005 from the Regents Network, a London canal conservation group highlighting the faults in the lock project.

The report stated: “It is important to consider why British Waterways are suggesting this scheme when it appears to be flawed from the water freight perspective. We consider their motive is more likely to be encouragement and promotion of building development, and not for navigational purposes.”

“The point is, the whole Olympics is a fraud,” Russell says. “Nothing more than speculation on property funded by public money.”

Specifically the public money of Londoners, who pay 38p a week in council tax toward the games, which have cost £9.2 billion. £330 million of which has been used to build the media centre, dubbed ‘the White Elephant’, which was billed as providing a lasting source of employment for the area.

Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, joined the criticism when she asked questions in a recent article in the Independent about what Hackney has gained. She attacked the Olympics’ failure to bring regeneration to the borough, stating: “In terms of providing jobs for local people, they have been a bitter disappointment.

“Some 44,000 people have found work on the Olympic Park and Village since 2008. But only 8,081 were from the East End (i.e. Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Greenwich) – less than 20%.”*

She has continued to be vociferous: “2012 was won on a promise to radically transform the economic landscape of east London. The immediate focus should be on providing a life-changing programme that would see thousands of unemployed Londoners put into work, with thousands of new jobs being created in the Olympic Park and the Lower Lea Valley.”

Meanwhile Hackney’s directly-elected mayor Jules Pipe has declared he is “determined that this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will bring skills, training and job opportunities for residents”.

The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) has defended what it sees as the positive impact on employment. The organisation told the Hackney Citizen: “We have worked with local councils on job brokerage services specifically for their residents, given them priority access to new jobs and provided training.”

But critics still maintain that the London 2012 Games seem to have missed a number of economic, social and environmental opportunities in Hackney and the other host boroughs.

They say that in a time of ‘austerity’, the 2012 Games could have been an opportunity to leave Hackney with some real investment in the local community – a genuine legacy.

As Russell Miller puts it: “The vast sums of money could have been spent on properly located, sustainable projects for local people.”

*Note: The office of Diane Abbott MP has confirmed that the original figure of 10% that Ms Abbott cited is incorrect. The figure has been amended to 20%.


Concern over Hackney jobs as London 2012 media centre bidding opens

/ 15 January, 2012
  • Terry Stewart

    I do agree with many of the issues raised in the article. I can not agree with the arguement that these matters happened in a vacum.

    Back in 2008 many meetings were held on the Wick, to dicuss the Master Plan, of the East Marsh which included some of the issues raised within the article.

    Many attempts were made by the Hackney Delivery Team to include the whole community, via publicity, posters, flyers letters and emails to endless numbers of local users and community groups.

    Unfortunately many did not wish to engage in this consultation for whatever the reason.

    I did state at the time that when the budget began to be rescheduled, because of increase in costs and cuts, the community projects and the community legacy would be the first to suffer.

    We can not now blame the local authority.

    The big Corporation and Sponsors have far more say on what happens, than a local council or community organisation.

    The lack of a Independent local community forum which included all people in the boroughl, was a missed opportunities.

    Two groups that did act and were very effective in the out comes they achieved. The Irish Traveller community managed to gain three new sites, with full services and a much better standard of living than experienced on the marshes site.

    The second group are Manor Gardens Allotments, who will return to a fully finished and upgraded site back were they originally occupied prior to the olympics.

    This came about by a very effective campaign and march which opposed the Olympic authority. They didnt get everything they wanted but they are in a far better place having organised themselves.

    Yes there are many reasons why we did not want the Olympics, but unfortunately the lack of an independent coherent group which represented the whole community did not come together and voice those fears, desires and hopes.

    On the first aniversary of the Arab Spring which began in Tunisia, I would suggest there are some lessons to be learned by Hackney.

  • Barry Buitekant

    The ODA are proposing to build 2 basketball courts on Leyton Marsh for the Olympics and Para Olympics. The Marsh is in Waltham Forest but is heavily used by Hackney residents. And it is only a short distance from Riverside Close in Hackney. The area is Metropolitan Open Land and should not be built on. The ODA should have found an alternative site such as a brownfield one.

    The ODA claim that the courts are only for temporary use. But both Hackney and Waltham Forest residents will be opposing the ODA planning application on Tuesday 7 February at a meeting of Waltham Forests Planning Committee.

    Further information on

  • Ben Niceson

    “She pointed out that, of the 44,000 people to find employment at the Olympics so far, 8,081 have come from the East End (Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Greenwich) – less than 10%.”

    8,081 is 18.37% of 44,000. 18.87% is more than 10%.

  • Hackney Citizen

    @ Ben Niceson

    Thanks for your correction.

    The office of Diane Abbott MP has confirmed that the original figure of 10% that Ms Abbott cited is wrong. The figure has been amended to 20% – Ed.

  • Andrew Boff

    When Ken and Seb signed up to this fraud they effectively abolished our rights to the unaccountable IOC and its agents; the ODA and LOCOG. It’s astonishing how a bit of cash, poorly thought out legacy and a bunch of white elephants can be described as “in the national interest”.

  • Misty

    Never forget what 2012 Olympic sponsor Union Carbide / Dow Chemicals did in Bhopal. Evil

  • Fuck the olympics, it is just a fraudulent attempt by the state to placate corporations and private property developers, whilst simultaneously marginalising true, london-born Londoners.

    The Olympics is the culmination of a cross-party social engineering excercise conducted by the state, designed to alienate and marginalise Londoners. This has been calculated in order to drive Londers out of the capital (and by extension, English people out of the shambles that has become modern Britain), and replace them with rich foreigners. See post-Giuliani New York if you want a classic example of the model being followed by Blair, Brown, Cameron, Livingston and Johnson.

    As with the forced imposition of the EU, the British state worked on the assumption that there were no dissenting voices among the London (or UK) population. Any opposing views were discredited by the British state via its’ military-industrial lapdog, the mainstream media.

    And, after forcing us to not only endure, but also pay for, this waking nightmare for the past seven years, the British state has the audacity to complain about tax avoidance!


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