A Hackney Labour councillor has vowed to fight any attempt to evict peaceful protesters who have pitched tents on a nature reserve earmarked by Olympics bosses for use as a private training facility.
Haggerston ward councillor Barry Buitekant said he supported activists from Occupy London who have blocked asphalt lorries and diggers from turning the patch of parkland next to Lea Bridge Road into a basketball court as part of plans spearheaded by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA).
Cllr Buitekant warned managers from the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority not to oust the campers, who he said were protecting land that had been set aside for the enjoyment of all.
He said: “They have stopped the work. I support them because I do not think the ODA should go ahead with building training courts on Metropolitan Open Land, which has the same status as greenbelt land. I don’t understand why the ODA were unable to find a brownfield site. They had several years to do it. They didn’t even try.”
Campers are busy setting up a “tech tent” from where they will stream images of their protest across the world.
Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Chris Allison is among high ranking police figures who have visited the site in what activists fear are “recces” [reconnaissance visits], and Cllr Buitekant said he understood the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority had held a “special meeting” at which the issue of the encampment had been discussed.
The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority failed to provide the Hackney Citizen with any statement clarifying whether they planned to make any move against the protesters* (*see update below).
Though the ODA insists its sports facility will be temporary, this has been questioned by the campers, who also dispute the organisation’s claim that there is a lack of suitable venues for athletes to train elsewhere in the area.
One camper told the Hackney Citizen: “They say they will return it to its original state but how can they? They are sinking foundations.”
Cllr Buitekant pointed out that he supported the Olympics. However, his intervention in the case of the parkland, which is known as Leyton Marsh and lies just outside of Hackney, is significant as it is the most high profile example so far of a councillor from the majority party in an Olympic borough criticising aspects of the ODA’s planning.
Cllr Buitekant acknowledged that there had been objections to plans to turn parts of adjoining Hackney Marshes into a coach park and said he was personally against such moves but that he would not be actively opposing them as they were “several years down the line”.
The marshes form part of the lower Lea Valley and are ancient Lammas Lands, or “common land” where people had the right to collect firewood and graze livestock.
Update 3.30pm Tuesday 3 April 2012:
A spokesperson for Lee Valley Regional Park Authority said: “Lee Valley Regional Park Authority yesterday (2 April) lodged an application with the High Court for an injunction restraining people from breaching some of the byelaws on land the Authority owns at Leyton Marsh. These breaches include camping and lighting fires.
“We always take action where we have knowledge of an unlawful use of our land and in this case we are keen to safeguard Leyton Marsh.
“The action is connected to the construction of a temporary Games time training venue by the Olympic Delivery Authority, who are legally bound to restore the land to its previous condition immediately after the Games and return it to the Authority by 15 October.”
An ODA spokesman said: “The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) has lodged an application with the High Court for an injunction to prevent any activity that would disrupt the construction of a temporary training venue at Leyton Marsh in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, including blocking deliveries to the site.
We regret that it has been necessary to pursue this course of action, but have no option in order to fulfil the ODA’s obligations to provide practice facilities for Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The ODA is legally committed to restoring the land to its previous condition immediately after the Games and returning it to Lee Valley Regional Park Authority by 15 October.”