Olympic Park cycle track plans slammed

A battle is raging over the future of a proposed competitive cycle circuit on the site of the Olympic Park.

Hackney cyclists’ groups are furious about a new planning application put forward in June by the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC).

The OPLC is, according to its website, “the public sector, not-for-profit organisation responsible for the long-term planning, development, management and maintenance of the Olympic Park and its facilities after the London 2012 Games.”

The new application proposes significant changes to plans for a new cycle track that had been approved in August last year. The OPLC says that the new plan balances the needs of cyclists with those of the rest of the community.

Under the original plans, developed by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) in consultation with Sport England, British Cycling and the Eastway Users Group (EUG), a local cycling organisation, a new cycle track would extend from the Olympic Velodrome across the River Lea.

The OPLC’s new plan restricts the track to the eastern side of the river and turns the western bank into parkland.

“We worked with the ODA and its architects for two years to get that plan together,” said Michael Humphreys, Chair of the EUG. “The plans gained consent, they were carefully consulted and agreed.”

According to Mr Humphreys, the OPLC’s new plan was developed with little input from cyclists’ groups and would leave Hackney with a cycle track which the “users, governing body, operator and funding bodies all agree is vastly inferior.”

The OPLC claims that it made several changes to its proposal based on feedback from local cyclists, and Andrew Altman, Chief Executive, argued that the new plans would allow cyclists and non-cyclists alike to enjoy the area.

“We understand that some cyclists want to retain the original plans for the cycle circuit,” he said. “However, the Legacy Company’s role is to balance the needs of cycling with creating the most accessible and usable parkland for the community.”
“We believe our plans create a great park with access to the riverside, increased natural habitat and a community space for families, walkers, cyclists, runners, children and visitors alike.”

Patrick Field, who runs the London School of Cycling on Amhurst Road, believes that the claims of increased public access to the river are “spurious” and thinks that the real motivation behind the OPLC’s alternative plan is the desire to build housing on land that would otherwise be taken up by the cycle track.

“The OPLC imagines it will be able to sell more houses for more money if they face into riverside parkland devoid of sports facilities,” he said.

The Eastway Users Group point out that the OPLC has also lodged another planning application relating to the area covered by the original cycle track proposal. This application mentions the OPLC’s “ongoing dialogue with stakeholders regarding the long term use of this area for residential development.”

In response, an OPLC spokesperson confirmed that while its plan to remove the cycle track from the west of the river will allow more housing to be built there, it would also mean 100 fewer houses being built on the eastern side. The OPLC also says that its plan would free up an extra 1.8 hectares of open parkland space in Hackney.

Michael Humphreys remains frustrated that cyclists are in danger of losing the cycle track they thought had already been guaranteed. Referring to the OPLC’s revised plan, he said: “You have to take what you want to do and ground it with the people for whom its intended. If you don’t do that, you might as well not bother trying to plan in the first place.”

The alternative cycle track proposal will be considered by Hackney Council’s planning committee in September.

For further information on plans for the Olympic site after the London 2012 Games see the Legacy Company website.