Protecting our Olympic legacy

by Cllr Nigel Fletcher

It has, by any standards, been a truly memorable year for our Borough.  A year that began with The Queen granting us Royal Borough status ahead of Her Jubilee celebrations continued with the arrival of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in the summer.  Many local people shared in the excitement of the Games,  but it was only natural  that such a huge event taking place on our doorstep would cause disruption, and that some residents would be concerned about its effects.

I have had the privilege of being Greenwich Conservatives’ spokesman on Culture and Olympics for several years, and during that time I have done my best to ensure that the interests of residents and local businesses have been properly taken into account during the preparations.  But with such a huge event, it has been (perhaps appropriately) a team effort.  My colleagues were all involved in scrutinising the traffic and parking plans, the planning applications for the venues, licensing issues, and many other factors.

Photo caption: Nigel on a site visit to Greenwich Park before the Games

Perhaps the most controversial aspect was the venue chosen for the equestrian events, in Greenwich Park.  Concerns raised at the planning meeting were about potential damage to the park, and the length of time the park would be closed.  I raised these points with the Games organisers, LOCOG, with Mayor of London Boris Johnson (see the story here ), and continued to engage with them and local people on the subject as this year approached, as did my colleagues.

Through this process, I was pleased LOCOG amended their plans to reduce the impact and shorten the length of time the park would have to be completely closed.  I went on several site visits, including one just before the Games, to see for myself the impact of the work, and question the site manager and his team.  Since the Games ended, we have been keeping a close eye on the work to dismantle the venue structures, restore and reopen the park, and many of my colleagues inspected this work just the other week to see that promises are being kept.

During Games time, there was concern from businesses that visitors were being ushered past Greenwich Market and that crowd barriers were preventing potential customers from reaching them.  I spent the first few days of the Games in the town centre talking to traders, and was able to pass their concerns to LOCOG and the Council, who took action to remove the most obstructive barriers.  Despite this, there was still some unhappiness about the impact on trade.

Overall, the Olympic and Paralympic Games coming to Greenwich and Woolwich was a hugely positive thing for the Borough, and I am pleased to have supported it.  The images of the venues beamed around the world were stunning, and we can all take pride in the praise that was heaped on our part of the world.  But it is vital we ensure we don’t lose focus now the excitement of London 2012 fades into a memory.

As well as keeping a close eye on the restoration of Greenwich Park, Circus Field and Woolwich Common, we will also be pressing the Council to ensure the promised benefits in terms of tourism and investment are maximised.  The new tourism management company they are setting up sounds a reasonable idea, but little consideration seems to have been given to spreading benefits to businesses in other areas like Eltham which are too often neglected.   In the months ahead we will be doing what we can to persuade the Labour leadership of the council to work with us, listen to local people, and give us an Olympic legacy of which we can all be proud.