London: Plans to use Greenwich Park as an equestrian venue for the London 2012 Olympics were approved by local councillors at a planning meeting on Tuesday.
The London Organising Committee (LOCOG) had met stiff opposition from local residents, pressure groups and wildlife organisations worried about the impact the plans would have on the park, which is a World Heritage Site.
However, at a packed planning meeting of Greenwich Council that stretched towards midnight, LOCOG was given the go-ahead to continue with its preferred choice for the equestrian site close to the main Olympic Park.
“We are delighted with the outcome of this democratic process and thank the Greenwich planning committee and all the people who came out to speak for and against this application,” LOCOG Chairman Sebastian Coe said in a statement.
“The message from tonight is loud and clear. This great park is on loan to the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and the people of the world.
“We must return it to the residents of Greenwich, to Londoners and visitors from the UK and around the world in the same condition, or better, than it was loaned to us.”
“We take this responsibility seriously and will continue to work with the park authorities, resident and park user groups and the people of Greenwich as we develop and implement our plans to stage an extraordinary event in 2012.”
Pressures groups argued that the park would be damaged by work needed to install a temporary showjumping arena, cross-country course and spectator stands for the Games and that local residents would be deprived of access to the panoramic green space in south London before and during the Olympics.
One of the groups, ‘No to Greenwich Olympic Equestrian Events (NOGOE)’ said it would take legal advice before deciding whether to launch an appeal.
The park will also be used as a venue for the modern pentathlon.
“The work we have done over the last three or four years is to understand those concerns around Greenwich Park,” James Bulley, LOCOG’s director of venues and infrastructure, told reporters.
“We have tried to understand the nature of the park, the ecology, the sensitivity of the trees, any archeology, so we can plan it so that we minimise any effects.”
Greenwich, which will need an estimated 42 million pounds ($63.1 million) to transform it into a temporary equestrian centre, has been one of the most controversial of the London 2012 venues.
It was chosen for its visual appeal and its proximity to the main hub of venues just across the River Thames.
Other iconic venues for the Games include the All England Tennis Club, Lord’s cricket ground, which will stage archery, and the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich for shooting.
The International Equestrian Federation has backed LOCOG’s plans, especially after the decision to host its events at the Beijing Olympics hundreds of miles away in Hong Kong.
Greenwich Council’s support will be a huge relief for LOCOG, which is still waiting for its decision to move badminton to Wembley Arena to be rubber-stamped.