Greenwich update

Originally published in micro-news 81a (June 2008)

Greenwich Park proposed as Olympics Equestrian Venue

It has come to our notice that the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), the body charged by the Government to ‘deliver’ the 2012 London Olympics, has plans to use four Grade I designed landscapes in the capital as sporting venues during the Games. Cycling will be held in Regent’s Park, the pentathlon in Hyde Park, and beach volleyball will take place on Horse Guards’ Parade, part of the Grade I St James’ Park. Each of these events will have a significant impact on the respective designed landscapes, while the longer term effects of accommodating the projected numbers of visitors may be considerable.
However, the most controversial Olympic proposal is to hold the equestrian event in Greenwich Park, a Grade I landscape and part of the Greenwich World Heritage Site. The Park also serves as the setting for several Grade I listed buildings, including Inigo Jones’ masterpiece, The Queen’s House.

The Park assumed its present form under Charles II when a formal landscape, partly inspired by a design provided by Louis XIV’s Gardener, Andre le Notre, was created. Important elements of this landscape survive, making Greenwich of the highest national, indeed international, importance. The Park also contains archaeological remains spanning the centuries from the Roman occupation to the Second World War; these include elements relating to the important Tudor royal palace which stood here. All these highly important elements, as well as features created in the 19th century, when the Park became much more frequented by the public, will be at serious risk of damage if the equestrian event goes ahead.

The problem with using Greenwich for the three-day equestrian event is that it appears the Park is far too small to accommodate a cross-country course and an eventing arena, let alone the crowds expected to be attracted to this most popular Olympic sport. The Badminton Horse Trials, which takes place on a site comprising some 1,500 acres attracts 250,000 spectators; by contrast, Greenwich Park covers 180 acres and would apparently struggle to accommodate 20,000 visitors. The steeply sloping site will have to be engineered to provide a sufficiently large level area for the arena and other facilities, and creating the cross country course will require further physical intervention. All this work will take time, and it appears that this important public Park is likely to be closed to tourists and locals alike, in whole or in part, for a period of about fifteen months.

This Society has already protested about the unacceptable impact of holding the Olympics at Greenwich, and we will continue to join forces with other bodies to urge Locog and the Government to consider a more appropriate venue; such as Badminton, Burleigh or Blenheim. We consider that the Government’s record on the historic environment is very poor: remember the scandal of the proposed de-listing of the Commonwealth Institute in 2006. It should not allow itself to sink any lower by vandalising Greenwich Park.

Update: February 2010

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Painswick Roccoco Gardens, the Red House, Photo © Joab Smith