London park group gives more details on Olympics impact

The friends group for the London park that hosted horse events at the 2012 Summer Olympics recently gave the Gazette more details on the Games’ impact. Franklin Park has been named as a similar horse venue by backers of Boston’s 2024 Olympics bid.

As the Gazette previously reported, a large section of the park was closed longer than planned, but also received renovation that was praised by friends group members.

Greenwich Park in London came out of the ordeal in “better condition than before,” according to Friends of Greenwich Park head Liz Coyle, despite the fact that some sections of the park were closed to the community for over a year. Other areas, meanwhile, she said, were closed for as little as a day.

The Olympic horse activities took place in a temporary arena that was torn down afterward. Park restoration activities started almost immediately, with resodding efforts beginning the day after events, Coyle said. But it took about a full calendar year for the plants and gardens to fully recover, she said.

The selection of Greenwich Park, a favorite hunting ground of Henry VIII on the South Bank of London and a Royal Park within a United Nations World Heritage Site, was met with “considerable local opposition,” Coyle told the Gazette by email this week.

That included a grassroots protest group called No to Greenwich Olympic Equestrianism (NOGOE). In a 2012 article in the U.K. newspaper the Telegraph, NOGOE’s Sev D’Souza said, “This is the only green space within walking distance for many thousands of people and the most popular, accessible part of the park will have been out of bounds for more than a year…What we’re left with is a mess.”

NOGOE is no longer in operation and the Gazette was unable to locate D’Souza for comment.

“Concerns were voiced about long-term damage to the park’s fabric and wildlife, about lengthy access restrictions for park users and traffic disruption–and that the park was too small to accommodate the build,” Coyle said in an email. “The Friends of Greenwich Park, together with three other local amenity groups, took the view that the sensible way forward was to liaise with the Games organizers to provide a local input throughout the planning process to help ensure that any risk to the park and disruption to park users was minimized.”

Because of regular meetings with the London games organizers, London Organising Committee for the Olympic & Paralympic Games (LOCOG), Coyle said the schedule was altered in favor of keeping the park more widely accessible for longer.

In April 2012, about two months before the games, construction work for the arena began and closed off parts of the park progressively. Closure of the entire park was limited to four weeks during the actual Games, with the exception of the Children’s Playground and part of the Flower Garden, which were only closed for a single day.

Coyle also told the Gazette that removal of the 23,000-seat temporary stadium was complete by November, as was most reseeding and returfing.

According to the Telegraph article, about a quarter of the park was still closed in December, six months after the games. And staging the horse event was reported to have cost £120 million—nearly $190 million in today’s U.S. currency—with no permanent “legacy” venue to show for it. It is unclear how much of that £120 million was covered by LOCOG.

“By summer 2013 reinstatement was complete with the park in better condition than before. No trees were cut down nor was there any significant structural or other longterm damage; in short, all the scare stories proved unfounded,” Coyle said. “Looking at the park today, you would not know that the games had taken place there.”

The organizers “kept to their commitments to leave the park as they found it and, throughout, made major efforts to communicate effectively with the local amenity societies and respond to their comments and suggestions,” she said.

According to Graham Dear, Park Manager at The Royal Parks, all refurbishment efforts were paid by LOCOG.

“The Royal Parks worked hard with LOCOG to ensure that disruption to park visitors was kept to a minimum and that the historic fabric of the park, which is part of the Greenwich Maritime World Heritage Site, was protected,” Dear said. “One of the legacies of the games for Greenwich Park was a very substantial capital investment in the park infrastructure, over £1 million for roads, footpaths and entrance gates.”

£1 million is roughly equivalent to $1.56 million today.

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