A Hackney Marshes fit for the 21st century and available to all
Below is an opinion piece from Cllr Jonathan McShane on the Council's proposals for a new sports pavilion on Hackney Marshes. It featured in the September edition of the Hackney Citizen.
"Ultimately, most of us want the same thing - a Hackney Marshes which has great sports facilities accessible to all, and one which, when not being used for sport, remains a beautiful and tranquil area. This is exactly what our proposals will create. Amidst all the alarmist language being used about ‘concreting over paradise’ we should remember that Save Lea Marshes is simply arguing over whether a building should be one or two storeys and the precise number of parking spaces. We agree we need a new pavilion and that some parking is needed. The fact is the new car park is smaller than the one that used to serve North Marsh, which has now been transformed into a great ‘show’ cricket pitch. It has 68 car spaces compared to 240. The area covered by the new pavilion and its car park would be smaller than the area covered by the current block and its original car park – 7,144m2 to 8,836m2. It was always the plan that a modern facility would replace the current pavilion and it would need a new car park to serve it because more people would use it. But equally we were clear that at the end of our project we’d end up with far fewer parking spaces than we started with. Overall our ‘Remaking the Marshes’ project will have reduced parking spaces across the marshes from approximately 600 to 326, which is entirely consistent with our transport strategy. The current changing block has reached the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced. It’s run down, vandalised and as a consequence its use is limited. It also excludes many people. It’s not accessible to people with disabilities, it’s not ideal for children, mixed use and frankly anyone who doesn’t fancy showering with strangers. If we built on the current footprint we’d have a much more obtrusive two storey building that would be far from ideal for people wearing studded boots. We’ve got this fantastic asset for the borough, renowned globally as the home of grassroots football and now also becoming a centre for cricket and rugby too, but it is underused. People are put off by the poor facilities in North Marsh. In a borough with some of the highest rates of childhood obesity and mental health problems, that’s a crime. The people who will benefit don’t have an articulate campaign group to make their voices heard so someone needs to speak up on their behalf. And, no, the thousands of people who use the marshes for sport can’t all walk, cycle or use public transport. People come from miles around and the marshes has relatively poor public transport. Many of them are children and a lot bring large amounts of equipment. We’ve done our best to ensure the new pavilion will be as unobtrusive and eco-friendly as possible, shielded by greenery and non-detrimental to local wildlife. There will actually be more trees than previously. I’d urge anyone who’s genuinely interested in forming their own opinion to read our detailed online Q&A. However, it’s vital to remember that, yes, the marshes are a beautiful and relaxing place to go for a walk but for decades their primary purpose has been for sport. It’s just not good enough to claim to support sport on the marshes and then object to the facilities that will help sport thrive. We have a fantastic opportunity finally to create facilities on the marshes fit for the 21st Century, something which could benefit so many people. Were this aspiration to be derailed by exaggerated claims that would be a real tragedy for Hackney."
More imformation about the council's planing application is available in a detailed Q&A.