I received an email from 10 Downing Street yesterday. A leaked memo from a source in the Cabinet Office? Not this time. Along with 7485 others, I signed an e-petition calling for the Prime Minister to “Incorporate rather than demolish Manor Garden Allotments within the 2012 Olympic site.” The email was Downing Street graciously informing me that they had issued their response.
For those who haven’t been following this story, Manor Garden is a 4.5 acre site in Hackney, East London, which has the misfortune to be in the middle of the master plan for the 2012 Olympics site. The gardens were established in 1900 by Major Arthur Villiers, director of Barings Bank and philanthropist, to provide small parcels of land for local people to grow vegetables. In keeping with the conditions of Villiers’ bequeathal that the allotments be maintained in perpetuity, the 80 individual plots have been tended for over a century by a tight-knit community. Many members belong to long-standing East End families, with some individuals present since the 1920’s. In the words of the e-petition:
“100 year old Manor Garden Allotments lies in the middle of the Olympic Park site. These beautiful, productive vegetable gardens are due to be demolished to make way for a four-week footpath during the 2012 Games despite the land being given in perpetuity. A campaign is underway to protect the allotments and encourage a more imaginative Olympic development which includes this special place with its healthy, green lifestyles and vibrant community.”
The 2012 Olympics are supposed to be the ‘greenest’ and most sustainable ever. In normal circumstances, sites like Manor Garden would be held up as a shining example of a local community resource with all the right boxes ticked: fresh air and exercise, biodiversity, local organic produce, low energy inputs, no food miles, the list goes on. The Government, however, has its colours firmly nailed to the Olympic mast and has rejected the petition.
Allotment sites are a precious resource. Manor Gardens is the product of over 100 years of hard work and dedication. To say that plot holders will be provided with new land is completely missing the point. All the work that has gone into soil improvement will be lost, as will all the social, historical and emotional connections that make allotment sites very special places, to say nothing of the amazing biodiversity on the site. All in the name of some ghastly, bloated, pointless global jamboree.