issues: major events proposal 2013

Hackney Marshes Users Group

Major Events Issues backgroundHackney Weekend 2012Issues archive
5 June 2013
LB Hackney's plan for Major Events every summer 



'Major events' proposal

Hackney Council announced in February 2013 that it intended to get PINS permission to hold up to three 'major events' on Hackney Marsh every summer for the next 5 yearsThe council held an 'informal consultation' which ended on 23rd April 2013.

At 4.30 pm on Friday 24th May, just before a 3-day weekend, the council press released its withdrawal of this proposal.

Every group involved in the marshes opposed this proposal. The most telling opposition probably came from Sports England, which has invested millions in the marshes recently.

The council didn't talk to stakeholder groups before launching its public consultation: HMUG for example was notified just 10 days before the consultation opened. If the council had talked to stakeholder groups first, a great deal of effort on the part of local people could have been saved, as well as whatever the consultation cost.

HMUG's Briefing on the proposals

'Major events' or Mega events?

It's important to be clear that this just concerns the very largest scale of events. 'Major event' is a category in the council's events policy, the very largest size. They are talking about events which shut the public out of more than 10% of the marsh, &/or need temporary HGV roads and hard standing, &/or involve significant structures such as stages (not just marquees). 

It is nothing to do with all the small community events which happen every year on the marsh: they want to repeat the experience of Radio 1 Hackney Weekend 2012. Lots of people enjoyed that, naturally, but at a huge hidden cost to the marsh and all its regular local users, which Hackney Council didn't reveal beforehand  and is still trying to deny or excuse. (See our R1HW page.)

The events would occupy the marsh for up to 36 days between 1 May and 30 August. In other words, Hackney Council is considering shutting off some or all of the marsh for up to 5 weeks every summer, up to 2018.

What is an 'Informal Consultation' for?

Hackney Council held an 'informal consultation' for 8 weeks up to 13 April 2013. The consultation asks if you agree with the proposal. But it says that responses will "inform" the PINS application, not inform the council's decision whether to make a PINS application: i.e. that LBH will go ahead whether you agree or not. So what is the point of the consultation? We suspect that the council intends to tell the Planning Inspectorate that it has taken into account all reasons for objection. 

Three weeks in, there was nothing about the consultation on the noticeboards on Hackney Marshes (25 March), and there were no posters or survey brochures at the Central Library (21 March: the consultation runs from 26 February to 23 April). On 25 March leaflets were delivered to residents at E5 0LA (Chatsworth Road by Millfields park).

Just before the end of the consultation and after seven weeks of pressure from all organisations representing marshes users, Cllr Jonathan McShane rephrased the council's position: "Responses ... will be analysed before making a decision on whether or not the council applies for PINS consent." 

Where does Planning Permission come in?

Planning Inspectorate permission ('PINS') is needed if an event would:

  • enclose more than 10% of a green space, or 
  • need temporary HGV roads and hard standing, or 
  • involve significant structures such as stages (not just marquees)

The fact that Hackney Council intends to apply for PINS shows that it intends to do these things: on the evidence of 2012, we think this would be very bad for the marshes.  

 The council hasn't said when it will make the PINS application. When it does, we hope lots of local people write to object. If enough objections are received, a Planning Inspector must hold an inquiry into the application.

Our objections – summary

HMUG's view is based our on understanding of:

  • law & guidance governing common land, London parks & nature conservation

  • Hackney Council's Green Spaces Events Policy and other relevant council policies

  • park user groups' experience of events in Hackney parks especially R1HW 

  • our supporters' views

Our concerns fall into 2 main areas:

  • interference with many or all of the existing appropriate uses of the marsh

  • damage to the land, habitat and ecology

For details of both in 2012-13, see our R1HW Evidence page.

There are 2 features of the marsh which (on the evidence of R1HW) make it simply not possible to run mega events without both suppressing other uses, and damaging the land:

1. There are too few paths on Hackney Marsh

Conventional parks have a network of tarmac paths which can accommodate the HGVs needed to set up Mega Events. Hackney marsh does not. The only usable path is that along the east side of the marsh. As it happens this path goes through one of the most beautiful and ecologically valuable parts of the marsh. The area contains an exercise trail and bird hides and is well used for jogging, rambling, birdwatching, nature walks, therapeutic walks from local day centres, family cycling, the bridge to East Marsh, off-road access to the Community Tree Nursery, etc. On the evidence of R1HW, a Mega Event requires closing this whole area to the public for weeks at a time because in the council's words it became 'a building site'.

2. Sports pitches: their importance and vulnerability

The condition of the grassland surface on the marsh is even more important than in a conventional park because most of the year it's used for sports. As R1HW has shown, Mega Events inflict serious long-term damage on the pitches area. This is not only from the footfall of tens of thousands of people but also from building festival stages and temporary HGV roadways.

These factors are intrinsic to the nature of the marsh. On the evidence of R1HW there is no way round them.

Comments on the Council's consultation brochure

Motives for major events

'Why is the Council proposing to hold public entertainment events on the Marshes?'


'Attendance at last year's events shows that there is demand and interest in events of this scale'

Yes indeed, if you offer a free party you will get plenty of takers. Does that constitute market research?

Here are some other activities for which there is evidence of 'demand':

  • trail motorbiking in Wick Community Woodland (a problem for several years: now seems to have been stopped)
  • model car racing (somebody made a circuit near Marshgate Bridge: the council has taken action to stop it)
  • golf practice on the main marsh
  • barbecues
  • fishing out of season in the Old River Lea

The council and the Environment Agency don't, however, aim to satisfy these 'demands': they judge them to be unsuitable for the marsh, and they forbid them. The council's duty is to consider existing appropriate uses, and the welfare of the land.


Many London boroughs are trying to make money by renting green spaces for events. However much you sympathise with their predicament under the cuts, the green spaces are there for the enjoyment, and well-being, of local people.

It's not clear what the council's balance sheet was for Hackney Weekend, but it's believed that they have paid out more than they anticipated in attempting to make good the damage, and there is still work to be done. We'll try to get a clear answer to that question: if you have information please send it to us.

At the end of the day you have to decide whether income is worth any kind of damage to the community, people's health and the land. Those who use the marshes all the time may make a different calculation from those who sit at desks in the town hall.

Local economy

There are vague claims about unspecified benefits to the local economy We'd be interested to see the evidence about this.

'Put hackney on the map', 'positive image'

It's the people of Hackney and the things they build from the ground up, that put Hackney on the map. The council should recognise and nurture the grass roots, not bring in bling projects from outside to trample all over them.

How positive an image does Hackney project to visiting sports teams who can't play on the marshes any more? Or to the local cyclists who had to re-route their annual ride by the Lea?

'encourage greater range of uses'

You don't do this by obstructing or shutting down a variety of existing uses for the benefit of a single event.

'Why has the Marshes been chosen?'

That's a good question, since there's now a tailor-made mega events area in Hackney's part of the new Olympic Park. LBH's Hackney Today has already front-paged a Bruce Springsteen concert there for summer 2013.

'the borough’s largest open space, with few natural or built barriers' 

Well, yes, but that space is packed with sports pitches which need not to be spoiled, and used for many other purposes.

'several access points to the space'

Does the Main Marsh really have more access points than the average park? The council in fact had to create access for Hackney Weekend by removing the long hawthorn hedge at Homerton Road, which it promised to replace and has not. So yes, there's more access than there used to be, assuming the council intends not to keep that promise.

Access for HGVs from the car park to the grassland was achieved by destroying two mature trees at the side of the Marshes Centre. A mature tree can't be replaced: you have to plant a young tree and wait years for it to grow, even if you're a cabinet member. As far as we know LBH didn't mention this in any of their public information.

Assurances and excuses

'How will the Council ensure that disruption is kept to a minimum?',

The council makes a number of promises. They made pretty much the same promises before R1HW, both to the Planning Inspectorate and to local people, and events turned out very differently.

In particular:

Amount of land enclosed

'Large areas of the Marsh will not be affected by the proposal, including the reinstated East Marsh, Mabley Green and Wick Woodland.'

In normal practice -- its management plan for the marshes and its green spaces events policy -- the council treats Mabley Green and Wick Woodland as not part of Hackney Marshes. Here, and when applying for PINS for Hackney Weekend, it bundled them back in, to make it seem that mega events occupy a smaller proportion of the marshes. (For an explanation of how they can do this, and what land is comprised in Hackney Marshes, see our Issues Background page.)

LBH assured the Planning Inspectorate that Hackney Weekend would fence off no more than 10% of this cunningly inflated area. As we all know, they banned everyone from 100% of the main marsh for 4 days, plus the filter beds nature reserve (which belongs to Lea Valley Park) and the navigation towpath (which belongs to Canal and River Trust). The construction enclosure and Green Wall must have taken more than 10%. It was tricksy of LBH to include East Marsh in the calculation of the unaffected 90%, since East Marsh was already under the Olympic 'spectator mall' (coach park) and not usable as common land.

We conclude that it's unwise to trust any promise LBH makes about land enclosure for mega events, especially as it claims not to know yet what the events will be.


Various safeguards are promised – as they were for Hackney Weekend.

'The Council is committed to reinstating any damage quickly after an event, as has been the case following the R1HW.'

The organisations representing footballers and cricketers don't agree that the damage was reinstated quickly after Hackney Weekend. Work on the cricket pitches was not started until March 2013. In a letter to Hackney Gazette, 21 March 2013, Cllr McShane retrospectively rephrased this promise as 'repaired in time for the forthcoming cricket season', thereby acknowledging that the artificial practice wickets had been unusable since the middle of the 2012 season in July.

Anyone who goes near White House Bridge can see that the temporary roadway compacted the ground: the resulting loss of drainage has created ponds on a walkers' desire line and made part of the brand new (Olympic!) cycle path difficult – even hazardous - to ride on throughout the winter. The hawthorn hedge along Homerton Road is apparently gone for ever (as above). The line of the Green Wall can be traced in the grass right down the west side. (All observed at 23 March 2013.) And the two mature trees, cut down for HGV access, are certainly gone for ever.

Cllr McShane has also made the excuse (in the same Gazette letter) that 2012 'was the wettest summer for 100 years'. British weather is expected to be increasingly extreme and unpredictable as climate change takes further hold. Authorities managing green spaces should by now be taking account of this: they can't in good faith make any promises that depend on weather this year, let alone in five years' time.

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Content copyright Hackney Marshes Users Group 2013. Text may be reproduced free, with acknowledgement, for non-profit purposes. For permission to use photos please contact HMUG.

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Comment by Charlie on April 13, 2013 at 10:37

Cllr McShane's rhetorical reference to the wettest summer for 100 years is misleading as it is not true for London. According to the Met Office data for Heathrow there was more rain in summer 1999 than 2012.  In fact it was almost as wet in 2011 (only around 8% less)

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