hmug_planning_2014 east marsh car park

Hackney Marshes Users Group

East Marsh car park
Issues BackgroundIssues Archive
25 Sept 2014
Build first - ask afterwards

Hackney Council is applying (September 2014) for retrospective planning permission for a car park on East Marsh which it has already built.

It's presenting this as a replacement of car parking which was there before the East Marsh was paved over as a coach park for the Olympics. But the isolated changing room building which the old car park once served no longer exists. It was demolished to make way for a land bridge to the Olympic Park. Hackney council once envisaged replacing that building post-Olympics, but later declared that changing facilities for East Marsh would be provided by the new Marshes Centre.

Despite this change of course, the council asked for some hard surface to be left when the Olympic coach park was removed, without having got planning permission. Someone must have thought it was a clever way to get a free car park. Now it's stuck with it, and council officers are scratching around for justifications. Meanwhile the nearby Olympic multi-storey car park is looking for users.

The car park is the red outline in the map below and you can see the land bridge to the Olympic park just south-west of it.

What will it look like?

You can find that out now, as it's already built. Stand at the high viewpoint where the land bridge enters East Marsh, and you'll see a pale scar across the grass.

The surface is far heavier-duty than is needed for a few hours of weekend football parking. That's because it was designed for intensive coach use during the Olympics. An unobtrusive nylon mesh or other permeable surface would blend in better and allow marginal habitat for pioneer weeds and tunnelling insects. But that would have had to be planned and built from scratch.

Who's allowed to use it?

It's made absolutely clear that the parking is only for sports bookings:

“3.12 […] the car parking will be free for Marsh Users in conjunction with a formal booking to use the green space.

“3.13 It is proposed that GLL [Greenwich Leisure Limited] and Park Rangers will control the use of the East Marsh car park including a gated access, linked to the booking system.” (Transport statement)

Yet elsewhere the council claims that

“The facility is designed to meet the needs of the Borough’s residents who wish to use the Marsh for education or recreational purposes.” (Design & Access Statement 5.2)

What are these 'education and recreational' purposes? Other than football, people use the marsh for rambling, dog-walking and foraging. None of these require a formal booking. One educational activity is nature walks, which are organised by Hackney Marshes User Group; tree planting is organised by the local voluntary group, the Tree Musketeers: these do not involve a formal booking.

None of these users would qualify to use the car park and their activities don't justify building it.

Exactly how un-booked users will be excluded when the car park is open, is not clear. It may be explained in the parking management document, which is mentioned in the Transport Statement, but hasn't been made public.

We've been doing without it

Since 2011 the Marshes Centre car park has served all sports users of the marshes. Yet during the Olympics there was no reduction in the number of games played on the marshes. East marsh pitches were substituted by extra pitches on the main marsh, which were served by the Marsh Centre and its car park. So it seems that the Marsh Centre car park can serve East Marsh sports users. 

What Transport Management?

The council claims to be managing private motor use at the marsh to reduce it, and claims to have had some success. In that case, any current overflow should in due course be eliminated and it would be wrong to occupy common land with a facility which will become redundant.

But the details given of transport management to reduce car use don't seem likely to be effective: they comprise noticeboards and mentions at user meetings. The reduction may more likely be due to there having been less parking space recently: in which case restoring space will restore car use. This is a well known effect in transport planning.

The council seems not to have even considered charging. Why not reduce pitch fees to balance parking charges? As we know from the London congestion charge, money is just about the most effective motor traffic management tool.

It's hard not to feel that the council has thrown in the towel on managing towards sustainable transport at the marsh, when you read this in their Travel Plan:

“It is rare to find a rugby or football player who is interested in cycling to their game, to play 80/90 minutes of vigorous sport, to then cycle home." (Travel Plan 1.4)

Legacy parking sites

If the council claims a need for overflow parking at peak sports use times, then the far edge of east marsh would not be the obvious site to choose. It could use the legacy multi-storey car park in the Olympic Park. In fact the mayor's London Plan calls for this kind of joined-up legacy use. There is also a legacy car park at Eton Manor, less than 100 metres away. This provides 179 spaces with 20 blue badge spaces and coach drop off.

Haven't they noticed Stratford?

The application plays down the alternatives – local public transport, cycling and walking. But its description of these is out of date. The most important bus service, the 308, was improved with increased frequency and an extended route in 2013: the Transport Statement describes the service as it was before that. Most importantly, this ignores the 308's new fast connection to the transport hub at Stratford East, with tube, overground, DLR and numerous bus routes connecting to all parts of London.

A 5km radius is the measure used for practicable cycling: “A 5km cycle catchment would extend to Islington, Finsbury Park, Leyton, Hackney, Bethnal Green and Shoreditch.” Once again, what about Stratford East where cyclists could arrive by train or overground?

Silly excuses

Because there's clearly no good reason for the car park, the writers have scratched around for justifications including:

  • relieving parking in local residential streets - there simply aren't any residential streets near East Marsh, except the gated St Theresa's Close
  • getting ambulances to injured players – useful but doesn't need 57 car spaces
  • equal access – ditto, and provided at the Marsh Centre
  • cycle parking – great, think how many racks you could provide in this amount of space
  • car park entrance is ideally sited for passengers getting off buses – really, words fail us, but why would anyone want to walk into a green space via a car park if they had a choice? You used to be able to walk from Ruckholt Road onto East Marsh wherever you liked.


More about commenting and the planning process / Back to Issues page

East Marsh now: the hard surfacing of the land bridge and the car park 


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