Occupy protesters who have halted work on a multi-million pound Olympic site on the borders of Hackney and Walthamstow face forcible eviction after a judge ruled they were there illegally. Protestors who stand in front of vehicles to stop work can also now be arrested.
Two weeks ago, local residents from the Save Leyton Marsh campaign were joined by around twenty Occupy protesters, who pitched tents to stop work on the development of the temporary 12m high basketball practice facility on Leyton Marshes.
But at the High Court last Thursday, judge, Master Matthew Marsh granted a possession order to the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority, who own the land. Bailiffs could now be sent in at any time.
The move followed a ruling the previous day when another judge banned the campaigners from taking any further action after the Olympic Delivery Authority warned that construction might not be completed in time if the occupation continued.
Master Marsh said there was evidence that a number of park by-laws had been broken and possibly criminal acts committed. Lawyers for the ODA argued that the site would become a ‘honeypot’ for other protesters.
The development has led to protests from local communities angry at the erosion of green open space. An online petition, ‘Don’t be harsh, protect our marsh!’ has attracted a number of signatures.
The protesters, who failed to lodge a defence in court, have argued that the temporary structure could lead to a more permanent development on the site, citing the example of a previous temporary structure from the 1986 Commonwealth Games which still stands.
Protesters at the site suggest that other sites could have easily been used, instead of a new construction. Kelmscott Centre in Walthamstow has its own basketball courts which will be empty during the Olympics. Save Leyton Marsh campaigners question why a new building is required. Money, they argue, could have been spent on improving current structures, leaving a legacy for the area.
Although the plans published by the Olympic Authority specify shallow footings for the structure, allowing for an easy dismantling, protesters claim the foundations for the structure are set to be far deeper than first specified and as a result are in breach of the planning permission currently granted to them.
Writing on the protest web site, local resident Mike Wells points out that: “The ODA’s application for planning permission stated there would be no foundations. The application specified a 15cm skim of topsoil. It has been clear to all monitoring works at the site that the excavations have been significantly deeper.”
Last week, Dan Ashman, an Occupy protester who made the trip from the group’s Finsbury Square base, told ELL they were there to help residents: “Our aim is to leave when the residents are satisfied that they have all the assurances that this site will be returned to the way they want it after the Olympics.”
The petition agues that the decision to build on green space will “set a precedent”, making it easier in future for developers to successfully seek permission to build again, damaging the natural beauty of the area.
A spokesman for the Olympic Delivery Authority said that the temporary structure was required due to a lack of venues suitable for Paralympic basketball athletes within the required distance of the Olympic Park.
The Authority said they plan to remove the building within a month after the completion of the Games and to restore the land to its original state.
See a video about the campaign here
Additional reporting by Antonia Hawken