Hackney Mayor in “tree-huggers” controversy

Hackney Marshes, a possible location for the new stadium . Pic: Hugh Venables

Hackney Marshes, a possible location for the new stadium . Pic: Hugh Venables

The Mayor of Hackney has sparked controversy by describing opponents to the location of a new football stadium possibly to be built on Lea Marshes as “a bunch of tree-huggers”.

Damian Rafferty, chair of Mabley Green Users Group and a Labour volunteer, who says he “voted Labour in every single election without fail since [he] was 18 years old”, quit the Labour party in response to the comments made at a council meeting last month.

Pipe had heard a deputation from Sporting Hackney FC calling for help to find a site for a football stadium last month when he made the comments. He had in 2015 tried to resolve this by suggesting one of the football pitches on the marshes be fenced off next to a planned new sports pavilion, but residents were unhappy.

Hackney Council faced opposition last year with its plan to build the pavilion and car park on the marshes – this was given the green light by the Planning Inspectorate in August.

Pipe said of the stadium plans: “There would be a howl of protest by a bunch of tree-huggers who think that all those acres out there, rather than being enjoyed by thousands of young people to play football, they think it should be reserved for a couple of dozen dog-walkers.”

In an email to Pipe, Rafferty said: “This has nothing to do with the national leadership, it is all about the contempt that our own local party holds for the men and women of Hackney who spend thousands of unpaid hours trying to make the place better for everyone.”

Pipe replied to Mr Rafferty saying he was not referring to “volunteers involved in community projects” or “environmentalists in general.”

The Mayor went on to say that fencing off just one of “more than 70 pitches at the Marshes” would represent “the enclosure of a fraction of one per cent of the Marshes within Hackney.”

He also apologised to people in opposition of “alternative uses” of the marshes writing: “To anyone who regards themselves as holding such views, I’m sorry if they perceive the epithet I used as unduly derogatory, which was not my intention.

“Nevertheless, if a brief remark during a Council meeting prompts a debate in which the other side is heard for once, then I believe that it will have been justified.”

Rafferty replied: “I don’t know whether to laugh out loud by the suggestion that a few local volunteers unfairly cower organisations such as Hackney Council itself and are somehow stifling debate.

“Your insulting remarks demand an immediate and full apology and not a (self-awarded) commendation for bravery.”

Rafferty made his opinion clear by calling for an apology. “I can only conclude that whoever’s side Labour in Hackney are on, it is not the side of the people. A decent mayor would make a public apology to make amends for publicly insulting decent people who put in many hours helping to make Hackney the green place it mostly is. I hold out little hope.”

Hackney Council had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.

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