A quick update on plans by the Metropolitan Police to build an Olympic policing base at Wanstead Flats, on land held in trust for the people of London.
What we now know is that a "Muster, Briefing and Deployment Centre" will be in place for three months on the west side of Centre Road on the Flats, in the area used by travelling fairs and circuses for no more than two weeks at a time.
Paul Thomson, Superintendent of Epping Forest, has written the following to a local resident:
In the absence of a suitable site close to the Olympics, the Metropolitan Police need to operate a Muster, Briefing and Deployment Centre (MBDC) to support policing and security in the Olympic Zone for 90 days during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The MBDC will be one of three centres supporting the Olympic, Central and River security zones during the Games. Each site would consist of a series of temporary buildings, fencing and parking for Police vehicles and will feed, brief and debrief the Police Officers providing security for the Olympics.
Over the past year, the Police have undertaken a widespread assessment of open land in East London that might support a MBDC for the Olympic Security Zone. Wanstead Flats emerged as the only viable site for the Olympic Zone operation.
The Police have therefore sought permission from the Conservators of Epping Forest to utilise the Centre Road Events Area on Wanstead Flats for 90 days during 2012. The MBDC would operate on a small area of the Flats accounting for some 2% of the site's total area. The MBDC 'footprint' will only be a little larger than that of the current circus and fairground site. The selection of the events area will prevent any disruption to wildlife breeding areas and Sports Events staged on Wanstead Flats.
The Epping Forest and Commons Committee has agreed to support the Metropolitan Police's request in principle, provided that:
The necessary Planning Permission required from the London Borough of Redbridge also requires a public consultation process. The initial pre-planning consultation process should commence later this summer.
- a suitable legislative mechanism could be secured;
- the site is fully restored after use;
- the proposal was put before a widespread public consultation process.
The key responsibility of the Epping Forest and Commons Committee, as stewards of Wanstead Flats, is to uphold the long-term duties and interests of London's largest open space. Like all of us, the Committee also wants to see a safe, secure and successful Olympics for London, and indeed the UK. While the request from the Police is not directly related to the Act's public access and enjoyment obligation, this once-in-a-lifetime event, unforeseen by the original Act, and the subsequent request from the "Country" to lend assistance, both need to be properly considered.
I believe that the public consultation will demonstrate that there is a way forward that will allow the Police to be based at Wanstead Flats, creating minimal disturbance to residents and wildlife, whilst retaining the Forest's legal guarantees, together with the opportunity to secure long term benefits for the immediate area. Such a proposal seems worthy of full consultation with the community.
The Conservators of Epping Forest face a difficult challenge in balancing the role of protecting the Forest with a wider national interest. I am confident that the Conservators are seeking a solution that would be in the best interests of both the local and national community.