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More ‘Anecdotal’ Complaints of Noise and Dust from Leabank Square Residents

More 'Anecdotal' Complaints of Noise and Dust from Leabank Square ResidentsWashing day at Leabank Square

I recently found a message on my phone from a journalist at BBC Radio London, who had seen the Games Monitor article about noise and dust at Leabank Square, ‘Hackney Wick residents complain about noise and dust from the Olympic Park’. She wanted to get in touch with Shona Abantu-Choudhury, who had been complaining on behalf of residents. But by the time I got back to her she said they had already done the programme and anyway the problems had been ‘resolved’. Really! I asked who had told them this. The ODA. Hmmm! I said I didn’t think so and just in case I would ask Shona when I next saw him. ‘No way!’ he said. Well, that’s public relations.

So how are residents faring? Shona told me meetings have been held with the ODA and promises made. However, dust is still descending on the housing opposite the Olympic park. Indeed, with the dry weather in September things had actually got worse! No-one had seen any sprays in action, even bowsers. The point here is that bowsers do not spray water high enough to cover the piles of earth heaped up on the site opposite Leabank Square. The ODA has said it has sprays which will cover these kinds of workings and indeed, after I went to have a chat with them earlier in the year, I was sent a picture of just such a spray in action to reassure me they were on site. However, none have been spotted by Leabank Square residents. Bowsers are mainly used to damp down roadways but residents say even these aren’t being used.

Promises have also been made that residents would be kept up to speed with new developments on site. These have also not been kept. The large piles of soil directly opposite the estate are being moved to be washed in a soil decontamination machine, which is situated a little to the south-east of Leabank Square. Until recently this machine was working until 10pm! The noise from the machine at that time of night, when there are no other background sounds, was extremely disturbing. Hackney, supposedly the defenders of residents’ interests, had given permission for this without any consultation with its residents. They say this was not required, although given the extraordinarily late hours involved it could be argued they might have checked with residents. The ODA has now agreed to restrict working until 8pm. Not a great concession. But it comes with a sting in the tail. Whereas this machine was going to be in use for another ten months, ie until around June 2009, this has now been extended to eighteen months. Frankly I was staggered when I heard this.

However, there is now another machine next to the soil washing machine, which only arrived recently. Despite the ODA's promises no information has been provided about what it is for. Residents think it is another soil washing machine! I went to an ODA open meeting a couple of months ago at which Shona asked why this first soil washing was located opposite the nearest residential community to the Olympic park. He was told, without any sense of irony, that this was the most convenient place to put it. Convenient, that is, for the ODA. They did not want to have to move it around, which they said would be required if they put it anywhere else. Shona’s protests were simply brushed aside, see Shona's report on the meeting in the Leabank Square blogspot 'Scientolympics'. Only when I pointed out that people at Clays Lane had experienced similar problems did the ODA staff show any concern. Even so they have made no further concessions on the location of the machine.

In addition to the soil washing operation there is another machine, for grinding up the material dug up from the site, a bit further to the south. Shona recently had a meeting with Hackney Environmental Health officers in his flat. To his relief it was so noisy that they had to move the meeting. Crazy really that he should have to be relieved that it was noisy. But then that is the problem with being dismissed as an anecdotalist, a story teller. HEH had apparently been doing some testing for noise and had found no problems. Well there was a problem. They had been walking with a mircrophone along the towpath next to the Olympic park, behind the blue fence! Hardly surprisingly the sounds had been blocked by the fence. It’s called scientific measuring.

This is one of the problems when dealing with organisations like the ODA. They rely on these ‘scientific’ measurements. Consequently they are dismissive of what they call ‘anecodotal evidence’, ie what people say about their real life experience. Lawrence Waterman, the head of Health and Safety for the ODA, told me organisations like the ODA had to follow scientific methods of measuring. To do otherwise would be to behave like a doctor who carried out his own experiments to check that the medicines he was prescribing were safe rather than relying on the standards set by the regulators.

The trouble is this kind of measuring does not seem to reflect people’s real experience. Whilst we were living at Clays Lane we had similar problems with dust and noise and following that experience I continued to ask the ODA and HSE questions about its operations, see Games Monitor articles ‘Contaminated Dust at the Eastway, the HSE responds and the ODA upgrades its monitoring’ and ‘What's in the dust from the Eastway landfill?’. When the low rise housing at the Park Village estate was being demolished the experience of the Travellers did not match the ODA’s measurements. They suffered chest and other infections. In our meeting Mr Waterman was keen to argue that not all the problems with noise and dust could be laid at the door of the ODA. Their measurements had not shown any problems at Park Village. The evidence from the Travellers was anecdotal. He said he did not dismiss the experience of the Travellers, but he plainly did not consider their reports to be of equal value to the ODA's measurements, which begged the question of the correlation between the Travellers' symptoms and the work going on next door.

Hackney have now said they will monitor dust emissions separately from the monitoring being done by the ODA. Sadly I doubt this will make much difference. I had little reason to believe the ODA’s measurements were inaccurate at Clays Lane just as Newham Environmental Health had reported no problems with dust from Stratford City when we were complaining of dust falling on the estate. The measurements are set at levels which do not reflect the realities facing residents. The problem is a difference in anecdotes, the anecdotes told by the scientific measuring and the anecdotes told by the people affected. The question is what attention is paid to these anecdotes.

Another anecdote. When I met with the ODA I had some discussion with Mr Waterman about the need for cleaning up the Olympic park. I had pointed out that the site was entirely safe before it was dug up and there was no need to clean it. As we walked away he told me it was, of course, impossible to expect the athletes to live on and use a contaminated site. Plainly my assertion was simply ‘anecdotal’. Clays Lane residents had had to live on and use a contaminated site and, in the case of Leabank Square, residents will have to endure the consequences of digging, moving, grinding and washing this contaminated material for months to come followed by further years of drilling and thumping and banging as construction gets under way. They have also seen their local park at Arena Fields and a whole lot of trees they planted demolished. All this for those it is impossible to expect to live on this same site for a few weeks. No-one asked residents about this contamination before the Olympics came. But for Mr Waterman none of this registered. I might as well have said nothing. It really is about which anecdote you choose to listen to.

Check out some more Leabank Olympic anecdotes from residents on the Leabank Square blogspot

Sunday, 25 May 2008 Macympics and comments

Thursday, 29 May 2008 Wake Up Leabank Square!!!! and comments

Tuesday, 29 July 2008 Greenest Olympics?!? and comments

Thursday, 31 July 2008 Scientolympics and comments

Thursday, 7 August 2008 OPEN Olympic Park Engagement Network and comments

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