Johnson in doghouse over plan to demolish greyhound stadium
LONDON LETTER:Time is running out for dog racing in the capital, as social needs trump attachment to a sport whose heyday is long gone
IN THE 1930s, Walthamstow greyhound stadium in east London attracted crowds of 5,000 people and more, who earned the reputation of being the biggest betters.
In its heyday, the Kray Twins were regulars, while, much later, footballer David Beckham collected glasses in its restaurant for pocket money.
Owned by the Chandler family, Walthamstow hosted five meetings a week – two daytime fixtures and three at night – before the clock finally tolled on August 16th, 2008, at 11pm.
The final winner was Mountjoy Diamond, running from trap number two, who won the 640-yard race in 40.33 seconds – one of 26 of its career victories.
Today, the grade two-listed stadium with its famous neon light looks forlorn, but it illustrates the contradictions faced when demand for housing runs up against the desire for life to remain the same.
This week mayor of London Boris Johnson supported Walthamstow Forest Council’s decision to approve plans to demolish it and build nearly 300 homes, a nursery, allotments and green spaces.
Even some of his own are not happy with him. MP Iain Duncan-Smith, who represents next-door Chingford, said he was “absolutely furious” about Johnson’s decision.
Speaking on local radio on Wednesday, Duncan Smith, who happens to be work and pensions secretary, railed: “This is a bad decision and I have constituents of mine saying, ‘What’s the point of Boris?’”
In his defence, the mayor, who insists that nothing will bring the greyhounds back, said: “I share the sadness of many about the demise of dog racing from this historic corner of London.”
The plan to build houses was approved by the council last May, while Johnson says he would have been overruled on appeal if he had rejected it.
Like most politicians from time to time, Johnson is being skewered by his own quotes, since in 2010 he said he was dismayed that there would be no more dog racing in Walthamstow.
Now he is under pressure from all sides, since both he and all of London’s councils desperately need space for the estimated 500,000 homes required over the next decade.
Faced with the barrage of criticism, Johnson pleaded: “After years of toing and froing we had to make a decision. It was going to start to decay and become an eyesore and I think it was better to go ahead.”
The houses are to be built by London Quadrant, a social landlord that has 66,000 properties in London rented out for less than the market rate in a city where housing costs are crippling.