The first problem for the local residents is that their involvement in the decision making process was extremely minimal. In November 2014 a “public” meeting was held, but in reality this was between only a few local organisations. They were skeptical and unsupportive of the event, but their opinion ultimately did not matter; it had been announced four months earlier in July by Formula E and City Hall that Battersea Park would hold the race. Despite promising bids from the ExCel exhibition centre and the Olympic park (Both, like Battersea, avoid the issue of disrupting traffic) It had always been the preferred venue of Alejandro Agag compared to any other because for twelve years he himself was a resident of the park. Yet even after this meeting no-one was informed by the council about what was to happen to the park; all local residents insist that none of them ever got the 2,000 letters that were supposedly sent out, and the first that most of them heard about Formula E was during the chaotic two weeks of track construction in June, followed by a further week of deconstruction. More on that later…
Another reason locals feel marginalised is because the current council was voted in by a very small majority. That majority also happens to be largely Conservative, which makes Wandsworth much more likely ideologically to bend to the will of the incumbent Conservative party line; for example emails sent from City Hall last year have emerged which put massive pressure onto the Council into hosting the race after they rejected Agag’s initial approaches. As a result nobody feels like their voice is being heard, regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum, because they commonly receive pre-written stock responses from councillors and FE sponsors alike. Even councillor James Cousins, who initially supported the event before siding with the protestors, has mentioned in his blog that he wanted the council to be “without the total control that seems to be required at present. Transparency is important … has a degree of almost open source government where people have the right and the power to see if they can change things.”
The result of all this was that residents had to negotiate a total of over 800 HGV’s involved in the circuit construction and takedown for three weeks, because construction began with the park still open to the public until a few days before the race, not to mention that work continued overnight. The park was not signposted properly during this period and it was not clear where residents were supposed to go to avoid construction work. The Spadeoaks builders were inexperienced with the park and were not helped by the fact that the Council did not seem to want the responsibility of having to supervise them, hence their absence during this critical stage. Already after the first year the French Boules Pitch, formerly used by the Gallic community, has been covered in tarmac, and trees present since the 1800’s have been either removed or damaged, with others looking unwell due to their roots being concreted over; it is little wonder that passionate park users reacted so negatively to this disruption, and flocked to the protest group.
Perpetuating this, there is no evidence that a health and safety register was ever conducted prior to the event; the Protestors have all requested it from the council and the response they got was that it had been deleted from their databases. In an information age where back-up storage solutions such as the cloud are commonplace, it is unacceptable that such an important document could have been irretrievably lost, hence the skepticism that any thought was given by the council to public health and safety. To put this into perspective, no private sector project would be run without a clear and detailed risk register to prevent and mitigate risks that could lead to injury or death on a construction site.
The biggest disappointment for those trackside was the scarcity of good spectator views compared to other Formula E venues due to trees blocking the sight-lines; instead of grandstands there were temporary viewing platforms, but these were only accessible for £30 ticket holders; even then although the view of the track was decent, TV screens were not viewable from several of these platforms. In Autosport magazine’s season two preview for Formula E, Sebastien Buemi, who won the first ePrix in London, heavily criticised the poor views that fans got as well as the lack of overtaking opportunities due to the circuit’s design, citing that there wasn’t sufficient space to make a great track in the Park. If that was the case last season, how on earth will the circuit cope with this season’s significantly faster powertrains without needing vastly more drastic modifications to the park? (I.E. Extra tarmac to widen corners and run-off areas) It should be pointed out though that despite these issues with track design the racing at Battersea, particularly in the second and final race with the championship on the line, was still engaging and exciting to watch and that’s a credit to the drivers and teams able to put on such a fantastic display. But this should not be the deciding factor in whether the race should still be run. It was also felt by the protestors that the crowd was a lot smaller than the 30,000 per day that the Council claimed was in attendance, although I disagree with them based upon, among other things, how packed it was trying to reach the podium from the west side of the circuit at the end of the last race.
The final large issue is noise. Some felt annoyed by the (intermittent) noise of the cars themselves, as well as the bass-heavy music produced by the Formula EJ which was broadcast on tannoys during breaks. The standout offender though was the TV helicopter which was felt to be flying excessively loudly and closely in the vicinity of the park for 3 whole days, and it must be said that the aerial racing shots it produced were largely obscured by the park’s lines of trees; again not necessary for the disruption that it caused.