Plans to build new football stadium on Hackney Marsh have descended into a bitter row after mayor Jules Pipe branding conservationists opposing the development as “tree huggers”.
Mr Pipe has since come under fire from Ben Mathis, Liberal Democrat candidate for Hackney South and Shoreditch, for his comments.
At a council meeting last month, Mr Pipe welcomed a group from Sporting Hackney FC who were seeking aid to find a site for a new football stadium.
Mr Pipe said: “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, should be reserved for a couple of dozen dog-walkers. Because apparently it’s the middle of the countryside!”
Mr Mathis posted a response on an article by Hackney Citizen, in which Damian Rafferty, chair of the Mabley Green Users Group in East Hackney, resigned his membership of the Labour party in protest after reading Mr Pipe’s comments.
Responding to Rafferty’s comments, Mr Pipe wrote: “I was perfectly clear that I was expressing my opinion not about a specific group of people, but about what I regard to be uncompromising, ideological positions that are doggedly against any change or upgrade in facilities whatsoever at the Marshes – changes that would see more Hackney people, particularly the young, use the marshes for sport and recreation.”
In his comments on the article, Mr Mathis stressed how far the Mayor had “missed the point” of why conserving the green spaces of Hackney is so important.
“Given the distance by which Jules Pipe misses the point, I hope for his sake the next mayoral election doesn’t have to be decided by penalty shootout.
“He is, of course, correct that Hackney is not in the middle of the countryside, but an inner London borough.
“That should make him and anyone who loves Hackney all the more keen to preserve and enhance the small slices of open land we access to in the form of Hackney Marsh, the River Lea and our other smaller open spaces,” the Liberal Democrat candidate added.
A resident of Hackney since 2009, Mr Mathis has been involved in campaigns to protect green spaces and takes umbrage at the “exploitative” actions of Hackney Council.
“Hackney Marshes are a vital resource for London wildlife, form part of the floodplain protecting our low-lying areas and most of all, are a wonderful haven for local people,” Mathis continued.
“With ever more of us suffering from stress and poor mental health, children growing up in crowded flats unable to run and play outside and our often toxic urban air, the benefits of having this open space in our borough are absolutely incalculable and ought to be celebrated, not disparaged.”
Mr Pipe later apologised to people against “alternative uses” of the Marshes: “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.”