New Spitalfields development threatens disaster

New Spitalfields development threatens ecological and flooding disaster!

The New Spitalfields development is back as part of a new consultation on the Leyton Mills neighbourhood. You can download the consultation document using this link

You have until 14th April to comment.

We would urge you to do so.

First, there are some improvements on earlier plans. The absurd idea of building a pedestrian/cycle bridge across the Old River Lea from New Spitalfields to the opposite bank of Hackney Marshes, directly onto the Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation (SMINC), has been taken out. Access to the Old River Lea from New Spitalfields is to be prevented by a green barrier along the river bank and the pedestrian/cycle path up the east bank of the river has also been abandoned, all points strongly argued for by Save Lea Marshes to protect Nature.

However, that is about the sum of the good news.

The scale of the development remains much as it was. The whole Leyton Mills area, which includes the present Leyton Mills Shopping Centre, New Spitalfields Market, the Temple Mills Bus Depot and Eton Manor, will host up to 5,400 homes. No breakdown per area is provided. However, based on existing average households this will mean a total new population of around 13,000. New Spitalfields and the Bus Depot site will most likely account for more than half of that number, meaning a new town of around 7-8,000 people right next to the Marshes. Such an enormous site is simply unsustainable in such an important and vulnerable environment.

The document lists “Hackney Marshes and the Old River Lea protected and enhanced for ecology and biodiversity” as one of its goals. It is hard to understand how a new population of this size right next to Hackney Marshes, plus the thousands at Leyton Mills and other developments nearby at Estate Way and Coronation Square, can allow for the protection and enhancement of the ecology and biodiversity of the Marshes and the Old River Lea.

The plan for this enormous set of developments clearly emanates from the same mindset that has given us the much smaller development at Lea Bridge Station. The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) noted that the Lea Bridge Station development would have a negative impact on Lea Marshes: the growth in population would result in increased footfall, and the tall towers would produce a decreased sense of openness. Sadly, despite being charged with the protection of the Marshes, they kept these findings to themselves in an internal report (see the screenshot below) preferring instead to take the Section 106 money on offer.

The developments at New Spitalfields and the Temple Mills Bus Depot will inevitably entail a far greater increase in footfall than at Lea Bridge Station. Furthermore, the cumulative impact of building at all three sites will create a concrete vista of towers all along the east side of the Marshes (see the graphic below from the consultation document) thus severely reducing the prized sense of openness and freedom from urban intrusion. Exactly how tall the towers will be is not stated but previous documents referred to heights of up to 30 storeys. Much was made of the views over the Marshes in earlier documents, obviously good selling points for flat occupiers and developers. One of the ways that planners attempt to justify such overbearing and inappropriately sized buildings is to refer to them as ‘gateways’ or ‘landmarks’ for our green spaces.

It will, of course, be possible to create the required Biodiversity Net Gain on both New Spitalfields and the Bus Depot as, at present, they are almost entirely concreted or tarmacked over. The negative ecological impacts will primarily be on Hackney Marshes and the Old River Lea. These burdens will fall principally on Hackney. Waltham Forest Council will be the beneficiary, collecting significant additional council taxation from these high-rise developments.

It may be possible to protect the Old River Lea at New Spitalfields itself with a green buffer along the river bank, as set out in the plans. However, it will not be possible to stop people accessing the river and the Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation (SMINC) at East Marsh or when they cross the river at White House Bridge to South Marsh. In recent years the river has become popular with swimmers and party-goers. Despite the fact that the number of these visitors has been limited there has been an immense amount of damage caused to vegetation and wildlife at  the SMINC on the Hackney side of the river as well as to the opposite Waterworks river bank.

The denuded Waterworks river bank at the Old River Lea

However, if the New Spitalfields and Bus Depot developments go ahead the situation will become much worse. The number of people visiting the river will rocket and the impact on the ecosystem will become quite intolerable. The thousands who will move into these new homes will have the Marshes on their doorstep. It was suggested at the planning consultation held at ASDA that marshals may be able to keep the harm from this additional new population in check. This seems optimistic. It would mean round the clock security at immense cost. PSPOs which have previously been taken out by Hackney Council have had no impact on the behaviour of swimmers and party goers.

Green and blue spaces like Hackney Marshes and the River Lea are supposed to be places for relaxation and the improvement of our physical and mental health. However, they have a limited capacity to provide health benefits when crowded out by tall buildings and when crammed with users and their pets. Placing so many thousands of new residents so close to the Marshes and the river will overwhelm their capacity to meet the needs of the community living in the wider area. Far from enhancing the environment, the new developments will severely compromise the existing and already degraded ecology of Hackney Marshes and the Old River Lea.

Existing transport connections, air quality and noise pollution are already stretched. The consultation document notes: “The Leyton Mills area features significant highway infrastructure including the A112 High Road Leyton, A106 Eastway / Ruckholt Road and the A12. These routes take high volumes of traffic accessing the local area and the strategic road network, and present challenges in terms of severance, air quality, noise pollution and comfort for walking and cycling.” Pouring so much concrete and putting these open spaces under such pressure from users will further reduce the capacity of the Marshes to combat air pollution and city heat. The site will attract new traffic and there will be considerable demand for delivery and other services worsening air pollution. While the plan is to make these sites car free it is likely expensive flats will have to be provided with garage space to make them attractive.

Such an enormous new population will need far better public transport, which may be hard to achieve given cuts in bus services. The plans include a new railway station at the Bus Depot, however, this is by no means certain as Stratford Station is already overcrowded and lacks the capacity to absorb yet more passengers. There is already a serious traffic bottleneck over the railway. If a new railway station is constructed, there will be heavy movements of people across Ruckholt Road to get to the station adding to traffic problems. If the station is not provided, the roads into Leyton will be crowded with people walking to Leyton Tube Station, further stressing the capacity of that station.

The document also recognises this part of Waltham Forest is the most deprived part of the Borough: “The SPD area is surrounded by relatively high levels of deprivation – over 30% of the Lower Layer Super Output Areas (LSOA)2 are in the top 20% most deprived nationally, which is well above the proportion for Waltham Forest or London as a whole. Particular challenges faced by people in the area are access to housing and services, living environment”. The document fails to mention that the south of the Borough is also the most overcrowded part of the Borough and suffers the highest levels of health inequality, which the council claims it is tackling. Yet despite these already desperate conditions of deprivation, overcrowding and poor access to services this is the part of the Borough in which the council is concentrating its development programme. It is next to impossible to improve health inequalities when services will be ever more stretched by such a massive rise in population. Once again this project is simply unsustainable.

Finally, and most seriously, on top of these very severe shortcomings, the greatest risk these developments pose arises from their location, smack in the middle of a river valley. The consultation document recognises this is flood plain and that there is a risk of flooding (as is seen in the graphic below). The sites are not just next to or near the Old River Lea but also the Dagenham Brook, which crosses New Spitalfields, and the Fillebrook which runs between the two sites.

It is known the Flood Relief Channel is no longer adequate to cope with a major flood and has nearly overflowed on several occasions. Cumulative development further north means there is too much hard surfacing and run-off from roads, too much sewage from Combined Sewage Overflows, and too little land to absorb floodwaters all the way down this part of the Lea Valley. A recent upsurge in rain caused the Lea Navigation to flood Hackney Wick and Fish Island and brought the Old River Lea to the edge of New Spitalfields and Hackney Marshes.

The River Lea is already severely polluted. The river is reaching its limits.

Under normal circumstances it may be that some technical fixes can be implemented. The plans propose the following such fixes: “Setting floor levels above flood level • Including flood-plain storage compensation • Incorporating flood evacuation and civil contingency systems.” However, these are not normal times.

Nowhere in the document is any mention made of the often declared climate emergency. Waltham Forest has declared one of these emergencies! These are not sites set back from the river, they are right next to rivers, three of them, all at risk of flooding. If the flood relief channel overflows at the Waterworks the river will be in danger of turning into a torrent as it discharges just north of New Spitalfields. The river is on a bend at New Spitalfields, which is also where the Dagenham Brook joins the Old River Lea, making it a particularly vulnerable point.

The risk is increasing. The climate emergency is not a ‘maybe’. It is now. In July 2022 temperatures in London exceeded 40°C. Meteorologists quoted in The Guardian were astonished by what was happening

 “In my training, which was only about 10 years ago, I was led to believe that 40°C in the UK was nigh on impossible, because there are all sorts of factors that should stop that from happening, not least the fact that we are surrounded by ocean. It should be too moist for temperatures to get that high.”

What was considered ‘nigh on impossible’ happened. “Even as a climate scientist who studies this stuff, this is scary.” “I wasn’t expecting to see this [40°C] in my career,” said Prof Stephen Belcher, at the Met Office.

Extreme weather events of this kind are no longer future events. If anything these risks are underestimated. This is not just about heat but about extreme events of all kinds. As Professor Michael Mann, at Pennsylvania State University in the US put it: “This is because of processes that are not well-captured in the models but are playing out in the real world – e.g. the impact of warming on the behaviour of the summer jet stream that gives us many of the extreme heatwaves, floods, droughts, wildfires we’re seeing,” he said. “It suggests that models, if anything, are underestimating the potential for future increases in various types of extreme events.”

These developments are already problematic, given the harm they will do to Lea Marshes and the Old River Lea, and their location in the most deprived and overcrowded part of Waltham Forest. Additionally, such development prevents a sustainable use of the land which could alleviate flood risk and genuinely improve ecology: returning the area to absorbent floodplain and marsh. Once built, this vulnerable development will be there for half a century at least, just as the climate emergency ramps up and things are likely to get a lot worse. We have to expect not just worse weather but extreme weather, including extreme flash flooding.

We are constantly warned against building on floodplain, yet here we are again planning to do exactly that in the heart of a vulnerable river valley in the midst of a climate emergency!

Posted in Hackney Marshes, Lea Marshes, River Lea | Tagged | Comments Off on New Spitalfields development threatens disaster

Low Hall Lido is sunk, East London Waterworks Park swims against the current

Now the lido plan has sunk, Waltham Forest must provide the amenity of East London Waterworks Park, and finally stand against the tide of inappropriate development engulfing Lea Bridge.

Birds over Low Hall Fields by @low_save

After thousands of people donated to East London Waterworks Park’s successful Crowdfunder, which raised over half a million pounds for ‘community-owned natural swimming ponds’, Waltham Forest Council made an election promise it would create the opportunity for open water swimming in the borough. The charity were pleased – didn’t this mean backing up further their ‘in principle’ support for the plan to regenerate the buried filter beds from the former Lea Bridge Waterworks into one-of-a-kind wild swimming ponds?

It would seem not. In 2022, the council announced that their favoured location for open water swimming was Low Hall, where they planned to construct a lido.

Low Hall was the previous battle ground of a considerable community furore in 2020. Waltham Forest Council cancelled all sports bookings from local clubs in the spring of that year, in order to facilitate Secret Cinema’s attempt to commandeer the space for pretty much a whole summer. And this during the height of the pandemic.

The plans were only defeated by a vibrant community campaign and determined local sports groups, backed by Sports England. Former Mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe, now Deputy to the Mayor of London, also played a rather ignominious role in the whole affair, seeing fit to over-ride all valid objections regarding the London Plan, and giving approval for Waltham Forest Council to have full authority over the application.

This episode is now rarely referred to, but is indicative of hope for co-ordinated collective action. Secret Cinema withdrew their locally unpopular application in June 2020. Clare Coghill, who had never responded to the campaign despite being a local ward councillor, announced her resignation as council leader. She later took up post as a director of a housing development company (London Square) which had been given approval to develop multiple high-rises in Lea Bridge during her time in office, a fact revealed by Private Eye, and fully befitting of their Rotten Boroughs feature.

Low Hall always seemed a strange choice for the lido. Just off South Access Rd, it is inaccessible to most in the borough. It is also located a 1.3mile walk from the Thames Water depot on Lea Bridge Road proposed for East London Waterworks Park. As explored, the sports ground is already used extensively by local clubs. Part of the site is a Nature Reserve and Metropolitan Open Land.

It was also public Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) opposite Leyton Marsh that was seized by Thames Water in the 1980s to create their fenced-off depot on Lea Bridge Rd. The company were responsible for demolishing many of the outstanding heritage buildings that survived from the East London Waterworks Company era. The site was eventually sold to the Education Funding Agency for an eye-watering £33m (plus VAT). Waltham Forest Council did not require the school places that would have been provided by the two free schools proposed at that location, and wisely refused the developer’s application in 2019. However, part of the council’s refusal was predicated on the defence it made of the site’s status as MOL. The campaign to create East London Waterworks Park – a genuinely nature-rich and community-owned amenity – began in earnest that same year.

Sadly, Waltham Forest Council are part of the Pan London Vehicle (PLV) of London councils that are intending to lodge another planning application, this time for a secure facility for twenty-four children on the plot of land where East London Waterworks Park is proposed.

After the council refused the application for the schools, we were briefly hopeful that they would defend our protected land in the area. However, the council’s planning committee gave permission for the new double-sized ice centre on Leyton Marsh in 2021, despite a viable alternative location existing in Leyton, at Eton Manor. The Lee Valley Park Authority and Waltham Forest Council favouring Eton Manor for the new facility would have meant we didn’t have to endure the loss of valuable and contiguous green space.

Ever since we started campaigning for our marshes to remain open and green, we have met with many obstacles to openness, wildness and freedom, usually in the form of private mega-events and over-sized or mis-located sporting facilities. The cumulative loss of open space in this area, given away for the Leyton Marsh temporary basketball facility, Hackney Marshes User Centre, North Marsh Pavilion and new double-sized ice centre, has been great indeed.

But there is the chance to restore public land back to the people and relink the marshes of the Lower Lea Valley. Waltham Forest Council can keep their election promise to provide open water swimmming, defend MOL, and give the residents of the area that they are overloading with tower blocks something in return. The LVRPA can follow their own Park Development Framework and defend the Park they were set up to protect from urban sprawl.

All these authorities need to do is support East London Waterworks Park against yet more inappropriate development; our community will do the rest for ourselves.

Posted in Leyton Marshes, Thames Water site, Uncategorized, Waterworks | Tagged | 2 Comments

Pre-application Planning Consultation: Secure facility for children on East London Waterworks site

In 2019, Waltham Forest Council refused plans to develop the Thames Water Depot site (opposite Lee Valley Ice Centre) on Lea Bridge Road for schools, due to the site’s status as Metropolitan Open Land.

It has now been announced that several London boroughs, using funding from the Department for Education, are planning to build a ‘new secure children’s home’ on this site.

There is already a developed community plan by East London Waterworks Park to wild it, create swimming ponds from the old filter bed structures, and restore the heritage buildings that survive from the Lea Bridge Waterworks era. The plan for the park also includes a forest school, where people of all ages can learn about our natural world. Last year the charity raised well over half a million pounds towards buying the land. Only this community vision for the former East London Waterworks site is consistent with its status and the objectives of the Lea Valley Park, of which it is a part. Once part of historic Leyton Marshes, creating the park will restore this land to open public access, and reconnect the marshes of the lower Lee Valley.

There is a pre-planning consultation at Lee Valley Ice Centre on Wednesday 7 February from 3pm to 8pm. We encourage all our supporters to attend and oppose the plans.

You can also fill in the developer’s feedback form stating your opposition to the proposal, design and loss of our open protected land.

East London Waterworks site map showing areas of the park planned for swimming ponds and habitats overlaid with red line denoting planned development site for the facility
Posted in Ice Centre, Lea Marshes, River Lea, Thames Water site, Waterworks | Comments Off on Pre-application Planning Consultation: Secure facility for children on East London Waterworks site

Lea Bridge Community Meeting on 28th September!

We will be supporting and attending this vital community meeting. The upcoming and proposed developments in the Lea Bridge area will have a devastating visual and ecological impact on Lea Marshes.

Do join us!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Lea Bridge Community Meeting on 28th September!

Lea Bridge Station Sites – We Need a New Planning Process: Open Letter by Claire Weiss to Waltham Forest Council

We are posting an email sent by Claire Weiss to the Leader of Waltham Forest Council Cllr Grace Williams; Cllr Ahsan Khan, Deputy Leader with responsibility for Housing and Regeneration; Lea Bridge Ward Councillors Shabana Dhedhi, Gerry Lyons and Jennifer Whilby; and to Cllr Jenny Gray, Chair of Waltham Forest Planning Committee, regarding the latest proposal to increase the height of the two highest towers at the Lea Bridge Station site due to the inclusion of additional staircases.

The council is describing this change as a ‘non-material amendment’ to its original planning permission and is maintaining no new planning permission is required.

Original application image showing high rise towers looming over the landscape

Save Lea Marshes considers she makes excellent points and this proposal should not go further without a proper planning process to reconsider this project, given the failure to address these critical matters.

Please share.

Dear Councillors

Re: the Update on Lea Bridge Station Sites

1. Additional staircases should have been designed in from the beginning

The proposed raising of the heights of the towers at Lea Bridge Station Sites is cited as being prompted by the inclusion of additional staircases. I note however that the Lea Bridge Station Sites scheme has long been planned by the Council, in association with an appointed developer, and has had the time and opportunity to design additional staircases without waiting for new Building Regs to come into force. At the Cabinet meeting or 20th June 2017, which was two months after the Grenfell high-rise tower tragedy, I spoke raising concerns about the long-term implications of planning and fire safety in the construction of Motion (97 Lea Bridge Road) and other proposals in the Lea Bridge and Leyton Vision (which included tall buildings at the station). I pressed for construction to be halted until detailed investigations were made. The then Leader, Cllr Clare Coghill being absent from the meeting, the Chair was taken by Cllr Jenny Gray who told me that I should only speak about the Lea Bridge and Leyton Master Plan and no other development projects.

No credence was given to the points I made.

In the meantime, Motion was built with no additional staircases in any of the three towers, and now the LBSS towers have been planned without regard for what happened at Grenfell, in spite of the widespread national reporting and analysis as to why many residents could not escape the dreadful fire that consumed their homes.

2. Raised height of the LBSS towers will impact on residents of Motion and on the life and utilisation of the Marshes

Many original objections to this development, including my own, included the grounds of the height of the buildings. These objections came both from residents who will be affected – and that affect was both noted and overruled in the original application – and from groups and individuals further afield who made environmental objections. The Station Sites’ unprecedentedly high blocks will define the views eastwards of people making use of the Marshes. Adding even one storey to that will amplify the adverse effect because of the interplay of visual perspectives. Crucially it will also impact on that open space’s wildlife habitat, especially the routes of migratory birds. The image above illustrates the scale of the new buildings in relation to Motion and the nearby low-rise buildings. This will cause newly-significant impact on Motion residents’ light, which the Council declined to inform prospective purchasers about in spite of existing local residents raising the issue formally with the then Cabinet member.

3. Environmental issues

I draw to your attention some serious environmental issues. Energy conservation for the purposes of cooling and heating is made more difficult the higher a building rises to the sky. In the case of LBSS towers their isolation on the wide open space of the Marshes means their heat loss and susceptibility to cold wind and hot sun is exacerbated – the top two storeys being the most impacted. Again the image above illustrates this.

I ask whether both the EIA and the Financial Viability surveys will be thoroughly re-examined in the light of this.

4. Aviation

Looking at the Trium LBSS EIA Scoping Report I note that the proposal to SCOPE OUT Aviation was approved on the grounds of LBSS not being within London City Airport Aerodrome Safeguarding area and the tallest building not exceeding +99.3m AOD. As objectors stated originally, this clause in the Scoping Reports omits any mention of helicopters. During the construction phase of the raised towers the 99.3m AOD is likely to be exceeded. I note that Waltham Forest is one of the most flown-over boroughs because of its position under flight paths of three airports, and its proximity to helicopter ports including the roof of London Hospital in Mile End and the Police heliport in Essex. Residents experience frequent helicopter flights over this part of Lea Bridge due to the incidents of accidents and crime in the area and the opportunity for landing spots – for instance the very nearby Jubilee Park has been used by the Air Ambulance more than once and also the crossroads at the centre of the LBSS. In considering that on 16 January 2013, an Agusta A109 helicopter crashed in Vauxhall, south London, after it collided with the jib of a construction crane attached to St George Wharf Tower, when the pilot and a pedestrian were killed, I urge that the topic of Aviation needs to be SCOPED IN.


I believe it would be erroneous to consider the raising of heights of the LBSS towers as an incremental matter since it will incur critical changes to the original plans. I am therefore writing in advance of the planning application during the time that, as I understand it, the design of the additional staircases will be approved as non-material amendments. I appeal to Councillors to take full consideration of the critical points I have made when overseeing the proposed non-material changes.


Claire Weiss


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Lea Bridge Station Sites – We Need a New Planning Process: Open Letter by Claire Weiss to Waltham Forest Council

Protest to Save Oxbow Island!

We are staging a swan-themed demo at the opening of the new ice centre. We will be protesting the wrecking of Oxbow island as a wildlife refuge.

Somehow, the swans have managed to raise eight cygnets, despite a range of new threats from the works on the island during their nesting season, however we’ve heard reports that resident otters have been driven away.

We fear that when the ice centre opens, there will be a deluge of visitors trampling the previously secluded island and what’s more – due to the opening of a new cafe – they may well be taking their disposable plastic rubbish there too. So please do come along and make your voice heard for our imperiled wildlife that have already faced so much destruction and disturbance from the construction of a 95% bigger venue.

We’ll meet at the Lee Valley Ice Centre car park, Lea Bridge Road, at 10.30am on Saturday 17th June.

If you’d like to read in more detail about our concerns regarding Oxbow island, in context of the new ice centre development, please check out our open letter to the Chief Executive of the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority here:

We’d love it if you could join us dressing up! We have created this downloadable swan mask for you to use on the day.

Here are the instructions for creating your mask:

1.    Measure the distance between the pupils of your eyes.  (The easiest way to do this is to stand in front of a mirror, hold a ruler horizontally against the bridge of your nose, and close first one eye and then the other.) 

2.    Open the PDF and click “Print”.  Set the page size to A4 and the orientation to Landscape.  Set the scale to X (%), where X is the distance that you measured in millimetres (mm).

3. Cut out your mask.

4. Affix it to cardboard using glue and then cut out the cardboard round the mask outline.

5. Attach a stick to one side of the mask, or alternatively use the straps from an old face mask and attach them to the side of the mask. Voilà!

Posted in Ice Centre, Leyton Marsh, Leyton Marshes, River Lea | Tagged | 1 Comment

Beating the Bounds 2023

This year we’ll be taking a gentle stroll for our biennial Beating the Bounds, following the ancient tradition of blessing the boundaries of the area by ambling around the perimeter of Leyton and Walthamstow Marshes.

Beating the Bounds traditionally involves a walk to mark significant boundaries, like the boundaries of a parish, a manor, commons or another important public open space. This often takes place during Rogationtide, in springtime, when prayers for a good harvest are offered. Willow sticks decorated with flowers and ribbons are carried and used to hit important boundary markers.

This year Rogation Sunday is on 14th May.

We will meet to begin our walk on the towpath by the Princess of Wales pub E5 9RB at 2pm on 14th May.

We will be keeping up the traditions, and sharing snippets of information – past and present – as we wander along. We will also have a special activity for children.

Please wear sensible shoes and bring water. The walk will last approximately 2 hours and will end at Leyton Jubilee Park, although you can leave at any point along the way.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Beating the Bounds 2023

Authorities are failing in their duty to protect our green open spaces and wildlife!

As we become ever more aware of the value of open green space to our well-being
and the state of emergency for our wildlife, at the same time our local authorities
seem intent upon the same course of damage and destruction, all in pursuit of
outdated ‘growth’ models of development and progress. In the process, Nature is
harmed and the public realm is impoverished, whilst Orwellian claims are made
about ‘improvements’ that have no basis in fact, let alone public consent. The
mountain of documentation that exists, in theory to legislate for improvements in
biodiversity and quality of life, ends up gutted of all real meaning or outright ignored.
Whilst there are both numerous and infamous examples of this happening at a
national level, sadly we are seeing it happen time and again at a local level.
Authorities such as the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) and Waltham
Forest Council, that are tasked with protecting our green spaces, end up
collaborating in trashing them for profit and leaving us all worse off.

This familiar scenario, which we saw with the construction of the double-sized ice
centre on Leyton Marsh, is once again being played out with the emerging plans for
Eton Manor (Leyton) and the New Spitalfields site adjacent to Hackney Marshes.
Plans are afoot to put increasing pressure on our remaining Metropolitan Open Land
(MOL) which should have the same protected status as Green Belt. In the case of
Eton Manor, the Lee Valley Regional Park are making efforts to remove its protected MOL status so the land can be ‘disposed of’ for the construction of private facilities. Waltham
Forest Council is proposing building soaring high rises on the site at New
Spitalfields, right next to East Marsh and the imperilled River Lea. What happens at
these locations will have far reaching consequences, not just for the land in question,
but for the whole Lee Valley Park. If development is not successfully challenged,
precedent will be set for invalidating the statutory protections and privatising land
across the Lee Valley.

New Spitalfields

New Spitalfields site (middle right on map, above East Marsh)

One of the most important areas of land, in terms of preserving the integrity of the marshes and local riparian wildlife, is New Spitalfields. Whist it is not protected land, this area, adjacent to East Marsh, has strategic importance for the Metropolitan Open Land at Hackney Marshes. The current ‘vision’ is for its future is blocks of flats up to 30 storeys! There will be huge impacts on the open space from population pressure and development at such scale.

Yellow stars on site map for New Spitalfields indicate proposed high-rise blocks

Despite these patent threats, it has now been revealed that the Lee Valley Regional
Park Authority has lent its support to Waltham Forest Council in order to facilitate
this vastly inappropriate development next to the Park. This could be a quid pro quo
for the council’s planning approval and financial backing for the ice centre, or
an attempt to curry favour for future commercial plans at Eton Manor and the Waterworks. As these developments will remove both land and property from free use and public ownership, the LVRPA is perhaps anticipating a negative public response and council opposition. It is reasonable to assume this is why it has lent its backing to a scheme from which it will derive no obvious benefit, but which will jeopardise the ecological health of the marshes and integrity of the Lee Valley Park still further. The LVRPA are fully aware of this, warning of these impacts in an internal report on the much smaller Lea Bridge Station development.

Waltham Forest Council is under pressure from the government’s Planning Inspectorate for its unjustifiably inflated housing targets. Instead of reforming its first version of the Local Plan by reducing the housing targets and removing unpopular proposals for high rises adjacent to Walthamstow Wetlands and Hackney Marshes, it has instead stuck with its original framework. This is where the LVRPA has come rushing to its aid. A joint letter by WF Council and the LVRPA to the Planning Inspectorate on 28th September, expresses “the strategic importance of the [Local] Plan to both authorities” and makes a clear declaration of “support for its adoption following a second stage of Examination in Public”. Whilst much of the language of the letter is obtuse and inaccessible to lay readers, it is nonetheless of great import to the public since the Local Plan will shape the future of planning in the borough. We can only hope that the City of London Corporation, who own and manage Epping Forest, and the London Wildlife Trust, who manage Walthamstow Wetlands, take a principled position and object to the Local Plan during its second stage.

Whilst the Planning Inspectors have not adequately considered the impact on the Lee
Valley Park, they have concluded that Waltham Forest’s plan would have an adverse
impact on the integrity of Epping Forest. At this stage they have rejected housing
targets which will result in unacceptable impacts on the marshes – negative impacts
the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority appear only too happy to facilitate. Although Waltham Forest Council is keen to build as many houses as possible, no doubt in large part due to the income generation from council tax revenue, it is hard to see how Hackney Council, who finance the management of Hackney Marshes, will stand to gain in any way from this inappropriate development. Will they side with the other local authorities or represent the public interest and defend Nature here?

Eton Manor

Eton Manor site (right)

Equally egregious are the plans for nearby Eton Manor. A local and regional authority as well as a London university appear to be privately collaborating to remove part of the Eton Manor site from public ownership, despite the site’s important historical role in providing free public access to sports. Eton Manor was purchased by philanthropists to provide sporting facilities for East Londoners, in particular for local boys’ sports, at the turn of the twentieth century. After the 2012 Olympics Eton Manor was supposed to be the new home for the Manor Gardens Allotments, also created by the same philanthropists, which were evicted from their home at Bully Point. That plan was scotched by their former landlords and owners of Eton Manor the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA), who didn’t want any allotments on their land at this location, even though the removal of the allotments from Bully Point was only agreed to on the clear understanding they would be re-located to this site, which already had planning permission, after the Olympics.

Marked in red: Site of potential private development

The LVRPA have been attempting to sell part of the Eton Manor site for a number of
years for commercial development and floated the prospect of a 98 bed hotel, gym
and associated car park on the market in 2018. Through the determined efforts of
veteran campaigner Laurie Elks and our own Freedom of Information enquiries, we have recently discovered the conspiracy between the LVRPA and University College London to re-privatise and develop Eton Manor.

In April 2021 LVRPA Members were briefed that a “hotel is still very much part of
the thinking in line with the procurement” and the Authority “was in discussions
with UCL and had jointly commissioned a feasibility study and masterplan to look at
options for development”.

University College London (UCL) is now collaborating with the LVRPA’s project to build a hotel on this area of Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) and in return it hopes to attain its own private sporting facilities on 2.35 acres of the site deemed by the Authority as ‘no longer required for Park purposes’. So instead of environmentally compatible allotments at Eton Manor, if UCL and the LVRPA have their way, we will end up with a luxury hotel, and sports facilities only for UCL students. This on land originally bought by philanthropists to enrich the public realm and enable local people to take part in sports. The site for the proposed hotel would have been a much more sensible location for the new double-size ice centre now crowding out Leyton Marsh; we believe the only reason it was not chosen was the then-secret plan for its privatisation and sale.

No plans for the site have ever been placed in the public domain and the only information that has been attained derives from Environmental Information requests, released in redacted form only.

It has recently been revealed that it is not only UCL who are collaborating with the LVRPA in their commercialisation plans, but that Waltham Forest Council are getting into bed with them too: “LBWF and the LVRPA have therefore worked proactively together to align our ambitions for this site through collaborative work on the Leyton Mills Development Framework and new SANG Strategy. Both parties agree to continue to work together to deliver the opportunities presented by this site.”

The deciding planning authority is currently the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) which will wind up at the end of 2024. Its position on the future of the Eton Manor site remains unknown. However, if the organisation which turned down having allotments (that the public could apply to cultivate) then favours a private built development on site, it will amount to yet another betrayal of local people. We suspect discussions between the LVRPA, UCL and LLDC, in which the public will have no input, are already underway. Waltham Forest Council seems to hint that it may be the deciding planning authority by the time planning applications come to the fore:

The Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre at Eton Manor, a site owned by LVRPA, is a
key site in the spatial and growth plans found in the Waltham Forest Local Plan (Part 1),
and presents a significant opportunity
for future investment in sports and leisure facilities. Although it is currently under the planning remit of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), planning powers will revert to LBWF on 1st December 2024.”

What makes these collaborations particularly dangerous, as well as galling, is that they take place behind closed doors. Valuable information on the proposed future of public spaces is only attained once detailed private development plans have been drawn up and the outcome for their delivery already put in motion. Nonetheless, this is why individuals and groups such as ours spend such a great deal of time attempting to access vital and concealed planning information. Whilst the odds are stacked against us in stopping the commercial juggernaut flattening our green spaces for private gain, previous victories in defending the marshes give us some grounds for optimism in the coming battles.

Posted in Eton Manor, Hackney Marshes, Lea Marshes, River Lea, Waterworks | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Authorities are failing in their duty to protect our green open spaces and wildlife!


We are sharing the WFCS Campaign against Waltham Forest Council’s excessive housing targets and request you take part in the actions suggested if you are a Waltham Forest resident:

The Council’s proposed Local Plan sets a “requirement” of 1800 new dwellings to be built each year.

The Plan is intended to apply for 15 years, making a total of 27,000 new dwellings in Waltham Forest. The requirement imposed on Waltham Forest by the Government and the London Plan is 1264 new dwellings per year. The excess (536 extra new dwellings each year for 15 years) is being chosen by the administration of Waltham Forest Council.

The Planning Inspectorate has refused to approve the proposed Local Plan, questioning the target of 1800 new dwellings per year. The Council intends to submit a revised version in mid-September, but with the same target of 1800 per year.

The months between now and September are an opportunity for residents to persuade elected Councillors to reject the higher target and for the Council to adopt the lower target of 1264.

Why does this matter?

The Council’s proposals involve allowing developers to build tower blocks on almost every possible site in Waltham Forest. Below is a map which the council intends to submit with its revised version in September: it shows the locations where tall buildings (10 storeys or more) would be allowed:

Studies by academic engineers say that tower blocks are much less environmentally friendly than blocks of mansion flats of 6 or 8 storeys.

The “Skyline Studies” published by Waltham Forest Council with Part 2 of the draft Local Plan show that many of the tower blocks are intended to be 14 or 18 storeys high. The new tower blocks would:

  • loom over the town centres of Leyton and Leytonstone, and intrude on the settings of historic buildings and conservation areas
  • be built along the edge of the Lea Valley, walling in the Walthamstow Wetlands and the open land of the Marshes (you can see the plans that affect the marshes in detail here). The worst impact will be from the New Spitalfields site, adjacent to Hackney Marshes and the River Lea, where there will be blocks of flats up to 30 storeys high!
  • be built next to Epping Forest land by the Hollow Ponds (“Leyton Flats”) and at Wanstead Flats, intruding on the views from the open land, and they would not allow for gardens or for enough green space for the residents to sit out in, so that the Forest land would be overcrowded and overused.

There may be too little capacity on the main roads within the Borough to take the cars and vans servicing so many extra residents.

Air quality in the borough is already poor and the extra vehicle movements would make it worse.

The Victoria Line and Central Line, and the railway from Chingford to Liverpool St, would not have capacity to take the extra commuters into Central London.

The new tower blocks would destroy the character of the borough. What would be built would be flats that people would not choose to live in, in a borough that they – and the existing residents – would move out of as soon as they could.

Please support the WFCS campaign by sending the following text as an email to your ward councillors – you can find contact details for them by entering your postcode on the Council’s website at:

Dear Councillors
I am a resident in your ward at [ADDRESS AND POSTCODE]. I am concerned about the difference between the housing target imposed on Waltham Forest by the London Plan and the higher housing target in Waltham Forest Council’s draft Local Plan and the likely consequences of the higher target for the character of the Borough as a place to live. Partly because of Covid, the Council has not yet consulted residents properly about its proposal to adopt the higher target. I am writing to call upon you to hold a ward forum to discuss this proposal with your constituents, in good time before the Council re-submits its draft Local Plan in September this year.
Yours sincerely,

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Our Response to the LVRPA Chief Executive re the Lower Lee Valley

Dear Board Members,

Following our email to the Board on 14th March 2022, we received a reply on 25th March 2022 from the Authority’s Chief Executive, Shaun Dawson, on behalf of the Authority, here:

We have delayed our response to the Chief Executive’s comments until after the election to give time for the new Board to be established.

Siting the Ice Centre at Leyton Marsh

First, regarding the Ice Centre, as the Chief Executive says we disagree with the decision to build the Centre at Leyton Marsh.

We disagree because Eton Manor would have been a much better location. It has greatly superior rail and bus connections and would have favoured your plans to turn the Centre into a national facility. Stratford regional station, which is connected to Eton Manor by a bus route, the 308, is now the busiest railway station in the UK. Stratford links to all the mainline stations in London via the London Underground and is also served by a bus and coach station which has its own network of routes all of which would have made it easier for the LVIC to achieve its targets on reducing car usage. It is also next to the A12 Motorway making it a much more suitable site for vehicular access where necessary.

If the LVRPA had built the Centre at Eton Manor it would have been able to keep the old Centre in use while the new Centre was being constructed and thus have been able to keep its promise to its users to continue to provide skating during the construction process. It would also have earned money which would have helped the Centre hold on to the seating it has had to reduce to save costs, a loss which will limit its capacity to host major events and reduce its future earning capacity. It was always ambitious to expect to keep the Centre active as demolition and construction occurred on the same site.

All these points were made by Save Lea Marshes in discussions and in objections but the LVRPA ignored our reasonable arguments.

Eton Manor

Second, extraordinarily, the LVRPA decided not to put the Ice Centre at Eton Manor because it wants to build a hotel there.

In his reply the CEO says building a hotel is consistent with the LVRPA’s remit. However, he doesn’t say how it is consistent with this remit.

Eton Manor is Metropolitan Open Land. It was provided by philanthropists for the use of local people. Among the facilities also provided by these philanthropists were the Manor Gardens Allotments, which were located on another site owned by the LVRPA at the Eastway in what is now the Olympic Park, before they were evicted to make way for the Olympics. However, the Manor Gardens Allotments Society was granted planning permission to return to the Olympic Park at Eton Manor after the Games were over, to this piece of land originally provided by these same philanthropists for the use of local people.

Instead of honouring this agreed planning permission at Eton Manor the LVRPA then acted in concert with Waltham Forest Council to overturn that permission on the grounds that this was a private use of this land, thus effectively forcing the eviction of the allotments society from its land in the Olympic Park twice over.

Allotments are suitable for MOL, they are an environmentally compatible use of the land, the allotments had been the LVRPA’s tenants before the Olympics and their presence at Eton Manor would also have been compatible with the historic purpose of the land as it was provided by philanthropists for local people.

Instead of such a compatible use the LVRPA plans to build a hotel on this Metropolitan Open Land, a private hotel which has no use for local people, is not compatible with the original purpose of the land, is not environmentally appropriate and has no discernible connection to the LVRPA’s remit to protect and enhance the Lea Valley Park. We fail to see how, after deciding allotments were unsuitable for this land, the LVRPA can claim that building a private hotel is more appropriate.

Given these facts we would be grateful if the LVRPA could explain how building a hotel at Eton Manor fits with its remit.

Environmental Benefits of Building on Eton Manor, not Leyton Marsh

Third, regarding the claimed community and leisure benefits of the Centre, all these could have been provided at Eton Manor. The proximity of other sports facilities would have provided synergies for the LVIC, such as sharing staff, providing minibus transport connections for its users of the kind HereEast provides, or joint ticketing arrangements, all of which would have eased the LVRPA’s financial difficulties in building a much more ambitious Ice Centre.

We will have to wait for the claimed environmental improvements at Leyton Marsh as you have cut down a large number of trees and destroyed existing habitats, including areas where an increasingly vulnerable hedgehog population was known to live. The double-sized facility has taken up more land and extended out onto the Marsh. Any replacement planting will take time to mature. We dispute the claims of biodiversity net gain, as in this analysis:

If the Centre had moved to Eton Manor, the open space at Leyton Marsh, which is much more widely used by local people for recreation than Eton Manor, would have been been extended for their benefit and the land would not have had to be cleared and trees and habitat destroyed. Save Lea Marshes had long asked for money provided by the Olympic Delivery Authority in compensation to the community for the loss of access during the Olympics to be spent on planting trees to shield the Ice Centre from the Marsh. The LVRPA had failed to make those improvements.

At the Waltham Forest Planning Committee hearing the Chair of the Committee, when justifying the decision to grant permission for the Centre, described the Marsh as a “pretty scrubby desperate bit of Metropolitan Open Land”, hardly a ringing endorsement of several decades of management by the LVRPA and the opposite of biodiversity gain.

By comparison with Leyton Marsh, the site at Eton Manor would have required little alteration or environmental destruction for construction to occur. Substantial environmental improvements could have been included in the project.

This would have been a genuine win-win situation for all concerned, for skaters, for local people at Leyton Marsh and for the LVRPA. Skaters would have been able to continue skating and would not have been inconvenienced as local transport connections to Eton Manor are as good as if not better than for the site on the narrow and congested Lea Bridge Road. The LVRPA would have had a much better connected Centre with better facilities and local people would have enjoyed an enhanced local space at Leyton Marsh.

Regrettably, all our sensible and considered suggestions were dismissed as hostile, with a campaign to persuade skaters to oppose them, rather than evaluated in terms of their genuine benefits for all parties.

Inadequate Consultation

Fourth, on the issue of consultation, the Chief Executive has not responded to our general point that there is no ongoing consultation with the community at large on the Authority’s activities and plans for this part of the Lea Valley Park.

As stated, there used to be a forum, then renamed a workshop, at which agendas were presented and minutes kept and at which plans could be presented and responses heard. All this has been stopped.

Regarding the meetings which have been held, the CEO says the terms of these discussions are agreed. This is not so. The LVRPA sets the terms of the discussions which are strictly limited, which is why, at the most recent meetings on the Ice Centre, Save Lea Marshes withdrew from the ‘consultation’ as we considered it did not allow for a broad enough discussion of the impacts of the Ice Centre on the Marsh and the Oxbow and was essentially pointless.

When a follow up meeting was held to discuss the impacts on the Oxbow the LVRPA tried to break the connection between the two sites and set it up as a meeting simply to provide information on what it planned to do and not to discuss the relationship between the two sites. This was most certainly not what we had agreed to and was not the reason for calling the meeting.

The LVRPA then cancelled a further onsite meeting without any consultation.

Concerns about the Oxbow

Fifth, regarding the Oxbow, the fact that plans for the island had earlier been drawn up did not take into account the new impacts that could be anticipated from the Ice Centre project. Plans need to be reconsidered when the context changes.

It was plain from our discussions at the LVIC meetings that the LVRPA had not considered how the plans for the Centre and, in particular, its cafe would impact on the Oxbow.

This became apparent when we raised the issue of the bridges, as they appeared on the Ice Centre documents, and their implications for the Oxbow. The immediate response at the meeting was that the two bridges should not have been in the plans and their inclusion was an error. This statement was then reversed and we were told the bridges were in the plans. This confusion demonstrated the lack of thought that had gone into the preparation of these plans.

After the online meeting to discuss the Oxbow the second bridge was abruptly, and sensibly, removed. Nevertheless, it was insisted the land bridge be retained as if it was some kind of permanent feature. However, in reality it had been created by people throwing old tyres and other rubbish into the channel over the culvert. This was an opportunity to recreate the island. We were told the best way to manage a site like this was to allow people access. However, if the island had been recreated management of access would not be an issue as people could not have got onto the island.

We continue to believe this was a missed opportunity for the LVRPA and CART to create a unique environment and we remain concerned at the likely impacts of the cafe on the Oxbow, on nesting sites on the island and on the Marsh.

We consider that our attempts to raise this matter have been helpful to the LVRPA for its future management of the cafe and Centre as we do not think these impacts were being properly assessed.

We have to disagree with the Chief Executive’s assertions regarding the impact of the work on the swans at the Oxbow. We were informed the nest was destroyed by someone working on the site. This was consistent with the fact that the nest was in the channel where the work was being done. Either way the swans were disturbed and they had to build a new nest in a new, less secure location. This work should not have happened during the nesting season and was contrary to the law on protecting nesting birds.

Mismanagement of Three Mills Green

Sixth, regarding the catastrophe at Three Mills, we disagree that this can be blamed on the weather.

Planning for an event of this kind must and should have taken possible adverse weather conditions into account. Rainfall in Britain is not unusual.

More importantly, the Chief Executive fails to note that one of your own members of staff had warned of the damage an event of this kind would do to Three Mills Green. This was mentioned in the LVRPA’s own landscape document. This member of staff explicitly referred to “the grass being sparse and exposed to heavy trampling and wet conditions” and was concerned that the ground “takes longer to recover after the annual music event”.

This makes it clear the “annual music event” was their concern, along with the underlying condition of the grass, not unexpected rain, as “wet conditions” were to be expected. This land was lost to the local community for a year.

The fact is the LVRPA still plans to expand these events on vulnerable sites like Three Mills Green and the Waterworks showing no understanding of how similar results can be expected in future.

Save Lea Marshes has raised the same concerns about the Waterworks Meadow. The public provided £5,000 to cover the cost of surveys, which we have provided to the LVRPA, demonstrating the community’s concern for this land. We consider the surveys strongly support the idea that this land deserves better ecological management, which would keep it available for public recreation rather than short-term exploitation as a venue site and prevent it becoming another “pretty scrubby desperate bit of Metropolitan Open Land”.

Exploitation of Green Open Spaces

Seventh, the imbroglio at Three Mills Green reveals how the LVRPA treats this part of the Lea Valley Park as an area for making money.

It also highlights the lack of public involvement in deciding on the use of the LVRPA’s land in the area.

There is no public involvement in your plans with University College London to build sports facilities at Eton Manor. It is beyond ironical that this land was specifically provided by philanthropists for the benefit of local people’s sports and yet you are proposing to use it to advance the interests of an elite academic institution to “recruit and retain students”, most of whom will have no connection with the area and many of whom will be international students.

Another of the LVRPA’s money-making ventures in recent years was its plan to build a housing estate on Metropolitan Open Land at the Waterworks. It has deliberately run down the Waterworks Centre which local groups like the Waltham Forest Civic Society have registered as an Asset of Community Value, once again showing local people’s concern for these facilities and open spaces.

A decade of so ago the LVRPA speculated on the idea of building another hotel on Metropolitan Open Land in front of the Ice Centre at Leyton Marsh. Now you are planning the same at Eton Manor.

Inconsistently, while it objects to ‘private’ allotments, the LVRPA has built private horse-riding facilities in the form of Livery Stables at the Riding Centre. Livery horses are paddocked at the very extensive paddocks on public land at the back of the Riding Centre and their owners benefit from being able to use the public land of the Marshes to exercise their horses.

None of these actions are compatible with your remit to protect these green open spaces for the benefit of the public.

Failure to Protect the Lower Lee Valley from harmful development

Finally, even when it sees others acting to harm the Marshes the LVRPA takes no action.

The Authority recognised the harm Waltham Forest Council’s development at Lea Bridge Station would do to the Marshes, as its own report to the Board stated. However, instead of then making an objection to these plans it stayed silent and took no action.

Soon the LVRPA will be faced with the prospect of a massive development at New Spitalfields. Indeed, Waltham Forest is building and plans to build towers all along the east side of the Marshes. Has the LVRPA made any representations against any of these plans or against the present draft Local Plan? The Planning Inspectorate has raised serious objections to these proposals but the council ploughs on regardless. Will the LVRPA act to protect our Green Lung or is it going to leave everything to local people?

Will it say anything about the prospect of a small town being built on the New Spitalfields site right next to the Marshes and the River Lea? We attach an indicative plan of what is proposed for New Spitalfields, 2,750 units, a likely population in excess of 6,000, with towers up to 30 storeys high and a cycle/pedestrian route north up the east side of the River Lea to the Waterworks Meadow. Save Lea Marshes is already campaigning against this abominable project.

The LVRPA was created to protect our Green Lung for the benefit of local communities, not to build over it and exclude local people.

It may be that those representing areas which are well provided with green open spaces are unconcerned about our communities in this part of North-East London. However, green spaces are important for people’s physical and mental well being, even more so in areas like ours which are deprived, built up and lacking in such spaces.

It is our communities using the Lea Valley Park which are most in need of these green spaces and these are the last places that should be treated as opportunities for exploitation. It is these parts of the Park that most need the protection and active intervention by the Authority set up to govern it.

Yours sincerely,

Julian Cheyne

on behalf of Save Lea Marshes.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Our Response to the LVRPA Chief Executive re the Lower Lee Valley