Objection of the week

This is the third is our series of objections to the LVRPA’s plans for a new ice centre on the Lea Bridge Road. It has been written by Julian.

Part 1



Dear Sir/Madam

I wish to object to this planning application Lea Valley Ice Centre, Lea Bridge Road, Leyton, London, E10 7QL. Application ID: 194162.

  1. I consider the present site is unsuitable for the expanded Ice Centre.
  2. I have to note the cynicism of the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) in submitting two applications, presented by professional staff paid out of public funds, for the Waterworks music event at the same time as this one, thereby creating difficulties for those members of the community taking time out from their everyday lives to object. Any authority worth its salt should aim to facilitate consultation and participation in decisions of this kind. The LVRPA fails, yet again, to measure up.
  3. The LVRPA owns an alternative site at Eton Manor. It is fully aware of the existence of that site and has attempted to argue that it is less suitable than the site at Leyton Marsh. I do not see how such an argument can be sustained.
  4. Both sites are Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). In principle this means that neither site should be developed unless there are Very Special Circumstances.
  5. The LVRPA has failed to show any Very Special Circumstances for the Leyton Marsh site.
  6. Interestingly the LVRPA is trying to develop the Eton Marsh site, despite it being MOL, as a hotel.
  7. If it is the case that the Eton Manor site can be considered suitable for a hotel, despite it being MOL, then plainly it must be suitable for a sports centre.
  8. Given that the site is next to an existing sports centre, the Hockey and Tennis Centre, also owned by the LVRPA, this should make this site an instant shoe-in if the LVRPA is serious about its claim to be serving the public by providing facilities. In no way does building a hotel fit with that mandate.
  9. I consider the arguments for the suitability of the Eton Manor site to be overwhelming and that the relocation of the Ice Centre to that site will produce important benefits for Leyton Marsh and the surrounding area, benefits which will also be spread to other parts of the boroughs of Waltham Forest and Hackney.
  10. Waltham Forest Council has itself, on occasion, commented on the undesirability of the present Ice Centre. Both Waltham Forest Council’s ‘Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land Review’ and the ‘Waltham Forest Focussed Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land Assessment’ have considered the present Ice Centre to be an inappropriate development and that it would not have been granted permission if brought forward for permission now.
  11. Waltham Forest Council’s ‘Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land Review’ even says, see para. 5.16, ‘it supports such relocation as this would provide an opportunity to rationalise the land uses in MOL3 and enhance the sense of openness, particularly views north-south along the Lea Valley’.
  12. The most important reason for finding Eton Manor a more suitable site for the Ice Centre is the radically different transport opportunities available at that site by comparison with the present location. There is simply no comparison in this respect between the two sites.
  13. Improved transport connections would be a massive benefit to the Ice Centre itself as they mean it can attract a much larger user group from a much wider catchment area.
  14. To understand these greatly improved transport connections available at Eton Manor that site has to be understood in terms of its connection to the Stratford Regional Station and the two bus stations in Stratford Town Centre and at Stratford City.
  15. Stratford is one of the best connected train stations in London and actually in Britain, listed 7th in the UK see link below. Stratford links the Overground, the Central Line, the District and the Hammersmith and City Lines (one stop away at Mile End), the Jubilee Line, the DLR from Canary Wharf and beyond, the mainline up into Hertfordshire and out to Essex and into Liverpool Street https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_busiest_railway_stations_in_Great_Britain. The figures are collected by the Office of Rail and Road. In addition, the International Station also runs out into Kent and through the Tube network Stratford is linked to all London’s mainline stations.
  16. In addition, Stratford is incredibly well connected with buses from all over connecting at the Stratford bus station and Stratford City bus station, see the attached map https://web.archive.org/web/20170116154141/http://content.tfl.gov.uk/bus-route-maps/stratford-a4-0916.pdf. Stratford is also served by National Express coaches.
  17. Stratford Station and the two bus stations are linked to Eton Manor by the 308 bus. Almost anyone wanting to get to Eton Manor can do so easily by getting to Stratford by train or tube and taking the 308. If there was a need for a further transport connection, which there should not be, the LVRPA could run a mini bus service from Stratford to its Eton Manor facilities and to the Velopark just as Here East does.
  18. The 308 runs from Wanstead to Clapton, see 308 bus route, and also connects with the Stratford International train station.
  19. In addition, Eton Manor is also served by the W15 bus route which in turn is only a short walk to connect with the Central Line at Leyton, see the map in this link Leyton High Road / Leyton Station.
  20. Bus Routes 158, 58 and 69 all connect with the W15 where they intersect near Leyton Tube station, connecting areas in Waltham Forest up to Chingford and east out to East Ham and south to Plaistow and other parts of Newham.
  21. If it is situated at Eton Manor the Ice Centre remains a local facility easily accessible to local users. If anything it becomes easier for people in East London to access as Stratford and its wider bus network makes it easier for people to get to Eton Manor than to Leyton Marsh.
  22. The present Ice Centre is served by two minor railway stations, which cannot in any way compare to either Stratford station or Leyton Tube station, and the buses connecting those stations to Lea Bridge Road. The numbers travelling using those stations are minuscule by comparison with those using Stratford station. Leyton Tube station is also an important stop on the Central Line.
  23. In addition, the Lea Bridge line goes to Stratford and the 308 bus goes to Clapton so both of those starting points for the Leyton Marsh site are covered by connections to Stratford and, in the case of the 308, directly to Eton Manor.
  24. These connections mean public transport becomes a much easier and more sensible way to get to the Ice Centre if it is located at Eton Manor thus reducing car use and the associated problems of congestion and pollution.
  25. So not only does Eton Manor favour the use of public transport, which is a benefit in itself, but the LVRPA is likely to get far more users attending at Eton Manor as public transport connections via Stratford open the centre up to a much larger catchment both inside and outside London.
  26. Regarding access by car Eton Manor is of course also much closer to the M/11/12/A12 link meaning that distance traffic will be much less disruptive to the local area as it can move easily in and out of the area without impacting on local roads, also meaning pollution and congestion will be eased.
  27. The plans for the Ice Centre on its present site are simply unsustainable. The current use of the Ice Centre stands at 279,000 a year. Of these only a third are Waltham Forest and Hackney residents. The intention is to double capacity. Given that this will mean a lot more people coming from outside the area it is imperative to provide much better public transport connections.
  28. It is simply impossible to achieve these at the present location given the extremely limited bus and train services available. The result has to be greatly increased car use with much worse congestion and pollution in Lea Bridge Road and neighbouring streets and areas.
  29. Eton Manor, on the other hand, can provide these public transport improvements.
  30. For both Waltham Forest and Hackney, moving the Ice Centre has benefits for traffic on Lea Bridge Road in terms of the reduction in traffic congestion and pollution on that road and removing traffic, and thus congestion and pollution, from other connected Waltham Forest and Hackney streets. The reduced traffic will also improve the flow of public transport in Lea Bridge Road and connected streets.
  31. The relocation of the Ice Centre will also provide more open space for people to enjoy at Leyton Marsh with its associated benefits for the health and well being of people in the area.
  32. The benefits of enjoying nature for people’s physical and mental health are well documented. Walking is the easiest and most popular form of exercise. Opening up this space will help develop and protect the Lea Valley Park in this area of London as the Green Lung it is supposed to be.
  33. Other sports centres in the Olympic Park like the Tennis and Hockey Centre and the Velopark facilities already belong to the LVRPA so having the Ice Centre there will allow for synergies making it possible for the LVRPA to efficiently plan better access for all its centres and create link ups between programmes for the different centres in order to increase usage, all things the LVRPA should be seeking to do now with its existing sports centres in the Olympic Park.
  34. Taking the planning restrictions on development on MOL into account and the immense benefits to the Ice Centre in moving it to Eton Manor in terms of access and the synergies such a move creates there is really no comparison between these two sites. Eton Manor outclasses Leyton Marsh in every respect.
  35. Taking into account the benefits of removing the Ice Centre from Leyton Marsh in terms of the reduction in pollution and congestion in Lea Bridge Road and neighbouring streets, the provision of more open space and the associated benefits to the health and well being to local people, and the protection of the Marshes as north-east London’s green lung Eton Marsh has to be considered by far the more desirable location for this facility.
  36. Planning permission for this application should be refused.

Yours faithfully

Julian Cheyne

Part 2

Dear Sir/Madam

Planning application Lea Valley Ice Centre, Lea Bridge Road, Leyton, London, E10 7QL. Application ID: 194162

I wish to add to my objection regarding the application by the Lea Valley Ice Centre, as in my previous email.

Car park

  1. First, I consider the applicant is being misleading in their description of the car park they intend to create. They refer to 155 spaces for cars. However, their description of the size or capacity of the car park is actually 200 parking spaces with capacity for more, an extra capacity which is not defined but it seems could be considerably greater.
  2. 4.5 of the planning statement refers to “The desired footprint can be comfortably provided on the existing site, has room for 200 parking spaces (plus potential ability to also use the immediate surrounding area for parking if necessary)” https://planning.walthamforest.gov.uk/civica/Resource/Civica/Handler.ashx/Doc/pagestream?cd=inline&pdf=true&docno=9414897. This doesn’t provide an actual figure for how many cars could be parked there but it seems it could be considerably more than 200 and far more than 155.
  3. Amendment

    Please note the document https://planning.walthamforest.gov.uk/civica/Resource/Civica/Handler.ashx/Doc/pagestream?cd=inline&pdf=true&docno=9414897 includes a diagram at 3.11 which shows the car park has 220 spaces. So this is actually the starting point. The area in which the car park can expand is in addition to that area as the space made available for parking in this diagram is set out in the diagram. It is not declared to an ‘immediate surrounding area’. So the applicants have actually produced three numbers for the size of the car park. How can any of this be relied on?

  4. As things stand they say the Ice Centre is operating at 100% capacity. Regarding parking it has a total of 307 spaces. “To the west of the building is a car park formed of hardstanding which provides for 177 spaces. The area immediately to the front of the ice centre is currently used as an overflow car park and provides an additional 130 parking spaces. In total, the ice centre is served by 307 car parking spaces.”
  5. It is unclear whether operating at 100% capacity means the car park is also 100% full. However, the Ice Centre is claiming it will be able to reduce car usage by just under 50%, based on these two figures of a reduction from 307 to 155 spaces.
  6. However, in reality it has a much greater capacity, a capacity which is not actually made plain.
  7. It has to be asked whether they will be able to meet their target reduction to reduce parking to 155 spaces or whether they will be obliged to use the extra capacity.
  8. In fact it has be asked whether they will be able to achieve any reduction at all.
  9. Increase in activities and visitors

  10. Second, it seems the Ice Centre expects an increase in numbers using the facility. I have not found an analysis of expected future usage. It may be there. There are a lot of documents to get through.
  11. However, taking it that the Centre says is already operating at 100% capacity and is therefore apparently bursting at the seams the whole plan is presented on the basis that a larger facility is needed to cope with this level of demand. Therefore it is based on the premise that the Centre needs to be larger to accommodate more users.
  12. The Centre refers to the growth of populations in the Boroughs and areas from which it draws users. In the Planning Statement https://planning.walthamforest.gov.uk/civica/Resource/Civica/Handler.ashx/Doc/pagestream?cd=inline&pdf=true&docno=9414890 it states “10.27 To put this ‘need’ further into context, since the current ice centre was consented in 1984, London’s population has increased by 1.5 million (22%) and the boroughs of Waltham Forest and Hackney have seen a population increase of 27%. In this time, the ice centre has accumulated a large interest group and is a well-known establishment for providing ice related activities and opportunities.” Again the point is there is a growing population to cater for and the Ice Centre is a well known facility in the region likely to attract visitors from this growing population.
  13. Paras 6.11 to 6.13 make similar points about rising numbers of visitors to the LVRPA’s facilities and rising populations in relevant Boroughs.
  14. Para 10.5 makes similar points about the need for an “expansion of services and ice activities” all of which implies an increase in the numbers of visitors; “The operational capacity of the existing ice centre is a key driver of the need to replace the current facility, as in order to provide an expansion to the services and ice activities currently provided, additional ice space would be required which can only be delivered by the provision of an additional ice pad.” Another ice pad will not just help to meet existing demand but will allow for an expansion of services meaning it will draw in new users, new visitors.
  15. Para 10.55 of the Planning Statement provides further detail on how the second pad will provide further opportunities to enable more members to join hockey and skating clubs and to expand their activities, such as hockey practice: “Having a second pad will allow the hockey and skating clubs additional hours across the two pads. This will create capacity that will enable those on club waiting lists the opportunity to join. The indicative timetable at Appendix 8 demonstrates how, across the two pads, the number of days able to offer hockey practice, particularly junior hockey, will increase. There is also an enhanced ‘Learn to Skate’ programme and more patch ice time.”
  16. Para 10.57 refers to the opportunities to accommodate new ice sports: “Providing a second ice pad will also allow for opportunities to accommodate other ice sports such as speed skating, sledge hockey and recreational curling. British Ice Skating (BIS) and the English Ice Hockey Association (EIHA) have confirmed that there is significant latent demand for these uses, with potential for a new twin pad to meet a wider strategic need beyond London.”
  17. This section refers to meeting a wider strategic need “beyond London”. Plainly this implies further visitors travelling from greater distances, almost certainly by car. Accommodating new sports suggests a major expansion in usage.
  18. Para 10.58 reinforces the point referring to a “strong potential to grow” youth hockey and the Centre having a “strong hockey development market”. “The EIHA is the governing body responsible for the administration of all ice hockey in England and Wales. It is responsible for senior divisions below Elite League level, British Universities Ice Hockey Association, women’s ice hockey, recreational ice hockey and junior ice hockey. The EIHA have confirmed that the proposed replacement ice centre would have a strong hockey development market. It also suggested that it has strong potential to grow youth hockey system, currently limited by a lack of ice time.”
  19. Para 10.59 goes even further declaring a second pad “would deliver on a national requirement”. “Being able to accommodate additional ice sports would fulfil the Park Authority’s remit by increasing the regional profile, but this cannot be achieved without the addition of a second ice pad. Furthermore, by creating a second fully accessible Olympic twin pad in the UK would deliver on a national requirement.” It seems the Ice Centre envisages its expanded facility attracting users from across the nation.
  20. More visitors, reduced parking – how does this add up?

  21. Third, taking all these statements into account the Ice Centre is expecting an expansion in users, it could be said a considerable expansion given not just the expansion in local populations but taking into account its ambitions to reach out to new sports and that these sports would not just be in its traditional catchment areas but “beyond London” and even “across the nation”.
  22. It has to be asked how the Leyton Marsh location can meet the travel needs of an expanding number of visitors or how the Ice Centre will be able to reduce the number of car parking spaces when it expects more people to visit and with new visitors to be coming from further afield, almost certainly by car.
  23. It seems optimistic, to say the least, for the Ice Centre to accommodate a greater number of visitors on its existing car park, let alone on a smaller car park.
  24. It has to be expected that Centre will have to make use of the real capacity of the car park at over 200 and will almost certainly have to expand onto the extra space referred to to cope with the demand.
  25. The figure of 155 car parking spaces is simply unreliable on the basis of the plans put forward by the applicant.
  26. Travel Plan

  27. Fourth, it has to be asked whether the Ice Centre has any realistic plans to meet the challenge set out above.
  28. 5.2 of the Travel Plan https://planning.walthamforest.gov.uk/civica/Resource/Civica/Handler.ashx/Doc/pagestream?cd=inline&pdf=true&docno=9414868&fbclid=IwAR1GpiUdRHMJJCmi4XlXTVn6AxArjtchBYcmGrzelFV8mjGAwZoLV1jweGs makes several proposals of which the most significant are the following two paragraphs:
    1. increase the proportion of trips made to/from the Development by walking, cycling and public transport;
    2. reduce the total proportion of trips made to/from the Development by private car, which would also include a shift from single occupancy car use towards multiple occupancy car use;
  29. So essentially the Ice Centre’s plan is an education programme to encourage users to change their ways of getting to the Ice Centre.
  30. The first point that has to be made is they produce no evidence to show how effective such an education programme is likely to be.
  31. Most education programmes of this kind are run by public authorities or those with the power to influence behaviour in a number of ways, by increasing the availability of public transport, levying fines, increasing prices, running events to introduce people to cycling and such like. The Ice Centre has only one of these at its disposal, increasing prices for parking at its car park. It will produce leaflets and talk to users in the hope of persuading them to change their mode of transport but this is likely to be a pretty hit and miss project. No doubt some will want to make the effort to share their car but whether this can happen will depend on a variety of circumstances about when they travel, how easy it is to arrange, etc. It is hard to see that much reliance can be placed on such a programme to achieve more than limited results.
  32. Public transport. The Ice Centre has no control over the availability of public transport. If it does not meet users needs then no amount of urging its use will help.
  33. Buses. The first thing to note is that the options for public transport have decreased with the closure of the 48 bus route. Buses are used by a considerable number of users, but the loss of one service will reduce the numbers able to travel by this means.
  34. Trains. The second point is to note the findings of the traffic surveys that virtually no-one has been using trains to get to the Ice Centre and predictions from their surveys are that this is not going to change. If trains do not reach the areas from which people are travelling then no amount of urging people to use them is going to help. It seems trains are not a viable option for nearly all users.
  35. Given that public transport options have worsened the Centre will have to persuade more to walk, cycle or car share.
  36. Walking and cycling are only an option for those living relatively closely to the Centre. It is likely the Centre will be able to persuade a few more people to take up cycling as it is an increasingly popular means of getting about. But there are limits on how far people can cycle and a fair number will already be doing this so it is unlikely that there will be a great expansion of numbers.
  37. The Centre emphasises it will be increasing the number of cycle parking spots. While this may encourage some who have been worried about securing their bikes the reality is people are used to securing their bikes to any number of different kinds of railings and other street furniture. It is unclear that this in itself will lead to a great expansion in the number of cyclists.
  38. Walking is even more dependent on closeness. It is likely, simply to save money, that most of those who can get to the Centre by walking are already doing so.
  39. Car use. The Centre is anticipating an increase in the number of users, both in line with the rising populations of the different boroughs and because it plans to expand the number of events. This expansion is expected to include areas outside London and even nationally. It seems likely that most of this expansion will be in areas further away from the Centre as it is well known locally and has probably reached most of those likely to attend in that area. Given that these extra users are likely to be travelling from a greater distance and given that trains do not seem to meet the needs of those travelling to the Centre it can be expected that most, if not all, of these new users will be coming by car.
  40. The Centre could impose severe price rises on parking to discourage car use. There is no indication they intend to do this. Plainly if they did and users did not have other options to get to the Centre then this would simply put people off coming, the exactly opposite of what they are trying to achieve.
  41. One irony is that the LVRPA has another car park within walking distance at the Waterworks which is free so users who were prepared to complete their journey with a short walk could simply park there. This would not reduce car usage and pollution but might hide it in their statistics.
  42. So the only real means of reducing car usage available to the Ice Centre is to encourage car sharing. They provide no evidence that education programmes by a Centre of this kind will produce any meaningful change in behaviour. Even if there are some who will make the effort, and I have to assume there will be some even if because they may be able to save some money by sharing costs, such efforts will depend on a wide range of factors such as times of travel, how easy it is to pick up those getting a lift, etc. There is no real indication that such a programme will make a significant dent in the numbers travelling by car.
  43. This is an unresearched plan with no evidence to show it will or can be effective. In addition it is put forward when the numbers using the Centre are expected to rise considerably.
  44. Given the wholly unsatisfactory nature of this travel plan and the problems it reveals it cannot be expected that the Ice Centre will be able to reduce the number of cars parking at the Ice Centre in the ways suggested.
  45. This brings me back to the car park. The car park as described is misleading. The real car park is set out in the section referred to at the start: “The desired footprint can be comfortably provided on the existing site, has room for 200 parking spaces (plus potential ability to also use the immediate surrounding area for parking if necessary)”. The car park has at least 200 spaces. The “potential ability to use the immediate surrounding area” fails to describe how many more spaces this will provide. However, given that the present car park has 307 spaces on the basis of present numbers and as it seems likely given that more people will be travelling from further afield the chances are even this “extra surrounding area” will be inadequate to meet the demand.
  46. The Ice Centre simply fails to explain how it is going to cope with the numbers it expects to attract with an expanded Centre providing new events and facilities for an expanded catchment area and an expanding population on a confined site.
  47. This objection is supplementary to the points made in my earlier objection which highlighted the vastly greater public transport connections and, indeed, road connections at Eton Manor. One point I forgot to mention in that objection is that Stratford also provides an enormous parking overflow capacity at Westfield, so if there is any shortage of parking at Eton Manor people can park at Westfield and take the 108 bus to the Ice Centre.

Julian Cheyne

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Objection of the week

This is the second in our weekly series of objections to the LVRPA’s plans to build a new Ice Centre on Leyton Marsh. This one is from Peter. His argument focuses on the question of building on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). Because the building is to be on MOL, and there are very specific rules about building on MOL, it is sufficient to demonstrate that the rules have been breached to prove that the LVRPA’s plans must be rejected.

Objection to Planning Application 194162

Lee Valley Ice Centre, Lea Bridge Road, Leyton, London E10 7QL

8th March 2020

I wish to object to the planning application for a new ice centre on the Lea Bridge Road.

The applicant is the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA). The plan entails demolishing the existing building and replacing it with a new one, approximately twice the size. The site is Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). In paragraphs 7.3 to 7.5 of the Planning Statement the LVRPA admits that the development would be “inappropriate”, as defined by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF); and explains in paragraph 5.7 of the same document that as a consequence such a development can only be allowed if there are very special circumstances (VSC) that outweigh the harm caused by building on MOL.

Very special circumstances (VSC)

The LVRPA claims that the following considerations constitute VSC. In this section, all paragraph references are to the Planning Statement.

  1. The LVRPA’s “duty”. Paragraph 16.21 states that the LVRPA “has a statutory duty to develop sports and leisure facilities in the Regional Park. Since 95% of the Park is Green Belt or MOL, it is likely that some new facilities will be developed on protected land.” But this is misleading and a non-sequitur. The LVRPA has a “statutory duty” to do many things under the 1966 Act, as spelt out in paragraph 2.5 – the provision of sports and leisure facilities constitutes only one part (and not necessarily the most important part) of its functions. But, more importantly, there is nothing in the 1966 Act that suggests that the need to provide such facilities entitles the LVRPA to override other considerations. As for the statement that “some new facilities will be developed on protected land”, this has no basis at all. The 1966 Act gives no details about the minimum provision of any particular facilities; therefore it must follow that such provision should be subject to all other relevant constraints. There is no basis for arguing that the need to provide a specific facility constitutes a VSC. The fact that the LVRPA currently provides skating facilities to the public does not place any obligation on it to go on doing so. Until 2012, the LVRPA provided golfing facilities at the Waterworks. When it stopped doing so, this was not because of any lack of demand from the public; rather it was because it thought that it could make more money by using the Waterworks site for other purposes.
  2. The need to have an operational ice centre. The present ice centre is nearing the end of its life, and will soon no longer be able to function. The LVRPA argues in paragraph 10.15 that the need to replace it before it expires is a VSC, because it is inconceivable that there should come a time when such a facility should not be available in this part of London. But this dependence is entirely of the LVRPA’s own making: if the LVRPA had not built the current ice centre (in the 1980s), then there would be no particular demand to build a bigger and better one now. Nevertheless, it is very possible that the London Borough of Waltham Forest (LBWF) would wish to have an ice centre somewhere within the borough, but there is no a priori reason why it should be on LVRPA land, or indeed why it should be provided by the LVRPA. When considered from this point of view, it is clear that there is no VSC involved here.
  3. There is no other twin-pad ice centre in London. The LVRPA asserts in paragraph 10.42 that this is a VSC, but does not explain why.
  4. Increased usage. In paragraphs 10.43 to 10.56, the LVRPA explains how a larger ice centre will result in more availability to the public and more availability to sports clubs – which will better enable it to fulfil its “duty” (as described earlier) and so this is also a VSC. But a closer reading of paragraph 10.48 shows that this is just a way of saying that the LVRPA will earn more revenue from a larger facility. Such a commercial argument cannot constitute a VSC.
  5. Community benefits. In Section 11, the LVRPA describes the benefits that would accrue to the community from the new ice centre and claims them as a VSC. Many of these may indeed be genuine benefits, but the suggestion that they constitute a VSC depends crucially upon the premise that there is no other possible location for the new ice centre. It is also worth noting that these are benefits that could accrue only to some subsections of the “community”. No consideration is given to harm that the presence of the ice centre might cause to other subsections of the community.
  6. Health benefits. In Section 12, the LVRPA describes the health benefits that may result from the new ice centre and claims that they also constitute a VSC. The situation here is analogous to the community benefits described above. They may be genuine benefits, but they could only be considered to be a VSC if there is no other possible location for the new ice centre. And again, while the presence of the ice centre may be beneficial to some people (those who patronize it), it will have the opposite effect on other people (those who would enjoy this area of Leyton Marsh if it were undeveloped).

As explained above, the LVRPA’s case is founded upon a number of premises:

  1. That there must be an ice centre. This is not a foregone conclusion. It is up to the LBWF not the LVRPA to decide how important it is that there should be an ice centre in the borough.
  2. That the ice centre must be provided by the LVRPA. This has not been demonstrated. The LVRPA has a duty to provide some sporting and leisure facilities, but there is obviously no duty to provide facilities for every single possible sport and leisure use. Before the 1980s the regional park did not have an ice centre – and there are any number of sports and leisure uses that the park does not cater for now and probably never will.
  3. That the new ice centre must be located at the Lea Bridge Road site. If it could be located elsewhere, then it cannot be argued that its benefits (being general, not site-specific) constitute a VSC for the Lea Bridge Road site. I shall discuss this point more fully in the following section.

Alternative location

The LVRPA has explained that it originally considered four possible sites – the Waterworks (WW), Pickets Lock (PL), Eton Manor (EM) and the existing site (LVIC) – for the new ice centre. It used a scoring matrix to determine which was the best site. The results of this were LVIC 74.6%, WW 72.6%, EM 70.6% and PL 65.1%.; and so this is the reason why the existing site was chosen as the preferred location for the new ice centre. However, such a scoring system can only be as reliable as the values that are input into it, and these values are themselves subjective. Even at the time the original scoring matrix was drawn up in 2016, several of these values were clearly wrong. If these erroneous input scores were adjusted to more appropriate values, LVIC’s overall score would reduce to 73% and EM’s would increase to 76%, thereby making EM the preferred choice.

The LVRPA has now revised the scoring matrix, and submitted this revised version in this planning application. This has been done because certain facts have changed in the three years since the original matrix was drawn up. It includes two new sites: Broxbourne (B) and the Thames Water depot (TW). In this version the results are LVIC 77.66%, TW 75.84%, PL 62.82%, EM 62.78%, WW 60.8% and B 51.76%. However, this version is just as problematic as the previous version, as I shall demonstrate. For brevity, I shall consider only LVIC and EM.

  1. Accessibility from existing catchments. This appears to mean: How easy will it be for people visiting the existing centre to visit the new centre instead? It has a weighting of 12. Why such a high value? Why should it matter particularly to the LVRPA whether people visiting the new centre are exactly the same as those visiting the existing centre? Before the existing centre was built (in 1981), there was no “existing catchment”, so any “need” for skating facilities that now exists is entirely a consequence of the LVRPA’s decision to create the existing centre in the first place. As it happens, both LVIC and EM are similar distances from the same population centres, so they can be expected to attract much the same clientele. In any case, the methodology behind this assessment is objectionable, because it is based upon an estimate of 30 minutes’ drive-time. The LBWF should assess facilities according to the requirements of users of sustainable transport not car drivers.
  2. Adjacencies of other leisure uses. Both sites have been given a score of 4. This is plainly absurd. There are several leisure uses adjacent to EM of a sporting type, which are exactly the sort of uses likely to appeal to patrons of a skating rink; whereas next to LVIC there is only the Riding Centre. Consequently EM should have a higher score. The LVRPA claims that some leisure uses are “complementary” to skating whereas others are not, but this distinction seems to be entirely arbitrary.
  3. Sporting authority stakeholder support. This refers to how supportive other sporting bodies will be to the new ice centre. EM scores much lower than LVIC, because England Hockey is located next-door to EM and would therefore be prevented from undertaking activities that might have an effect outside its precincts, for example excessive car-parking at peak periods. But this is unacceptable. There is contention for space all over London, and organizations must learn to live within existing constraints. One organization should not be able to dictate to another organization where it can locate merely because it is unwilling to submit to the additional discipline that that would entail. This is particularly pertinent in the case of car-parking. Given the declaration of a climate emergency, organizations should be reducing the use of cars, not allowing it to increase. Therefore the weighting for this item should be reduced.
  4. Community stakeholder support. From the narrative accompanying the new matrix, it is apparent that the “community” here consists of those people who responded to the LVRPA’s consultation. The vast majority of these will be users of the existing ice centre; so inevitably the scores will be biased in favour of LVIC.
  5. Access by car. This has a weighting of 15, whereas the criteria for access for cycle and for foot both have a weighting of 5. This cannot be justified. The London Boroughs of both Hackney and Waltham Forest have a strategy of prioritizing walking and cycling over driving. Therefore the weighting for driving must be lower than for walking and cycling. It is disgraceful that the LVRPA should need to have this pointed out.
  6. Access by public transport. The LVRPA gives LVIC a score of 3 and EM a score of 2. The narrative explains that this is because LVIC has a higher PTAL rating. For the original version of the scoring matrix the LVRPA drew up a list of typical destinations together with journey times between each destination and the ice centre. If you calculate these journey times now (in March 2020) using the TFL Journey Planner (https://tfl.gov.uk/), you will find that on average the times from LVIC are 2 minutes higher than those from EM. (These calculations may be found in Appendix B.) For that reason, the score for EM should be at least as high as that for LVIC.
  7. Fit on site. The LVIC has a score of 5, and EM 4. However, the narrative admits that the new building will fit onto both sites. EM is given a lower score because it will provide less scope for the “public realm and landscape opportunities”. But this should be treated as irrelevant. EM is right next to a busy road, not in a location that people are going to visit except to go to the ice centre. By not building the ice centre at LVIC there will be plenty of scope for the LVRPA to spend money on the “public realm and landscape opportunities” at the vacated LVIC site. Therefore EM should have the same score as LVIC.
  8. Ice centre and on-site parking. This has a weighting of 15; LVIC has a score of 5, and Eton Manor 1. Firstly, the weighting is far too high: the LBWF should be doing everything possible to reduce reliance on cars, so it is very wrong to allow policies to be driven by the needs of car-drivers. Secondly, there are plenty of car-parking spaces in the vicinity of EM. It is only because of a willingness to acquiesce to the hegemonic demands of England Hockey next-door that there is felt to be a shortage of spaces. In any case, one wonders whether the LVRPA genuinely considers that there is a shortage of parking at EM, in light of the fact that it is proposing to build a hotel on the site. Clearly the score for EM should be increased.
  9. Grounds/landscape constraints. LVIC has a score of 4, and EM 2. The narrative explains that EM’s low score is because it “is known to have poor ground conditions, that will likely result in significant piling of the site”. However, this should be taken with a pinch of salt. The LVRPA is currently proposing to build a hotel at EM. Such a building, consisting of several storeys, would exert far greater pressure on the ground than the proposed ice centre, with only two storeys and containing a lot of empty space. In any case, no mention is made of the facts that: firstly, EM is a fairly barren site close to a motorway, whereas LVIC is close to an SSSI; and secondly, if the ice centre is built at LVIC this will entail felling a number of mature trees, whereas there are no mature trees at EM. Therefore the score for EM should be at least as high as that for LVIC.
  10. Cost and ability to develop the scheme. LVIC has a score of 3, and EM 2. The narrative explains that EM has a lower score because the above-mentioned need for piling will increase the building cost. But it does not mention the additional cost that will incurred at LVIC by the complications of staging the building work, in other words scheduling it in such a way that skating facilities remains available to the public for as long as possible while the building is going on. This additional cost would not apply to EM.
  11. Impact on business plan. The LVIC has a score of 5, and EM 3. LVIC has a higher score because it is reckoned that a gym at LVIC would be more profitable than one at EM. This is because, according to the narrative, there are more gyms already in the vicinity of EM. However, the copy of Google Earth at Appendix C shows that the numbers of gyms near the two sites are exactly equal (3 within a radius of half the distance between the two sites, and 9 within a radius of the distance between the two sites). So the two sites should have the same score. (Incidentally, it is obvious that the LVRPA does not sincerely believe that the proximity of gyms is a relevant consideration, since it is proposing that the hotel at EM should itself include a gym. See paper RP/38/20 paragraph 15 in https://www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/DocumentSearch/display.php?Document=338)
  12. Continuity of service. LVIC has a score of 1, and EM 4. The LVIC’s low score is a reflection of the fact that there will be a period between closing down the old ice centre and the first phase of the opening of the new ice centre during which there will be no skating possible. However, there is no reason why EM’s score cannot be 5, since in its case the first phase of the opening of the new ice centre can take place before the old ice centre is closed down. The narrative explains that the ice pad at the old centre will be transferred to the new centre in the second phase, but there is no reason why that should cause an interruption in service at the new centre.
  13. Accordance with government guidance. Both sites are accorded a score of 4. However, the narrative includes the proviso “it has been assumed that Very Special Circumstances (VSC) can be demonstrated”. This is, of course, precisely what is disputed. Since it cannot be assumed that VSC can be demonstrated, the scores for both sites should be reduced. In LBWF’s Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land Review (https://walthamforest.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Waltham%20Forest%20Green%20Belt%20and%20Metropolitan%20Open%20Land%20Study_2015%20Low%20Res%20%281.1%29%281.0%29%20%281%29.pdf) and Green Belt and MOL Assessment Sheets (https://walthamforest.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Green%20Belt%20and%20MOL%20Assessment%20Sheets.pdf), the value of both LVIC (referred to as “MOL3”) and EM (referred to as “MOL6”) as MOL are assessed. LVIC is deemed to merit its designation fully because it satisfies all 4 criteria, but EM is deemed less worthy of the designation because it satisfies only 3 of the 4 criteria. For that reason the score for LVIC should be reduced further than that for EM.
  14. Accordance with local plan policies. LVIC has a score of 3, EM a score of 1. EM has a lower score because it “is allocated for another use, as a designated playing field, and is identified for five a side football in the LLDC Local Plan”. But again, one wonders how relevant this is, since it does not seem to present an obstacle to the afore-mentioned plans to build a hotel on the site, nor to the afore-mentioned objections from England Hockey.
  15. Accordance with Green Belt MOL policy. LVIC has a score of 2 and EM a score of 1. The narrative explains that LVIC “is largely previously developed land, and the development would have less than significant impact on openness compared to the current existing site [presumably existing building is meant]”, and that EM “would have significant impact on current openness as there are no existing structures on the site”. This is plainly absurd. Firstly the new building is twice the size of the old one, so it will certainly have a significant (detrimental) impact on openness. Secondly, if the new building were located at EM, then the site at LVIC could be cleared, thereby resulting in a significant improvement in openness. So the question boils down to whether openness at EM is more or less valuable than at LVIC. In view of the remarks about MOL above, it follows that it is more valuable at LVIC. Therefore the scores should be swapped round.
  16. Regeneration benefits. LVIC has a score of 5 and EM a score of 4. This is because LVIC is within 3 areas designated in the London Plan, whereas EM is in only 1 such area. However, the narrative does not explain why that entitles LVIC to a higher score than EM. The one thing that is certain is that the area around LVIC needs less development, not more.
  17. Planning potential. LVIC has a score of 4 and EM a score of 2. This is simply a reflection of the fact that the LVRPA reckons that LVIC has a greater likelihood of being approved than EM. That is of course an entirely circular argument: you should grant planning permission for the new ice centre at LVIC rather than at EM because we think you are more likely to grant planning permission for it at LVIC than at EM!

At Appendix A there is a copy of the Scoring Matrix. The LVRPA’s scores and weightings are on the left. Where a value has increased from the original (2016) matrix it is coloured red; where it has decreased it is coloured green. (The original matrix is not shown, to avoid confusion.) On the right the scores and weightings are corrected to resolve the issues described above. Where a value has increased from the LVRPA’s value it is coloured red; where it has decreased it is coloured green. As can be seen, the overall score for LVIC reduces from 971 (78%) to 912 (73%), and the overall score for EM increases from 785 (63%) to 964 (77%), as a result of these modifications.


The new ice centre cannot be built on the site of the existing ice centre unless Very Special Circumstances (VSC) can be demonstrated. Most of the points that the LVRPA present as VSC are not valid. It might be possible to argue that some of the benefits (community and health) are VSC. However, these benefits are general, not specific to any one location. Therefore, if there are alternative possible locations for the new ice centre, these benefits cannot be counted as VSC either. I have demonstrated, using the LVRPA’s own methodology, that at least one other site (Eton Manor) is at least as acceptable as the existing site. Therefore there are no VSC for the existing site. Therefore it must be rejected.

Peter Mudge, on behalf of Save Lea Marshes

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Objection of the Week!

As the LVRPA have been lobbying the local council and encouraging local people to support their application, every week for the next few weeks we will be sharing an objection to the new Lee Valley Ice Centre being sited at Leyton Marsh.

Each of these objections have been made on different grounds. You can still submit a relevant objection to the planning department at Waltham Forest Council.

First up is Celia who focuses on the industrial nature of a twin pad ice centre on Leyton Marsh – Metropolitan Open Land and some of the reasons it would be better situated at Eton Manor:

Development Management & Building Control
London Borough of Waltham Forest
The Magistrates, Town Hall Complex
1 Farnan Avenue
London E17 4NX

Re. Application No. 194162FUL Lee Valley Ice Centre

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to comment on the above proposal.  Having fully read the document prepared by WSP/Idigo on behalf of the Lee Valley Ice Centre, and indeed been involved at various stages of the ‘consultation’ process, I am writing to formally object to the building of the ice centre on the MOL site of Leyton Marsh.

There are many reasons why the building should not go ahead on this site but for the purposes of this objection letter I am going to reluctantly confine myself to just two.

  • There are insufficient good reasons to have chosen this site rather than the site of Eton Manor and a number of bad reasons, not least the building on MOL on less than ‘very special circumstances’.
  • My first point is to address both the practicality and the environmental damage that continuing to operate the old rink whilst developing a new one on the same site instead of building a new one on Eton Manor, whilst being able to keep the old one not only operational for a longer period but also to minimise the disruption to the creatures that inhabit the site and the people who currently use it. Building work is always more disruptive to land than anticipated because of footfall and machinery over grass and supplies left around.  In this case there would be even more disruption as mentioned under paragraph 14.57 of the report as this also includes the provision of temporary buildings.
  • Eton Manor would also be preferable during the time of construction, as the Olympic site is still currently undergoing development and the road infrastructure for commercial vehicles would be less impactful than on the Lea Bridge Road and surrounding districts (as witnessed during the building of the temporary Olympic Basketball Training Facility).
  • The ‘robust’ examination of other available sites in Appendix 1, does not provide sufficient argument to warrant going ahead with the Leyton Marsh site. If Eton Manor isn’t suitable, the arguments against Pickets Lock being effectively ‘too far to walk’ (20 to 30 minutes) could also be questioned (a) from the point of view of the levels of fitness the LVRPA aims to promote and (b)what of the other facilities currently based there including a cinema?
  • I would conclude that the fundamental reason for choosing Leyton Marsh over the other sites is because it is seen in terms of the potential for expansion. If planning permission is granted under ‘special circumstances’, who can say, that future expansion would not be justified?  Just as the current argument is made that a ‘building is there already’, even though, this building arrived before the current MOL status.
  • The building is inappropriate for a green space site, despite the efforts to ‘dress’ it as a more environmentally friendly building.
  • Having researched other ice centres (most, like the LVRPA one proposed are in fact ‘Leisure Centres’). I conclude that the proposed ‘twin pad’ most closely resembles Ice Sheffield (see photo 1 and compare the design for the Lee Valley Twin Pad, photo 2).  This is an industrial building based on an Industrial Estate with a mixed occupation of industrial business and leisure buildings – not on MOL.  If you take away the external enhancements of the Lee Valley Scheme and concentrate on the sheer size and scale of the building, the similarity is evident.
  • In London (as mentioned under pages 37-40 of the Planning Statement), the examples of Streatham and Romford are included. Both of these ice/leisure centres are positioned in town centre urban environments (see photos of Streatham an Olympic sized rink nos. 3-5).  Again, the sheer size and scale of the building can be imagined on Leyton Marsh and blocking the openness of the area, which is heavily used as a place for walking and escape by local people and visitors to the area – many more than would use the ice centre.
  • Romford – which used to have very similar ice rink before the new Sapphire Centre was built – a new facility is also located in the town centre (see photo 6), near to transport links.
  • As paragraph 1.53 of Appendix 1 states: “As a leisure facility, the proposed ice centre falls within the definition of a ‘main town centre use’ as defined by the NPPF.”
  • There would seem to be a difference of opinion on what the LVRPA considers to be near town centre and what local people consider to be open space. The Regional Park Authority lends more weight to its own internal needs e.g. not to conflict with the Hockey Centre at Eton Manor, than to the value of the MOL at Leyton Marsh to taxpayers and local residents.
  • While not strictly a ‘planning issue’ the very fact that the LVRPA’s unique organisational structure is a contributing factor in making its decision making difficult. It must, on the one hand, balance its arguments for justification across all the cash-strapped, London boroughs and increasingly need to make a profit from developments. This, set against the other requirements of its founding principles as regards the park, as set out in para. 2.5 (1) of the Planning Statement.  The originators of the Lee Valley Act did not for-see the dilemmas we currently have in terms of lack of land; climate change and the effect on the environment as well as austerity cuts to local authorities.  The overriding issue now must be climate emergency and the need to make sure our flora and fauna can survive in our green spaces. Such spaces are even more vital in conjunction with increased housing but smaller dwellings in the area, particularly as we now know that access to green space aids our health and mental health.

In conclusion, the justification of putting an industrial building on MOL adjacent to an SSSI is not proven, given as the report states there are other rinks “20 or 30” minutes by car away and a new Olympic ice centre, currently being built in Cambridge.  They may not all be twin- pads but certainly most of the London ones offer similar sporting activities including Ice Hockey (e.g. the Sobell Centre).  Many of the ice centres are also run by GLL, offering similar facilities (not, for some reason mentioned in the Planning Statement).  Therefore the ‘uniqueness’ of the Lee Valley Ice proposals have been overplayed and should be weighed against stark environmental facts (e.g. 95 per cent of meadow land lost since WWII), not ‘greenwash’.  If Leyton Marsh could be improved – why hasn’t the body responsible for it done enough before deciding to take away a large area of the land for development and so-called ‘enhancement’?

Yours faithfully,

Celia Coram

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Crowdfunder Launched to Re-wild the Waterworks Meadow

Save Lea Marshes are excited to announce that in the last few days Caroline has launched a crowdfunder on behalf of the group in order to re-wild the Waterworks Meadow!

You can read all about this exciting project here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/ecological-surveys-of-the-waterworks

All funds raised will be received into the Save Lea Marshes bank account and will go directly to 5 independent ecologists.

We would like to introduce our experts to you:

Annie Chipchase

“My interest in the natural environment and urban ecology was spurred by plants and botany has been a major feature in my paid and voluntary work for 30 years. My work has been concentrated in London where I have carried out habitat surveys for the GLA, for a consultancy and on a freelance basis. The vegetation of our cities is what make them liveable and never fails to surprise me.”

Rob Sheldon:

Rob will be carrying out ornithological surveys of the whole Waterworks area and will also be responsible for a professional collation of the report findings.

“I’ve been involved in bird surveys and research work for almost 30 years. After 12 years working with the RSPB and several years working in the Middle East, I’ve been working as a freelance conservation consultant since 2014. I’ll be undertaking surveys of breeding and non-breeding birds as well as assessing the potential for habitat management to attract new bird species.”

Russell Miller

Many of you will know Russell from his amazing work locally with the Tree Musketeers.

Here’s Russell’s introduction: “I’ve been an arboriculturalist and ecologist for 20 years and have lived in Hackney for 30 years. I will be surveying for invertebrates especially native bees. Invertebrates are extremely diverse and usually overlooked. Many nationally scarce or even rare species may occur on the Meadow because of its mosaic of habitats including: old trees, deadwood, open water, bare sandy ground, scrub and open grassland.”

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Time for a re-think at the LVRPA

It is an unfortunate fact that much of the material that we post on this site consists of negative comments on the work of the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority. So you may feel rather a weary sense of déjà vu on coming across The Lee Valley: time for a rethink by Laurie Elks. But you shouldn’t — because this document was written 40 years ago! I do urge you to read it and, as you do so, ask yourself how many of the criticisms it contains are just as valid today as they were when they were written. (And it also gives a very useful brief history of the first decade and a half of the Lea Valley Regional Park after its creation in 1965.)

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Save Lea Marshes’ Objection to Gasworks Proposal

1. The importance of the openness of open space

The Gas Works development will have a negative impact on the openness of the Marshes and Jubilee Park and it will add to the feeling of overcrowding and being overlooked in those using these spaces.

The Marshes are Metropolitan Open Land. The references to Green Belts in the NPPF and case law below also apply to Metropolitan Open Land. NPPF 133. The Government attaches great importance to Green Belts. The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open; the essential characteristics of Green Belts are their openness and their permanence. Waltham Forest Council’s own ‘Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land Review’ says, regarding the Ice Centre at Leyton Marsh, see para. 5.16, ‘it supports such relocation as this would provide an opportunity to rationalise the land uses in MOL3 and enhance the sense of openness, particularly views north-south along the Lea Valley’.

Plainly Waltham Forest considers ‘sense of openness’ to be an important issue when it comes to the impact of large scale developments like the one at the Gas Works and others planned for the future.

2. Visual impacts do harm to the openness of such important green spaces.

NPPF 144. When considering any planning application, local planning authorities should ensure that substantial weight is given to any harm to the Green Belt. ‘Very special circumstances’ will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm resulting from the proposal, is clearly outweighed by other considerations”

“Whether, in the individual circumstances of a particular case, there are likely to be visual as wellas spatial effects of the openness of the Green Belt , and, if so, whether those effects are likely to be harmful or benign, will be for the decision-maker to judge. But the need for those judgments to be exercised is, in my view, inherent in the policy.” [38] Samuel Smith
“In my view, therefore, when the development under consideration is within one of the five categories of paragraph 90 and is likely to have visual effects within the Green Belt, the policy implicitly requires the decision-maker to consider how those visual effects bear on the question of whether the development would “preserve the openness of the Green Belt”. [40] Samuel Smith

The visual dimension of openness was considered in Turner v. SSCLG
Sales LJ interpreted the concept of openness as one which was “not narrowly limited to [a]
volumetric approach” but “is open-textured and a number of factors are capable of being relevant when it comes to applying it to the particular facts of a specific case” [14].

3. The developers seem to have made no serious assessment of the visual impacts on the neighbouring open spaces. They say:

14.6 “The completed Development will provide views of the taller buildings (Block D and E) which will assist in signposting Leyton from the wider area and will bring a positive use of a previously derelict site. The Development will have direct moderate to minor beneficial effects on TCA 1 Leyton Fringe as well as indirect moderate to minor beneficial effects on TCAs 2 and 3. Quod | LeaBridge Gasworks | Environmental Statement, Volume 1 | March 2020

2914.7 The completed Development will have no adverse effects on representative views of the Site, with the majority of effects considered to range between moderate to minor beneficial. Whilst there will be a noticeable change from a number of viewpoints, it is considered that overall, the Development will have a beneficial effect on the surrounding townscape. There will be no effect on Viewpoints 5 Lea Bridge Road, 9 Hackney Marshes Pavilion and 11 River Lea Towpath.

14.8 There is potential for cumulative effects on views from the east and south-east of the Site overlooking Leyton Jubilee Park (Viewpoints 2, 6 and 7). During the construction phase, effects will remain moderate adverse from these viewpoints and during the operational phase there will be moderate beneficial effects.

To say the Development will have ‘no adverse effects’ on views simply fails to address the harms described in the NPPF and case law. The applicants refer to the tall towers ‘signposting Leyton’. Protecting the Marshes and their openness for the well being of the residents of Leyton and other parts of Waltham Forest is of infinitely greater importance than a tall building marking its territory. This is a snapshot from their Planning Statement showing how the towers will overlook Jubilee Park:

The applicants refer to ‘potential for cumulative effects on views’ at Jubilee Park during construction but then they say this will be beneficial on completion. How can this be described as beneficial? It is totally at variance with the need to preserve the sense of openness of the open space affected.

Below is a diagram showing the towers overlooking Jubilee Park. It is hard to see how this is anything other than oppressive when it comes to the openness of the open space.

On page 33 of their Planning Statement the applicants include one diagram suggesting visual impacts on Hackney Marshes from the pavilion at North Marsh. They do not provide any diagrams showing the impact from the south of Hackney Marsh or any diagrams showing the impact on the Marshes further north, at the Waterworks, Leyton Marsh or Walthamstow Marsh. Context is needed to show how the proposed development will fit with other construction in the area. No context is provided in the application. The reality is construction is steadily encroaching on the views from the Marshes thereby reducing their openness.

Above is a view of the Motion towers from Porter’s Field during construction. The two tall Gas Works towers are similar in height to the tallest Motion tower. Porter’s field is a similar distance from Motion as the Waterworks is from the Gas Works. Other examples below show how construction is intruding on the Marshes. The Gas Works will add to this intrusion.

Above is a view of the Motion towers from just south of the Waterworks cafe, below is a view from the Waterworks Nature Reserve:

Below, view from the Waterworks Meadow, the tallest Gas towers are the same height as the tallest. Motion tower and will be behind the FedEx warehouse.

A more specific view of the FedEx warehouse, the Gas Works towers will be behind the warehouse:

The same applies to Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes where towers are ever more visible. Above, view of Motion towers from the Aqueduct Path behind the Riding Centre.

Above, view of Motion towers from Walthamstow Marshes.

Below, view of Motion towers from Leyton Marsh:

Context of construction, view looking north from between Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes:

Above, view from Leyton Marsh showing future location of Gas Towers. The pylon on the right is on the Waterworks Nature Reserve. The Gas Works towers will be between the two pylons.

The Gas Works development will also be visible from Hackney Marshes. Picture below taken from south end of Hackney Marsh, the Gas Works will be to right of Motion tower.

The view above is not included in the applicants’ documents even though the view from the south of Hackney Marsh is supposed to be included. But then neither is the context of construction around the Marshes included anywhere.

Below is a view of the various constructions from the pavilion at Hackney North Marsh, the only location from which a projected view is provided.Increasingly the Marshes are becoming surrounded by towers.

The Gas Works towers will further impact on the openness of the open spaces on the Marshes and at Jubilee Park. This will cause harm to those spaces and to the benefits people derive from them.

4. Preventing harm to green open space is important for people’s health and well being.

The construction of such tall towers so close to important green open spaces will seriously detract from the enjoyment of those spaces and their usefulness as places of relaxation. Open space has increasingly been recognised as having important social and health benefits. It is important to ensure any construction near such spaces is appropriate and does not visually impact on those spaces in such a way to reduce those benefits.

Mind’s report ‘Ecotherapy: the green agenda for mental health’ presents the findings of the first ever study looking at how green exercise specifically affects people with mental health problems. A walk in a country park was compared with a walk in an indoor shopping centre. The results are startling:
● 71 per cent reported decreased levels of depression after the green walk
● 22 per cent felt their depression increased after walking through an indoor shopping centre
only 45 per cent experienced a decrease in depression
● 71 per cent said they felt less tense after the green walk
● 50 per cent said their feelings of tension had increased after the shopping centre walk
● 90 per cent had increased self-esteem after the country walk
● 44 per cent said their self-esteem decreased after window shopping in the shopping centre.
● 71 per cent reported decreased levels of depression after the green walk
● 71 per cent said they felt less tense after the green walk
● 90 per cent had increased self-esteem after the country walk
It is interesting to note that a ‘country’ walk has even more impact than a ‘green’ walk. It is worth
noting that the Marshes represent a very substantial area of green space, wilder than an urban park,
more closely resembling what might be called a country walk.
Mind is unequivocal about the potential benefits of rolling out eco-therapy in appropriate places,
“Hundreds of people have benefited from the green projects run by our local Mind associations but if prescribing ecotherapy was part of mainstream practice it could potentially help the millions of people across the country who are affected by mental distress.”

Recent surveys reflect the earlier findings of the Mind reports; a ‘sense of connectedness to nature is linked with greater psychological well-being’ (Cervinka et al., 2011; Howell et al., 2011).

Studies on obesity levels among children showed ‘levels are lower when there is more nearby green space to their residence’ (Dadvand et al., 2014). Proximity to green spaces is associated with reduced anxiety and mood disorder (Nutsford, Pearson and Kingham, 2013). A recent evidence review commissioned by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund, conducted by Sheffield Hallam University and The University of Sheffield includes a peer review of 385 studies. It highlights the social benefits of parks and green spaces (predominantly in the UK, Europe, the US and Australia) and underlines the potential of parks to deliver ‘multiple health benefits for the local communities and support long term mental and physical health’ (Dobson et al, 2019). Facilitated visits to green spaces improved the self-esteem, mental well-being and social lives of people with disabilities (Jakubec et al., 2016).

The Heritage and Society Report of 2019 recognised the significance of protecting natural heritage: https://historicengland.org.uk/content/heritage-counts/pub/2019/heritage-and-society-2019/ .

It found that the main source of pride for adults is ‘countryside and scenery’ at 53% (more than any other category). Parks and green spaces are a key component of social infrastructure; ‘the physical places and organisations that shape the way people interact’ (Klinenberg, 2018, p.5).

Crucially, parks and green spaces enable people to connect with nature, which in turn benefits well being.

5. Impact of new populations on existing open spaces
The policy of building large scale high density housing developments near to open spaces will inevitably place greater stress on that open space. While new housing may well be needed the appropriateness of its location, size, scale and impact on existing resources has to be taken into account. Others have commented on the lack of adequate rail transport, doctors’ surgeries, schools and the impact on roads, even by a supposedly car free development, as not only will residents still have cars but they will also need delivery, repair and maintenance services and such like.

Open spaces do not exist simply for the benefit of developers who can then advertise the desirability of the location for future residents and make a profit out of these public resources. These open spaces, particularly the Marshes, serve a much wider community than those living in the immediate vicinity of Lea Bridge. This development will be added to developments already built and others being planned. It is worth noting the judgement in Turner as below:

“The openness of the Green Belt has a spatial aspect as well as a visual aspect , and the absence of visual intrusion does not mean that there is no impact on the openness of the Green Belt as a result of the location of a new or materially larger building there.” – Sales LJ in Turner

Source of legal information used:

Click to access HLG-Samuel-Smith-Green-Belt-Planning-Seminar.pdf

Recent events at the Waterworks have shown how vulnerable open spaces are to inappropriate and damaging events. Waltham Forest Council sensibly refused an application to allow a music festival to take over that space. The events following that refusal, when people held barbecues and parties leaving behind quantities of litter for others to remove, showed that open space is not an unlimited resource. Care has to be taken to ensure it will remain available for future generations. Open spaces like Jubilee Park and the Marshes are of much greater value than the presence of a tower
signposting an urban destination, Allowing large scale developments to make unsustainable demands on these spaces will help to destroy such an important resource. It is imperative to avoid these harms.

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Application for the Waterworks Festival REFUSED!

A red kits soars over the Waterworks Meadow. Image by Giles Greenwood.

Save Lea Marshes are delighted that the destructive Waterworks Festival will not go ahead on the wildflower meadow adjacent to the Waterworks Nature Reserve. The location was always patently inappropriate for such a large-scale commercial event and we are relieved that the Licensing Committee have recognised the detrimental impact the festival would have on wildlife and local communities.

We are grateful to every single one of the 350+ objectors and all the organisations and residents we collaborated with to achieve this result!

The Waterworks Festival was opposed by Save Lea Marshes, Love Lea Bridge, Hackney Council, London Wildlife Trust, Hackney Marshes User Group, Manor Garden Allotments, Ive Farm Community Garden, Plastic Free Hackney and the Lea Bridge ward councillors in both boroughs, as well as countless local people. Waltham Forest Council have made the right decision to protect this precious area of the marshes for the enjoyment of all and for Nature.

Click here to see the full text of the decision.

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Waterworks Festival Licensing Application Hearing

If you objected to the licence for the Waterworks Festival, you should have received an official notification from Waltham Forest Council telling you that the licensing hearing will take place online (using Microsoft Teams) at 14:00 on 12th May, together with a number of documents.  If you wish to attend the online meeting (either to speak or just to listen) please get in touch with us at leamarshes@gmail.com, and we will let you know how we recommend that you should complete the Acknowledgement document.  You will need to send the completed document to licensing@walthamforest.gov.uk in order to attend the meeting.

If you objected to the licence but have not received a notification from the Council, please get in touch with Marc.Witham@walthamforest.gov.uk and bcc your email to leamarshes@gmail.com.

If you have not submitted an objection, particularly if you have only just become aware of the festival, we advise that you send a request to Marc.Witham@walthamforest.gov.uk if you wish to attend or speak at the hearing.

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Save Lea Marshes is proud to be part of a long line of local groups that have stood up to defend the marshes from development. Mike Knowles shares his personal story of the Walthamstow Marshes Campaign of the 1970s and 80s.

1. Introduction

In 1980, 34 years ago, a group of us living near the Walthamstow Marshes, almost all of us living on the Hackney side of the River Lea, saved them from obliteration at the hands of the Lea Valley Park Authority. The Park Authority wanted them to be dug up for gravel extraction and we stopped it. I am writing this account because I want the real story about how that was done to be known, or at the very least to be on record. The marshes were saved because of us. Five years later members of the campaign won for the marshes the designation of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) from the Nature Conservancy Council, now called English Nature. That designation, based on the evidence of both fauna and flora which campaign members had collected, was official acknowledgment of their great natural value and made their care and preservation secure. We live today in a social order where hardly anything, no matter how precious and beautiful and health-giving to humanity and to all forms of fauna and flora, is safe from exploitation. The designation SSSI is one immense protection against it. If this account of the Marshes can help local people who live near them today and those who visit them to appreciate and cherish them, it will be a very good thing.

On Sunday 29th December 2013 five of us visited the Marshes again. They were as alive and as lovely as they were all those years ago. We stood on Horseshoe Bridge over the River Lea at the foot of Springfield Park and looked again at the beds of sedge and bulrushes which we had saved. The sight made me think that our campaigning should not go unrecorded. Why should it? I still feel a deep attachment to all the members of the group. I can see them, I remember them, I remember how we got on and how we worked and how we combined, and where we met, and what we said and did month after month and the things that happened. I want them remembered. The Walthamstow Marshes are our monument. They are a monument to what a determined group of people, even when confronted by the powers of the land, can achieve.

And what also got me to write this record of our campaign was the realisation that unless I did it, and did it at once, not only will our campaigning and its achievement go unrecorded and be forever unremembered, but that an inadequate, and indeed somewhat misleading, record might even be substituted for it. The Lea Valley Regional Park Authority, which owns the Marshes, and has legal responsibilities for the whole stretch of the River Lea and its reservoirs and adjacent fields and meadows from Hertfordshire down to the Isle of Dogs, published a booklet in 1986 which endorsed the value of the Marshes. It did not mention however in the booklet that it had in fact been the body that applied for planning permission to obliterate them. That is not putting it too strongly. That would have been the outcome if their application had been approved. It was our opposition that saved them. As we walked the path in glorious bright winter sunshine just a couple of days before New Year on the Walthamstow side of the River Lea, which, I believe is the ancient boundary between Middlesex and Essex, the Middle Saxons and the East Saxons, I decided I would try to put the record straight. A small group of us saved them, and we saved them because we valued with an indescribable intensity both the wild life they sustained, both fauna and flora, and their wildness and untouched naturalness. They’re not the Grand Canyon or the Lake District or the Brazilian rain forests but they are ancient fenland, existing for thousands of years, which thanks to their specific circumstances, their location, have never been dug up and destroyed, even though they are no more than four miles from the City of London, that ultimate symbol and agent of the unbridled pursuit of money.

Without us the Walthamstow Marshes would no longer exist. Instead the eighty eight acres they occupy would now be nothing but another marina for people who can afford a boat. All the sedge, bulrushes, willows, dock, adders tongued fern and another two hundred different types of flora would have been dug up, carted away and dumped, heaven alone knows where, and all the ancient accumulation of gravel beneath them, laid down over thousands of years by ice sheets, would have been excavated and carried away in fume-belching lorries, to the depth of 36 feet by the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority. Gravel was cash and a marina meant more cash.

It was a lovely sunny winter’s afternoon that last Sunday in December when the five of us went for a walk along the River Lea and along the tow path running next to the Marshes. One of the five of us, Anna, was born during the Campaign. It was great to be outside in the sunshine, down there again from Cheshire if only for the weekend, and great to see it all again, great to see it was all still there as we had left it three decades before.

I suppose I should say a few words – just a few, just enough – about myself and my interest in the Walthamstow Marshes. We – my wife Jane and myself and three children – lived at 35 Spring Hill, which runs from Clapton Common in E5 near Stamford Hill down to the River Lea. Our house was opposite Springfield Park and a mere 200 yards from the river. The marshes are the other side of the river, separated from the Warwick Reservoirs by Coppermill Stream. The map I drew will help locate everything. Jane and I were very active in Trade Union activities throughout the 70s and I was Hackney Trades Council secretary during that time. I taught at South Hackney secondary school on Cassland Road, E9 and I cycled there and back daily along the path that runs by the river, so I experienced the river and the marshes in all weathers and in all four seasons. During the period 1979-82 I wrote a regular nature column in the Hackney Gazette about the river and its fauna and flora and those of the marshes. I did that under the pseudonym Leasider. There isn’t a clump of grass or a bush, a reed bed or a pub, a bridge or a kestrel, a heron or a cormorant, that doesn’t bring back memories. It turned out to be a very popular item, provoking a fair amount of comment and helping to make people more aware of the natural environment on their doorstep.

As the five of us came from the direction of Lea Bridge Road, after looking at the filter beds and their fascinating abundance of plant life, I saw the notice board that had been put up to tell people a little about the Walthamstow Marshes. The same notice board was at the other end too by the Coppermill marina and Spring Hill. It just said enough to alert people to the fact that this was a marsh distinct from the others along the River Lea and it mentioned that a group of local people had saved it. It also said that the presence on the marshes of a rare plant, the adders tongue fern, had made that possible. That last bit wasn’t the case at all. We didn’t campaign to save the Walthamstow Marshes just because of an adders tongue fern; in fact I’m not sure how many of us had ever heard of an adders tongue fern when we set up the campaign. Close and detailed botanizing came later, from one of the members of the campaign group whom I will mention in a few minutes. After the campaign had been won his work proved very instrumental in having the Marshes declared an SSSI some 4 years later. The adders tongue fern was saved because we saved its habitat, and most of us didn’t even know it was there when we began the campaign.

I read and re-read that short phrase ‘a group of local people’ on the notice board, and it struck me that that is all there is as a public record by which to remember us. Just ‘a group of local people’ it said, but otherwise not a single solitary detail about the campaign, how it was fought, the opposition it met, who its supporters were, the sort of people we were and why we did it. There was nothing there at all, as indeed there just couldn’t be, about the camaraderie and about the huge wealth of abilities and expert knowledge of some and the enthusiasm, dedication and ingenuity of all. How could there be on a three foot by three foot notice? Yes, we were nothing more than a group of local people. But we did have our day, we did something, we fought and we saved something for posterity, a little patch of mother earth, which because of us still breathes beauty and health into the atmosphere, defying the onslaught on the environment that still goes on, nowadays more than ever before. The Walthamstow Marshes are our monument. Because of us thousands upon thousands of people now stroll the path that runs beside them, all their 88 acres, and look at them and see the sedge and the bulrushes, the birds dipping in and out of them, their appearance in all weathers, and enjoy them and drink in their loveliness and their peace.

A couple of weeks after our re-visit to the Marshes I was looking for a map drawn by John Nash, a most imaginative and ardent member of the campaign and I found I had kept a copy of a publication by the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority: Walthamstow Marsh, A Guide to the History of the Area. I didn’t remember till then that I had kept it. The Park Authority brought it out in 1986. It is a mine of the most helpful information and I appreciate that of course. However, when I read the following section on pages 10 and 11 I knew beyond any doubt, if I didn’t know before, that I had to put pen to paper and write this account. The section, written by the Park Authority, mentioning what development had already been carried out within its territory, reads as follows:

One of the most potentially devastating threats of all [to the Lea Valley Park] began to appear however in the form of plans to extract gravel. The Walthamstow Corporation Act of 1956 defined the limits of land where gravel may be extracted and included areas of Walthamstow Marsh. Had extraction taken place, as in areas in the north of the Lee Valley, the workings would have destroyed the considerable wildlife and landscape interest. The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority acquired Walthamstow Marsh from the London Borough of Waltham Forest in July 1969. Since then three factors have combined to dispel the gravel extraction threat: firstly the refusal of the Greater London Council to grant planning permission for gravel extraction in 1980, secondly the Park Authority’s review of its original 1969 Park Plan, and thirdly an increasing awareness of the nature conservation value of the area culminating in its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest by the Nature Conservancy Council in 1985. This means that the future management of the marsh as a nature reserve with controlled public access and educational use is now secured.

The observation has to be made that though there’s not a single word in this LVRPA publication that isn’t true, it is very skillfully ‘economical with the truth’. It does not acknowledge the simple fact that it was the Park Authority itself that would have ‘destroyed the considerable wildlife and landscape interest’ of the marshes for good and all.


The booklet I have just mentioned has the great merit of supplying an immense amount of information about the marshes. For example, when in the year 894 the Vikings sailed from the Thames up the River Lea to carry out a raid on the town and district of Hertford, the river probably was at that time over a mile wide with reedy channels ebbing and flowing between patches of in accessible marshland. Throughout the Middle Ages up to very recent times it has been worked on to make it more navigable for the transport of boats of all sorts, carrying all kinds of products. It has been straightened and canalized, indeed in parts it looks more like a canal than a river, its banks made into towpaths and the marshes either side have been drained, with reservoirs being built, housing estates laid out and industries established. The closer it got to the Thames, the more industrial it became and railway lines out of Liverpool Street Station were constructed across it.

As I have said, for a number of years in the 1970s I myself cycled a section of its tow path daily to and fro from work at South Hackney School on Cassland Road. The school was closed in 1983. The river’s commercial use was still active up to then. On its west bank, for example, there were two timber yards, the Latham Timber yards to the south of Springfield Park, and another to the north, both now closed down and the properties converted into housing. Given their location on the river and facing the marshes and the reservoirs I imagine the houses there are very expensive. But the timber yards were places where men worked, worked by hand as well as by brain.

There were few sights I can recall so magnificent, so locked into my mind’s eye, as that of the great barges pushing their way through the water, sailing up from the Thames through the Isle of Dogs, loaded with huge tree trunks, which had been unloaded in the London docks and transferred onto the barges, making their way to the timber yards, the waves they created rising up against the prow and splashing over the decks. It was splendid honest physical work; and the sight of it all on a frosty winter morning, the sun gleaming and dancing in the waves and the surging resisting waters, is simply unforgettable. That’s all gone now of course. As far as I could make out, leisure craft in marinas have replaced it all. But I saw it when it was there, and I am glad. The LVRPA booklet has this to say: Today the River Lea is something of a backwater, a place for leisure boats, and a far cry from its hey-day when river barges carried thousands of tons of coal, copper, malt and timber.

They used to dredge the river regularly then, from barges with cranes on their decks. I recall one finding a motor car on the river bed right under the Roe arches which span the river between Clapton and the marsh. It was there that Alliot Verdon Roe constructed Avro No. 1 triplane in July 1909 and made the first all-British powered flight. The dredgers hoisted the car onto the bank, they did it very carefully, gingerly even, not knowing if they might find a body inside. It was an open sports car. There was no body in it. On another occasion, near Lea Bridge Road I think it was, I rode my bicycle past a group of policemen standing over a very sad-looking black plastic body bag. The drowned man or woman had been taken from the river.

For the many centuries of usage of the marshes prior to the Industrial Revolution the marshes were meadows for grazing and many sorts of agriculture. The booklet provides lots of interesting details about strip farming, Lammas land, the manorial system, the significance for the then agricultural society of Candlemas Day which commemorates the day when the boy Jesus at the age of 12 was presented in the temple in Jerusalem (2nd February), Lady Day (the day of the Annunciation 25th March which is today the beginning of the legal year), Midsummer Day and 1st August when there was a festival of thanksgiving; and it provides information about the way working life was regulated through the Manor Courts. In Walthamstow cows and horses could be turned out to graze on the marsh from Old Lammas Day (13th August) to Old Lady Day (6th April, nowadays the start of our tax year). With the Industrial Revolution everything changed. Since then we have had the construction of the railways, the reservoirs and filter beds along the Lea Valley, the establishment of industry of all sorts, the massive spread of housing and nowadays our huge leisure industry: marinas, football pitches like on the Hackney Marshes, in 2012 the Olympic Park (Stratford) with all its performance sites. As the LVRPA booklet informs us, the 1934 Walthamstow Corporation Act put an end to all ancient and traditional agricultural rights Lammas or otherwise, on the marsh by giving the Borough of Walthamstow the power to buy the land for use as a public space or recreation… It was the beginning of the end for country traditions near London.

However, Walthamstow Marsh got lucky. It wasn’t flattened for recreational use and only a small fraction of it was dug up to provide a marina. In the early 1970s, just before we came to live on Spring Hill, the Park Authority dredged out a section of the river to make the Springfield Marina, leaving a small wooded island in the middle of it. The Coppermill Stream flows through it into the river. A boathouse for rowing boats had been built at the bottom of Spring Hill, and a café. The café was to figure in our campaign. The crucial thing was: the rest of the marsh was left untouched, its beds of sedge and bulrushes and, where it was drier land, its willows and grasses, all undisturbed. I can only speculate why. Its eastern boundary was the Liverpool Street railway line to Broxbourne and beyond, carried over the river by the Roe arches and constructed on a high embankment. Its western edge was the river, and its northern edge was the Coppermill Stream. None of this made the marsh inaccessible for vehicles, certainly not from the Lea Bridge Road, the southern end; but it did not make development inviting. Whatever the reason, when in 1978/9 the Park Authority applied to the old GLC for planning permission to excavate the vast amounts of gravel 36 feet below it, its ancient fen character was still there, loved and admired but untouched, puella intacta still, some 88 acres of it a mere four miles from St Paul’s Cathedral and the City.

And, it has to be said, the Lea Valley is still alive and bursting full of nature. The river and the reservoirs are replete with fish, the banks of the Coppermill stream are thick with wild flowers, throughout the valley there are rushes and sedge and great water grass and in the summer they hum with the sound of dragon and damsel flies and all sorts of insects, there are voles in the banks, there are woods and fields, there are gorgeous islands in the reservoirs with clumps of trees where the herons nest and perch when they are not standing still and silent in the shallows, surveying the water for fish with their beady eyes. There are the cormorants that fly like bullets the length of the river or perch on branches or posts, standing still, loving the sunshine when they can get it, wings stretched out to dry their feathers, black as night. There are the anglers that line the banks as patiently as any bird, respecting the silence, lovers of peace and silence. Except the one occasion when I saw them break that silence, en masse, collectively. It was on the river tow path a mile or so up from Lathams Timber yard, in the district of Tottenham, there was a very long line of them, it was an angling competition. A seagull above them, or it may have been a tern, suddenly spied a fish, swooped down, diving like an exocet missile, took it in its beak, plucked it straight out of the water, flew off and away in triumph; and the whole bank of anglers burst into applause.


One day in early 1978 a letter was handed to me at our house in Spring Hill. Spring Hill runs from Clapton Common and its pond down to the river where the river is crossed by the High Bridge. It was handed to me by the secretary of the Springfield Park and District Association, of which I was the chairman. Residents on the north side of the park, along such roads as Spring Hill, Ashtead Road, Overlea Road and Lingfield Road and both sides of Clapton Common had formed the Association some time earlier.

Interestingly, the great majority of the Association committee members were from a specific Jewish community. The district of Upper Clapton and Stamford Hill is the home of the Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox Jewish movement, predominantly the Hasidic community. Interestingly too, in other districts of the borough such as Stoke Newington, Clissold, Dalston, Haggerston, Shoreditch, London Fields, the Wick, Homerton and Hoxton there were many other residents of Jewish extraction who had a very different background, very many of them being deeply engaged in the English socialist and trade union tradition. It is worth mentioning that it was in central Hackney that Jewish members of das Deutsches Bund, an important element of the German trade union movement which was hunted down and oppressed by the Nazis, who had escaped and survived, founded an office in the narrow little lane immediately to the left of the entrance to the Hackney Town Hall if you are leaving it. It was still there, and was still used, in 1975 when the Hackney Trades Union Council held its 75th anniversary celebration in the Town Hall.

The Trades Union Council held its first meeting on 1st April 1900; its first chairman was Frederick Demuth, a member of one of the engineering unions, the illegitimate son of Karl Marx. His mother was Helena Demuth, housekeeper to the Marx household. Friedrich Engels claimed, or feigned, paternity in order to conceal the truth from Jenny, Karl Marx’s wife, in order I suppose to protect Helena’s job and to keep the household together. At the exhibition marking the 75th anniversary we had the actual hand-written minute books of the first year of the Council. Frederick Demuth’s signature as chairman endorsing them as a true and accurate record is in them. They had been supplied to us by two very elderly sisters living in Surrey whose father had for some reason had them in his possession. Somehow the two ladies had got to know about the celebration. At the end of the exhibition, with their agreement, we handed the minute books into the safekeeping of Hackney Council Archives. I hope they have kept them safe. They should be on permanent exhibition.

In one general election in the 1970s this community contributed the parliamentary candidates of all the political parties standing in Hackney North and Stoke Newington: Labour, Tory, Liberal and Communist, which reveals the width of their political and social outlook. Their contribution to the political and trade union life of the Borough of Hackney, indeed of the whole East End, was an immense one and it had been since the beginning of the century, and they played a huge part in the resistance to the Moselyites both before and after the 2nd World War.

Springfield Park is a beautiful park. It gets a great mention and description with photographs in the LVRPA booklet, which contains extracts from publications written over a hundred years ago. I would venture to affirm, states Benjamin Clarke in this 1894 book Glimpses of Ancient Hackney and Stoke Newington, that no more beautiful landscape of meadows, forest, hill and water is to be found so near London or anywhere near London in so small a place.; and when the estate was bought by the London County Council and opened as a park on 5th August 1905 a journalist wrote in the Daily Graphic newspaper: There is no more charming space than Springfield Park in all the vast area of the metropolis. The park must be the highest part of all the banks the whole length of the River Lea. It has a wonderful view over the river, marinas, reservoirs, Coppermill stream and the marshes both in the direction of Walthamstow and northwards. When we lived there, our house facing on to it, often there were men hunting with metal detectors both in the Park and on the marshes. We occasionally chatted with them as they went past our door. They showed us Roman coins, as I recall, found in the Park.

The letter our association secretary handed to me was from Hackney Council. It invited submissions from interested parties along the river, of which our association was one, concerning an application of the LVRPA to the Greater London Council to excavate the Walthamstow Marshes for gravel extraction. That application will be filed somewhere in the archives of the Park Authority as well as in those of the Greater London Authority (GLA) which, after years of political machinations stirred up by Margaret Thatcher, determined to take all power and influence from Ken Livingstone, has now replaced the GLC. It is a delightful irony that it was Ken who became the first Leader of the GLA and held the post for eight years. I mention Ken because his support as a member of the GLC proved to be of very considerable importance in our campaign to save the marshes. Ken had a reputation for having a great interest in newts. Fortunately it wasn’t only newts, great-crested or otherwise, that interested him.

Thinking back on it now, it might be said that that Hackney Council planning department letter had a bit of luck. They sent it to a man who, because as he said to me he had himself no objection at all to the marshes being excavated for gravel and turned into a marina, could easily have just put it on one side and that would have been that. But he didn’t. Instead he brought it the hundred yards down Spring Hill, knocked on our door and gave it to me, and luckily I was interested. Luckily too there were a number of people I knew with similar interests living nearby, and they in turn knew others. All this might well have not happened, but it did. It was fortunate too that the GLC had to consult with the Hackney Borough Council even though the marshes are in the borough of Waltham Forest. Their conversion into a marina would have imposed high levels of extra road usage permanently on local Hackney roads, not to mention a very long period of their usage by lorries removing the gravel. In addition the marshes are right on the border of the borough of Hackney and because of their location they are overlooked and visited by far more Hackney residents than those of Waltham Forest. Hackney people have immediate access to them over the Horseshoe Bridge at the bottom of Springfield Park and the High Bridge at the bottom of Spring Hill; and if anyone sits out or stands outside the Anchor and Hope pub on the Hackney bank of the river, glass in hand, he or she looks across to the marshes. A busy railway line and a high railway embankment cut them off from the rest of Walthamstow. Thank the Lord for that railway line on one side and the river on the other, they isolated the marshes and kept out the developers – until, that is, the Park Authority sniffed the money locked up in the gravel beneath them.

Some five or so years earlier, as I believe, the Park Authority had already acquired planning permission to excavate them for gravel and turn them into a marina but they hadn’t acted on it, not even to start digging them up in even a small way. The permission had lapsed; it had to be re-applied for. It could well be the case that those five years made all the difference. By 1977/8 the public attitude towards the environment had moved on, there was a growing concern about it, far more people had become aware of environmental issues. Greenpeace was founded by a small group of activists in 1971 and the Green Party of England and Wales was founded in Coventry in 1972. I had some friends and acquaintances of that tendency and they in turn had many more.

The fact was: the Park Authority was out of touch with all such environmental and ecological perspectives, its focus was on the wrong thing, it eyed the Walthamstow Marshes just as a money-making opportunity and while it put no value on them as marshes, it did put an immense amount of value on the gravel deposits going down to a depth of 36 feet beneath them. But, weirdly, that decision to apply for planning permission to obliterate the marshes turned out to be a most fortunate error of judgment. There was, there is, always the possibility that the Authority might never have given much consideration to the marshes in the first place and just left them alone. They might still be there. Who knows? But because instead the Authority showed such awful ignorance of their real value, it made the huge error of judgment of submitting an application for planning permission to obliterate them, which brought people together in opposition who did know the real value of the marshes and who made it known and not only got the application rejected but ultimately had the marshes declared an SSSI and their preservation assured. In this way it was a most fortunate mistake on the part of the Park Authority; but of course the fact is: it all could have turned out very differently, and disastrously.

Taking the Hackney Council letter with me the first people I went to were John and Jane Nash who lived at 93 Mayola Rd in Homerton E5. I think I can say that they became the very nub of the campaign. Jane was a teacher, quiet, determined, painstakingly careful, she took all the minutes, she was totally reliable. She quietly knew what she wanted and she did it. Those minutes have been kept. They’re in a cupboard in their house on the Isle of Wight, awaiting some zealous postgrad to do the research and indeed maybe build a doctorate and an academic career on them. Why not? John was different, a romantic. He played the guitar and he taught it in the local schools. He drew his own map of the marshes, he injected a sort of spirituality into our campaign and gave different areas their names which, either accurately or imaginatively or both, were inspirational.

I have had to be reminded by Jane where first I met them and why. I now wonder whom I might have turned to if I hadn’t met them. If John and Jane hadn’t been in the Save the Marshes Campaign, would they have been saved? It is some noisy motorbike riders we have to thank for us meeting up. Sometime round about 1977 a group of them were tearing up and down the River Lea towpath and crossing the river to and from the marshes using Horseshoe Bridge. It wasn’t just a matter of noise and of danger to walkers, their tyres were also tearing up the plant life of the marshes. A meeting was held at Chats Palace with representatives of the Park Authority to put a stop to it. It did stop, it had to. That’s where I met Jane and John for the first time. It was at their house that we took the decision to start a campaign.

Jane it was who took the initiative. She went straight off to the offices of the Hackney Gazette, which if my memory serves me right, were in Kingsland Road. She spoke with one of their reporters, Gerry Messenger. He took it up immediately. It made the front page headline the very next issue: Fight is on to save wildlife marshes and it appealed for support from the public. Two people who knew Jane and John wrote to them to join. They lived then on Southwold Road in Upper Clapton, where the Nashes had had a council flat, they now live in Leighton Buzzard: Paul Ferguson a picture framer and his wife Jesse. Jesse took on the PR work for the campaign, she was a total natural at it. She had one of those voices which aren’t just crystal clear but attract the listener, win their interest with a mere word, she could put things so well and beguile the most reluctant soul. They both had been at the motor bike meeting. Others joined too but now after a gap of thirty years I must be excused if I cannot remember all their names.

There was Mike Gray, also from Homerton about whom a few words in a minute; and Norman Olivec from Upper Clapton who became the treasurer of the campaign, utterly meticulous and careful with every penny. I recall that his daughter went on to Keele University in Staffordshire. I also recall that when we knew our campaign had been successful, we gathered at a restaurant in the East End somewhere, in Bethnal Green or Bow I think it was, for a celebration; and contrary to my suggestion Norman was absolutely adamant that not one penny of the campaign funds would be spent on it, not even on a bottle of wine; and not one penny was. There was Laurie Elks, author some years later of the definitive history of the Criminal Cases Review Commission of which he became a long-serving member. He lived at that time in Glenarm Road in Homerton but he now lives in South Hackney. He had a long-standing interest in the Park Authority and campaigned for the Park Authority to abandon its 1969 Masterplan. He and colleagues had been keeping a careful eye on its activities, and indeed still do. There was Gloria Calloway, a friend of Jesse and Paul, headmistress at a primary school in the Green Lanes vicinity, who had the most beautiful handwriting. There was John Loftus who performed the unimaginable feat of collecting something like between 10,000 and 20,000 signatures in support of saving the marshes by walking up the river path between Lea Bridge Road and High Bridge at the north end of the marshes and button-holing all and sundry.

There was Dave Gibbons who tried as I recall to rope in Donald Coggan the Archbishop of Canterbury somehow or other (I suppose a campaign such as ours always attracts, what shall I call them? dreamers? eccentrics? the odd visionary or two, the sort of people governments, political party managers, big business and bureaucracies just can’t stand) and he also had, again this is something lodged in my memory and I might be wrong, a boat off Bardsey Island at the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula. I would imagine that that was the sort of place the Park Authority would come to wish it could banish us all to. There was Ina Egan, Director of Community Nursing in the Borough of Newham; and her dear friend and partner, Roy Askew, the heart and soul of any gathering, from 1942 to his retirement in 2000 a self-employed haulage contractor working out of Stratford fruit and veg market who was up on the potato farms in Lincolnshire and the counties of East Anglia around 3am every morning, collecting 10 tons of potatoes each day for delivery to Stratford Market wholesalers. He always arrived at our meetings with a sack of potatoes to be handed round. There were many other members of course, all characters, enthusiastic, hard-working, but thirty years of absence have drained my memory.

We met regularly in two places, the first was the café at the bottom of Spring Hill, on the river bank, next to the boat club, right near High Bridge. We met there until Brenda its owner died. She always made us welcome, it was the ideal place to meet. It was only a hundred yards from our house and we often went there for a cup of tea or coffee or a cake. I was very pleased to see when we went by it on that last Sunday of 2013 that it was still being run as a café. Brenda was special. She became very dear to us. When she died, very unexpectedly, I wrote this short tribute to her in my Leasider column in the Gazette. It appeared in the 11th April issue 1980:

A coot standing on one leg on the barrier where the stream enters the Lea, scratching itself with the other; the island in the marina, a green haze of new buds against the black and brown of hawthorn and willow; the limpid racing blues of the bright sky, warm and brilliant light, speeding in great waves of sunshine over the grasses, reeds and sedges of the marsh; mallards rising in pairs from the stream, necks outstretched like the figureheads of Viking ships of war surging up into the sky; a warm invigorating fresh and Easter wind, full of resurrection, full of sun and life. Amid all this sweet new Easter gladness Brenda of the café has died. The river outside her house a river of tears, High Bridge a bridge to new life, to God, from whom like a drop of rain from the sky, a leaf from a tree, a flower from the marsh, we all descend.

Our meetings were like meetings the world over – though maybe not. There was news to tell everyone and decisions to take, apologies received and accepted, minutes to be written down, the minutes of the last meeting looked at to see if people had done what they said they’d do, letters from this person and that, from the Park Authority and the local council and such like, whom Jane Nash as secretary had written to, cups of tea to be handed out, enquiries and gossip when everyone first arrived, more gossip when the meeting was over. As I have said, the actual minutes in all their detail, all taken by Jane, copies of all letters written and received, in those far-off pre-email and word processor days, and all relevant documentation are with her and John still in their house on the Isle of Wight, awaiting the researcher which is what they merit. There was however one rather significant difference from many meetings of organizations I have belonged to. I am thinking, for example, and it is but one example, of the meetings of political parties. Political parties are full of political ideology, and rightly so. Political ideologies and the decisions that political groups have to arrive at can be, indeed are, the cause of disputes, often bitter disputes. Political decisions affect people’s lives intimately. There is never anything easy or simple in what they have to decide and do. In the Campaign to Save the Marshes fortunately we had none of that. Our aim, on which we were all agreed, was a single and a simple one, to defeat the planning application put to the GLC by the LVRPA.

I have mentioned documentation. Undoubtedly among the most important documents that came to us, maybe the most important, was one from Brian Wurzel, a member of the campaign. He lived off Stamford Hill. We met him this way. We had decided to hold a picnic on the marsh, a really great decision as it turned out, soon after we had formed. I remember that picnic well, not least because Jane my wife took with her a beautiful pure leather Italian handbag from Bologna where I had taken a party of South Hackney pupils on a week’s trip, sponsored by Bologna trade unionists, and she lost it somewhere, somehow in the reed beds. In my mind’s eye I can still see the moment we met Brian. He was walking on the path at a point across from the Anchor and Hope. He just bumped into us, he was curious seeing all the groups of picnickers scattered over his beloved marsh. He stopped to talk to us. He taught the piano, he came eventually to teach my eldest daughter. But more particularly he was a botanist. He was also an expert on butterflies, not just native to England but across the world. I have a recollection he had been involved in the collection of butterflies in the butterfly house in Syon House.

He joined us. We soon found out that he had spent years botanising every square inch of the marshes. It was his passion. He had the complete list of every plant there was on it, from humble grasses to tall-standing bulrushes to dock plants, even a unique hybrid dock plant, to giant water grass to sedge to purple loosestrife to meadowsweet, even to hops growing with blackberries in the wild hedge at the bottom of the railway embankment and the adder’s tongue fern, hundreds of plants indeed from the rare to the common. He joined us on the spot. He put all the vast information he had at our disposal. Our campaign was very fortunate. He armed it to the teeth. It was an enormous wealth of expert botanical information about the marshes which we could not have done without.

We held a public meeting at Chats Palace just off Chatsworth Road, in Homerton. Mike Gray kindly and generously paid for the hire. Its large hall was packed, not least because Jesse Ferguson had secured the attendance of the famous botanist David Bellamy, at that time of immense fame across England through the power and the force of his pugnacious personality whenever he appeared on TV. He made as many as 400 appearances on TV as Wikipedia informs us; and now, on looking him up on Wikipedia I am wondering if one reason he agreed to speak at our meeting – after all, we must have been just one of any number of groups all over the place battling for the environment – was that the venue was Chats Palace on Chatsworth Road. The primary school he attended in the 1930s and during the War was Chatsworth Road Primary School. All right, that was in Cheam in Surrey, not lowly Hackney (lowly working class Hackney then, now thirty years later it is very trendy and very much in love with itself), but when Jesse told him the name and address of the venue, maybe it stirred fond memories within him. Who can tell? He spoke with total vigour, he laid it all out with complete clarity and power, and possibly the Park people who had come along to listen and gauge the feeling of the people their authority existed to serve left with plenty to think about and take back to their HQ. We certainly did. Members of the campaign addressed the detail; and he came with us to Jesse and Paul’s house on Southwold Road afterwards for a cup of coffee, people squatting on their living room floor, fascinated by every word he spoke.

We then tackled the three council bodies that mattered, Hackney Council, Waltham Forest Council and the Greater London Council, the second two being the important ones; and of course the GLC being the planning authority in this case was the one that would make the decision to approve or to refuse the application. A decision by the Mineral Committee of the GLC to approve would settle it. Though this did not happen with the marshes, in general the planning procedure is that where protestors against an application lose, they have no right of appeal; but where the applicant loses, he has; and if he wins the appeal, his costs are met by the other side. It is grotesquely unfair.

We went in a body to both the planning committees of Hackney Council and Waltham Forest and each one allotted us time to present our case and to be questioned by the members. Councillor Richard Gee presented our case before Hackney Council and Jane our secretary presented it at the Waltham Forest meeting in its town hall while the rest of us looked on in the body of the hall. In each case the recommendation to refuse the Park’s application was unanimously endorsed. Though neither of those two councils had the authority to refuse or approve it, they had the right to make a recommendation to the GLC; and the recommendation of Waltham Forest was the more significant one because the marshes were in that borough. No one from the Park Authority turned up to put its case in any one of the three meetings. With hindsight it would appear that the Authority by then, after months of our campaigning, the adverse publicity we were generating against it in respect of this application and the argument we were making, was beginning to lose confidence in what it was applying for. My own personal judgment now is that it was changing its perspective on what the real value of the marshes consisted in.


This section of the account I am writing has had to undergo one most interesting development. At this point in writing my account I had started giving an example of the sort of publicity we were managing to get for the campaign. It was a TV contact: Jesse Ferguson had succeeded in getting the BBC Nationwide TV programme to come to Spring Hill to listen to us and weigh up if there was anything in what we were doing to merit being reported. I remembered their visit well and I had a pretty fair recollection of how it turned out. I was in fact in the very act of writing it all down when John Nash rang up from their house on the Isle of Wight. He had been searching the internet to see what was in it about the marshes and the campaign, when he had come across the actual film made by BBC Nationwide in the summer of 1979. It’s all there, the whole thing, in colour, even though there is a bit of an irritating gap, not in content but in presentation, in the middle. It was an amazing coincidence for one thing; and the film itself presents the campaign better than anything I might write.

Two reporters came round and the more we described what we were doing and why we were doing it, the more interested they became. Within the week they were back, with the programme makers sparing no expense. There was a reporter, a film director and a cameraman and a boat on the river sailing between the marsh and Springfield Park, the young lady reporter sitting on its deck explaining what it was all about, then pushing her way through tall bulrushes as if she were in an impenetrable rainforest, interviewing Brian Wurzel who shows her wild hops growing on one side of the marsh and introducing her to a hybrid dock.

Looking at the video now I am delighted with it. It gives such an accurate impression of everything, it was the height of summer, the reed beds were at their very best, as indeed was Brian. His dialogue with the reporter is a little gem. The film wonderfully captures the feel, the richness and the atmosphere of the marshes. Brilliantly too the film shows us holding an outdoor ‘committee meeting’ in lovely bright sunshine in the garden of Brenda’s café, which as I have said was within yards of the river. I say ‘brilliantly’ because, though it is the most manufactured committee meeting possible, it conveys so much about us. We never held a committee meeting in Brenda’s café garden, we never had as many little children at a committee meeting as adults. The BBC producer must have persuaded us into it. However, all the vivacity and zest that comes across from this committee meeting were in every one of our actual committee meetings, and that was the case from start to finish of the whole campaign. There was a terrific zest, youthfulness and spontaneity about our meetings, anyone could attend, whoever turned up with or without their children. Thinking back on it now I believe that the BBC people, professional film-makers, saw that in us. We weren’t stodge, we were vivacious and open. Click on the link and see it for yourselves.


Two of our best campaigning efforts took place in County Hall. For present-day Londoners who might not know it, County Hall is the huge building on the south side of Westminster Bridge the other side of it from Parliament. That was then, and perhaps still should be, London’s County Hall. It faced across the river to the House of Commons. Margaret Thatcher had become Prime Minister in 1979 and Ken Livingstone was to become the leader of the GLC after a very neat coup within his own party in 1981. Ken was a thorn in her side which she had to, and eventually managed to, pull out no matter what. She abolished the GLC in 1986, followed by the Inner London Education Authority, and shut down County Hall. However, in October 1979 the old County Hall was London’s HQ of local government, indeed remained so until 1986, the same year as the marshes were declared an SSSI. It was there the fate of the marshes would be determined. We decided on having a Marshes exhibition of its plant life in County Hall itself for all the councillors to see. The botanical input was massive, all plants taken from the marshes themselves, conveyed all the way to County Hall, arranged and explained with total professionalism by Brian and John, it was very impressive; and with it we had a display of photographs of the marsh taken by Mike Gray. I wonder if he has kept those photos. Some years later he went to live in Spain, not far from Toledo, and I know that his health was not too good.

Ken Livingstone played a most helpful role, he was at that time GLC councillor for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (just one stop out of a number during his long nomad journey through London Labour politics), he supported the campaign from start to finish and on this occasion he booked the hall for us, whispering to Jane Nash, jokingly, tongue in cheek, a smile on his face: ‘Don’t dare tell anyone I did this for you.’ The room the exhibition was in was one the GLC councillors had to pass through to get to their debating chamber. We lobbied them as they circulated round the exhibits. It was a very good effort.

The next big occasion at County Hall was 4th February 1980, the date the GLC Minerals Sub-Committee met either to approve or to refuse the Park Authority’s application. As a campaign we had been, to use the phrase, in continuous session for the previous eleven months. We had met together at least once a month, and informally many more times. We had lived the whole thing day in day out. We had squeezed a tremendous amount into that short period, such as, for example, a jumble sale in Chats Palace to raise money, for which Roy and Ina went about in his lorry around Walthamstow collecting all sorts of stuff. We did far more than what I have recorded here, most of it lost to memory since it was 35 years ago but fortunately, as I have mentioned, the minutes Jane took have been kept. I have not gone through them: this account is just to put the fundamentals of the story into the public domain.

On 4th February 1980 we all gathered in the room where the GLC Minerals Committee held their meeting. We occupied the seats put out for the public. The councillors were seated round a long oblong table; behind them was a platform one or two steps high. I can still see it in my mind’s eye, the councillors gathered together at the far end of the table. And in my mind’s eye I can still see so clearly, as if it were happening this very minute, just as the discussion between the councillors ended and all views had been expressed, seconds – literally just seconds – before the vote was taken, how the door on the far left from us at the far end, burst open and in came some thirty or more primary school children. I for one had no idea they were coming. No one had mentioned it at all, at least not to me. They had their teachers with them. They were from Harrington Hill Primary School, Hackney, they had come by bus. Though they were late, in a way the timing of their arrival, totally impossible to arrange, was simply perfect. They all piled into the room and onto the platform behind the councillors, within a couple of feet of them, on top of them almost, the very moment the vote on the future of the marshes was about to be taken. What perfect timing! Unscripted but brilliant! And what impact, what pressure, bursting in at that precise moment. They had missed the debate but they witnessed the vote. The children’s teachers just couldn’t have done it any better. And rightly so. The school overlooks the marshes. It is located within yards of the river, just up from the Hope and Anchor pub. It looks right across it at the marshes. Visually the Walthamstow Marshes belong to Harrington Hill Primary School, there for its children to look at across the river, its willows, its sedge, its bulrushes, its grasses, hundreds of other wild plants, its herons and its cormorants, its silver sheen when covered in winter by its pools and the reflection of the early morning sunshine in its waters.

The vote was called. It was unanimous. The application to dig up the Walthamstow Marshes for gravel extraction and replacement by a marina was rejected. The campaign had been won. That didn’t of course put an end to the campaign. Far from it. The Park Authority had a right to appeal, they could even go to the Secretary of State if they lost their appeal. Planning law in England gives priority to development, with both environment and localism secondary considerations. We had to continue to meet and keep an eye on the situation. John Nash and colleagues produced a magnificent map of the marsh, and quilters made an equally magnificent quilt of it too. It was – it is – simply brilliant and it has been preserved. To our immense pleasure the Park Authority did not move to an appeal. It was a body open to argument and for that we are all most grateful. Nothing could be better than the situation we all ended up with, agreement between campaigners and the Park Authority. It was the seal of approval.

Then in 1985 the whole marsh was placed before the Nature Conservancy Council, and botanists, landscape specialists and others, both from within the original campaign membership and others, made the case for it to be declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The NCC, after going through all its procedures and considering all its requirements which are rigorous and exacting, accorded it that designation the following year. The job was done. However, we live in a society where nothing environmentally good is safe, no matter what benefits, even necessary benefits, it brings to people. The Lea Valley Regional Park Authority first and foremost, the councils of East London, especially those of Waltham Forest and Hackney, and all the people who live in them, and the London mayoralty, must make themselves fully aware, and remain constantly aware, of this precious and cherished feature within their boundaries and be always on guard against the false blandishments of transient profit or ephemeral pleasure. If a small group of us, which we were, could save the Walthamstow Marshes, they should be able to preserve them.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet.
Long live the weeds and the wildness yet.
Gerald Manley Hopkins
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New film: The Waterworks

Thank you so much to Sheridan Flynn for creating and directing this short film about the proposed festival on the Waterworks meadow, next to the Waterworks Nature Reserve, for the next three years.

No matter what happens this year, we will be campaigning against the three year licence for the festival being approved by Waltham Forest.

Thank you to everyone who appeared in the film, including SLM member Vicky Sholund; Ian Phillips; Solene Fabios; Simon Rix and Claire Weiss.

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