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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THE SAVING OF THE WALTHAMSTOW MARSHES

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.

2. THE BACKGROUND TO THE CAMPAIGN TO SAVE THE MARSHES

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.

3. HOW THE ‘SAVE THE MARSHES CAMPAIGN’ STARTED

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.

4. THE BBC

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.

5. LONDON COUNTY HALL

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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The LVRPA has revealed its true colours at last. Let’s tell them how we feel.

I appreciate there is a great deal going on at the moment, and that this is a time of great uncertainty for us all. But if you want to direct your anger and frustration somewhere, can I suggest the LVRPA deserve a shot across the bows…

Save Lea Marshes has been concerned for some time about the LVRPA’s intention towards the Waterworks meadow, the large area of land south of the Waterworks Centre and Nature Reserve. So, in June 2019, we wrote to Shaun Dawson, the Chief Executive to ‘request an opportunity to engage with the LVRPA on the future use of this area’. And, in July 2019, we were told that the Authority had commissioned an ecological consultant to carry out a habitat survey.

Although slightly suspicious of the LVRPA’s motives, we thought a habitat survey could only be a good thing, and we were cautiously optimistic about the results when we received the survey in January 2020. You can take a look at it here. We thought the findings sounded robust and we endorsed the management options. We said that we would look forward to the outcome of an internal meeting to review the site management options and to discussing the next steps. Our hope was, of course, that the whole site would improve as a result of the report.

They say hope springs eternal. It does. Now I ask myself if the hopeful are always foolish? When I first came to hear about the LVRPA in early 2012, when they were supporting the Olympic Delivery Authority to build a temporary basketball arena on Porter’s Field, Leyton Marsh, I advocated dialogue with the organisation. More experienced campaigners said it was a waste of time, but I doggedly met with Shaun Dawson every few months, patiently explained why people were so angry and asking the LVRPA to work more closely with local people to resolve our differences. And we have continued to try and engage with the LVRPA ever since. Most recently we asked them how we can trust the environmental promises they are making about the ice centre. But every time, every single time, we have been met with a wall of obfuscation and dissembling. Save Lea Marshes does not oppose the LVRPA because it likes to be in opposition. It opposes the LVRPA because of the LVRPA’s actions. This is a case in point…

While waiting to hear about the outcome of the internal meeting to review the site management options, we were blindsided by the horrific news that the LVRPA has agreed to rent the land to the Waterworks Festival. The site is next door to the Waterworks Nature Reserve and is designated as part of a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation (SMINC). If the noise and light pollution will be significant nuisance for human neighbours, it will be catastrophic for neighbouring wildlife, particularly birds. This is simply an inappropriate place to hold a one-off one-day music festival, let alone an annual three-day event.

And the LVRPA’s response? This from Shaun Dawson, the organisation’s Chief Executive:

Dear Abigail

I do hope that all is well with you.

I am writing on behalf of colleagues following our internal meeting on the subject of ‘rewilding’ of the golf course area last week. Cath and team have done some good work but it did strike us that the future management of the area and the approach the Authority adopts is very much dependent upon the WF’s Licensing Committee’s decision re: events on the site over the next few years. If the Licensing Committee gives us the green light then we are looking at a conservation management plan in that context. However if the Committee takes an alternative position, which I appreciate is the position that you and others that have submitted objections would like to see, we will then be looking at a different management regime.

We are keen to enhance the ecological value of the area but our objective is to achieve that in the context of part of the area being used for outdoor events. We shall await the outcome of the Licensing Committee meeting and then take the work forward. We will be in touch after the Licensing Committee meeting to arrange a discussion with you.

Best regards

Shaun

So, to paraphrase, Cath Patrick, the LVRPA’s Conservation Manager, has done some good work but we’ll ignore all of it if we can make some money from the site. From the mouth of the Chief Executive we have the clearest confirmation yet that the LVRPA cares about money more than the environment.

We should be angry about this. Very, very angry about this.

But let’s do a little bit more than just be angry… We have been delighted by the wave of opposition to the Waterworks Festival and to the number of objections to the premises licence that have been logged with Waltham Forest Council. I’d love to shine this beacon of common sense on the LVRPA now. So, will you help us by writing to Shaun Dawson and copying all the Authority Members? You can use the template below. Or you can write your own letter.

To:
sdawson@leevalleypark.org.uk
Cc:
paul.osborn@harrow.gov.uk; derrick.ashley@hertfordshire.gov.uk; david.andrews@hertfordshire.gov.uk; ken.ayling@ntlworld.com; john.bevan@haringey.gov.uk; frances.button@hertfordshire.gov.uk; rowena.champion@islington.gov.uk; cllr.ricki.gadsby@essex.gov.uk; david.gardner@royalgreenwich.gov.uk; cllr.mike.garnett@essex.gov.uk; cllr.christine.hamilton@enfield.gov.uk; cllr.r.houston@barnet.gov.uk; heather.johnson@camden.gov.uk; Cllr.Denise.Jones@towerhamlets.gov.uk; christopher.kennedy@hackney.gov.uk; graham.mcandrew@hertfordshire.gov.uk; cllr.valerie.metcalfe@essex.gov.uk; cllr.gn@broxbourne.gov.uk; nigel.quinton@btinternet.com; marysartin@yahoo.com; sydstavrou@hotmail.co.uk; cllr.simon.walsh@essex.gov.uk; john.wyllie@eastherts.gov.uk; Cllr.Terry.Wheeler@walthamforest.gov.uk
Subject:
A complaint about your approach to land management at the Waterworks

Dear Shaun

Save Lea Marshes has shared your recent email to Abigail Woodman and I wish to complain about your approach to land management at the Waterworks.

The nub of your position, quoting from your email, is as follows:

the future management of the area and the approach the Authority adopts is very much dependent upon the WF’s Licensing Committee’s decision re events on the site over the next few years.

This seems to be an astonishing approach for a statutory authority to adopt towards the environment, especially an authority whose primary function is to protect its environmental assets.

And, when you refer to a “different management regime”, we think you are saying that the Authority will wash its hands of the Waterworks site if it cannot generate revenue from regular events.

This is of course the first time you have formally flagged an intention to stage regular events “over the next few years” although we inferred from the start that this was the Authority’s intention.

Also, and we may have got this wrong, we think you are implying that it would be a realistic decision on our part to acquiesce in this licensing application, and encourage others to do so, if we want to see plans for the future management of the area that we would be content with.

We think it would be most helpful to the Authority’s understanding of the position if we spell out the reasons why the Faustian pact you appear to be proposing is wholly unacceptable:

  1. We are wholly opposed to pop festivals or other large events on the site and this position will not change.
  2. We have made it clear, over a long period, that we are open to discussing options for the management of the Waterworks estate and there has never been any reciprocation on your part. Your email, with this threat of an undefined “different management regime”, sees you continue your approach of keeping local people in the dark.
  3. It also seems very clear that you intend to bypass other stakeholders who ought to be consulted. Our understanding is that if the Park Authority intends to abandon or vary its plans for the Waterworks estate, as set out in its Area 2 Proposals, that is a variation of the Park Plan which requires certain consultative processes. We see no sign that the officers of the Authority are willing to share their plans with the democratically accountable Authority members, let alone wider stakeholders. How can you possibly justify that?
  4. We cannot overlook the obvious fact that the Authority defines its position on the Waterworks estate primarily in terms of raising money and not by reference to its duties to improve and preserve the Park. We are aware that it was the Park Authority’s initiative to sell off a large portion of the Waterworks estate as “enabling development” for the ice centre. Having abandoned the notion of enabling development, the Authority has nevertheless offered up much of the land in response to Waltham Forest’s call for sites, and we assume that much of the estate has been deemed to be no longer required for Park Purposes under your Corporate Land and Property Strategy. Now you are seeking a revenue stream, and no doubt a profit, before proposing a “management strategy” (which we have not yet seen) for the area. The Park Authority seems deaf to the fact that people here in Waltham Forest and Hackney want to see the Park better managed as connected and cherished green space and not as a source of revenue to keep the Authority’s show on the road.

It would be very helpful to have your clear and prompt response to these points.

Yours sincerely

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Want to oppose the ice centre planning application? Here’s how.

The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) wants to replace the current ice centre on Lea Bridge Road with a building that is almost twice the size. If planning permission is granted, it means we will lose precious Metropolitan Open Land (MOL).

The application can be found here: planning.walthamforest.gov.uk/application-search#VIEW?RefType=APPPlanCase&KeyText=194162. There are a lot of documents to wade through, so if you don’t have time to look at them here’s a sample objection you can use. Email it, with your name and address, to dmconsultations@walthamforest.gov.uk

And if you need a reminder why we are so dead set against the LVRPA’s plans, have a look at the post immediately following this one.

To whom it may concern

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

I wish to object to the planning application 194162 to build an ice centre on Lea Bridge Road. My objection centres on the fact that the proposal constitutes inappropriate development on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) and the applicant has not made out the case for ‘very special circumstances’ to outweigh the harm to MOL. I have also made comments about biodiversity and contaminated land.

Metropolitan Open Land

The site of the proposed ice centre is MOL and it is settled law that MOL has the same protections in law as Green Belt. Section 143 of The National Planning Policy Framework (2019) states that Inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances. Local authorities are directed, at Section 145 of the NPPF, to regard the construction of new buildings as inappropriate in Green Belt except in a number of exceptional circumstances. The proposed development does not meet the requirements of any one of the exceptions and is, therefore, inappropriate development on Green Belt. In order to persuade the planning authority to grant planning permission, the applicant must, therefore, prove that very special circumstances exist. It does not and the proposed development is consequently contrary to the NPPF, as well as Policy 7.17 of the London Plan, Policies G2, G3 and G4 of the Draft London Plan, Policy CS5 of the Waltham Forest Local Plan and Policy 84 of the Draft Waltham Forest Local Plan.

The LVRPA states that the VSC case and the benefits that will accrue as a result of the development of the replacement ice centre will clearly outweigh the harm to MOL [my emphasis]. Yet there is nothing clear about their case. Most of the circumstances the LVRPA has advanced are not reasons why the ice centre should be built on MOL that can contribute towards very special circumstances Many of them, in the LVRPA’s own words, are benefits that will accrue if the development goes ahead. The only circumstance that should be considered is the fact that the current ice centre will need to close if the development does not go ahead. The LVRPA argues that this means that the community will lose a sporting venue and all the benefits that go alongside it, but this is only the case if the LVRPA decides not to pursue another site for a larger ice centre. At this point, the LVRPA is claiming that there is no other site but this is not true; the Eton Manor site is a viable alternative. Consequently, the fact that the current ice centre will close is not sufficient to outweigh the harm to MOL. The LVRPA has not made a case for very special circumstances and the application should be denied.

Biodiversity

The Biodiversity survey and report (document 6D3) states that the development will provide more than the required 10% net gain in biodiversity. If the development goes ahead this should, of course, be welcomed. However, the ecological enhancements the applicant is proposing in the Design and access statement (documents 6D7) are not dependent on the development. They could – indeed should – have been done anyway and the LVRPA should be challenged on its fitness to manage the site in the future given its poor record to date. That the site currently supports largely common habitats of generally low ecological value (Design and access statement (documents 6D7)) is the fault of the LVRPA, no one else. Significantly, the architect and landscape architect employed by the applicant admit that it is nigh-on impossible to find a way to ensure the plans they develop – whether they be biodiversity plans, low-carbon plans, plans to use responsibly-sourced recycled materials during the build or plans to limit noise and light – are implemented in full. Any benefits described by the applicants are possible future benefits, possible future benefits that might not materialise, and they come at a cost to existing wildlife and to the local community. If the development were to be granted permission, it would be critical that robust long-term planning conditions were put in place to ensure the LVRPA keeps to its biodiversity promises given the way they have let the site deteriorate up till now. Similarly, it would be important that strong planning conditions were put in place to ensure the low-carbon, environmentally-sensitive design-and-build criteria that minimise light and noise pollution are not watered down by the contractor during the build.

Contaminated land

Many people enjoy spending time in open green space throughout the year and Porter’s Field, Leyton Marsh, adjacent to the site, is particularly well used by people of all ages. Given this, it is concerning that the Land contamination assessment (Documents 6DD) does not contain a category that encompasses these people. It states that there is a high risk of illness caused by ingestion, dermal contact and inhalation of asbestos fibres and dust during construction, and a high risk of onsite sources of contamination leaching through surface permeable soils and harming construction workers. Surely people walking close to the site during construction will be exposed to as much risk as construction workers? But, while risk to construction works can be mitigated from high to moderate with the appropriate use of PPE and implementation of CDM regulations, what happens to those using the area informally to walk their dogs and play football? How are they going to be protected? This issue is of particularly concern to local people given the cavalier way the Olympic Delivery Authority, working on the applicant’s land and with the applicant’s oversight, managed the very same situation when the temporary basketball training centre was built on Porter’s Field in 2012. Huge piles of contaminated soil were left uncovered for weeks, and the risks to health were constantly underplayed. This must not happen again. If the development were to be granted permission, it would be critical that robust planning conditions were put in place to protect everyone in the vicinity of the building site from harm.

If the development were to be granted permission, planning conditions should also be put in place that ensure the applicants not only monitor groundwater and gas throughout the build phase, but have a plan in place to fully mitigate any adverse effects of contamination quickly. The LVRPA, in part, justifies this development with reference to the increase in biodiversity that they claim will result. This will mean little if the development has caused significant damage to the environment as it is being built.

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The Lee Valley Park: What went wrong? Nous accusons.

In the beginning…

Three quarters of a century ago, as war was drawing to a close, the wartime coalition government published Professor Abercrombie’s Greater London Plan. Abercrombie saw the open spaces of the Lea Valley as a great opportunity for regenerative planning. He proposed joining together the green – and blue – open spaces into a ‘great regional reservation’ for the benefit of all Londoners.

More than 20 years later, Abercrombie’s dream became reality. A Regional Park and a Regional Park Authority were created, funded by the ratepayers of London, Essex and Hertfordshire, and stretching for 23 miles, from Stratford in East London to Ware in Hertfordshire. The Authority’s mission, set out in its founding Act of Parliament: to develop, improve, preserve and manage the Park as a place for the occupation of leisure.

The infant Park Authority set about its mission with a will, assembling holdings of land which, here in Hackney and Leyton, included Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes, the Waterworks site and Springfield Marina. Other sites, including the Middlesex and Essex Filter Beds, were added in the 1980s, forming a springboard to create the great regional reservation envisaged by Abercrombie.

Today, we see this vision of the Park threatened and beset from every quarter, from housing developments, land sales and laissez faire planning, and the worst of it is that most of the severe threats come from the Park Authority itself. Far from cohering the Park as a place for the occupation of leisure, round here the Park Authority seems more preoccupied with dismembering it.

What has gone wrong? And what needs to change? Before attempting to answer these questions, let us look at the three main threats to our part of the Lea Valley.

1) The ice centre

The present ice centre was built by the Park Authority in the 1980s. We in Save Lea Marshes do not, for one moment, dispute its role as a popular sporting facility, valued by novice skaters and experts alike, but it is a blot on the landscape. It has urbanised this section of Lea Bridge Road and encouraged house builders to push for development nearby. It is, however, coming to the end of its life.

The way forward, the Park Authority has decided, is a much, much bigger ice centre – two ice rinks side by side, one for elite skaters and one for general use – and they plan to build it on the site of the current building. A new ice rink will be broader and deeper, dominating more of Lea Bridge Road with its broader frontage, pushing back deeper into the Marshes and eating up more protected Metropolitan Open Land.

The Park Authority purportedly reached this decision after carefully scoring the Lea Bridge Road site against three other possible sites, including the Waterworks Centre and car park by Lea Bridge station, and unused land at Temple Mills adjacent to the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre at the northern end of the Olympic site.

Save Lea Marshes argued that either of those sites, although each with their own issues, would have been better than the current site, less disruptive to the integrity of the Park, more convenient for users and less likely to cause congestion. But the Park Authority chose the present site, using a scoring system that contained many curious assumptions and, most importantly, contained absolutely no weighting for environmental impact. If it had, the ice centre would not be planned for the present site.

We now know that the Authority is working to sell, lease or develop those alternative sites. The Authority will say that it had absolutely no thought of raising money from these sites when it scored them as possible locations for the new ice centre and only looked at raising money from them after they were ruled out. However, we think the facts strongly suggest the Authority had it in mind to sell off those sites all the time.

A small, curious but interesting fact: one reason why the Authority rejected the Temple Mills site was that it was within the blast zone of the storage facilities for the hydrogen-powered buses stationed nearby. That, apparently, made the site a no-no for an ice rink. The Authority is now busily negotiating to raise money by leasing the site – more Metropolitan Open Land – for a hotel. Guests can be assured that the Authority no longer considers the blast zone a danger!

Meanwhile the Park Authority has been working, full steam ahead, on the current site and it has already spent a fortune on planning and on consultants.

The Park Authority, with its duty to preserve and manage the Park, appears focused on desecrating Metropolitan Open Land.

2) The Waterworks

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, when governance of the Park was better, the Authority acquired the defunct Essex Filter Beds from Thames Water, creating a much-cherished nature reserve and building the Waterworks Centre as an interpretation centre to serve the Reserve and the Authority’s adjacent pitch-and-putt golf course.

Twenty years or more later, the Authority has closed the pitch-and-putt course and has all but abandoned the Waterworks Centre, which is now rarely open and is virtually devoid of activity. And it has been trying to sell the land for housing.

The land is Metropolitan Open Land and, as such, is protected from inappropriate development. However, the Park Authority has been lobbying Waltham Forest Council to de-designate the land as Metropolitan Open Land and rezone the Waterworks Centre, car park and a huge swathe of land behind the building for housing.

Local people discovered the Park Authority’s plans when Waltham Forest Council launched its Lea Valley Eastside Vision in December 2016. The idea that a great chunk of parkland would be sold off to the highest bidder to raise capital to build the new ice centre, leaving the Waterworks Nature Reserve hemmed in by housing, caused a public outcry.

Today, Waltham Forest’s Draft Local Plan shows the area as Metropolitan Open Land and does not list it as a possible site for development. The Park Authority has publicly drawn back, for the moment, from plans to sell off the Waterworks site and now says it does not need the money from the land sale to pay for the new ice centre. But, critically, the Park Authority appears to have more-or-less abandoned any interest in the Waterworks site except to raise money by hiring it out for events. It has also offered up much of the Waterworks site in response to Waltham Forest Council’s call for development sites. And it has been touting the land to developers. We believe the Authority is biding its time until a new opportunity to sell off the site arises.

The Park Authority, with its duty to preserve and manage the Park, is focused on selling off protected Metropolitan Open Land.

3) The ex-Thames Water Depot site

Walking down Lea Bridge Road from the Waterworks and towards Hackney, we come to the secret and secluded ex-Thames Water Depot: the site, until the 1980s, of filter beds forming part of the Lea Bridge Waterworks and the site, too, where the Lea Valley Park project was launched at an event addressed by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1964.

Thames Water filled in the filter beds in the early 1980s and subsequently used the site as an operational depot until it no longer needed it and sold it – for £33.3 million + VAT – to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government acting on behalf of what is now the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), which brought forward a plan to build two academy schools. In a bold and principled decision, Waltham Forest Council rejected the ESFA’s planning application as incompatible with the site’s status as Metropolitan Open Land and the ESFA has not appealed the decision. The future of the ex-Thames Water depot is up for grabs.

The Park Authority is now, in one sense, the main player in this saga. However, it did have the opportunity to acquire the site for nothing back in 2011 as compensation for land given up to the Olympic Park Authority. With the lack of vision typical of the Park Authority, it turned down the offer because it could not work out a way of turning the site to ‘good account’.

While the Park Authority purports to care about the future of the site (as part of its statutory planning process, the Park Authority firmly committed itself to supporting ‘Park compatible uses’ for the site), it seems reluctant to step forward and defend the openness of the site. Perhaps Save Lea Marshes’ bold vision for it as a place for wild swimming and a place where people learn to live harmoniously with nature through small-scale food growing or sustainable foraging will capture the Park Authority’s imagination as it seems to be capturing the imagination of local people. We can live in hope anyway!

In the meantime, we continue to be disappointed that the Park Authority failed to snap up the site when it had the chance and thereby failing in its statutory duty to preserve the Park.

The Corporate Land and Property Strategy

Back in 2017, the Authority approved a new Corporate Land and Property Strategy. According to the Authority’s own documents, a mysterious and secretive group called the Land and Property Working Group:

has identified broadly areas of land for potential disposal which could be considered as land not required for regional park Purposes […] we will aim to dispose of those parcels of land over the next 10 years when market conditions are appropriate to ensure best capital receipt of revenue income. [emphasis added] (www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/DocumentSearch/display.php?Document=59)

The Park Authority has steadfastly resisted disclosing where these areas of land are. In the meantime, the landholdings the Park Authority has identified as ‘no longer required’ are undoubtedly being left fallow and offered up for development whenever the local riparian councils issue calls for development sites. This is why we strongly suspect, even though the Park Authority won’t say so, that the Authority’s estate at the Waterworks site is on the list for ‘potential disposal’.

This is a strange carry-on. When a strategic authority such as the Park Authority is set up to protect and manage open space, it should focus on strategic land assembly in order to carry out its purposes. That is the way other great open spaces, such as Epping Forest and Hampstead Heath, have been built up.

Yet the Park is engaging in an underhand policy of dismemberment.

We accuse the Park Authority

The statutory duties of the Park Authority are clear, and it is failing to exercise it powers and use its resources to protect and enhance the Park as it is required by law to do.

The Park Authority finds itself in a bind, certainly, one which affects many public bodies when political pressures force it to choose between its own institutional survival and fulfilling its purpose. The political pressure, in this case, comes mostly from Conservative-run councils in South London who are determined to drive down the taxes paid to fund the Park by cutting costs, selling land and building venues they hope will be profitable. In the meantime, the green spaces of Abercrombie’s vision are up for grabs to the highest bidder.

We accuse the Park Authority of defaulting on its purpose: reneging on its commitments and covering up its intentions. We deserve much better.

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Object to unparalleled noise next to the Waterworks Nature Reserve

Object to a loud dance music festival at the Waterworks!

If you think, like we do, that a festival that aims to ‘deliver the volume and sound pressure proper dance music deserves’ is inappropriate next door to a nature reserve then we encourage you to object to the licence application made by Waterworks Ltd by 10th March.

You can see the licence application here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/19-1i5VBpBtNURWx29IQ7C3rScYmH0_Hj/view.

You can use the sample objection below or you can write an objection of your own. If you do the latter, please remember to focus on the four key grounds on which the licence will be decided, namely:

  1. The prevention of crime and disorder.
  2. Public safety.
  3. The prevention of public nuisance.
  4. The protection of children from harm.

Please note that you must include your full postal address for your objection to be considered.

Sample Objection

Licensing Service
3 The Square
London,
E10 5NR
licensing@walthamforest.gov.uk

To whom it may concern,

I should like to make a representation in response to the application for the grant of a Premises Licence at Lammas Road, Leyton, London, E10 7NU, by Waterworks Event Ltd. The reference number for the application is WAT1613773.

I live in [Walthamstow] but spend much of my spare time in the vicinity of the Waterworks Centre, the ‘premises’ in question.

I wish to object to the application and to request that the application is turned down. My objection is on three grounds:

The prevention of crime and disorder

Under Section 1 (5) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb any wild bird included in Schedule 1 of the Act while it is building a nest or is in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young, and it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb dependent young of such birds. There is no doubt that the noise from the festival will disturb the birds at the Waterworks Nature Reserve. The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority states on its website that the following birds, all listed in Schedule 1, can be seen at the Waterworks Nature Reserve: Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit and Kingfisher: (https://www.visitleevalley.org.uk/en/content/cms/nature/nature-reserve/waterworks-nature-reserve-midd/wildlife/).

The Lovebox Festival held in Victoria Park in 2012 – one of whose organizers (Julian Butterfield) is also an organizer of the Waterworks Festival – had an average of 192 police officers and drug detection dogs on duty each day. Yet, according to the Metropolitan Police, despite the large number of police and private security personnel and resources used to police Lovebox […] there were 452 recorded offences over the three days of the festival. This represents an unacceptable level of crime that cannot be tolerated. Most of the offences related to theft and drugs:

  • One of the reasons for the increase in the number of thefts is the targeting of festivals in general and Lovebox in particular by international criminal gangs. Their sole intention when coming to these festivals is to steal as many mobile phones and other high value items as possible. They arrive in London prior to festivals taking place where they are provided with tickets before entering the venue and start to commit thefts on an industrial scale.
  • Lovebox attracts drug users and where there are drug users there are people that supply then. This means that drug dealers will attend Tower Hamlets with the sole intention of selling drugs to those attending Lovebox. Drug dealers will not limit their selling of drugs to those attending Lovebox, they will sell to anyone who wants to buy them. With one of the largest youth populations in the country this represents an unnecessary risk of drugs bring [sic] sold in Tower Hamlets.

There is nothing to suggest the Waterworks Festival will be immune from the criminal gangs that targeted Lovebox, as the two festivals are very similar in nature. (Quotes from http://democracy.towerhamlets.gov.uk/documents/g4248/Public%20reports%20pack%2011th-Jun-2013%2018.30%20Licensing%20Sub%20Committee.pdf?T=10, pages 61–72 of the PDF.)

It is unlikely that ticket holders will want to stop partying at 23:30 and with so much green space nearby there is a very real danger of informal and illegal raves springing up on nearby Hackney Marshes, Leyton Marshes and Walthamstow Marshes. These will carry on late into the night, will cause significant damage, will be a magnet for the drug dealers and other criminals already at the festival as well as local opportunists, and will be difficult to police given the lack of lighting and CCTV cameras.

Many ticket-holders are likely to leave the festival and head home along the canal towpath. There have been a spate of serious muggings along the canal in recent years and people have also been raped on the marshes. These are serious offences that will have a long-term effect on the victims. While many people would normally avoid the canal towpath and the marshes at night, alcohol, drugs and the fact that they have spent the night enjoying themselves on the marshes may cause revellers to let their guard down and put themselves at significant risk.

Section 18 of the application form asks the applicant to describe the steps they intend to take to promote the four licensing objectives. Yet the application seems to do nothing more than state the current legislation regarding the licensing objectives. It does not explain, for example, how it will manage ‘door supervision’ at a site that does not have any doors. It does not explain how ingress and egress will be managed and how theft will be prevented. It does not say how many staff will be at the entrances and exits or how organisers will ensure that no one under the age of 18 is served alcohol and that beverages purchased on the premises are not consumed outside the premises.

It seems to me that Waterworks Ltd has given little or no thought to any of these issues. This is in marked contrast to the detail they have provided about the genres of music that will be playing. This suggests that the applicant is focused on the music and not on managing the event to ensure crime and disorder are prevented, that there is no public nuisance and ticket-holders are kept safe at the event and afterwards.

The prevention of public nuisance

The application is for a period of three years, from 22/8/2020 to 28/8/2022, and sets a precedent for turning an open green space used by local residents into ‘premises’ for live music. If one application is granted, more could follow, and the impact of the noise and light pollution on local residents will be significant.

In its event advertising, Waterworks Ltd says, Unlike many other London locations we are remotely situated in relation to our nearest residential neighbours which will allow us to achieve unparalleled sound quality. It also states that it will, deliver the volume and sound pressure proper dance music deserves; we are confident of levels that are unparalleled in east London. The implication is clear: the organisers want this event to be very loud indeed. And it will need to be if music from five different stages is to be heard by five different audiences in such a small space. Yet the site is not remote and many, many people will be disturbed by the music. The one-day Holi Festival that took place on the site in 2018 was extremely distressing for local residents, who spent a day disturbed by loud music and DJs swearing. It is also quite common for people living in Walthamstow to hear concerts taking place in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park if the wind is blowing in a certain direction. Sound travels in this part of London, and this particularly loud event will disturb a huge catchment area for three days each summer. Instead of spending three days with the windows open enjoying time outside in nature on the marshes, many local people will be shut inside their homes with their windows closed.

The application mentions a wind down music policy, but gives no details as to what this might be. 14,999 people will take some time to leave the site and there will be considerable noise continuing well into the night as a result. This will have a significant disruptive effect on the sleep patterns of local residents, who can expect to be disturbed into the early hours of the morning as rowdy and drunken revellers head home. It is also likely that ticketholders will litter and urinate on their journeys home, spreading the nuisance behaviour well beyond the immediate vicinity of the site.

Looking at the map submitted with the application, the boundary of the ‘premises’ appears to abut the eastern, southern and western boundaries of the site blocking the well-used public footpaths used by walkers and cyclists. It is unclear, from the application, how many days people will have to find alternative – and perhaps more dangerous – on-road routes to go about their business.

In a borough that has declared a climate emergency, it would seem sensible to extend the definition of ‘public’ to the environment. The site is next door to the Waterworks Nature Reserve and is designated as part of a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation (SMINC). If the noise and light pollution will be significant nuisance for human neighbours, it will be catastrophic for neighbouring wildlife, particularly birds. This is simply an inappropriate place to hold a one-off one-day music festival, let alone an annual three-day event.

The Walthamstow Marshes Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is very close to the proposed ‘premises’ and birds particularly will be seriously impacted by the noise coming from the event. Walthamstow Reservoirs, another Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a RAMSAR site and part of the Lee Valley Special Protection Area (SPA), is not in the same close proximity but birds will be affected by the noise and light emanating from the event. An SPA is a protected areas for birds, classified under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) in England, Scotland and Wales, and an event that is likely to cause significant harm to a protected site, as this event surely will do, should not be permitted.

Although the licensing process is not directly impacted by the London Plan, it is important to note that Policy 7.19D of the current London Plan makes it clear that proposals should give the highest protection to sites with existing or proposed international designations (SSSIs, SPAs and Ramsar sites) and give strong protection to sites of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation (SMINCs). Granting a licence for a loud music festival would be at odds with this strategic proposal.

Public safety

There is nothing in the application that suggests Waterworks Ltd has given robust consideration to the issue of public safety, particularly whether the site is large enough to accommodate 14,999 people. The map shows five stages squeezed into a relatively small area, presenting a very real danger of overcrowding and consequent crush injuries.

For these compelling reasons, we kindly request that you refuse to grant a licence to this application.

Regards,

[Your name and full postal address, with postcode]

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East London Waterworks Park

Campaigners reveal vision for wild swimming in Waltham Forest

Save Lea Marshes and CPRE London have joined forces to campaign to transform the historic filter beds on Lea Bridge Road, once used by Thames Water, into a place for wild swimming.

Campaigner Harry Hewat said, I’ve always been shocked by how dislocated this landscape is, with so many barriers and fences that detract from the natural beauty of the area and the ability to roam. This site is the missing piece of the jigsaw. Opening it up will stitch together Leyton and Walthamstow Marshes to the north, the Waterworks Centre Nature Reserve to the east, Hackney Marshes and Middlesex Filter Beds to the south and the river and towpath to the west to create a huge urban park. We’re calling it the East London Waterworks Park!

Abigail Woodman of Save Lea Marshes said, We want people to sign our petition. The site is Metropolitan Open Land and should be returned to the people of East London as a place for wild swimming and a place where people learn to live harmoniously with nature through small-scale food growing or sustainable foraging. It should be rewilded, with the built environment reclaimed by nature in some places and landscaping and planting in others.

Peter Mudge, a local resident, said, Retaining and enhancing the site’s historic structures, including the unusual octagonal sluice building, gives us an opportunity to showcase the area’s industrial heritage.

Campaigner and architect/landscape architect Kirsty Badenoch said, In our time of environmental crisis, chances to protect and reclaim areas of inner-city Metropolitan Open Land have never been more important. This currently under-utilised site has a strategic position within the Lea Valley Regional Park and this is a rare opportunity to reconnect the wider ecologies and provide valuable community green space.

Alice Roberts of CPRE London said, The site is currently owned by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and is within the Lee Valley Regional Park, and we call on Waltham Forest Council to work with the ESFA and the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority to take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a unique park uniting Waltham Forest and Hackney.

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East London Waterworks Park

Save the Lea Bridge Waterworks

Hidden behind high fences, trashed by Thames Water, sold without consultation. There has been a conspiracy of silence to rob the people of East London of the Lea Bridge Waterworks, a site of huge historical significance, and a vital link between the green spaces of the Lee Valley Park.

The history of the site

Until the 1960s the Thames Water Site was part of the Lea Bridge Waterworks, providing water to the people of London. A complex of 25 filter beds were served by an aqueduct bringing water from the Walthamstow reservoirs further north. The plan shows the site as it used to be:

(Source: the view from the bridge)

The site was closed after the new Coppermill Water Treatment Works were opened. The Lee Valley Park Authority eventually agreed to take over the Middlesex Filter Beds (after first suggesting they should be filled in to make football pitches!) and later took on the Essex and Leyton Filter Beds.

Today, the Middlesex and Essex Filter Beds are beautiful, important and secluded nature reserves. They show what can be achieved when industrial sites are sensitively managed to return to nature.

The whole of the site was designated as Metropolitan Open Land in the 1970s. Looking at this plan it is easy to understand why.

The trashing of the Lea Bridge Waterworks

In the 1980s, the so-called Essex Number One Beds were retained by Thames Water as an operational site. Originally, Thames Water obtained planning permission to fill in the beds to create a temporary pipe store. From that starting point, Thames Water have gone on to occupy the site for a succession of uses including the project with Clancy Docwra to replace the East London water mains. In the process they have completely trashed the site without any regard for its status as Metropolitan Open Land. All this has gone on invisibly behind the high fences surrounding the site.

Thames Water also demolished the old engine houses although there are some characterful buildings surviving close by the Lea Bridge Weir, including the Sluice House.

All mouth and no trousers – neglect by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority

The plan shows that the Thames Water site could be a connecting thread between Leyton Marshes and Hackney Marshes to make the open spaces of the Lea one continuous whole.

The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority is supposed to act as the Park’s custodian, threading the different parts together to make a playground for London, and indeed the Authority frequently claims to have done precisely this. However, the reality is very different. In plan after plan they have committed to protecting the site as Metropolitan Open Land, but they have done absolutely nothing about it.

This is what the Park Authority propose in their current Park Plan:

Work with Thames Water, London Borough of Waltham Forest and other stakeholders to identify options for a development at the Thames Water Depot site that will bring this site into a Park-compatible use. Appropriate uses would include (but are not restricted to) one or more of the following:

  • A waterside visitor hub incorporating leisure-related uses
  • A biodiversity-based and/or heritage-related visitor attraction
  • Accommodation serving visitors to the Park
  • ‘Community’-related activity and uses as defined by the Authority’s adopted Thematic Proposals
  • New recreational or sporting facilities.
The type, scale and design of any development would need to be appropriate in term of the site[‘]s designation as Metropolitan Open Land and its location within the heart of the Regional Park.

The Park Authority even had the opportunity to realise its plan back in 2011, when it was offered this site as compensation for land that it was required to give up for the Chobham Manor housing development adjacent to the Olympic Park. It decided to take cash compensation instead; cash that has been spent on its large leisure facilities and not on improving the landscape. It then stood back and did nothing while the site was purchased for a purpose that is anything but Park-compatible use.

Corporate greed wins the day

Thames Water used to be a publicly owned utility, owned and operated for the public benefit. As we know to our cost, Thames Water has, since privatisation, had a series of owners bent on loading the company with debt and extracting as much money as they can.

When the last Walthamstow Planning Strategy – the so called Core Strategy – was being adopted, Thames Water lobbied for the site to be re-designated for a “commercially viable” development. They were unsuccessful. The Inspector at the Public Enquiry confirmed that the site’s status as protected Metropolitan Open Land should continue.

Undaunted, Thames Water found a willing, perhaps even gullible, buyer in the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government acting on behalf of the Education Funding Agency (now the Education and Skills Funding Agency and hereafter “ESFA”) who paid the vast sum of £33.3 million + VAT to acquire the site for a pair of free school academies.

ESFA must have been aware that the site was MOL but must have been (and still be) confident that a pliable Planning Inspector will approve the change of use.

Not wanted here

Waltham Forest Council were clearly not consulted about ESFA’s plans and do not support the proposed free schools. The site is far from those parts of the borough needing more school places and in effect, every pupil from Waltham Forest attending the school would have to travel down Lea Bridge Road, one of the most congested roads in London. It is just about the worst place in Waltham Forest to build a new school. At the Planning Committee meeting on 25 March 2019, Waltham Forest Council rejected the application to build two free schools on the site, confirming its status as Metropolitan Open Land and making it very clear that the schools were inappropriate development for Metropolitan Open Land.

What happens next?

We all know – too well – the script ESFA are following. They will go to appeal, supported in the background by the Government (which has paid a grotesque sum for the site), and will expect the inspector to overturn the Council’s decision. It has happened already at the Olive School site in Hackney.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Save Lea Marshes is confident that the case for two new schools is so weak that the ESFA are deluding themselves if they assume they will eventually get planning permission.

There is another way and we have to make the case to protect this site.

  • The Lea Bridge Waterworks is Metropolitan Open Land and its status as such should be protected.
  • The Lea Bridge Waterworks plays a critical role in connecting the marshes of the Lower Lea Valley.
  • The Lea Bridge Waterworks backs on to one of the most beautiful and unspoiled sections of the River Lea, the haunt of kingfishers, stretching from the mighty Lea Bridge Weir to Friends Bridge.
  • The Lea Bridge Waterworks contains significant remnants of its industrial heritage, adjacent to the weir, which can be interpreted to promote understanding of this important historical site.
  • The Lea Bridge Waterworks can be linked to the Essex and Middlesex Filter Beds and managed and re-wilded over time.

There is also a point of principle to protect. Thames Water have knowingly destroyed the site. The ESFA have knowingly overpaid for this site, expecting compliant authorities to give them what they want. The Lea Valley Regional Park Authority has knowingly stood by, wholly disregarding its own Park Plan and making not the slightest attempt to protect the site, in dereliction of its duties to protect the Park.

Don’t let them get away with it.

Support Save Lea Marshes in calling for the Lea Bridge Waterworks to be protected from development and opened up to public access.

Posted in Thames Water site, Waterworks | Tagged , , | 2 Comments