More on the Thames Water site

We have all had great difficulty trying to work out what the differences are between the latest version of the plan for developing the Thames Water site and the original version. We have now at last been provided with a document that (supposedly) lists all of the differences. You may find it here: FS0467-JW-00-XX-RP-A-0005_DASPermanentAddendum_P05.

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Thames Water site – last chance to object to the plans

After 18 months of tinkering and shenanigans, it now seems likely that the extraordinary plans to build the “Athena  Primary Academy” and “Barclay Secondary Free School” on the Thames Water site, Lea Bridge Road, will soon go before Waltham Forest Council’s Planning Committee for approval.

The Council have asked for submissions by 29th October 2018 so if you haven’t yet sent an objection to dcmail@walthamforest.gov.uk please do it now – however short and simple. Include the application reference  171408 and  site address  150A Lea Bridge Road, London E5 9RJ.

The developers are continuing to show misleading ‘before and after’ images on their promotional site http://www.leabridgedepot.co.uk/ , which show the existing dense vegetation of mature woodland along Lea Bridge Road retained in an identical state, and screening the site from the view of those passing on Lea Bridge Road.

However further plans submitted in the past month disclose that over 50 trees will be felled and the woodland paved over.  The present linear woodland that provides such welcome relief from the urban grimness of the main road will be replaced with tarmac, a 2.4m fence and stark views onto the car park and vast school buildings beyond.

Here are the main planning issues that could be included in objections:

  • The site is Metropolitan Open Land which has the strongest protection from development and which the London Plan clearly states should not be developed unless there are “special circumstances”. MOL sites are of strategic importance for all of London. The proposed development is not acceptable under current planning policy.
  • There are no “special circumstances” which could justify the proposed development: the pressure for new school places is a generalised pressure not a special circumstance, just as it is for housing or other infrastructure such as hospitals. In any event the pressure for school places is elsewhere in the borough.
  • The revised plans propose that almost all the existing woodland habitat with its mature trees along the Lea Bridge Road frontage will be removed, with an unacceptable negative impact on openness and visual amenity from the viewpoint where the largest number of people will be affected.
  • The site is flood plain and unsuitable for a school.
  • The site should be returned to the Lea Valley Park as intended and re-established as a vital part of the park: losing it would put a huge obstruction in the middle of an otherwise continuously wide green corridor and compromise the green chain both now and in the future, because the development of the site could lead to future attempts to develop in and around it.
  • The activity, noise and lighting associated with the schools will be harmful to the sensitive surroundings of wildlife habitat and Nature Reserves.
  • Though the applicant says there will be more green space as a result of the development, this will not be true green space but rather school playing fields of limited biodiversity value to which the public will be denied access. Were the site returned to green space parkland, this would be entirely green space and accessible to the public.
  • The Travel Plan is fundamentally flawed: it seeks to reduce local traffic impacts to an acceptable level, but this depends upon the assumption that all parking, dropping off and picking up will take place at the school and on the road outside, both of which will be restricted. However immediately opposite the proposed site the Ice Centre provides free parking for 30 minutes and will be ideal for parents dropping off and picking up, rendering ineffective the restrictions at the school itself. Five minutes’ walk away, unlimited free parking is available at the Waterworks and Riding Centre. It therefore grossly understates the increase in traffic that will be generated and associated congestion and pollution.
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The LVRPA and community enagement

Back in June I shared a letter I had written to Shaun Dawson, Chief Executive of the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, about the Authority’s lack of community engagement. You can see the letter here: https://www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/2018/06/29/open-letter-to-lvrpa-re-lack-of-community-engagement/

In the spirit of fairness, I think I should also share Shaun’s response, which I received just under three weeks after I sent my original letter. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to do so; no excuses, I’ve just been really busy.

Shaun said, and I quote directly:

I am writing in response to your email of 28th June in which you set out a range of concerns in relation to the Authority’s approach to community engagement in the south of the Park. Authority Members received your letter and it was discussed at the Authority meeting on the 5th July. Members resolved to look at how the Authority engages with the many user groups and key stakeholders up and down the Lee Valley and this will be looked into in the coming months. My response below addresses the specific points that you raised in your letter.

The Ranger service continues to manage the range of Authority owned sites to a high standard and deliver local community engagement though various means in the Park. Please see attached a list of the community engagement activities and communication mechanisms in the south of the Park since January 2018 and also planned future events and activities for 2018/19.

The Lower Lee Valley sites continue to receive high scores for both Green Flag and London in Bloom, and in the latter case achieved best Conservation Area for London for the past 2 years. The awards are assessed by external judges from both the Green Flag and London In Bloom awards and we have fulfilled their community engagement criteria.

In addition the Authority consults local groups and the wider community on its Park Development Framework (PDF) proposals for the Regional Park as these are developed. Currently the Authority is consulting on draft strategic policies and a landscape strategy for the whole Park and area proposals for specific areas of the Regional Park which lie north of the M25 motorway. All of these documents are available on the Authority’s website (www.leevalleypark.org.org.uk) or can be seen in hard copy at several venues across the Regional Park.

Public consultation has recently taken place on the draft Lee Valley Regional Park Biodiversity Action Plan, the outcome of this will be published soon. Comments from Save Lea Marshes have been noted through this process. The Authority will continue to work with a range of stakeholders to develop and deliver the specific action plan targets.

The previous user forums in the south of the Park were not always well attended. We therefore decided to look at a more effective approach to community engagement. The workshops were created to focus the meetings on specific aspects of site management and to better inform the public about the Park’s rationale for its management regimes. Natural England attended the grassland workshop to provide a clearer understanding of the Park’s grassland management regime. During the workshops we discussed how and why we managed all of the different habitats present on site as well as other site operational issues, which was the specific aim of the workshops from the beginning. The workshops were an opportunity for members of the public to raise questions and provide feedback relating to the topics discussed on the agendas. During the workshops suggestions, questions and opinions were invited for consideration, were responded to and if appropriate were implemented.

We also took the decision to run a series of site management walks, inviting members of the general public as well as local user groups to attend and discuss relevant management issues with the Ranger while on site. In addition to this we continue to run several Ranger ‘drop in’ sessions each year. We have engaged with many more users through this format of community engagement and receive a greater level of response and insight into the views of the visitors to the Marshes than through the previous forum meetings. The Ranger ‘drop ins’ and walkabouts are in our opinion a more efficient and effective form of community engagement. The participants of the former workshops/ forum continue to be contacted via a mailing group, updating them on site management of the marshes, as well as receiving a quarterly newsletter. All FOI requests received have been responded to. Furthermore the site Ranger for the Marshes has always shown a willingness to meet informally around prearranged walks to discuss any management issues they may arise.

Our events and activities are advertised on the Visit Lee Valley Website, What’s On guide, Information Boards and via Lee Valley Regional Park social media. The site Ranger also regularly tweets information regarding the Park and events and has 840 followers and growing. Events and activities are mentioned in the mailing group and the events and activities are also included in the quarterly newsletter which the mailing group receive.

In your letter you also made reference to the £75k investment which was borne out of the temporary use of Leyton Marsh for the 2012 Olympics. I am advised by officers that SLM were involved in the process for determining how the investment was to be spent including being part of the panel that approved the artist and artwork for the mural.

The Authority does, it believes, devote significant time and energy to engaging the many interested parties in the south of the Park, as the attached list illustrates. That said it is important that we review how we do engage and look at ways to be more effective. Over the coming months we shall carry out such a review.

It was heartening to hear that the Authority is taking our concerns seriously, although we have heard absolutely nothing on the matter in the last three months, and so I can’t help thinking this is another hollow promise.

What was disappointing, although perhaps not surprising, is the fact that the LVRPA continues to argue that what we have experienced, what we have witnessed, what we know to be true isn’t true. For example, while it is absolutely true that members of Save Lea Marshes were involved with the underpass mural project, it is not true to say that we have been ‘involved with the process for determining how the [ODA] money was spent’, and this blog post will explain why: https://www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/2018/02/07/what-happened-to-our-money/.

As for his comments about the forum, workshops and ranger drop-ins, here’s what one friend, who used to attend the forum and the workshops, says in reponse:

“It’s so convenient for them to keep saying that all the good stuff happens on the ranger drop-ins, when there is no documentation, no reporting, no follow-up. The LVRPA can say anything it wants about what is said by people who happen to pass along during the drop-ins. The forum was for all about having proper discussions about issues and attempting to have some input into LVRPA policy. Obviously, the LVRPA prefers the drop-ins because they aren’t for that at all. The forum was all about consultation, the drop-ins are not.”

I am conscious that different optics produce different perspectives but surely the only way for any organisation to better serve its customers or clients is to listen to them? And I’m very clear in my mind that the LVRPA exists to manage the land within the Park on our behalf; that the LVRPA does work for us. I just wish it behaved as if it did sometimes, and listened to us.

Abigail Woodman

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Too much littering on the marshes

Hackney Council does a wonderful job in clearing up the litter from Hackney Marshes. Goodness knows how much it costs.

However, if you are out walking after the sports sessions, before the council has done its magic, the scene that confronts you is appalling. Litter everywhere and a great deal of single-use plastic. I find it hard to ignore and often find myself disposing of it in the nearest bin.

Last Monday (September 3), my anger reached boiling point. Having picked up some detritus such as half-full plastic water bottles, I walked towards the new green carbuncle (sorry, sports pavilion), to be confronted by a practically empty bin, surrounded by about 20 plastic food containers and cutlery left within a hand’s distance from the nearest bin outside the pavilion.

I am therefore appealing to the participants and organisers of sports activities to do something about these thoughtless, wasteful, bad habits.

Sports people should be able to set a better example and have the motivation and energy to put things in bins or take them home. Clubs should be advising their members of the need to reduce plastic and use reusable cups and bottles and not leave empty and in many cases half-full bottles of water and energy drinks on the pitches. Teams leaders could organise a collection after matches finish and/or bulk order some reusable cups and bottles for their teams.

As Hackney Council is so generous as to give free parking to sports people including visitors from outside the borough, perhaps it could re-coup some of the huge amount of money spent on building the new facilities on the marshes by fining any club from booked areas that leave significant waste behind.

I can hear people saying that it is not just sports people, but anyone who visits the marshes after the weekend will notice a significant increase in the nature and level of stuff left behind, including nonrecyclable cups that clearly come from the nearby Hackney Marshes
Sports Centre cafe concentrated on or around the pitches.

The marshes are a shared resource, not only by other users but also by wildlife. So please sports and any other people eating and drinking on the marshes and other green spaces, take your rubbish with you or put it in the bins!

[Celia Coram: Letter in Hackney Gazette, 13th September 2018]

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Wrong priorities on Hackney Marsh

Anyone visiting Hackney Marshes recently will have noticed that the North Marsh carpark is now open. It is apparent that there are a number of serious problems with the signage that controls the traffic going into and coming out of the carpark over Cow Bridge.

SLM has for a long time been aware that there is a potential for collisions at the east end of the bridge, where the access road to the carpark (east-west) intersects with National Cycle Route 1 (north-south). We raised concerns about this situation at the PINS inquiry into the new North Marsh Pavilion in June 2015, and we were gratified to see that shortly afterwards Hackney Council installed a 5 mph speed limit sign at the west end of the bridge.

Look at these four photographs, which show the views of the intersection in four directions (click on the links to display them full-size):

  1. North (looking south),
  2. East (looking west),
  3. South (looking north),
  4. West (looking east).

You can see in these photographs the signs that are visible:

  1. To cyclists and pedestrians crossing from north to south:
    • A warning “Caution vehicles crossing”, before the footbridge
    • A symbol of a bicycle in a red circle, which means that the riding of bicycles is not permitted, before the footbridge
    • A sign saying “Cyclists dismount”, before the footbridge
  2. To motorists crossing from east to west:
    • A couple of tiny 5 mph signs on the end of each parapet wall, too small to be legible in this photograph
  3. To cyclists and pedestrians crossing from south to north:
    • A warning “Caution vehicles crossing”, before Cow Bridge
    • A three-aspect traffic light, which seems to be permanently stuck on red, between Cow Bridge and the footbridge
  4. To motorists crossing from west to east:
    • No signs at all.

These are the questions that Hackney Council needs to answer.

  • Why are cyclists on NCR 1 expected to dismount at this crossing? This route is the cyclist’s equivalent of the M1 or the A1. As far as I am aware, there are no signs anywhere on the A1 or M1 instructing motorists to get out of their cars and push. In fact, it is obviously not seriously intended that cyclists should dismount here, since if they were there would be a sign further on indicating where they may remount.
  • Why are pedestrians and cyclists warned about other road users, but motorists are not? When a motorist is behaving dangerously, there is little that a pedestrian or cyclist can do to avoid a fatal collision; but when a pedestrian or cyclist is behaving dangerously, all that a motorist has to do to avoid a fatal collision is to stop. Furthermore, in any fatal collision between a motor vehicle and a pedestrians or cyclist, the victim is always the pedestrian or cyclist, never the motorist. For both of these reasons it is surely more important to control the behaviour of motorists than that of pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Why is the traffic light where it is? Its ostensible function is to cause cyclists crossing from south to north to stop in the middle of the crossing (and to wait there permanently), which is obviously not the intention. Surely it should be positioned so as to control alternating single-lane traffic flow over Cow Bridge. I have seen motorists coming out of the carpark, driving up to the blind summit of the bridge as fast as possible (to minimize the chance of meeting a car coming the other way) sounding their horn as they go.
  • Why are there no measures to reduce the speed of traffic coming down off the bridge: no warning signs, no speed limit reminder, no traffic-calming measures? This is the most dangerous part of the entire layout, because the parapet walls hide motorists and obstruct their vision, and they will have a natural tendency to accelerate coming down the slope.

There is also another question, which relates to the west end of Cow Bridge.

  • Why has the gate been moved so as to prevent cyclists from using the bridge when the gate is closed? The decision to do so seems entirely perverse. It cannot be due to safety considerations: when the gate is open cyclists are not prevented from using the bridge despite the danger from cars; when the gate is closed they are prevented from using the bridge even though there is no danger from cars.
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Aural impact

This Save Lea Marshes blog is about sounds. We are contrasting the sounds of birds with noise generated by a primary school at a similar distance from the area we seek to protect. The birdsong is currently experienced as you walk from the Friends Bridge on Hackney Marshes, along the path that currently divides the Clancy Docwra works on the Thames Water site from the Lea Valley Nature Reserve. It is an alternative pleasant walk and cycle route off the Lea Bridge Road.
It has been long hoped that once the necessary water-engineering works had been completed, the site would return as part of the green lung of the Lea Valley and its heritage buildings put to good use for supporting people and wild-life interests. However, before any ideas were able to be considered, the Government’s Education Funding Authority bought the site for the use of two free schools and possibly a nursery. The situation currently hangs in the balance before a future Waltham Forest Council Planning Committee.
There are many valid reasons why this site is unsuitable for schools but the purpose of this blog is to bring home the aural impact on wildlife that two schools would have on the surrounding areas of the Middlesex Filter Beds, the Nature Reserve and Hackney Marshes, and the effects it will have on the quiet enjoyment of people who come to these areas to enjoy open space, activities, to experience peace and watch and listen to birds…
The sound of children can be joyous, but what are we teaching our children if the buildings in which they are to learn have a detrimental effect on the very nature we all need to exist? Furthermore, these schools are not planned by the local authority to meet local educational needs — they are private enterprises to be run as a business. There is a difference, there is a choice.
This is the sound that you can hear along the path currently.

This is the sound that might replace it.

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Bear Witness

Yesterday, Save Lea Marshes bore witness to the Lee Valley Regional Park’s continued attempts to commodify our open green spaces. We went to look at the temporary campsite at the Waterworks Centre.

What shocked me most was the infrastructure. The campsite is home to students competing in Shell’s Eco-marathon, which is taking place at the Olympic Park, for a week. But the site is so much more than a few portaloos and some tents. There are ranks of trailers containing flushing loos and showers. There are huge bladders containing fresh water, carried to the site by tankers, and equally large pipes carrying away the waste matter. There are arc lights to ensure everyone can move around the site without torches. There are huge communal tents for cooking and eating, and temporary roadways so that the team’s equipment can be ferried to and from their tents by vehicle. Lots of rented lorries are parked, not in the car park, which is empty but closed to the general public, but on the grass behind the Waterworks Centre. And the staff and students have full use of the Waterworks Centre, which is also closed to the public for the duration.

We spoke to one of the site managers and I asked if all the infrastructure was really necessary. Well, he said, Shell does want it to be more than a rough and ready campsite. They want the facilities to be something special. So our meadow has been mown to within an inch of its life, the land compacted and polluted with vehicles and the wildlife disturbed because some people who are visiting for a week must be especially comfortable. Is it fair that the needs of a few are put before the needs of a whole community?

One of the things Save Lea Marshes is particularly concerned about is the closure of the footpath that runs from the Waterworks Centre down the eastern side of the Nature Reserve and along the southern side of the Nature Reserve to Friends’ Bridge and Hackney Marshes. We raised this with Councillor Chris Kennedy, Hackney’s representative on the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA), and he contacted Vibrant Partnership who are renting the land on behalf of the LVRPA. This is the response he received:

When Vibrant started to discuss with Imagination (the operations company providing the campsite for the Shell event) they discussed the possibility of moving the whole site so that it all was on the south/east of the permissive footpath, thus allowing for the continued use of the permissive footpath. Early discussions looked promising and this could have been done for the camping part of the site, by moving the fence 4-5m from the previous years’ location, so away from the path. Security of the site may have been compromised potentially but we were all willing to consider this fully.

Unfortunately  due to the bins, toilets and shower blocks, potable water supply and access to the in-ground services we were not able to move the compound and provide less space for the camping element. You will see from the plans that there is infrastructure associated with the welfare of the students. This area includes regular daily movements of lorries and other vehicles to manage waste and water. The turning area is close to the site security and a safe distance away from living quarters of the campers but is adjacent to the footpath, therefore we could not split the site as the security for access to the site is at the gates adjacent to the ‘paddock’ and could not reasonably be split and is shown on the plan

We understand the footpath is a well-used link and we are mindful of this when hosting events, unfortunately for this event we have had to close the route for the duration.

Which reads as if Vibrant Partnerships and the LVRPA did everything they could to keep the footpath open, but the company setting up the campsite refused. We asked the site manager we spoke to about this and he was very clear. It would have been perfectly possible to keep the footpath open. They have more than enough space to the south of the footpath, and could have designed the site so that everything, including the lorries parked behind the Waterworks Centre, was to the south of the footpath. So why wasn’t this done? If I am being kind, I might postulate that Vibrant Partnerships just aren’t very good at contract negotiation. But the cynic in me suspects that the LVRPA never had any intention of ensuring the footpath was kept open. It is in their interest to get us used to being shut out of the land, so that we don’t object so much when they try to sell the land. It allows them to flex their muscles and draw a distinction between public rights of way and the footpaths they insist, at every opportunity, are permissive. This ignores, of course, their statutory duty to develop, improve, preserve and manage the land for leisure and recreation. That, surely, requires them to keep well-used footpaths – regardless of whether they are official rights of way or not – open for people to use.

The campsite will be gone in just over a week, but its legacy will live on. It is up to us to decide whether that legacy is positive or negative. Personally, I’m going to harness the pain I feel when I see the heras fencing patrolled by G4S security guards and channel it into efforts to stop the LVRPA selling this land. This land is our land.

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Open Letter to LVRPA re Lack of Community Engagement

Dear Shaun Dawson,

We are writing to express our ongoing dismay at the LVRPA’s continuing erosion of meaningful community engagement in the lower Lea Valley, particularly with regards to Walthamstow Marsh, Leyton Marsh and the Waterworks and Filter Beds Nature Reserve. We are copying in Michele Walde, because we think it important that Keep Britain Tidy is aware that the LVRPA is not fulfilling this important Green Flag criterion.

Back in 2012, the LVRPA met regularly with local people through the Walthamstow Marshes User Forum. The Forum meetings were well-attended, and allowed lively, free-flowing discussions about the issues of the day. By 2013, the Forum meetings had been replaced by Walthamstow Marshes Site Management Workshops, where LVRPA staff delivered presentations on issues they deemed pertinent and local people were allowed to ask questions at the end. These became increasingly infrequent and, by 2016, sit-down meetings had been replaced altogether with occasional ranger walkabouts, which are given a different name each time. While wandering about the marshes with the ranger is a legitimate activity, their sporadic nature and the fact that there are no records of the conversations means that issues raised are easily forgotten and the LVRPA is able to sidestep responding to real and continuing concerns raised by the local community about the way the marshes are managed.

2012 was a difficult year for the LVRPA’s relationship with the users of Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes, because of the way in which the LVRPA offered up large swathes of the marshes to the Olympics. Opposition to the LVRPA’s actions was vehemently expressed at meetings of the Walthamstow Marshes User Forum, and it is difficult not to conclude that the Forum was disbanded precisely because it was an effective way for local people to express their dissatisfaction with the LVRPA. Promises that Walthamstow Marshes Site Management Workshops would better enable the LVRPA and local people to work more closely on specific issues came to nothing. We remember the disappointment we felt when we attended a meeting at which we thought we would be looking at mowing regimes, discussing the evidence for and against the various options, only to have to sit through another ’this is what we have been doing’ presentation. And now even these presentations have been taken away from us.

The Walthamstow Marshes User Forum was generally well attended. It is, therefore, erroneous for the LVRPA to claim, as it has done in the past, that the User Forum and the Site Management Workshops were halted because of poor attendance. If numbers did dwindle, perhaps local people, realising that they weren’t being listened to, voted with their feet? Furthermore, the ranger walkabouts are not advertised beyond the LVRPA website, despite local people continually pointing out that the people most interested in working with the LVRPA to manage the marshes are most responsive to information about events if they stumble across it when they are out and about, and that more use must be made of the noticeboards on the marshes.

Since 2012 we have raised these matters with you on numerous occasions. Each time you have purported to agree with the points we raise, and have promised that things will change. Yet nothing changes for the better. The LVRPA seems more and more afraid of critical friends and a recent Freedom of Information request reveals that the LVRPA does not have a policy on consulting local users. Why is that? Local people have a wealth of knowledge and experience about the marshes – about mowing regimes, habitat management and the management of invasive species, for example – and they are desperate to share their expertise with the LVRPA. Why, then, does the the LVRPA continue to shun these offers of help, to actively discourage those who want to work alongside your organisation to secure the long-term sustainable future of the open green spaces that are so central to our health and well-being?

Perhaps part of the answer lies in the LVRPA’s fear of scrutiny? After the Olympics, the LVRPA was given £73,000 to pay for ‘Leyton Marsh enhancement works’ and £75,000 to fund ’the final reinstatement works on Sandy Lane and ongoing management works on Leyton Marsh’. Local people were adamant that they should have a say in how this money was spent and the LVRPA appeared to agree, with the User Forum becoming the de facto decision-making body. And then the User Forum was disbanded. Local people are still trying to find out how the money they feel belongs to them, as compensation for what happened in 2012, has been spent and a summary of the situation can be found here: http://www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/2018/02/07/what-happened-to-our-money/

Local people, who value Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes, have always been open to repairing and improving their relationship with the LVRPA. We hope this email will be a catalyst for much-needed and long-awaited change.

With best wishes

Abigail Woodman and Vicky Sholund, on behalf of Save Lea Marshes

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River Lea Oil Spill: Authorities must adopt a new approach to prevent future disasters

– AN OPEN LETTER TO –
Government and Opposition:

Environment Agency:
• Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive
• Dr Toby Willison, Executive Director of Operations
• Sarah Chare, Director Operations South East
• Simon Hawkins, Deputy Director Hertfordshire & North London Canal & River Trust
• Richard Parry, Chief Executive
• Peter Birch, Group Environment Manager
• Jon Guest, Waterway Manager in London
• Nick Smith, National Waste and Contamination Surveyor, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA):
• Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
• Thérèse Coffey MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Environment, Food
& Rural Affairs (EFRA)

Committee:
• Neil Parish MP, Chair Environmental Audit Committee (EAC):
• Mary Creagh MP, Chair Labour Party:
• Sue Hayman MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
• David Lammy MP, Tottenham
• Dianne Abbott MP, Hackney North & Stoke Newington, Shadow Home Secretary
• Meg Hillier MP, Hackney South & Shoreditch

The River Lea flows south from the Chiltern Hills through East London to the River Thames, and is a major source of London’s drinking water. The Lea Valley is home to over 200 bird species, over 35 species of mammal and over 500 species of plant; all of which are under persistent threat from contaminated waste entering the river at Pymmes Brook.

On Sunday 11th February 2018, the River Lea saw its worst – but by no means only – incident of waste crime in recent history when used engine oil entered the river at Pymmes Brook. The slow emergency response by both the Environment Agency and the Canal & River Trust enabled the contamination to spread up- and downstream over five miles of waterway.

Oil spill on the River Lea

By the Environment Agency’s own calculations, over 78,000 litres of oil-polluted water has been removed from the contaminated area since the incident. The Swan Sanctuary rescued more than 30 swans and other waterbirds. Many other animals died. There were already 40 swans in care at The Swan Sanctuary following another recent pollution event from Pymmes Brook on 28th December 2017 – otherwise admissions in February 2018
would likely have exceeded 70.

Local residents, businesses, rowers, walkers, tourists and live-aboard boaters have been subject to harmful fumes, along with the sight of dead and contaminated wildlife; not to mention the toxic waste itself. Some local river-based businesses and organisations have had no option but to cease operations during this time.

A boater and Canal & River Trust joint volunteer clean-up effort was undermined when hazardous waste held in unsealed tonne bags, including
dead animals, was left on public towpaths uncollected by the Environment Agency for over three weeks.

Volunteers have noted the Environment Agency’s proactive work at the source of the spill, as well as the initial dedication of a handful of Canal & River Trust staff on the ground. It is, however, over one month since the incident and volunteers are still organising regular clean-up operations with no support from the Environment Agency or the Canal & River Trust.

After one month, the oil spill has still not been contained or cleaned. Throughout this environmental disaster communication between agencies and the affected communities has been substandard, and has fallen short of the most basic expectations:

• No clarity between Environment Agency and Canal & River Trust’s responsibilities
• No evidence of an emergency response contingency plan or strategy
• Insufficient briefing of Canal & River Trust staff and volunteers
• No proactive or clear communication with boat licence holders, rowing clubs or marinas
• No education of towpath users or local businesses
• Lack of clean-up resources available to boaters and volunteers
• Failure to close waterways quickly and the premature reopening of Hertford Union Canal leading to spread of the contamination.

The Canal & River Trust has acknowledged they “deal with on average six pollution events each year relating to the discharges from Pymmes Brook”. Why then were authorities so unprepared to cope with this major incident?

The Canal & River Trust’s purpose is “to act as guardian for the canals and rivers of England and Wales – ensuring that history, nature and communities are central to everything we do.” The Environment Agency “protect and improve the quality of water, making sure there is enough for people, businesses, agriculture and the environment.”

We, the Undersigned, call upon the Addressees to provide:

• Explanations – Why was an environmental disaster neither acted upon immediately, nor respective actions clearly communicated?• Transparency – We call on the Environment Agency and Canal & River Trust to share publicly their waste crime response and communication strategy, including roles and responsibilities and allotted emergency budget.

• Improvements – We demand an inter-agency investigation and root cause analysis of the February 2018 River Lea Oil Disaster and clean-up response. Lessons learnt and future measures to prevent and cope with disasters of such nature should be shared publicly.

• Accountability – We call on DEFRA, EAC and the EFRA select committee to hold the Environment Agency and the Canal & River Trust to account for their handling of this disaster and to consider whether the agencies are adequately funded to meet their public objectives.

• Scrutiny – A process established whereby charities and community groups can review the approach to water quality and pollution management
within the Lea Valley.

Online petition and photos: bit.ly/leadisaster

Signed,

Lea Boaters Collective

Thames21

The Green Party

Save Lea Marshes

London Waterkeeper

The Swan Sanctuary

NBTA London

Moo Canoes

Alfred Le Roy

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Countryside Live: Driving Us Wild?

In 2012, following more than a year of local opposition, the “temporary” Olympic Basketball Training Facility, stood, fenced and controlled by security guards, like an open prison.  It was rumoured to have cost in the region of £5m but was barely used.   Save Leyton Marsh  which became  Save Lea Marshes, has continued the campaign that opposed the building being erected, turning its attention to restoring Leyton Marsh, as near as possible to its previous condition.  We wanted the site re-seeded.  Instead, imported soil from Rainham Marshes and turf – which was supposed to have been based on a variety of seeds present on the marshes, but was simply a football pitch-like monoculture – was laid on top of a plastic membrane.

Leyton Marsh after the Olympic development

After the so called “remedial” works had been completed, locals walked the area – if our eyes did not deceive us in being able to pick out the land that had been “Olympified”, our feet were certainly able to discern the area the monstrosity had occupied.  The turf simply felt different underfoot.  There was predominance of rye grass where a mixed range of grasses were meant to be, and some of it rotted when rain lay on top of the compacted soil leaving puddles and bare patches.  It was devastating to see how badly the land was being treated.

So, imagine our dismay when, in 2014, the fences were back, laid in an almost identical pattern as the Basketball Training Facility.  Fences, heavy vehicles and stalls were brought to Leyton Marsh by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA), as part of its annual Countryside Live event.  Psychologically it stirred bad memories but to add insult to injury, the land suffered even more.

I raised the issue of the state of the land and the number of holes, not of animal origin, after Countryside live event but did not get any response from the LVRPA, so I continued to monitor the land and have taken  “before, during and after the event” photographs every year since 2014.

After the 2017, event, I wrote to the LVRPA’s Green Spaces Manager, copied to the councillors from Hackney and Waltham Forest who represent the boroughs on the LVRPA, with photographs to demonstrate my points concerning damage to the land and the litter left behind after the event.  I received a prompt reply from the Green Spaces Manager, which stressed that the LVRPA believe   “this is a highly worthwhile event that is both educational and enjoyable for the family audience and is in keeping with the open space”.  The letter went on to say: “I accept the site suffers minor damage to the short grass areas, however this is of a temporary nature as the turf quickly grows back” and “small holes created during Countryside Live are the result of wooden stakes erected for signage and to create an otter pen.  These were filled in after the event.  Smaller holes for tents, pegs, fencing and the blacksmith’s metal rods all close up quickly after being removed.  Other holes often appear on Leyton Marsh as a result of wild and domestic animals digging up the soil, which are small, shallow and have not generally presented us with any great concern and are regularly filled.  It is not possible to tell from your photos which of these holes they are however we feel these are likely to be of animal origin.”

Damage left by Countryside Live

I would dispute this analysis.  Animals do not dig square holes.  The shapes of the holes and indentations can be matched to the shape of concrete posts and pole structures.  These are evident after events and the attempts to “fill in the holes”, e.g. covering over straw, left from the animal enclosures over the holes.

My overriding concern is that an organisation that should be protecting the land and the wild life that depends on it , should not be engaging in an activity which damages the land  and  un-does much of the work carried out by its own rangers and others to keep the land in good condition.

When Occupy camped on Leyton Marsh during the 2012, protests, they were criticised for leaving, flattened grass, where their tents had been and for burning local wood.  However, there was no long- term damage visible from this encampment – the protesters were environmentalists and knew how to live on the land.  This is in sharp contrast to the level of impact, caused by heavy vehicles, stands and fencing on the land.  You can walk around after Countryside Live and spot exactly where the toilets; the sheep and cattle pens and the biggest vehicles were placed.

Litter left after the event

No-one is arguing that educating children and families about the countryside is not a good thing but what sort of “countryside” does an event like Countryside Live promote?  In the urban areas of Hackney and Waltham Forest, with development increasing all around, the land that is Leyton Marsh is all the more precious to wildlife and people.  The LVRPA describes ‘dancing sheep’ as “light-hearted” but as also presenting “a lot of information about breeds of sheep across the country and highlights the challenges faced by sheep farmers.” Is this really a relevant matter to educate children about? Surely of greater relevance is the plight of small mammals and local birds struggling to adapt to an inner city environment?

Leyton Marsh has, historically, had a dual role as an open space and a recreation ground.  Today it is appreciated by many people in different ways.  SLM has long asserted that too much of it is mowed to short amenity grassland and that more bio-diversity should be encouraged.  Its location next to Walthamstow Marshes, a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI), and the two could easily be managed in a similar way.

We are heartened to learn from the LVRPA’s South Ranger, that the LVRPA will be making some changes to the mowing regime and that this year’s Countryside Live, will be restricted to days for school children only.  However, it remains to be seen whether there will be any less infrastructure or be less intrusive and disruptive to the open space?

SLM made an Freedom of Information (FOI), request to the LVRPA about the income and expenditure linked to organising and running Countryside Live has revealed that the 2017, the event achieved a deficit of £45,815.30.  This is a staggering amount and does not even include the costs of clearing up or repairing damage which was carried out by in-house staff working on a 10 hour day.  With such a long working day, it is hardly surprising that items such as plastic ties (that could be dangerous to wildlife), were left behind and holes were not properly filled in.

 

SLM really does not want to be wholly negative of the work that the LVRPA does in maintaining its statutory duties in running the Lee Valley.  We understand the political, economic and environmental pressures that the Authority faces and its need to communicate and fulfil its community role, but seriously Countryside Live is not the best way of engaging with local people, maintaining the land or earning a profit.  The Countryside itself has become something of a battle ground itself with divergent interests amongst agri-businesses, lobbyists for now illegal hunting practices to be revived (relevant here as this event was previously sponsored by The Countryside Alliance) and those that would like more ecological approaches to managing land.  Let’s at least try to protect and improve one relatively small green space in East London together.

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