We are pleased that the decision to refuse the car wash has been upheld and what’s more on grounds which uphold the legal protections for Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). However, running contrary to the Planning Inspectorate’s decision to safeguard MOL, the very next day we discovered that the Lee Valley Park Authority had written to local residents informing them it was pressing ahead with plans to replace the current ice centre with a new double-pad facility through disposal of treasured local space.
A letter sent to Essex Wharf and Riverside Close residents stated that they are ‘planning a new centre, which will cater for increased public demand and provide a regional centre of excellence’ on the site of the current facility. This, they claim, will be funded by ‘looking to redevelop 3.5 acres of under-utilised land that has previously been built on at the nearby WaterWorks Centre’. The idea that the 3.5 acres of land is ‘previously built on’ is misleading, since the majority of it is still green space, even if car parking and a community centre have been been built there. Furthermore when the WaterWorks Centre was constructed, in order to obtain consent under the restrictions in force for developing MOL, this would have been on the understanding this development would provide community facilities to maintain and serve the public green space. Not facilities that would later be ‘disposed’ of for private residential purposes.
If these facilities have since become ‘under-utilised’ as the LVRPA claim, then they are solely responsible as the sole managers of this venue and surrounding area. The Park Authority should be looking to supplement the revenue they have, around £15m, with funding bids if the new Ice Centre will indeed be commercially successful as they claim. Public protected land should not be disposed of to subsidise the building of any new commercial facility.
However this is far from being a foregone conclusion for several reasons. Firstly, an admirable group of local residents had the foresight to register the WaterWorks Centre as an Asset of Community Value. This means it will be harder for the LVRPA to sell the Centre, as the community will first be offered the opportunity to bid for it. The sale has to be delayed for a period of time to give one or more local groups time to put a bid together. We do believe that having an ACV status is a material planning consideration so it should be taken into account at the planning stage, whatever the nature of the ‘disposal’ process.
Secondly, in response to many local objections to the plans for the Waterworks and our petition of over 5000 signatures, the Council have amended the provisional wording of the Lea Bridge Eastside Vision document regrading the Waterworks from ‘Residential’ to ‘Possible Regeneration Opportunity’. This is in contrast to the definite and concrete plans for other parts of the Lea Bridge area.
The LVRPA have acted swiftly and it could be said secretively to ensure that there is minimal accountability for the plans. If you visit the website you are directed to in their letter to residents, you will discover that a private company has been contracted to deal with public communications. After several Lower Lee Valley Commitee meetings have been postponed, rescheduled, moved or cancelled, the Lower and Upper Lea Valley Committees have been rolled into one body called the “regeneration and planning” committee which means that there will no longer be specific local meetings dealing with local matters even when there are so many current issues and proposed developments in this area. The assumption that the only issues of interest are to do with regeneration and planning is ridiculous and maybe an attempt to deliberately shut down opposition from the Lower Lee Valley Committee members who are regularly lobbied by local residents and groups.
This means the likelihood of acrimonious relationships between the LVRPA and local people and local groups will be far greater, since there are no intervening democratic bodies to lobby or to represent our views to the Executive, who are now solely responsible for the disposal of assets, rather than all Authority Members as was previously the case. The LVRPA know that their plans to sell off public land are the most controversial and legally tenuous of all their undertakings and it would appear that they have undertaken bureaucratic measures to officially distance themselves from those they are meant to serve.