Lea Marshes End of Year Review: 2020

January: A quiet time for enjoying our marshes in peace, little did we know what was in store for 2020!

Scrub land and wildlife habitat adjacent to the current ice centre

February: In February, we first heard of plans to host a large scale commercial dance festival on the Waterworks Meadow. The licence was to be for three years; for the first year close 8,000 people were expected to squeeze into a small site next to the Waterworks Nature Reserve and 15,000 in subsequent years.

Waterworks Meadow

March: A community campaign against the Waterworks Festival began. The mobilisation quickly built momentum and film maker Sheridan Flynn produced a neat film capturing community sentiment against the festival: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q18JkWxD79U&ab_channel=SaveLeaMarshes

Campaign image by artist Abigail Brown

April: We published the inspiring story of the Saving of Walthamstow Marshes by campaigner Mike Knowles: https://www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/2020/04/22/the-saving-of-the-walthamstow-marshes/

We prepared for the licensing hearing announced for the following month to decide the Waterworks Festival application.

The River Lea adjacent to the Waterworks

May: The licensing hearing for the Waterworks Festival took place and the Licensing Committee decided to refuse the festival, to the great relief of Save Lea Marshes and many local people who had worked very hard to oppose it. Particularly important in this refusal was the reference to the threat to the Schedule 1 wildlife at the neighboring Nature Reserve from loud amplified sound.

June: Plans for the development of the Gasworks site, adjacent to the Waterworks, were announced. The site is heavily contaminated with toxic materials so this planning application was of particular concern. We objected.

Despite the pandemic, large numbers of people were assembling on the Waterworks Meadow and swimming in the River Lea. Litter was a real problem and the rangers were overwhelmed.

July: Save Lea Marshes announced its crowdfunder to ‘Rewild the Waterworks Meadow‘.

The rationale was to commission a number of wildlife surveys of the area in order to collect vital ecological data, in order to safeguard the site from future inappropriate use and development, as well as design a rewilding program for the meadow.

Waterworks Meadow by Dee O’Connell

August: SLM did not have a quiet summer this year; we knew that the much delayed planning application for the new Olympic-size ice centre on Leyton Marsh was due to come to Waltham Forest Planning Committee anytime. We gathered together wide ranging and comprehensive objections to the plans and lobbied the Greater London Authority for a refusal of a over-development on protected Metropolitan Open Land (MOL).

Construction footprint of the new LVIC

September: We continued our campaign against the new ice centre, aware of the destruction the plan would bring, as well as further undermining of the land’s status as protected MOL. We continued to share our planning objections in a series of ‘Objections of the Week

October: We were delighted to reach our target for our ‘Rewild the Waterworks Meadow’ crowdfunder. Surveys had already begun in the summer and will be ongoing until June 2021, when our data will be collated and shared with the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority and the public who funded the surveys.

Aware that the Planning Officer for Waltham Forest Council had recommended approval for the new double-size Lee Valley Ice Centre, we staged a socially distanced ‘Ghost Demo for Wildlife’ on site livestreamed on YouTube and Facebook Live. The demo was a protest for all the wildlife that would be displaced and lost by the construction of the facility and associated car park, for which part of the SINC, hedgerow and twenty mature trees would be destroyed.

November: The new ice centre received planning approval from Waltham Forest Council, much to our dismay and concern. Local wildlife enthusiast and one of our surveyors, the wonderful Ian Phillips produced this excellent short video detailing the likely impact on local species: https://www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/2020/11/08/my-thoughts-on-the-approval-of-the-new-lea-valley-ice-centre/

December: Just a few days after the Greater London Authority granted a unsatisfactory approval for the new ice centre, the LVRPA began destructive clearance works, putting wildlife that may have already gone into hibernation under threat and chopping down twenty mature trees on site.

It was a very sad sight to witness. On the day that no ecologist was on site as promised, there was a brave occupation of one of the iconic willows on Leyton Marsh.

Tree being felled behind ice centre
Tree occupation – for which three fire engines were called!

As soon as the clearance of the site was accomplished, a funfair moved on site, directly adjacent to the flattened area. It was dismantled before even opening due to the pandemic.

Not content with receiving approval for the new Olympic-sized ice centre on public land, the LVRPA published their intention to have the MOL boundaries altered so protected status is no longer conferred on this area.

The Authority are also lobbying for MOL status to be removed at the Waterworks car park and Waterworks Centre, for purposes of ‘development’ and ‘leisure’.

We will clearly have a busy 2021 too! Thank you for all your support, have a safe new year and keep posted here.

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