Low Hall Lido is sunk, East London Waterworks Park swims against the current

Now the lido plan has sunk, Waltham Forest must provide the amenity of East London Waterworks Park, and finally stand against the tide of inappropriate development engulfing Lea Bridge.

Birds over Low Hall Fields by @low_save

After thousands of people donated to East London Waterworks Park’s successful Crowdfunder, which raised over half a million pounds for ‘community-owned natural swimming ponds’, Waltham Forest Council made an election promise it would create the opportunity for open water swimming in the borough. The charity were pleased – didn’t this mean backing up further their ‘in principle’ support for the plan to regenerate the buried filter beds from the former Lea Bridge Waterworks into one-of-a-kind wild swimming ponds?

It would seem not. In 2022, the council announced that their favoured location for open water swimming was Low Hall, where they planned to construct a lido.

Low Hall was the previous battle ground of a considerable community furore in 2020. Waltham Forest Council cancelled all sports bookings from local clubs in the spring of that year, in order to facilitate Secret Cinema’s attempt to commandeer the space for pretty much a whole summer. And this during the height of the pandemic.

The plans were only defeated by a vibrant community campaign and determined local sports groups, backed by Sports England. Former Mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe, now Deputy to the Mayor of London, also played a rather ignominious role in the whole affair, seeing fit to over-ride all valid objections regarding the London Plan, and giving approval for Waltham Forest Council to have full authority over the application.

This episode is now rarely referred to, but is indicative of hope for co-ordinated collective action. Secret Cinema withdrew their locally unpopular application in June 2020. Clare Coghill, who had never responded to the campaign despite being a local ward councillor, announced her resignation as council leader. She later took up post as a director of a housing development company (London Square) which had been given approval to develop multiple high-rises in Lea Bridge during her time in office, a fact revealed by Private Eye, and fully befitting of their Rotten Boroughs feature.

Low Hall always seemed a strange choice for the lido. Just off South Access Rd, it is inaccessible to most in the borough. It is also located a 1.3mile walk from the Thames Water depot on Lea Bridge Road proposed for East London Waterworks Park. As explored, the sports ground is already used extensively by local clubs. Part of the site is a Nature Reserve and Metropolitan Open Land.

It was also public Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) opposite Leyton Marsh that was seized by Thames Water in the 1980s to create their fenced-off depot on Lea Bridge Rd. The company were responsible for demolishing many of the outstanding heritage buildings that survived from the East London Waterworks Company era. The site was eventually sold to the Education Funding Agency for an eye-watering £33m (plus VAT). Waltham Forest Council did not require the school places that would have been provided by the two free schools proposed at that location, and wisely refused the developer’s application in 2019. However, part of the council’s refusal was predicated on the defence it made of the site’s status as MOL. The campaign to create East London Waterworks Park – a genuinely nature-rich and community-owned amenity – began in earnest that same year.

Sadly, Waltham Forest Council are part of the Pan London Vehicle (PLV) of London councils that are intending to lodge another planning application, this time for a secure facility for twenty-four children on the plot of land where East London Waterworks Park is proposed.

After the council refused the application for the schools, we were briefly hopeful that they would defend our protected land in the area. However, the council’s planning committee gave permission for the new double-sized ice centre on Leyton Marsh in 2021, despite a viable alternative location existing in Leyton, at Eton Manor. The Lee Valley Park Authority and Waltham Forest Council favouring Eton Manor for the new facility would have meant we didn’t have to endure the loss of valuable and contiguous green space.

Ever since we started campaigning for our marshes to remain open and green, we have met with many obstacles to openness, wildness and freedom, usually in the form of private mega-events and over-sized or mis-located sporting facilities. The cumulative loss of open space in this area, given away for the Leyton Marsh temporary basketball facility, Hackney Marshes User Centre, North Marsh Pavilion and new double-sized ice centre, has been great indeed.

But there is the chance to restore public land back to the people and relink the marshes of the Lower Lea Valley. Waltham Forest Council can keep their election promise to provide open water swimmming, defend MOL, and give the residents of the area that they are overloading with tower blocks something in return. The LVRPA can follow their own Park Development Framework and defend the Park they were set up to protect from urban sprawl.

All these authorities need to do is support East London Waterworks Park against yet more inappropriate development; our community will do the rest for ourselves.

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2 Responses to Low Hall Lido is sunk, East London Waterworks Park swims against the current

  1. steven romanowski says:

    They dont build these things on Hampstead Heath, do they? Some green spaces are more sacred than others. Why is that?

  2. glyn says:

    100% agree, though to add that 3 of the developments you mention, though poorly designed and planned, do actually serve the local community and in size are dwarfed by the loss of Arena Field, White Hart Field, Eton Manor Sports Ground and the beautiful Lea Valley cycle track, all for the Olympics.

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