Borough’s biggest building site taking shape

Thousands of new homes and ‘creative zone’ planned for former industrial area, reports James Cracknell

View from Blackhorse Road

Cranes and half-built housing blocks in Blackhorse Lane tower over The Standard, a brightly-coloured former music venue

Work on the largest housing scheme in Waltham Forest is well underway – signalling the start of a major transformation for a previously neglected part of the borough.

The first of more than 2,000 homes that are slated to be built in the Blackhorse Lane area, immediately north of Blackhorse Road Station, are now under construction and already changing the skyline.

Huge old warehouses and storage depots that had dominated this industrial site for a century began to be demolished last year, and the past few months have seen a rapid rise in the new blocks of flats that will replace them.

A total of 494 homes and accommodation for 519 students are being built on this, the first and largest of a series of connected development sites. The buildings form part of the so-called ‘Mandora’ scheme in Blackhorse Lane, named after an old tram depot that most recently housed a mannequin factory.

Dozens of businesses providing employment to 192 people were cleared to make way for the development, granted planning permission by Waltham Forest Council in 2014. In their justification planning officers for the council described industrial buildings there as “somewhat underused and derelict”.

Developer MacDonald Egan has promised to provide 224 jobs in place of those lost – although many will be in retail rather than manufacturing.

Mandora redevelopment site

The view from Pye London, a mechanical engineering firm, of the Mandora redevelopment site

The Mandora scheme forms part of a wider ambition for the area that saw it declared recently by the Greater London Authority (GLA) as one of the capital’s 20 new ‘housing zones’ where the construction of new homes will be accelerated. The Blackhorse Lane and Northern Olympic Park Housing Zone, which also includes parts of Leyton, has been allocated £41million in GLA funds. The total value of the developments planned for the housing zone is £1.8billion.

Although the benefits of this investment are expected to take more than a decade to be fully realised, other impacts are already being felt. James Bates, operations manager at Vibration Group, a specialist production company, says his firm was forced to relocate twice within the Blackhorse Lane area because of various developments taking place.

“They seem to have kept the smaller industrial units rather than the larger ones,” James told the Echo. “We’re alright where we are now but we haven’t had any compensation for having to move.

“I think it’s a balancing act, there’s all these new people coming into the area and they’ll be spending money here so the shops are rubbing their hands. It’s mainly the area around the tube station that they want to develop.”

As well as the Mandora scheme, 235 homes are being built at the former Webbs Industrial Estate, in nearby Sutherland Road. And although Ferry Lane Industrial Estate adjacent to Walthamstow Reservoirs is currently still standing, it too is due to be demolished and replaced with 311 homes. Yet more plans for Blackhorse Lane continue to come forward; the latest, at Forest Works, comprises another 300 homes.

Cranes in Blackhorse Lane

Cranes in Blackhorse Lane

Lacking so far, however, is the provision of homes designated ‘affordable’. The Blackhorse Lane housing zone was originally slated for an affordable housing quota of 24 percent – meaning nearly one in four of all new homes built should be discounted from the market rate. But the major schemes so far approved – Mandora, Webbs, Ferry Lane – have included affordable housing quotas of 12, 11 and 12 percent respectively.

Further along Blackhorse Lane, away from the station, industrial space is designated as providing ‘strategic employment’ and protected from redevelopment by the London Plan. It is here, in Priestly Way, that Vibration Group has found a new home.

James Bates says that despite the upheaval of the last few years, better times are ahead. “A lot of students are going to be moving in, and there’s already lots of little creative businesses here which create a sense of community. We’ll be tapping into that. The area is being improved.”

Blackhorse Lane Studios

Blackhorse Lane Studios

The creative businesses that James mentions have been steadily increasing in number over the past decade. Neil Irons, an artist who helps run Blackhorse Lane Studios on behalf of the Barbican Arts Group Trust, jokingly says the area’s creative vibe “started with us”. But he told the Echo that he fears for the area’s future as property prices in the area rise.

“We were one of the early ones to arrive along with Inky Cuttlefish Studios,” says Neil. “It has changed from being a mostly industrial area to a residential area. It seems inevitable that we will one day be priced out because of it.

“I know the council would like to keep the creative industries here but I’ve seen how it happens – you go somewhere because it is cheap then someone tells the developers about it and they all come along shortly afterwards.”

Earlier this year the council celebrated the award of a £1.1m grant from the GLA to specifically boost creative firms in the Blackhorse Lane area. It came after the local authority bid to receive funding from the GLA’s London Regeneration Fund. The bid proposed a ‘creative industries zone’ with money available for new facilities that would help encourage more artists and makers to move into the area.

Retrospective Scooters

Retrospective Scooters, one of the new businesses in the Blackhorse Lane area

Councillor Clare Coghill, cabinet member for economic growth, said at the time of the award: “This project will transform underused space to provide workshop capacity and creative co-working space. [There is] rising demand for tech and creative start-up and move-on space.”

Blackhorse Workshop, just behind Blackhorse Lane, was established in early 2014 as a community-led space ‘dedicated to making and creating’. The project received start-up support from the council and other funders such as Arts Council England. Its facilities, which include a fully-equipped wood and metal workshop, are now used by hundreds of local people every week.

Almost forgotten, however, amid all the excitement around new homes and new jobs in Blackhorse Lane, is one of the area’s oldest remaining buildings. On the corner with Forest Road, opposite the railway station, is The Standard; a once popular music venue and pub which closed in 2011. This quaint Victorian building was in danger of being lost from view amid the cranes and half-built housing blocks that now surround it, but was given a vibrant new coat of paint as part of a borough-wide street art festival earlier this year.

What of its fate? The Standard is owned by Turkish supermarket chain TFC which, after years of delays, finally submitted a planning application for the site this summer. As expected, it includes new homes and a supermarket. But while the existing building will be demolished, TFC state: “A new music venue is proposed to replace The Standard. The team have been working with experienced venue operators to ensure the space meets the requirements of today’s musicians and event attendees.”

,