Labour councillors approve tower plans despite protest

Opponents to scheme that will see town square built on vow ‘this is just the beginning’

Waltham Forest Citizens

Demonstrators from campaign group Waltham Forest Citizens were one of many protesting outside Walthamstow Assembly Hall prior to Wednesday’s meeting

Plans to build four tower blocks and extend The Mall by reducing Walthamstow Town Square and Gardens by one-third have been granted permission by Waltham Forest Council.

The scheme won support from all four Labour councillors on the planning committee at a meeting on Wednesday night that was frequently interrupted by an angry audience. The committee’s sole Conservative member opposed it.

This was despite 948 people writing letters of objection and more than 2,000 people signing a petition. There was also a protest prior to the meeting by scores of residents and housing campaigners, many angry that just 20 percent of the 502 homes set to be built would be classed as ‘affordable’ housing.

Campaigner David Gardiner told the Echo after the meeting: “We are not going to stop here. We are trying to get a judicial review started and we may get a crowdfunder going. This is just the beginning.”

The special meeting of the planning committee was held at Walthamstow Assembly Hall in order to accommodate an audience of around 200 people. Most were there to voice their displeasure at the plans by Capital & Regional, the owners of The Mall. Twelve members of the public were allowed to speak on the plans, in addition to councillors and the applicant’s representatives.

The Mall redevelopment

Plans by Capital & Regional for an extension to The Mall in Walthamstow, which includes hundreds of new homes

Ten of the twelve speakers stated their opposition. Concerns included the loss of a large chunk of Walthamstow town centre’s only public open space, the proposed 29-storey height of the towers, the lack of affordable housing, the lack of new school places and health facilities for such a large scheme, loss of daylight, loss of mature trees, and impacts on public transport.

Local resident Adrian Stannard said: “It is a scandal. If they want to build on public land the least they can do is ensure the [50 percent affordable homes] target is met.”

Alan Smith, vice-chair of Cleveland Park Residents Association, said: “We don’t need these luxury flats, which key workers such as nurses and firefighters cannot afford. We need social housing.”

Helena, another resident, said: “The towers will be oppressive and overbearing. The council are saying it won’t impact on daylight, so will they be transparent? I don’t get it.”

Activist Nancy Taaffe said: “There are 9,000 people on the borough’s housing register but this scheme is woeful in terms of provision for families. This model of development is partly to blame for the social cleansing of London.”

Madeleine Munday, from Waltham Forest Civic Society, said: “We are having our open space taken away for a crowded town centre and a station that is at maximum capacity. For what? Some water jets that won’t work?”

Campaigner Jean Duggleby said: “I find it hard to believe there will be enough hospital beds, enough GPs, enough school places. Since I started campaigning on this I have spoken to around 5,000 people and only ten said they thought it was a good idea.”

David Gardiner

David Gardiner started a petition that gained more than 2,000 signatures and has vowed to continue opposing The Mall’s redevelopment

One of two people to speak in favour of the scheme was Andy Bush, from the Empire Cinema which opened in Walthamstow three years ago. He said: “When we opened there was little or no nighttime economy here. We have built on that slow start and things are growing. A nighttime economy can help reduce crime and disorder, it brings opportunities and supports local businesses. We are happy to support any development that brings these things to the table.”

On behalf of the applicants Capital & Regional, Ken Ford told the meeting: “We have invested £20million in The Mall in an effort to provide a contemporary, accessible, and convenient shopping experience. Around 180,000 people shop at The Mall per week. We provide 300 full-time jobs. We are part of the Waltham Forest community.

“This scheme will place Waltham Forest at the vanguard of London’s development. We are investing up to £200m. It will expand and enhance the town centre and retain more spending power within the borough. It will have a catalytic effect.”

Former mayor of Waltham Forest, Cllr Saima Mahmud, spoke as a representative for Hoe Street ward. She said: “Dozens of people have written to me. Not a single one was in favour of this application. They don’t want high-rise blocks. This open space is used by thousands every day. We are losing not just the land beneath our feet but the sky above our heads.”

Cllr Millie Balkan, deputy leader of the local Conservative group, turned to face the representatives from Capital & Regional as she said: “This is a land grab. I don’t care about your awards and I don’t care about your bragging, you are not having our town square.”

With the speeches over, councillors on the planning committee debated the plans. Questions were raised about fire safety in tall buildings following the Grenfell disaster, the location of the new children’s play area in the town square, the effect of the proposed towers on wind speeds, the narrow space between the two tallest towers, and the need for extensive piling works directly above Walthamstow Central Underground Station.

Cllr Alan Siggers, the committee’s sole Conservative member, said: “The amenity space is an under-provision. People are going to be rammed together. Have we heard anything about building a new school? A new doctors’ surgery?”

Cllr Paul Douglas, one of two committee members deputising for councillors who were said to have personal commitments that prevented them attending, said: “It concerns me that  the views of Waltham Forest Design Panel have been ignored. If we have a panel why aren’t we doing what they say?”

Cllr Stuart Emmerson, the other deputy on the night, said: “This development is intended to be a catalyst for development. Part of this is about providing good quality jobs for the borough.”

Despite the concerns raised, Cllr Keith Rayner recommended the committee approve the plans. This was seconded by chairperson Cllr Jenny Gray, to loud jeers from the audience.

Cllr Gray said: “Have any of you been to the town centre? It is not a nice town square. It doesn’t have a garden, it doesn’t have many shops. It will be better after this. It will have a sensory garden, a new play space. The new retail will open up the town square.”

After a meeting that lasted more than three hours, the committee voted four-to-one in favour of the plans.