Let’s show them what we really want

Fed up with development schemes that don’t meet the community’s needs, Jenny Vaughan seeks a proactive approach

Walthamstow skyscraper

A design for 500 new homes at the site of The Mall in Walthamstow town centre, including a 27-storey skyscraper

It’s unlikely that the Spice Girls were thinking about development plans for Walthamstow when they sang “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want” – but that’s the question; what do we really want?

Easier is seeing what many local people don’t want. A lot of them didn’t want the Mini Holland cycling programme, and even more now don’t want a tower block twice as high as Walthamstow Travelodge going up in the town square.

Probably just about everyone will have doubts about one or several bits of this proposed redevelopment. The current plans seem to be piecemeal; scatter-gun ideas for a block of flats there, another somewhere else, and affordable housing which is unlikely to be afforded by many local people. Last month’s Echo also made a point that is not often heard, that housing development can exacerbate some problems such as reducing space for small businesses.

It’s important to protest against some of the ideas that turn up, but perhaps the most constructive thing we can do is think of what we want to see instead, and ways of achieving that. Relying on Waltham Forest Council to plan and approve these schemes just seems to end up with proposals for things we don’t want, which we can then only react to. After that, there’s another plan, another reaction, and so on. So, what do we, the people who live here, really want?

It would be logical to suggest genuinely affordable, secure homes; good schools; medical facilities; public transport; and probably much more. But whatever happens, no single issue can be tackled in isolation from the others, and a collective input into how we see the future and how we meet local needs seems to be urgently needed.

If building masses of new expensive flats, or calling the Blackhorse Road area a ‘village’ is likely to help, then, okay, let’s do it. But if we don’t think that’s the answer, what is? Who is going to ask us what we want? Do we know what we want? How will anything we say get into the mix of plans – if at all? How can we get away from a system that involves the council – or anyone else – coming up with ideas that don’t seem to solve very much?

Let’s find a way of doing more than complaining about or reacting to options that don’t seem to bear much relation to what we believe we need. We could start by pooling ideas about what we think would be the best way to identify needs and problems, suggest ways of solving those and finding the expertise and money to build the kind of community we want.

This work is already beginning, as readers saw from architect Jonathon Crossley’s article in the July edition of the Echo. In addition, there is at least one local campaigning group ready to take up this particular baton: Waltham Forest Housing Action Network.

Samantha Mason, a delegate of that network, says the group is “starting a process to develop a coherent plan for housing and regeneration in the borough that puts the existing community and its needs at its heart”. Aims include providing genuinely affordable homes, protecting open spaces, creating local jobs, protecting our local environment, and meeting climate change and sustainability challenges.


If you would like to contribute to new community-led housing plans for the borough:

Email samanathamason2066@yahoo.com

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