Locals fear health risk of gasworks development

How the Lea Bridge Gasworks development would look, as viewed from Clementine Estate (credit St William)
How the Lea Bridge Gasworks development would look as viewed from Kettlebaston Road (credit St William)

Developer plans 575 homes for Leyton site, reports by James Cracknell

Residents living near a gasworks in Leyton have expressed fears over plans to build hundreds of homes on the contaminated site – which the developer itself admits may “present an environmental and human health risk”.

Developer St William has submitted a planning application for 575 homes at Lea Bridge Gasworks, in ten buildings up to 18 storeys tall. The site abuts Leyton Jubilee Park and is close to the cluster of other tall housing schemes being developed around Lea Bridge Station.

But Kettlebaston Road resident Kathryn Judd is among scores of local people who have expressed concern not only about the scale of the scheme but the potential pollution arising from it. Kathryn told the Echo: “I am not against new housing at all but because this is a disused gasworks it became obvious that building homes there might be dangerous.”

St William is a subsidiary of Berkeley Group, the company behind an ongoing development in Ealing – also on a former gasworks – that residents complained in an article for The Guardian last year was making them ill. A “petrol-like odour” had become persistent in the area, they said, and many local people decided to move away as a result.

In a planning statement submitted last month to Waltham Forest Council, St William says of Lea Bridge Gasworks: “Due to the historic use of the site, there is the potential for a variety of sources of contamination to present environmental and human health risk, including contaminated soil and groundwater, asbestos, ground gas or vapours, or unexploded ordnance.”

St William is due to conduct “remediation” works before commencing its development of Lea Bridge Gasworks, should it win planning permission. The developer argues the London Plan supports remediation of contaminated land “to ensure that brownfield land can be safely developed without resulting in harm to human health and the environment, or leading to an activation or spread of contaminates”.

Kathryn and her neighbours on the Clementina Estate, which backs on to the gasworks, have set up a campaign group called ‘Community Before Construction’. A letter to councillors in April was co-signed by 80 local people and called for the planning application to be delayed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It never entered my mind that this site might be used for housing,” said Kathryn. “We felt they were trying to take advantage of the Covid-19 situation because it is hard to manage a campaign when we’re on lockdown. We asked the council to pause it because it needs to be fair for people to access the consultation, but they refused.”

How the Lea Bridge Gasworks development would look, as viewed from Jubilee Park
How the Lea Bridge Gasworks development would look, as viewed from Jubilee Park (credit St William)

Construction traffic in the Lea Bridge area has become a part of daily life for local residents and Kathryn also fears the impact of another six years of lorries travelling to and from the estate – as many as one every six minutes.

Other objections include the lack of public infrastructure, loss of light arising from overshadowing by the tallest tower blocks, and not fitting in with the local character of the area – which includes several streets of classic Warner terracing.

Kathryn adds: “Two 18-storey tower blocks is huge. It is taller than the ‘Motion’ scheme at Lea Bridge Station and it will mark the entrance to Jubilee Park. It will change the character of the area completely.”

Asked about residents’ concerns, a St William spokesperson said: “We have engaged with both the community and council on the plans prior to their submission and continue to do so. We are hosting a virtual Q&A session on [Thursday] 18th June where local residents and stakeholders can raise any queries or concerns directly.”

Find out more about the Lea Bridge Gasworks scheme on the Community Before Construction website:
Visit cbc-leabridge.co.uk