Town hall tower blocks given green light

A CGI of the finished development (Countryside/WF Council)

Five blocks with hundreds of homes and council office space will now be built around Waltham Forest Council’s recently refurbished town hall

The new flats were always intended as “phase two” of the project, which the council has touted as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a new neighbourhood in the heart of the borough”.

The first phase, completed in June, was a £25 million revamp of the Grade-2 listed town hall, which created a new fountain already popular with visitors but went £3.4m over-budget.

Councillors on the planning committee agreed last night to approve the plans for 433 new flats, which will include 87 affordable homes for those on the council’s housing waiting list.

Where the new blocks will be created (Countryside/WF Council)

Committee vice-chair Sally Littlejohn insisted any shortfalls of the project were overridden by its positive aspects, such as the tenure-blind mix of affordable and market-rate homes.

She said: “Most plans have affordable housing separated from the private sector housing but in this they are [mixed] and that’s really unusual. 

“It adds to the costs because they are not all together and the housing association has to dot around but I think that’s very positive about this plan.”

In February, the council was criticised in The Observer over its plans for the former Wood Street library site, which separated the cheaper flats onto separate “poor floors”.

A council officer told the planning committee at the time this was done because mixing the flats would “impact values” by lowering the value of market-rate homes.

Despite largely positive comments from the committee, there were still some reservations about the plans, particularly as to whether it would “detract” from the look of the town hall. 

Councillor Richard Sweden said: “My main preoccupation is the possibility that the height of the buildings immediately adjacent might detract from the prominence of the excellent building in which we are standing. From the CGI drawings. they certainly look as if they are the same height.”

He also questioned why only 70 of the affordable homes will have at least four bedrooms, given the large number of families in need of housing.

The committee’s only Conservative member, Andy Hemsted, reiterated Cllr Sweden’s concern about the project’s overall appearance and objected to the scheme being car-free.

He asked: “What have we got against tradespeople? Why don’t we want people who need a vehicle to do their job living in this borough anymore.”

Committee chair Jenny Gray responded the council must have car-free developments, arguing: “If we give everybody a parking space in a town built when most people had a horse and cart, it just would not be practical.”

She added that she thought the plans were “imaginative, well-designed” and “a lot more in-keeping” than the buildings that will have to be demolished to make way for them, such as the old Magistrates building.

Regarding the project as a whole, she said: “When I came to this meeting tonight and saw how many families were enjoying this beautiful space, I did feel a bit choked up. 

“When I first started coming here nobody would go to the green spaces at all. It belongs to the people and it’s good we have given it back to them.”