Council denies plans to turn community site into flats

Some residents fear the council is plotting to resurrect a plan to build flats on the Pastures Centre site in Leytonstone

By Victoria Munro

Pastures Youth and Sports Centre (Credit: Elaine Kasket)

Waltham Forest Council denies having plans to redevelop two community spaces in Leytonstone in the face of extreme suspicion from local residents.

Two years ago, local campaign Save Our Pastures prevented the Pastures Centre in Davies Lane, a youth centre and sports hall, from being turned into flats.

Council-owned developer Sixty Bricks submitted and then withdrew an application to redevelop Pastures and the neighbouring Good Shepherd Building, currently being rented out as an artists’ “coworking and community space” on a five-year lease. 

However, the recent erection of a six-foot high fence separating Pastures and the Good Shepherd Building has sparked fears that part or all of the site will be redeveloped once the lease runs out.

The fence dividing the Pastures Centre from the Good Shepherd Building

Tony Lobo said the new barrier “looks a little like a prison containment fence” and dismissed the council’s claim that it was necessary to safeguard children or vulnerable adults using Pastures from those using the Good Shepherd Building.

He told the Echo: “The two buildings have co-existed without any issues for decades, as complementary community spaces that have not required any fence to keep them separate.

“The ‘meanwhile use’ lease for the Good Shepherd building is for five years only. I believe when the lease expires, the council will take the opportunity of redeveloping the whole site.”

His suspicion was echoed by many who spoke at a planning committee meeting last month, which considered the council’s own application to install a gate in the new fence. 

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While the fence itself is short enough that it did not legally require planning permission, committee members chose to defer a decision about the gate “to allow time to engage and consult with the community” on the division of the site.

In a statement prepared for the meeting, ward councillor for the Pastures Centre, Marie Pye, wrote that the problem was the “complete lack of transparency in relation to what the council is really trying to do”. 

She added: “We are told that[…] the site must be divided to protect the users of Pastures from the users of the Good Shepherd Building because Pastures is used by children and some vulnerable groups. Other stories have been circulating but the message [I and my fellow ward councillor] have received is 150% clear. 

“The users of the Good Shepherd Building are no more of a risk to the younger and vulnerable users of Pastures than the adult users of Pastures. All this fence will do is divide a community[…] the users of both facilities do not want to be divided from each other.

“As a local authority, we need to be working with the local community, not imposing things that they do not want. There has been absolutely no opportunity for public airing of these issues. This is not how we do things in Waltham Forest, we work with the community, we engage.”

In response, Paul Tickler, from the council’s neighbourhood team, said the fence was necessary to resolve safeguarding concerns raised by “multiple groups” that use the site.

He said: “Not just one group but multiple groups have come to us with concerns, particularly in summer months when they are using the outside space at Pastures, that’s when they are most vulnerable.”

Asked to comment on concerns about the future redevelopment of the site, the council’s cabinet member for housing Ahsan Khan insisted today that there are no such plans.

He told the Echo: “The council has no plans to redevelop the site. The site has been divided into two spaces, with one part, The Good Shepherd Studios, being let to an organisation on just over a five-year lease.

“The fencing that’s been installed is to separate the spaces, which was agreed with the main daytime user of the Pastures Centre, and is primarily in place for safeguarding purposes. The Pastures Centre remains a council building, which is available to use and hire.”

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