Leytonstone News

Council confirms plans for ‘comprehensive redevelopment’ of Leytonstone estate

The council dropped plans to redevelop the estate in 2018, and has since spent about £10 million on a major refurbishment and fires safety programme, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Credit: LDRS

Waltham Forest Council has confirmed its hopes to rebuild a Leytonstone estate after spending millions on safety and improvement works in the last four years.

At a residents’ meeting for Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers in Montague Road, Leytonstone, on Wednesday (26th July) council staff outlined a proposal for “comprehensive redevelopment” of the estate for the second time in a decade.

The meeting came weeks after it emerged that the council has already secretly appointed an architect and planning consultant to “explore capacity” for a new, even denser estate.

After dropping a plan to redevelop the estate in 2018, the council has spent about £10million on a major refurbishment and fire safety programme.

During a meeting at a local school, the council’s director of housing regeneration Meera Kumar, told a group of about 35 residents that redevelopment is now the council’s preferred option.

She said: “What normally happens is we normally build the first homes on the estate – I know you think it’s a small estate but you would be surprised that you can get a small block.

“Residents would then be decanted into their new home – you would get high priority – either you stay or you are re-housed.”

Few residents living in the estate’s 234 flats appeared to have attended the meeting and many had difficulty hearing Kumar and her colleagues speaking in the large school hall.

Some residents accused the council of “dividing” the community in the way it has communicated with them during the works they have lived through in the last four years and questioned how much longer they will have to live in a semi-refurbished building.

One resident said: “The council has been running an active campaign to cause discord, disassociation, misunderstanding, confusion, and misinterpretation on the whole scheme of residents.

“For this to be successful there should be a clear line of communication between residents [and the council] so that everyone understands what’s happening and how it’s happening.”

Another added: “We’ve been given so many promises, so many lies, so many completely unsustainable ideas of what life’s gonna look like.

“When you hear us speaking, just refer back to that, it’s important to understand.

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Presentation slides claimed that continuing the estate refurbishment would cost £35-42m, while redevelopment would cost £250m.

The redevelopment option would involve building “potentially circa 450-500 new homes” which would be “all affordable”, split 50:50 between social rent and shared ownership.

However, the plan said there is still a budget “gap” of £110m left to fill either from council borrowing, council flat sales or from Mayor of London funding.

Director of housing regeneration Meera Kumar presented plans to residents. Credit: LDRS

According to a “high-level timeline,” a cabinet decision is likely to be made in November with a residents’ ballot made in April next year.

Regeneration would not start until early 2026 while refurbishment could start earlier, in 2025.

This concerned many residents who have lived in the disruption of works to the building and upgrades to their kitchens and bathrooms since 2019.

One resident commented: “Do we have another three years in our property we’re in now? Some of us want to decorate.”

In a letter sent to the tenants and residents association on the day of the meeting, Kumar said the council has concluded that redevelopment would be the “best way” to provide better homes but emphasised that the final decision “rests solely” in the hands of residents.

The Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers on the estate. Credit: LDRS

Kumar, who has taken over responsibility for work on the estate from the council’s housing team, appeared to be the most senior council representative at the meeting. Although Waltham Forest’s deputy leader and cabinet member for housing and regeneration Ahsan Khan did not attend, local ward councillors Keith Rayner and Kischa Green both sat in the audience.

In 2018, the council dropped plans to add a new “infill” building while stripping back and refurbishing the existing buildings, claiming that the two bids submitted by developers were too financially risky.

It instead opted to carry out the ongoing major refurbishment and fire safety works, which started in 2019.

This came after serving a demolition notice in 2015 and moving more than 100 households to council housing elsewhere in the borough, with many expecting to return to new, modern homes.

At Wednesday’s meeting, long-term residents of the estate recalled the council taking them on a bus to see what a replacement estate could look like.

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