News Walthamstow

Council deputy leader defends Walthamstow Mall tower

Cllr Ahsan Khan acknowledged lively social media discussion of the lift shaft but said the development would ‘create permanent jobs’ and ‘new homes…for key workers at below-market rents’, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

The lift shift of one of the planned towers towers over Walthamstow, Credit: Razi Baig

A slew of social media posts about a new lift shaft on Walthamstow’s skyline has forced the council’s deputy leader to defend the project.

The lift shaft, which appears to now be complete, will form the core of one of two towers planned to reach 34 and 26 storeys high.

Members of Facebook group Walthamstow Life have discussed and shared pictures of the shaft on an almost daily basis since it first appeared.

This appears to have prompted a written piece from deputy leader Ahsan Khan in the council’s email newsletter last week entitled “helping local people get a home of their own”.

The Labour deputy leader said: “I know the development at 17&Central has provoked lots of talk on social media as the lift shaft for one of the towers is built.

“The project will create hundreds of new homes, many for key workers at below-market rents, and create 350 permanent retail jobs alongside an improved town square.

“We’re building for the future so that Waltham Forest has the homes and infrastructure local people need.”

Cllr Khan did not share that of the 538 one and two-bedroom flats in the towers, only 99 will count as “affordable” because their rent will be 20% cheaper than local rents on the private market.

Part of the land the towers and the new retail units – an extension of the 17&Central shopping centre – are being built on is Walthamstow Town Square Gardens.

Despite being one of the few public green spaces in the town centre, the council agreed to sell the developers a 250-year lease for a large section of the gardens in 2021.

In 2017, the developer of the residential towers, Long Harbour – run by aristocrat and hereditary lord William Waldorf Astor IV – became the face of the UK’s “leasehold scandal” due to the company’s strategy of increasing ground rents.

One of the benefits of the development, a new step-free entrance to Walthamstow Central, is also facing uncertainty due to a lack of funding at cash-strapped Transport for London.

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Reflecting on the attention the lift shaft has brought to the tower plans, Save Our Square campaigner Adrian Stannard said it is “interesting” that more residents are taking notice of the controversial plans.

However, he added: “It’s a shame people weren’t more active in the early days when we might have been able to influence people, in terms of stopping it now we’ve got no chance.

“[Waltham Forest Council] has got this 27,000 home target, which is much higher than [Greater London Authority] wants it to be, and virtually all of them are going to be tower blocks.”

“Look at the Blackhorse Road application, at least one tower is 36-storeys high, all along the Lea Valley are going to be tower blocks, it’ll be like Central Park in New York.”

When asked why many object to tall buildings in a dense city like London, he said: “I think it’s quite simply that they’re out of keeping with their surroundings – they don’t fit well with two-storey Victorian terraces, which is largely what this area is like.

“Secondly, in the 60s they didn’t build them very well, they were council housing for poorer people and all that other stuff.”

Stannard pointed out that the council and developers have a number of other tall buildings planned across the borough, including a 14-storey tower next to Leytonstone station and in the longer term, large residential developments at Leyton Mills Retail Park and New Spitalfields Market.

Following the change in leadership from Clare Coghill to Grace Williams in 2021, the local Labour leadership has continued its pro-development policies.

Cllr Khan told residents: “Demand for housing in Waltham Forest currently far outstrips supply – but we’re doing all we can to tackle the problem.

“We want everyone who would like to live in Waltham Forest to be able to find a home they can afford.

“Last year, we built the second-highest number of homes for social rent of any local authority, with 190 completed.

“We are committed to building 1,000 extra homes for social rent over the next few years, and we recently asked our independent Housing Commission to examine the barriers to building more affordable homes and make recommendations about how these can be overcome.

“Building new homes has other benefits. The money we get from developers is invested in improvements that everyone can benefit from, such as parks, transport infrastructure and health services.”

Note to readers: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed quotes from deputy leader Ahsan Khan to council leader Grace Williams and has been corrected accordingly.

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