London Councils want to build secure accommodation for ‘highly vulnerable’ looked after children on a site that has been the target of a five-year campaign to create a community-owned park, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter
Local residents have voiced opposition to a proposal to build a secure children’s home on a protected site in Lea Bridge.
London Councils, an association that represents London’s 33 local authorities, claims a former waterworks site on Lea Bridge Road is the “only suitable location” for the specialist home in the capital.
Designs published yesterday say the 32,300sqm site would house a mostly one-storey building providing secure accommodation, educational and recreational facilties for 24 children.
The home would provide places for “highly vulnerable” children from the capital who need secure welfare placements because no other type of care can keep them safe.
Children in welfare placements are often sent “hundreds of miles” from London due to a “severe shortage” nationally, the materials say.
However, the site – a former waterworks currently used as storage by Thames Water – is also the target of a five-year campaign to create a community-owned park centre and natural swimming area called the East London Waterworks Park.
At a public consulation event yesterday, every local resident who spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) objected to the proposals, with many voicing support for a more publicly-accessible and natural use of the land.
Vicky Clapton, a Hackney resident, said while she appreciate that councils are “massively underfunded,” the waterworks park proposals promised a natural and “genuinely” public use of the land.
Lynne Harrison said the loss of “precious green space”, which she regularly uses, would be “dreadful”.
She added: “I’ve been living and teaching here for 70 years, people need this space. It’s a living, breathing, amazing space – the waterworks park was just going to be so wonderful.”
Another East Londoner, who declined to be named, said: “Is this really the only place that they can go?
“There’s definitely only one place that East London Waterworks Park can go.”
The site – bought by the Department for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing for £33million in 2016 – is Metropolitan Open Land (MOL).
MOL is a strict planning designation – equivalent to the Green Belt – that is supposed to protect land from protecting it from “inappropriate” development except in “very special circumstances”.
The waterworks park campaign was launched after Waltham Forest Council, the local planning authority, rejected government plans to build a free school on the site in 2019 by citing MOL restrictions.
Councillors on the planning committee decided the three storey school buildings were “excessive” in size, would cause “substantial harm” to the surrounding open land and failed to provide links to the surrounding Lee Valley Regional Park.
According to the children’s home consultation materials, the designs would be “respectful” of the surrounding area and “financial contributions” would be offered to Waltham Forest Council to offset any harm to the protected land.
The children’s home development team is understood to have justified that the site is the “only suitable location” by preparing a detailed assessment of 70 sites across London.
However, a spokesperson for London Councils has refused to share details of the sites ahead of submitting a full planning application.
They said: “Any green space enhancements required to offset building on MOL will be identified by the local planning authority through the planning application determination process.
“Potential enhancements will be identified by the local authority and agreed in partnership with the local community, that can demonstrate MOL enhancements on other sites/land elsewhere in the surrounding area.”
London Councils is also understood to have met planning officers from Waltham Forest Council to discuss the proposals in private “pre-planning advice” meetings which are funded by the development team.
The site is also within the Lee Valley Regional Park, which was created in the 1960s to develop and preserve a 26-mile long “green lung” between Hertfordshire and the River Thames.
Planning guidance published by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority – whose role of protecting nature and enhancing leisure facilities was enshrined by an act of Parliament in 1966 – says any proposals which are not “compatible” with the surrounding park “will be resisted”.
Waltham Forest’s Conservative group leader Emma Best said: “It seems entirely strange that across the 607 square miles of London this area is the most suitable for this secure home.
“The current proposals for a community owned swimming pool are well-thought out, would add huge benefit to the area and are backed by locals and crowd-funding.
“Waltham Forest Council must pursue and support the East London Waterworks Park and work with London Councils to protect this site and find a more suitable one.”
The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority has said it is still “gathering information” about the plans.
They added: “It’s important to note that these types of applications involve comprehensive evaluations across various factors.”
Waltham Forest’s deputy leader and cabinet member for housing and regeneration, Ahsan Khan, said previously: “Any planning application submitted will be carefully assessed to ensure that the impact on the surrounding environment is fully considered.”
To learn more about the proposals, and provide feedback to the consultation, click here
Find out more about the East London Waterworks Park proposal here