Leyton News

Campaigners petition council to keep East London Waterworks Park dream alive

In an effort to stop London Council’s secure children’s home proposal from going ahead, activists have launched two petitions, reports Sebastian Mann, Local Democracy Reporter

Main image credit: East London Waterworks Park, Inset image credit: Hailshadow via Canva

Campaigners fighting to keep their dream of a community-run park alive have launched two petitions calling on Waltham Forest Council to reject proposals to build a secure children’s unit on the same site. 

Organisers from East London Waterworks Park (ELWP) hope to see a wild swimming park built on the former Thames Water depot in Lea Bridge.

London Councils, which represents the 32 local authorities in the capital, has put the future of the park in jeopardy after proposing that a secure children’s unit be built on the same 14-acre site. 

Though both groups have said the land is the only suitable location for their respective proposals, the charity has insisted the unit would be inappropriate as the land has been designated Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), which limits development. 

Similar to allocated Green Belt land, the Mayor of London’s office says only small scale structures that support outdoor open space uses and minimise any adverse impact on the openness of MOL would be considered appropriate. 

So far, the charity has crowdfunded more than £500,000 and garnered considerable local support. 

Now, in an effort to stop the children’s home proposal from going ahead, the ELWP has rolled out two petitions. The first can only be signed by people who live, work or study in Waltham Forest. If it gains 3,000 signatures, a full council debate on the future of the park will be triggered.

The second petition implores the Department for Education, Mayor of London, and Waltham Forest Council to reconsider the proposed children’s unit and can be signed by anyone.

Abigail Woodman, ELWP chair, has said local council leadership should honour its election pledge to bring open swimming back to the borough, especially given that plans for a lido in Walthamstow were recently scrapped. 

She said backing the wild swimming park would be a way of “delivering on this promise to residents” and demonstrating the “in-principle support it pledged to the project several years ago.

Urging Waltham Forest residents to sign the first petition, which is addessed to the local council, Abigail added: “We are calling on our council to do what’s right and support our park at this critical time – a time when not only are our open spaces under threat, but we are also facing an ecological and climate emergency.”

Ahsan Khan, Waltham Forest Council’s cabinet member for housing and regeneration, said any plans submitted would be subject to the “same process and scrutiny” as any others. 

The council would assess how the unit would impact the borough and its residents and undertake a statutory consultation if and when an application was submitted.

He added: “As the planning authority, we are unable to pre-empt that process.”

Plans for a primary and a secondary school on the site were rejected by the borough council back in 2019, as they would have caused “serious harm” to the openness of the land and there was “no need”. 

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However, there is an acknowledged shortage of dedicated children’s units and it would be the first of its kind in the capital. 

Cllr Khan said he was “acutely aware” of that shortage and that London children were being sent away as far as Scotland, which was having “detrimental effects” on their wellbeing. 

He added: “It is important to note that proposals for a secure children’s home on this site would need to demonstrate biodiversity net gain, improved flood resilience, and improvements to Metropolitan Open Land and its links to the wider Lea Valley.

“Waltham Forest has a strong track record of creating and maintaining green spaces for residents to enjoy. In the last decade, we have delivered the Leyton Jubilee Park, Walthamstow Wetlands, and Cheney Row Park projects. 

“Our new Local Plan outlines our vision to work with community groups around the improvements they want to see in the borough, including open-air swimming.”

London Councils has not yet put forward a formal planning application, though it is expected to in the summer. 

It refused to share a list of the 70 sites it considered for the secure children’s unit, saying it was still “in draft” and that withholding the information “outweighed” the public interest in disclosing it following a Freedom of Information request. 

The authority cited ‘regulation 12 (4) (D)’ of the Environment Information Regulations, which allows authorities to refuse publishing unfinished documents.

A spokesperson previously told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “In addition to the site selection process, a sequential assessment is being developed – this is a requirement for the planning application for this site. 

“The final sequential assessment will contain details about the other sites that were reviewed as part of the site selection process and will further confirm the Thames Water Depot on Lea Bridge Road as the only suitable site for this facility.”

Those details will be included in the formal planning application.

They added that the current managers of the site, the Department for Education, would be obliged to consider alternative educational or public sector uses for the site prior to considering a commercial disposal. 

As London Councils looks to submit its application, members of the Waltham Forest Civic Society were resigned to the idea that the unit will “likely” be approved. 

A spokesperson said there “may be no real chance of defeating” the application and that it was “clear” the council intended to approve it. 

He added: “It is clear Waltham Forest Council is intending to grant permission [and] we cannot see the Mayor of London refusing to approve [it]. We would be very glad to be proved wrong, but we think it is inevitable that planning permission would be granted.”

However, the ELWP team have said they are “confident” the petition will reach 3,000 signatures, enough to trigger a full council debate. 

A “resolute” Abigail added: “We won’t give up on East London Waterworks Park and our vision of a better future.”

A second petition has also been launched, urging people across London to help save ELWP from being lost “forever”. 

You can sign the petitions here

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