Stats show Waltham Forest provides far fewer jobs than neighbouring boroughs – James Cracknell and Josh Cheetham report
Traders have warned Waltham Forest is “running out of room” for small businesses as industrial land is increasingly sold for housing.
This year several new housing developments have been granted planning permission in the borough at the expense of commercial units used by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Ray Ogborn is the director of Apollo Cutters Ltd, a print finishing business in Brunner Road in Walthamstow, where hundreds of homes are being built. Although the firm is moving to an adjacent warehouse, Ray fears it is only a matter of time before it is also sold off. “More and more businesses are moving out of the area,” he told the Echo.
“We’re being out-priced, it is getting really expensive. I think Waltham Forest Council would rather have houses than businesses, and I heard they’re trying to get rid of factories because they can get more money for housing.
“If we have to leave this area, we are going to have to shut down.”
The concern among traders is echoed by statistics suggesting Waltham Forest doesn’t provide enough employment space. According to data published by the Office for National Statistics, there are 0.46 jobs per person of working age in the borough. This ‘job density’ is the second lowest in London, ahead only of Lewisham.
Just four London boroughs provide fewer than Waltham Forest’s 84,000 jobs. By comparison, neighbouring Hackney provides 132,000 jobs, while Enfield has 128,000 and Newham 111,000.
At South Grove, 656 homes are being built in two schemes both granted permission this spring. Although developers claim up to 90 new jobs will be created, there is expected to be a net loss of employment from the area as several organisations are forced to leave.
MOT testing centre Premier Workshop Ltd has already relocated, to a warehouse in the last remaining corner of the industrial site yet to be sold for housing. Joint owner Tariq Mahmood says he thinks the business, employing nine people, will close within a year: “When we have to move, that will be the end,” he told the Echo. “We have looked around and all the other sites we could move to are being developed. There are no units in Waltham Forest left for businesses like ours.”
Alpha Business Centre, which is also set to be demolished to make way for homes in South Grove, provides 49 units for hire by small businesses and community groups, although many have been vacated since the area was first earmarked for redevelopment four years ago.
Anna Agboola, who runs a Caribbean cafe there, told the Echo: “It used to be very busy, the cafe was full of customers, but I’m not leaving until the council finds me somewhere else to go. They are demolishing a business centre – but what about us?”
A foodbank and a charity tackling gang crime are among the community groups currently using Alpha Business Centre. Its manager Hassan Chaudhry said: “People come in looking for small business space, but we turn them down. These businesses are being forced to look elsewhere.”
South Grove is not the only site where industrial space has been sacrificed for housing. Last month a development scheme of 300 homes in Lea Bridge Road won permission on a site comprising small warehouses. The manager of charity furniture shop Remar UK, Allan Joy, admitted: “It’s a good location and it will be difficult to find somewhere else.”
In response to criticism from business owners, a Waltham Forest Council spokesperson said: “We want to support local businesses and help them grow and prosper. We put in place a strategy to work with small businesses, which includes promoting new business space, enhanced support, and establishing a charter. We will also offer specialised support to aid growth of creative, construction and urban services.
“Business space in the borough is well used, and we have clear evidence that businesses want to stay and grow in Waltham Forest. We recognise there is displacement due to the South Grove regeneration scheme, so in response we’re providing new business space within the development, and seek to support businesses with relocation.”
Meanwhile, the borough’s last remaining dairy, Parker Dairies, has been given another year to find a new home after its site was earmarked for flats. Paul Lough, managing director, said it still wouldn’t be easy. “The Olympics sucked up a lot of brownfield sites,” he said.
The 120-year-old firm, currently employing 32 people in Wood Street, has been looking as far afield as Beckton for a large enough site. But profits are growing, and Paul remains defiant: “Wherever we find a home we’ll continue serving the people of East London.”