Report by Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter
Waltham Forest Council was accused of shoving plans to redevelop Chingford Library and Assembly Hall “down residents’ throats” as the plans were given the go ahead for a second time.
The Chingford Hub redevelopment will add around 40 homes to the site and was first approved by cabinet on 11th June, but the decision was ‘called in’ by all 13 opposition Conservative councillors, forcing it to be reconsidered. The council insists the existing buildings need replacing with modern facilities and also want to add a cafe, with new homes needed to finance the whole scheme.
A virtual meeting of the growth scrutiny committee last week heard concerns about the number of new homes, the character of the Chingford Green area, the scheme’s financial viability, and a lack of prior consultation, before councillors voted to confirm the cabinet’s decision.
Councillor Simon Miller, cabinet member for economic growth and housing development, insisted approval was just “the start of the process” and that there would be a further decision following consultation and design work. It will also need planning approval.
Kay Isa, a Conservative councillor for Chingford Green, told the committee: “This proposal plucks a 40-unit building out of thin air and it seems that the people responsible want to shove it down residents’ throats.
“There is a general feeling among residents that they have been forgotten by the council and most are upset they were not informed earlier.
“Anyone who actually lives in Chingford will know its history and culture as a rural area. Conservation and history has always been important to local residents.
“This ‘Chingford Hub’ project goes against all of this and does not go far enough to actually bring real long-term benefits for the area.
“The report is short and basic, it does not consider the impact the development will have on the community.”
She said she “personally received hundreds of complaints” about the plans.
Fellow Conservative councillor John Moss added: “Some of the information against which the cabinet made its decision was either incomplete, inadequate or inaccurate – possibly all three.
“There seems to be a requirement for the project to be self-financing, why? Is the EMD cinema project in Walthamstow self-financing?
“The estimated value of these homes exceeds that of the most recent flats sold in Forest View, overlooking the golf course and with parking, by a substantial margin.”
Cllr Moss also suggested the cost of building the homes would leave only £560,000 for the community facilities, which he said was “barely a lick of paint”.
He added that consultation “should have been the start of the decision-making process, not something grudgingly conceded at the end of it”.
Cllr Miller insisted that confirming the cabinet’s decision was “reasonable and the right thing”. He said: “Let’s be clear on this, this is the start of the process and we are following the process. Consultation would be central to this development.
“This is subject to a further decision after consultation and detailed design work to create a new hub for Chingford with best-in-class library facilities, which is fully accessible for all residents.
“A key part of this is the provision of urgently needed affordable flats, including at social rents.
“Given the constraints of the site and the inflexible nature of it, refurbishment is not really an option. The sum available would do little more than provide a superficial uplift.”
He added that it was “wrong to say we have not spoken to the community”, although the tail end of his statement was disrupted by technical issues with the livestream.
All but two members of the committee – Conservatives Selina Seesunkur and Emma Best – voted to confirm the cabinet’s decision. Four recommendations proposed by Cllr Seesunkur, which included deferring the decision until after a consultation with residents, were rejected by the committee.