Councillors back 18-storey scheme despite local health concerns, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter
Plans to build hundreds of homes on the site of a former gasworks in Leyton have been approved by Waltham Forest Council despite residents’ fears it will release dangerous chemicals trapped in the soil.
St William, owned by National Grid and Berkeley Group, will start work next year on 573 new homes at Lea Bridge Gasworks in Clementina Road after winning unanimous approval from councillors for an 18-storey scheme, overlooking Jubilee Park.
Objectors fear health problems like those reported by people living around a similar scheme in Ealing and argue thousands of new residents will overstretch public services in the area. However, the council’s planning committee sought to reassure residents that building work will not be allowed to go ahead until the council and Environment Agency were sure it was safe.
The scheme will deliver 158 ‘affordable’ homes, around one hectare of new public space, pedestrian and cycle routes, a 50-space nursery, and contribute more than £7million for improving other local services.
A campaign group called Community before Construction (CBC) was set up earlier this year to oppose the plans. Speaking at the planning committee meeting, CBC member Ben Copsey said: “This development threatens a significant and long-lasting harm to human health.
“The environmental impact of this site cannot be overstressed and there are serious risks of long-term contamination of groundwater by carcinogenic, poisonous and volatile compounds.”
Ben claimed these dangerous compounds in the soil are “likely to become airborne if this site is developed as proposed”.
Those living near Berkeley Group’s development on a Southall gasworks claim they have suffered foul smells and persistent ill health as a result of building work.
Another Leyton resident, Lesley Ewen, begged the committee to vote “in allegiance with the community, not Berkley’s shareholders”. She said: “We are in favour of new housing developments that meet the desperate need in Waltham Forest but this does not. Berkeley’s products are marketed to foreign investors.
“We will have four to eight years of ongoing construction at the end of the road and 3,000 new residents swamping our little community.
“There’s no extra buses, trains, community spaces or sewers. Our sewers are already pumping raw shit into our back gardens and will be stretched to breaking point.”
Clementina Estate resident Solene asked the council why they were “ignoring Berkeley Group’s disastrous environmental track record” and “disregard for its own commitments”. She highlighted the petition against the development, signed by more than 1,000 people, which she said demonstrated the community’s “real strength of feeling”.
Several councillors were sympathetic to residents’ concerns, but said they felt assured the development would not commence until the site was made safe. Labour member Sally Littlejohn said she felt the risks were “adequately covered by the conditions” Berkeley Group would have to satisfy and added: “I think we can be certain that the buildings will not be built until we are sure it’s safe to do so.
“Our local plan requires us to build 27,000 new homes by 2035, we have to recognise that most of those will be built by profit-making companies.”
Fellow Labour committee member Marie Pye explained to residents that committee members can “only make decisions based on planning rules” set by the government rather than personal opinion.
She said the scheme was “not [her] favourite”, particularly given all the affordable homes are confined to two separate blocks, separate from market rent homes – leading to segregation and so-called “poor doors”. Cllr Pye said: “I do have concerns about this scheme but I do not see any way it does not meet the planning rules.
“I’m concerned the affordable homes will be built first. Our social renters will have to live on a building site for three years, with lorries driving past their front door all day everyday.”
The committee heard that contaminated soil would be removed from the site for processing elsewhere in covered trucks and what was left would be tested for further pollutants. Berkeley Group also proposes to inject activated carbon into the groundwater to soak up any possible contaminants.
Two extra conditions, both proposed by Conservative committee member John Moss, were approved by the committee and imposed on the developers; marketing for the homes must explain to buyers that it is a car-free development, except for blue badge holders, and the developer cannot sell two of its new homes before the nursery is opened, providing an incentive to open it on time.