Report by Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter
A group of Leyton residents discovered the council planned to have homes built on their car park when a prospective developer showed up to take a look.
The car park off Claude Road was built in the 1960s for terraced houses being built at the same time, which did not have on-street spaces.
Until November, the current residents believed they owned the car park and were shocked to discover the council was offering it as a site for affordable housing.
The council maintains that, following the bankruptcy of the original builder in the 1980s, the homes were sold on or transferred to another housing association without their parking spaces.
A title deed dated June 24, 2019 describes the land as belonging to Waltham Forest Council, which now hopes it will be used to provide much-needed homes for local people.
Resident Louis Barron said he was shocked to find the council claiming to own the land, given it had for many years refused requests from residents to maintain it. “They have not told anyone they are selling it,” he said.
“It was hidden on the London City Hall website and we only found out when some people planning to bid on it turned up to have a look.
“It’s quite unpleasant for people, it will suddenly mean their houses are facing a block of flats rather than an open space.
“Personally, I can lose a parking space. I’m more indignant about it. The council’s response has been dismissive but lots of residents remember the parking being built for those houses.”
Akeil Yousaf, who has lived in one of the neighbouring properties since his childhood, added: “The council has been very disrespectful to all of us.
“I have lived here for over 30 years and they never maintained the car park, it has had to be maintained by us.
“The view outside my window or my children’s windows will be gone. I do not know what I’m going to end up seeing there but it won’t be nice for the local community.”
While residents feel blindsided and worry about the impact of construction next to their homes, one bidder for the site hopes to reassure them. The council states it wants a community-led housing group to build affordable housing on the site and the Local Democracy Reporting Service spoke to one of the groups to bid, Forest Community Land Trust (Forest CLT), which hopes to make it a flagship development.
Forest CLT member Chris Carthy said they proposed to build fewer than ten homes on the site, probably the same height as the surrounding homes. He said: “We are sensitive to the people that park their cars there but we really think that, in this housing crisis, there needs to be a better use for small pieces of land like this.
“We are equally sympathetic about the impact any project might have on people nearby, since we are local people like they are.
“We think there could be a modest development there that would safeguard their light and privacy, probably a similar scale to the terraced housing already in the area.”
Chris added that Forest CLT, which is entirely volunteer-run, was set up with the aim of building “genuinely affordable homes for local people”. He explained that anyone who lives or works in the borough can join for £1 and that the current 150 members included both people hoping to live in future projects and those simply interested in having a say.
Forest CLT confirmed successful applicants for its housing would need to demonstrate a link to the borough and a genuine housing need. “This is not about developers coming in from the outside and imposing things, it’s a different way of doing development,” said Chris.
Simon Miller, cabinet member for economic growth and high streets, was keen to emphasise that, though the council had invited bids, there were no planning proposals for the car park yet. He said: “Before any development was to take place a detailed consultation with local residents would be undertaken.
“We are ambitious in our goal of delivering new, high-quality affordable housing that helps keep young people who have grown up in the borough near their families and support networks.”
Despite the fact that the car park is currently being used with no issue, he added that the council “does not have the resources to repair it to provide free parking for local residents”.
Cllr Miller added: “The cost of maintaining it as a car park will far exceed any income the Council could generate from parking on the site.”
It is understood that the decision to offer the land for community-led housing development was made in March last year. Residents who previously used the car park will be eligible to apply for on-street parking permits.