Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park (FoTHCP), the charity managing the cemetery, is campaigning against housing development plans on the neighbouring Bow Common Gasworks site, fearing it will cause permanent damage to the park’s plants and wildlife.
The organisation says that the project, which is currently in the planning application stage, cannot be built according to its currently intended size and scale without damaging the ecosystem of the park.
The proposal would see fourteen towers fitting in 1286 new homes being built on the gasworks site on Bow Common as part of a nation-wide redevelopment plan by National Grid (which owns the land) and company Berkeley Group.
FoTHCP opposes the development because it is located on the cemetery’s southern side, the direction from where sunlight reaches the park.
The organisation worries the proposed height and density of the buildings will block the sunlight during the day and cause artificial light pollution at night, thus disturbing the natural circadian rhythms of the park’s wildlife and blocking sunlight for plants.
Kenneth Greenway, manager of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, says the lack of sunlight from the proposed towers will have a series of knock-on effects on the park’s interdependent ecosystem.
‘For considerable parts of the day, parts of the park that are now in direct sunlight will be plunged into darkness. That area covers our meadow, where we have lots of wildflowers, which attracts lots of invertebrate animals like bees and butterflies that also depend on sunlight for survival.’
Insects bask in sunlight to warm themselves, as they cannot regulate their own body temperature, unlike humans and other mammals.
Greenway also says that the artificial light-glare of the tower blocks will also disturb the park’s night-time inhabitants.
‘At the moment, the park is a hunting ground for bats at night, and the light glare will disturb their usual environment, so they might no longer be there.’
The current biodiversity of the park means it is currently used as a ‘hands-on’ educational site for children and adults alike. During a typical year (excluding exceptional circumstances such as pandemics) the park sees approximately 7000 visiting school children and organises 170 public guided walks a year.
‘This park is important to our own wellbeing and education, as well as the wildlife that lives there,’ says Greenway.
But he emphasises that the FoTHCP is not opposed to the Bow Common Gasworks development itself. Rather, it is the current height and density of the fourteen towers, eight of which will be 89 metres high, that is problematic. By comparison, the tallest existing tower block near the park is 78 metres. But that is located to the north of the park, therefore not blocking any access to sunlight.
‘We’re just challenging elements of the development,’ says Greenway. Their green space agenda is actually pretty good. But the current density of towers and the height of the towers will just cause a lot of disruption to the park.’
‘If these buildings happen as they are, we will see a loss of density in the abundance and biodiversity in the park.’
Currently, the application has been submitted to Tower Hamlets Council for planning approval.
St William, the developers for this project said in response to the campaign: ‘We are continuing to engage with Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets to address the concerns which have been raised.’
For those who share these concerns, Greenway says it is important to write letters stating their objection to the current development agenda, as the council will take these into consideration when considering planning applications.
Greenway has also started a petition, which garnered nearly 8000 signatures in less than a week after it went live.
If you agree with this campaign and would like to show your support, you can find email templates and addresses here to contact the council.
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