A watercolour of the East London Waterworks Park by Dominic Walker

Proposal for wild swimming park in Waltham Forest faces uncertainty 

Proposals to create a community-run wild swimming pool in Waltham Forest are facing uncertainty after a coalition of London councils announced plans to develop a secure children’s home on the site. 

Plans to develop a biodiverse park at Lea Bridge Road are under threat after London councils announced proposals to build a secure children’s home on the site, according to a news article in Waltham Forest Echo by Local Democracy Reporter Josh Mellor.

East London Waterworks Park (ELWP) is a volunteer-run charity that has been fundraising to create a community park for wild swimming and a forest school space located on the ex-Thames Water Depot on Lea Bridge Road.

The charity has campaigned for the past five years and has raised more than £500,000 from the public to transform the 5.68-hectare industrial site into an urban oasis for wildlife and local residents.

The development of the brownfield rainforest is facing uncertainty following the announcement that London councils are leading on proposals to build a secure children’s home on the Lea Bridge site.

Using funding from the Department for Education, who own the site, the residential facility will provide specialist welfare placements for highly vulnerable children with complex needs.

In response to the news, Abigail Woodman, chair and spokesperson for ELWP, said: ‘We are not experts on the needs of vulnerable children or the need for secure children’s homes in London, but we are experts on the needs of our community.

‘The East London Waterworks site is the only place for the East London Waterworks Park, for a unique nature-rich space that’s co-designed and led by the community for the community, supporting thousands of people in the local area.

‘The site is Metropolitan Open Land, and as such we really do believe that its only credible future is one involving minimal development and open-public access.’

The charity is committed to protecting the marshes and nature reserves of Lower Lea Valley, and plans to develop the site as a circular economy, with rainwater and greywater collected and reused. By reintroducing open water and rewilding the site, the volunteers hopes to promote biodiversity and increase air quality in the local area.

‘We believe it’s quite a unique project, in that it is re-generation led entirely by the community.’

ELWP is currently running a Listening Project, allowing the charity to gather insight from groups of people who are historically underrepresented in environmental projects.

The volunteers have conducted over 50 interviews, gaining feedback from Interlink Foundation, representing Orthodox Jews, MIND, representing people with mental health difficulties, and elop, representing LGBTQ+ people, amoungst several other organisations.

In 2019, Waltham Forest Council’s Planning Committee rejected the Department for Education’s planning application to build two free schools on the site. 

The committee said the development ‘would not protect and enhance the existing green infrastructure, access to the open space [and] complement and improve the quality of the open space’, constituting ‘inappropriate development in Metropolitan Open Land’.

The Lea Valley Regional Park Authority will play a major role in any future development of the 26-mile-long park. The authority’s development guidance states appropriate use of the Thames Water Depot site might include a waterside visitor hub, a biodiversity-based visitor attraction, new sporting facilities, accommodation for park visitors or community-use buildings.

The activists behind the Waterworks Park are committed to allowing nature to reclaim the built environment for the benefit of the local community. In this sense, they believe the ELWP constitutes a more appropriate development of Metropolitan Open Land. Woodman said:

‘It is very much an environmental project. We need to respond to the climate crisis in imaginative, creative ways that connect people with nature. We do that through building communities.’ 

Before the London boroughs submit a planning application for the development of the secure children’s home at Lea Bridge, they will host a public consultation event on Wednesday 7 February at the Lee Valley Ice Centre on Lea Bridge Road.

‘We really do encourage people to find out as much as they can and ask questions and express their feelings in response to what they find out’, Woodman said.

For more information about the consultation, visit the project website londonschbuild.co.uk

East London Waterworks Park site plan

For more local news, read about the new Burger restaurant on Roman Road that has boycotted ‘any item that funds Israel’.

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