Walthamstow, my neighbourhood in North East London, has few obvious “visitor” attractions. A great iconic 1930s cinema which a so-called church wish to turn into a meeting place (see my post about this) and an early home of William Morris (well worth a vist when it re-opens in the summer) top the bill. Until 2008 it also had a greyhound racing stadium; its facade became a landmark. It attracted visitors from across London and the region. It has an international reputation. The venue itself became a magnet in the 1990s. Alas the family owners did not invest in the stadium to maintain and expand their inherited legacy and sold it off in 2008.
A property company now wishes to knock it down and put up what can only be described as an over-crowded, poorly designed housing estate. The project has more units than recommended in London’s planning guidelines; and in an area of 2 storey houses want to build blocks up to 8 stories. Disgracefully it has only 20% “affordable” homes.. less that recommended 50-60%. A “slum estate in Waiting” exploited by the buy to let market is a common description. And that in a borough with over 18,000 people on its waiting list for housing. The famous facade becomes a climbing wall (and how long will that last?)
Four Labour Party councillors on the Planning Committee approved the plan; outvoting the 3 Tory and Lib Dems. They have not explained why they voted the way they did. Many rumours are flying; their lack of a coherent logical explanation, in the face of over 1,000 opposing comments, simply fuels the rumour mill. It is indeed a shame the elections are so far away. Accountability in this case has to wait too long.
Their vote and lack of explanation, damages locally any attempt by Ed Milliband to re-build trust in the Labour Party. Last week he congratulated the local councillors in Birmingham, in Worcester and elsewhere; the local election results help him in his aim to win in 2015. His councillors in Waltham Forest are doing him and his party no favours.
The local Labour MP, Stella Creasy, opposes the scheme. So does the local Tory MP, Iain Duncan Smith. So do the councillors in the wards most affected.
This was a bad decision. There is a viable alternative which has not been adequately compared to the property companies bid. Many of course do not like dog racing or the associated gambling; the campaign for more humane management of the activity and gambling control are other campaigns. The same Planning Committee meets again this week, and may well approve another property deal with again far fewer affordable homes. Another bad decision in the offing.
Waltham Forest needs a major vision: a consistent long term aim and drive for affordable housing, for local jobs, for local prosperity. In many cities across Europe, and the world, city adminstrations are giving the lead for regeneration. For not accepting, let alone encouraging, decline. As a member of the selection panel of the European Capitals of Culture, I see cities across Europe using culture, the creative industries to drive their future.
Walthamstow has the foundations of such a drive but not the Council to even think of it.
You can help overturn this decision and give Walthamstow a second chance by writing to Boris Johnson as mayor of London. A draft letter is on Stella Creasy’s website. Sign and send,