Sunday 10 December 2017

If you're from Walthamstow then you're in for a BIG shock

On Wednesday 13th December Waltham Forest Council's Planning Committee will be considering the BIGGEST thing ever to happen to Walthamstow - an application to build luxury towers of up to 29 storeys. Local publically owned open and green space is also up for grabs, for an expanded shopping centre,  in this major "regeneration" scheme.

Waltham Forest Council has already entered an agreement with the developers, Capital & Regional (C&R), to transfer about one third of its Town Centre Square to them for private development as part of the "bargain". Mayor Sadiq Khan's Greater London Authority has expressed strong support, in their Stage 1 report, and Council officers are recommending that the application be approved by the Planning Committee.

Phase 1 of the scheme is to be retail led. It will take away 32% of the remaining publicly owned Town Square's open and green space, to build a much larger shopping centre designed to attract big retailers and chainstores. The idea is that if Walthamstow attracts the same brands as everywhere else, then people will shop locally rather than go elsewhere eg to Europe's biggest shopping centre, Westfield, just up the road. (Wishful thinking? Come and look at Dalston Square where shops have been vacant ever since it was built. Ed.).  There'll also be 42 new flats on top of the shops - all for private sale, with only one family size 3-bed flat, and none with affordable rents.

Phase 2 will follow, if C&R can find a development partner, to build four private residential towers of up to 29 storeys, There will be up to 460 new flats in the towers, all for private sale within gated communities, the vast majority of which will not be family size and none for affordable rent.  (The greatest need locally is for affordable rents and family size homes. Ed.).

The view from the top looks rosy. The developers are predicted to earn over £25million profit, TfL will get £1.5million towards a new station entrance, and Waltham Forest Council will reportedly receive £0.5million to maintain the new Town Hall Square, 0.8million for "carbon offsetting", £2.5million annually in extra Council tax and business rates and ( it hopes) £5million in Community Infrastructure Levy. Penthouse flats, which will sell at over £1.5 million each, will be marketed for overseas investors. UK taxpayers will subsidise the 90 odd flats reserved for first time buyers (Households with income less than £75,000pa need not apply Ed.). But what about the view from the bottom - what will the public get back for giving up their open space?

The view from the bottom is bleak - one of potential environmental and social blight. The Council's policy for new development requires provision of  50% affordable housing of which 60% should be at affordable rents - but here only 20% of the flats will be "affordable" all of which will be for sale with none at affordable rents. The remaining public town square, reduced in size by 32% (4,437sq metres) and re-designed, will be cast into transient shadows by the towers. 81 of the existing 135 mature trees will be ripped out. The kids playground will be "regenerated" and moved closer to the bus station. (Thanks guys. Cough...cough...croak. Ed.).

The Design Council, which advises the government on major schemes like this, have said “We do not think it is of exemplary design quality and fundamental issues remain, … We recommend that significant fresh design thinking is undertaken particularly to elevate the public space quality to the highest level, to develop robust justification for quantum of development , and to provide significant extra public benefits for the people of Walthamstow”. In view of the several other local high-rise schemes in the pipeline the Design Council have also called for a Masterplan of the area, but the developers and Council officers have rejected their opinions.

This computer modelled image, created by the developer's consultant Point2Surveyors, shows a birds eye view of the existing low rise shopping centre (in pink) as it presently exists and the town square  flooded in yellow by sunshine.

This 'before and after' consultant's computer model of 21st March ( the spring equinox), when annual average overshadowing is calculated, shows that by 2pm the Town Square, to the east of the new towers, and the buildings beyond it will start to become completely overshadowed (indicated in blue).

This image from the consultant's computer model shows that by 1pm on 21 December ( the winter solstice) when the sun is lowest in the sky, the overshadowing is even worse. The consultant's say this amounts to "a minor adverse effect" of the development and the Council officer's advise that it does not amount to "unacceptable harm". 

The reports also acknowledge that " fast-moving upper level winds impacting the facades [ of the towers] are accelerated and redirected downward. At ground level, the effects are likely to be compounded ….inherent potential for prevailing winds traversing the podium of the existing mall to be drawn into the constricted channel at ground level, and experience a funnelling effect that gives rise to accelerated winds ". In other words the overshadowed canyons between and around the towers will experience a wind tunnel effect. Attempts will be made to mitigate this by planting trees on the concrete podium and building shelters for seating areas. Again, the consultant's say, this amounts to a minor adverse effect" of the development.

As for the kid's playground, the reports acknowledge that "the play space would be located nearer to the air pollution emission sources due to the redesign of the town square" ie much closer towards the bus station. The Council have, as expected, done an Equalities Impact Assessment and found there will be absolutely no detriment to the kids. Despite the car parking on site being increased to 830 spaces, and despite the new traffic scheme meaning vehicles will spend longer in the area, and despite the fact that the Mayor of London's extension of the "ultra-low emission zone" to Walthamstow will not take effect for years, the consultants claim that, with new "Travel Plans" for residents and workers and improved landscaping, the harm and impact on the playground would be "limited and not significant".

Extraordinarily, the Council has commissioned no independent assessment of the developer's Environmental Impact Assessment of these issues. - or at least none has been published to date.

There are powerful commercial interests rooting for this scheme which have spent a fortune on consultants to portray it in the most favourable light and downplay its detriments. The Council has so far received 948 letters of objection along with a petition of 2,015 signatures, opposing the application. Let us hope that the members of the Planning Committee listen to the public and understand their objections.  The scheme could be so much better if, as the Design Council say, there is some "fresh thinking" done. Decisions made in haste are often regretted at leisure.

If you want to attend the Planning Committee meeting, which is to be held in public on Wednesday at 7pm,  the details are here

UPDATE:  13th December was an evening of pure theatre in a packed Walthamstow Assembly Hall. There was passionate engagement and outrage from the audience of local citizens. But only the actors, performing the developers script, knew how the play would end.
The vote went 4 to 1 in favour of the scheme. 
Crime and tragedy in one.

Monday 4 December 2017

crE8 - Dalston design fair at St Barnabas Mission Hall

Dalston makers have got together again, like last year, to mount an arts and crafts fair of their work - just in time for your Christmas shopping! 

It's from 11am til 8pm on Saturday and 11am til 3pm on Sunday 10th December at St Barnabas Mission Hall in Shacklewell Row, Dalston E8 2EA. There will be over 20 makers and artists exhibiting including:

Artist Elsie Pilbeam

Artist Tony Coombes
Designer Max Cairns' laser cuts

Hedy Parry-Davies' collages

Myra Heller's lights

Nicola Hilliard's textiles

And there'll be yummy arty snacks - like Shirley Roach's cakes

And lots more...!

While your in Dalston why not enjoy an early evening visit to the wonderful Festival of Light and a glass of mulled wine at the Eastern Curve Garden (Hot water bottles and blankets provided on site! Ed.)

PS  If, after all that, your still thirsting for aesthetic pleasure why not take a short trip to the frozen north - Praxis N16 artists collective at 3-9 Belfast Road Stoke Newington are having their Winter Open Studios event on Saturday until 9pm