Essex Wharf in the balance

Published: Sunday, 27 March 2011

IN A very weak-sounding response, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, declined to call-in the unpopular planning consent for building four large blocks of flats on Essex Wharf in the Lee Valley Regional Park.

So writes Del Brenner of the Regents Network, who is also a member of the London Mayor's Waterways Commission, telling us that the Minister also did not take up the offer of a short trip on the Lee Navigation on the historic tug Major to visit Essex Wharf and the Lee Valley Park to see the scene for himself.

This crucial decision to protect the waterway and strategic wharf from the development which would be a serious blot in our Regional Park, was side-stepped by the Minister without a visit which would have given him an appreciation of the great value and pleasure of the waterway and of London's much loved area of countryside. (The photo shows Essex Wharf in use not long ago, with the Walthamstow Marshes beyond).

Independent Inquiry called for

The Lee Valley Park Authority had used its considerable powers to request the call-in of the ‘flawed' planning application, but its protestations and sound recommendations were disregarded by the Minister. The call-in by government would have resulted in an independent inquiry which would have given the Park Authority, local groups and ward councillors the opportunity of revealing what they saw as the weaknesses and incongruity of the proposed densely packed residential development.

This decision by Eric Pickles 'only underlines the lack of caring for our natural environment that has become endemic amongst authorities.' says Hackney Councillor Ian Rathbone. He goes on to accuse the government of hypocrisy for praising the Olympics just down the road, and how much benefit it will bring to the community whilst in the Regional Park the government 'is allowing the destruction of our landscape to the detriment of future generations'.

The threat looms large

There is anger and disappointment that after years of battling to save Essex Wharf the authorities have now given way to pressure from a property developer, of all people. This current development project follows a long line of similar applications at Essex Wharf which have been unsuccessful due to their serious negative impact on the area.

At a recent Public Inquiry on a previous application the inspector criticised the scale and bulk of the residential development on the wharf and dismissed the appeal by the developers. Why an almost identical application is now approved is a mystery to the numerous and active groups and authorities sticking up for the Lee Valley Park.

Really angry

A spokesman for the Lee Valley Federation complained:

"People are really angry about the way the authorities are betraying the ideals which led to the creation of this green lung for London 45 years ago. If the Essex Wharf high-rise flats go up, it's a green light for other developers who will use this as a precedent."

(The artist's impression shows a proposal for huge blocks high above the trees and looming over the marshes and open parkland).

It is no understatement that there is fear for the Lee Valley Regional Park with Cllr Ian Rathbone adding:

"We can only hope that the Park will be given more local and national support to protect the little of what's left of our green environment and landscape."