If you have read the Lord of the Rings or seen any of the films you will no doubt be familiar with the Ring Wraiths. These terrifying faceless creatures dressed in cloaks blacker than the night sky, are an ever-present threat. The characters don’t always know where the Wraiths are but their blood curdling screams let us know they are never far away, always ready to bring doom and disaster to the residents of middle earth. Walthamstow has its own bringer of doom, our version isn’t clad in black robes, nor does it scream, but the mention of it can strike fear and dread in to the hearts of E17 dwellers. This beast doesn’t have a name but two simple words can invoke it; Planning Permission. This particular demon has two heads, its first looks at pre-existing buildings and what their owners want to do to them, it has a keen eye for roof lines, cladding and extensions but often suffers from chicken shop blindness. The second has its gaze fixed on developers who are eagerly looking for land on which to build their latest triumph.
Living in Walthamstow it is pretty hard to ignore new developments as they are springing up everywhere. Leaving the station at Walthamstow Central you are confronted by a scaffold clad behemoth, so large it makes the station and railway line feel like a train set. To the average resident it can be frustrating to see these giant concrete and brick monoliths creeping ever skyward. We can be left confused, wondering what criteria are used when applications are approved. The planning beast is a complex animal and its motives are difficult to understand, it rejected the application to turn the EMD in to a church only to give Gods Own Junk yard a swift kick up the backside and escort it off the premises.
There is no doubt that planning is a complicated issue but sometimes it’s easy to see when something is wrong. The plans for the new build on South Grove for example are clearly inappropriate and have attracted massive amounts of criticism. The space currently occupied by a car park and small business centre could potentially be the new home to a giant Morrisons store, retail units and 248 new residential properties. This development would be detrimental to Walthamstow, and with the unpredictable nature of the planning beast it’s hard to know what will happen. Dropping a massive Morrisons right next door to the already struggling high street will do nothing to help regenerate it. The building its self is far too big for the site, nearby roads such as Markhouse already struggle to cope with traffic and will only get worse if the development goes ahead. There are bucket loads of reasons why this development is a bad idea but In short building what equates to a new village on the roof of a supermarket in the centre of town is just bonkers.
There is of course another side to planning and new developments, people need places to live and they need jobs. The South Grove site would provide both of these with Morrisons alone creating around 300 jobs. But any new development needs to fit in with the local area, jobs are beneficial but if this supermarket is built it could hit other retailers which could in turn result in job losses. Housing is needed but if already stretched local services are not increased, residents and communities will suffer. The Hobbits in Lord of the Rings have Strider and Elves to protect them from the Ring Wraiths, in the case of South Grove an army of residents have risen up and are prepared to do battle with the mutli-headed planning beast and developers, encouraging us to submit our objections to the planners. When I sent my objections I searched online for some material to help me formulate my response. I came across a Wikipedia entry for planning that grabbed my attention, it used the word forethought. Let’s hope in this case those in power have enough forethought to realise that whilst this development may raise funds in the short-term it would be a disastrous move for the future.
The whole planning system is stacked against ordinary people and communities. Top-down, jargon-filled, bureaucratic and impenetrable documents running to hundreds of pages, which few ordinary people ever engage with during the “consultation” phase, get adopted. Then developers submit proposals like South Grove and people go, “WHAT!?!?!?”
Wood Street is getting an “Area Action Plan”. After some “consultation” in 2011, the plan was revealed recently and greeted with much horror by local residents and businesses, many of the latter occupying buildings now listed as suitable for residential development.
All those new homes of course mean more children, but no provision was made for new or expanded schools, despite the shortage of places already.
Neighbourhood Plans are a great idea. developed by local people and voted on by local people. Embrace them if you want to stop nonsense like this.
I like your blog! I love it when people across the UK take a look at their towns, towns that were once thought to be undesirable, and blog about the great things (and some not so great things) that are happening there. Walthamstow, Woolwich, Dartford – you’re in good company.
Coming from a property development background (once, I’m in accounting now) my first instinct is to love any and all new developments but I’ve seen first-hand the devastating and seemingly permanent effect Bluewater has had on Dartford and I know that you are right to be so suspicious.
(By the way, found your blog care of your reindeer onesie!)
Here..Here.Let’s have some common sense and ‘forethought’.
Walthamstow resident, c 1850:
“New houses are springing up everywhere! Yes, London is growing and people need to live somewhere, but Walthamstow is just a rural village: it doesn’t have the facilities to cope, and this development is completely out of character. It’s just common sense!”