Controversial Walthamstow families and homes hub approved by council

Plans to build an 11-storey block on the former site of the Wood Street Library in Walthamstow have been approved by Waltham Forest Council’s planning committee.

A new library opened 500 metres down the road in August last year and the original 1950s building was demolished in December, as the council felt it was in too much disrepair to maintain.

Work to build a “families and homes hub” to house council services and ten floors of 67 flats is expected to begin in October and take approximately a year.

The plans have already attracted controversy due to the separation of social housing and market-rent flats.

Johnny Furlong, who lives in neighbouring Foundry Mews, appeared before the committee on Tuesday June 29 to insist this was “the worst possible design” and threatened the health of vulnerable neighbours by overshadowing their homes.

He said: “Foundry Mews… (houses) some of the most vulnerable in Waltham Forest’s care, yet no consideration has been given to them.

“We suffered the suicide of one of our community during the demolition of the library – these are very vulnerable residents who will be severely impacted by the loss of light and privacy.

“The scheme will be overbearingly dominant. Its size and bulk 30 metres away from terraced housing will set an awful and undesirable precedent.”

He added that residents hired two independent light assessors, who both found the complex would be “severely negatively impacted”.

However, council deputy planning manager Stanley Lau insisted the impact on Foundry Mews’ light will be “minor” and “there are no issues with regards to overlooking”, as the new building will be further than the recommended 25m away.

Asked by committee member Cllr Sally Littlejohn (Lab, Cann Hall) why the light assessment carried out for the council disagreed with the two produced for residents, he said only five rooms would see a “noticeable” reduction in light.

He said: “Although there are reductions, these rooms and homes generally would retain a reasonable level of daylight. They would have been overshadowed already by the Wood Street library.”

Planning agent Tim Gaskell added the building would “not be the tallest in the area”, citing the Homebase development, which will reach 18 storeys tall.

He said: “We feel that the height is appropriate for the site and that has been supported by the officers and an independent design review. This maximises use of the site.”

Responding to Mr Furlong’s criticism that residents had been ignored, he said: “We took great care in designing and took on board comments from the consultation process. The mass has been pulled away from Foundry Mews.”

Cllr Grace Williams, cabinet member for families, also appeared at the meeting to explain the “benefits the new hub will bring” by gathering services in a “convenient location”.

Committee member Cllr Alan Siggers (Con, Valley) acknowledged the hub “will be very useful” but said “it’s the ten storeys on top that’s causing the problem”, arguing it “defies logic” to suggest there won’t be a significant impact on light.

He added: “The amenity space – which will be in the courtyard and again have little sun – is insufficient for a development of this size.

“We have got some money (£5,312) to refurbish Bisterne Avenue Park but it’s not that big and it’s a long way away.

“If you can’t provide the amenity space, that tells me this is an overdevelopment. I think it’s a great shame we are building stuff that has little other than (the number of new homes) to recommend it.”

He also reiterated concerns first raised by Cllr Marie Pye (Lab, Leytonstone) – not present at the meeting last night – about the choice to have separate floors and lifts for market-rate flats, remarking the lift for more expensive flats will “presumably have ‘no riff-raff’ written on it”.

Mr Lau responded that the market-rate and cheaper flats will be built to the same standard and that having separate floors was a “feature of the vast majority of mixed developments, adopted for day-to-day management reasons”.

He said the separate floors and lifts were necessary to be able to secure a housing provider and to “ensure maintenance charges are kept proportion”.

However, at a meeting in February, a council officer told the committee not separating the flats could lower the “marketability” of the market-rate flats and reduce the profit from their sale, which is intended to pay for the rest of the project.

Asked by Cllr Pye if she meant “there’s a risk people will not pay as much for a property if they have to live next door to somebody in affordable housing”, she confirmed “there is that risk” it might “impact values”.

Summing up the debate, chairwoman Cllr Jenny Gray (Lab, Leytonstone) acknowledged the development will cause issues for neighbours but said this is “always the case”.

She said: “People come to my (ward) surgeries sometimes who are living in slums and overcrowded conditions.

“It’s one of our priorities to provide as much affordable housing as we can. There’s always a balance to be made, nothing is ever going to be perfect.”

The plans were approved with four votes against one, with only Cllr Siggers voting against.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter