Council agrees to protect area of Chingford woodland from development

Campaigners say a Chingford woodland will be “safe for future generations” after convincing Waltham Forest Council to protect it from housing development.

At a cabinet meeting last week, cabinet member for housing development Simon Miller said protecting the woods behind Chingford Leisure Centre was “the right thing to do”.

The leisure centre and some of the land behind it, which is next to the ancient Larks Wood, was listed as the potential site of 310 new homes in the council’s draft Local Plan last year.

After hundreds of residents objected, council leaders agreed last week to formally designate it “local green space”, giving it the same protection from development as Green Belt land, although the rest of the site remains available to develop.

Friends of Ainslee and Larkswood (FoAL), which spearheaded the campaign to protect the woodland, said it was “a fantastic result” that would provide “greater protection for Larks Wood itself” by ensuring a buffer between it and any future housing.

Responding publicly to the news, a spokesperson wrote: “The land should now be safe for future generations, to do its bit for climate management and most importantly as a haven for wild flora, fauna and fungi.

“FoAL is celebrating but we are also giving thanks for all of those who help us achieve this result!”

The land, part of the former Larkswood Lido site, was leased by the council to a management company 30 years ago, which FoAL says “luckily” did not properly maintain it.

They added: “Over time nature took its own course, seeding and maturing trees on [the land] and locals made their way through broken perimeter fencing to make use of the site and the views.”

An ecological survey of the land found rare wild service trees on the land and that grassland on its northern edge was an important habitat for wildlife.

Plans to build on the land attracted far more opposition than any other part of the council’s draft Local Plan, receiving 386 comments compared to less than 100 for all other sites.

Larkswood ward councillor Selina Seesunkur (Con) said she “could not be happier” at the success “after months of campaigning”, including a petition with more than 2,000 signatures.

She added: “I sincerely hope the council works with the leaseholder to make this land accessible to residents, especially as saving this space was a real community effort.”

The council’s Local Plan shows where it hopes to see at least 19,000 new homes built in the next 15 years, with developments ranging from 3,000 homes to just eight.

Last week, the cabinet also agreed to add the Lea Bridge Hotel site to the Local Plan, which states it is suitable for “mixed development”, including an unspecified number of new homes.

The Local Plan must now be consulted on again and submitted to the government for review before it can be finally adopted.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter