East London Waterworks Park unveils fresh proposals despite uncertainty over future

A London charity has widened its plans for a water park on the edge of Waltham Forest, despite uncertainty about its future.

The East London Waterworks Park (ELWP) team put forward fresh proposals for the former Thames Water depot in Lea Bridge Road on Tuesday July 2.

Their campaign for a community park continues, despite the Department for Education earmarking the government-owned land for a secure children’s unit.

Alongside the open-water swimming pool, cafe and mosaics, ELWP is now considering a 230sqm walled garden and a dedicated teaching area called the ‘learning petal’.

Abigail Woodman, the chairwoman of ELWP, said: “As soon as I walked inside [the garden], it felt warm and peaceful. The design circle has come up with some brilliant ideas to turn it into an accessible gardening space that supports everyone to learn how to plant, propagate, grow and harvest.”

Parts of the ‘learning petal’ will contain small-scale models, explaining the natural environment, and a variety of oxygenating plants.

Ms Woodman added: “Play is something we want to encourage too, creating spaces where different generations can play together and alongside each other: imagine a child playing on balancing logs, while their grandma – nanny, granny or abuela – knits or reads a book on a nearby bench.

The charity has so far raised more than £500,000 to transform the land, which rests on the border of Waltham Forest and Hackney, into a place for the community.

It maintains a swimming park would be a better use of Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), and more in line with the policy’s intentions to protect the landscape and areas of natural conservation.

The chairwoman added: “While we wait to see what the government’s plans for a secure facility for children look like, the design circle wants to keep thinking and creating, and working on a new vision for a better future.

“The pull of designing community-owned spaces that bring people and nature together is too strong to set aside, too powerful to ignore, and too important to give up on.”

The secure children’s unit would be the first of its kind in the capital and the former depot – owned by the Department for Housing – is the only suitable site in Greater London, according to the Department for Education (DfE).

Though Waltham Forest Council previously rejected plans for a school on the site, a spokesperson from London Councils, which oversees the 32 boroughs comprising London, said the “chronic” need for such a unit constituted “very special circumstances”.

The charity and government have clashed over whether the site would ever go on the commercial market, with the DfE arguing it would first need to find there was no public or educational need for the site.

A DfE spokesperson told the LDRS: “An educational need was identified after consulting with other government departments and public sector bodies, and [the DfE] is now proposing to build a secure children’s home on the site.

“LocatED [a government-owned property company] has previously communicated to the community group that this site is not for sale and they will be updated accordingly should this position change.”

The charity’s petition to “save” the land from the government’s plans crossed 10,000 signatures back in May and is expected to be discussed by Waltham Forest Council later this month.

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter