Fears for leisure provision from draft Chingford master plan

An informal master-plan of what could replace Chingford Leisure Centre shows more than ten new buildings, ranging from three to seven storeys high.

Waltham Forest Council’s draft Local Plan suggests the centre and a nursery could be demolished and rebuilt so as to add hundreds of new flats to the site.

Last September, the council estimated it could fit 310 new homes on the land, but has reduced this to 280 after agreeing earlier this month to legally protect an area of woodland behind the current centre from development.

However, many who attended an informal presentation on Wednesday, July 22 were still opposed to the development, citing its height and their fear a new leisure centre may be a downgrade on the current facility.

Resident Dave Purton spoke glowingly of his appreciation for the current swimming pool, pointing out residents “will have nowhere else to go” if it is not replaced.

He told council officers: “I use this swimming pool quite a lot and it’s been great for mind and body, particularly after my wife died. I went there regularly and it was great to talk to people.”

Another resident, Sam Masters, speculated any new leisure centre built on the site would “invariably be a fraction of what’s there” because the developer would want to maximise the number of flats.

Malcolm Shykles, meanwhile, argued it was “incredibly wasteful” to pull down a centre only around 20 years old, adding: “In another 20 years time you may be pulling this down and building something else.”

The area’s ward councillor Catherine Suamarez raised her concern that the rebuilt nursery and leisure centre would not be “in any way viable” if the council, as suggested in the master-plan, made it a largely car-free development.

She said: “If the nursery and leisure centre are going to be relocated on site, the whole point is people drop by and that is reliant on parking.

“The idea there’s good public transport in this area is spurious. I challenge anyone to get a bus in rush hour from this site to the nearest tube station and for it to take less than an hour.”

Echoing an argument made by many at the meeting, she also questioned whether buildings ranging up to seven storeys were “in keeping” with the area, which is mostly low-rise.

The cabinet member for housing, Simon Miller, reassured those at the meeting that the master-plan only showed “what might be on the site”.

He said: “None of this is yet a formal planning proposal; this is what could be accommodated on this site, in such a way that the adjacent woodland could be protected for the future.

“Our policy is that [the leisure centre and nursery] should be re-provided. That may not be exactly like for like […] but it will be the same capacity. We want all development to enhance the facilities available.”

Responding to concerns that the buildings would “look awful”, planning officer Sarah Parsons argued they would be “responsive” to surrounding buildings without necessarily “mirroring” them.

She said: “Just because something is five or six storeys, does not mean it’s going to look ugly, it could look very beautiful.”

However, she was keen to emphasise that the plan was not a proposal and would rely on both the land owner and a developer expressing interest in building on the site.

She added: “We won’t be trying to persuade anyone, we will just be putting it out there as planning information. 

“We are of the view that this site could be used more intensely [… ]but it could be the case that no-one looks at this site for another 13 years.”

The site is one of more than 60 locations across the borough where the council aims to see at least 19,000 new homes built in total over the next 15 years.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter