Redbridge Council-built temporary garden in breach of planning regulations

Redbridge Council has admitted a “pop-up” garden in Ilford town centre is in breach of planning rules after permission ran out two months ago.

The garden, known to the council as “Wilderness Street”, is a 750sqm temporary installation of planters, seating and greenhouses in Oakfield Road, next to the town hall.

The council’s planning team approved the “temporary planting and events space” in March last year, with the condition that the road should be restored by “no later than” October 21.

However, more than two months after permission ran out the garden is still in place and the council has admitted that the planters are now “unauthorised” and in “technical breach of planning control”.

Chair of Ilford town centre’s police ward panel, Paul Savage, who spotted the council’s planning breach, called it an “excruciating waste” of money and resources.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It has been problematic from day one and has added no value to local business or residents’ experience of the high street.

“It has in fact had a detrimental effect, with an increase in crime, an upsurge in [anti-social behaviour] and has made residents, especially women, feel unsafe at night.”

In response to a Freedom of Information request, the council told Mr Savage its officers are “committed to lessons learned” and improving their engagement methods.

According to the planning application submitted to the council by Jan Kattein Architects, Wilderness Street is part of the council’s drive to create a “cultural quarter” in Ilford.

Its vision to “enhance, revitalise and transform” the town centre with a new market space for Mercato Metropolitano and artists’ workspaces in the town hall has been funded by £500,000 from the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund.

It was hoped that “urban greening” at Oakfield Road – a key pedestrian route to the high street – would aid this transformation. Extra money from the Good Growth Fund was used to purchase more than 300 temporary wooden planters containing plants, shrubbery and 70 trees.

Responding to concerns about safety around Wilderness Street at a council meeting last month, leader Jas Athwal said the council wanted to try to “reclaim public spaces”.

He vowed to continue trying to improve the town centre and hinted at updated plans for Oakfield Road to be submitted in April this year.

He added: “I want to use it to try to get people to come into Ilford and have [live] acts outside the town hall.

“I will try and do different things, they may not work but we will keep trying… if we don’t do it [the town centre] will always be dangerous.

“Wilderness Street didn’t work as intended, but that doesn’t mean the next thing won’t work.”

A Redbridge Council spokesperson said: “Wilderness Street is just one of the many projects we’ve delivered to help make our town centres greener and enjoyable places to visit so local businesses thrive and shoppers and visitors find everything they need right here in Redbridge.

“We are currently finalising plans to relocate the trees to a permanent location and improve the space for our neighbours to enjoy for years to come.”

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter