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Two enormous new towers, 34 and 27 storeys high, will appear on the east London skyline after plans to redevelop a shopping centre were approved.
Waltham Forest Council’s planning committee approved plans to demolish part of The Mall shopping centre in Walthamstow and build 538 new homes at a meeting last night (January 27).
The £200 million redevelopment was first approved in 2018 but, last October, owner Capital & Regional submitted new plans which added 36 more flats but halved the number of blocks.
Residents urged the committee to reject the plans, arguing the huge towers posed a fire risk and that the flats were not truly affordable for local people.
However, committee members felt the need for more good quality private-rented homes and a revamp of the “miserable” shopping centre outweighed these concerns.
Plans to build a new entrance for Walthamstow Central Tube station, providing step-free access, were also approved, although this is dependent on millions of pounds in funding from TfL.
Speaking at the meeting, Walthamstow primary school worker Rachel Lyon called the plans “a mockery and an eyesore”.
She said: “These flats will tower over all surrounding buildings and dominate the local area. You want to optimise the view for these new private tenants… at the cost of our square.”
Of the 538 flats being built on site, 99 will be available at “discount market rent”, meaning 80 per cent of market rent in the area.
However, Ms Lyon argued even this was beyond her own means and that the towers would act as a “reminder of what we can’t afford” for many local people.
Adrian Stannard added the scheme was “designed to solve the council and Capital & Regional’s financial problem” and would not help the 9,000 residents waiting for social housing.
He told the committee: “This will take at least five years to construct and the noise and pollution will result in significant damage to the town centre as it will drive away existing shoppers.
“This is not fit for purpose, especially in a post-Covid world with online shopping, and after the Grenfell tragedy… How to build safe tower blocks is not clearly understood.”
Like many, he was angry that the new development will reduce open space in Walthamstow Town Square by almost a third, arguing this will make it “unviable for open air events”.
The committee then heard from the chief executive of Capital & Regional, Lawrence Hutchings, who said the company was “deeply invested in the local community”.
He said: “We have owned the mall for over 20 years… and plan to own it for at least another 20. Our commitment is to create a better Walthamstow, a better town square and a better Mall.”
He said the scheme would be built “in accordance with the most up-to-date” fire safety laws, with no combustible materials and with sprinklers included.
He added that the developer would pay Waltham Forest Council £7.3 million towards building new homes elsewhere, although at least two councillors questioned whether this was enough.
The council’s deputy planning manager, Stanley Lau, responded to concerns about whether it was wise to invest in shopping centres post-Covid by asking members to take a “long-term strategic approach”.
He said: “There has been a change in retail patterns but we will not be in this pandemic position forever. It’s actually in this council’s interest to revitalise the commercial element in the town centre.”
Cllr Marie Pye (Lab, Leytonstone) told officers she was “incredibly disappointed” they did not push “those couple inches further” to get cheaper rents but said The Mall needs rebuilding.
She said: “I do not know how many of you have visited The Mall lately but it’s a sad and, I’m afraid to say, horrible place. If that Mall is not redeveloped then it has no hope at all.
“My inbox is full of residents living in poor quality and incredibly expensive accommodation, many of whom would bite your arm off to get into this scheme.
“People are paying £2,000 a month to live somewhere you would not want a dog to live. This is going to be good quality housing.”
Committee chairwoman Cllr Jenny Gray (Lab, Leytonstone) said the council needs to provide homes for those “not eligible to be on the housing waiting list”.
She said: “We can’t build council houses unless we have money to do so and it’s only through enabling schemes like this that we can draw in money to build much-need social housing.
“It’s also important to have a town centre that we can be proud of, instead of what we have got at the moment. The (current) square is a bit disjointed and not very pleasant, with not many places to sit down.”
The plans were approved four to one, with only Conservative group leader Cllr Alan Siggers (Valley) voting against, and two new conditions added.
These were that wheelchair units should be marketed first to people that need them every time they go back on the market, proposed by Cllr Pye, and that all fire doors should be fire resistant for at least an hour, proposed by Cllr Siggers.
All councillors then approved related plans to build a new entrance for Walthamstow Central Tube station, although Cllr Keith Rayner (Lab, Cann Hall) expressed concern that the council had no guarantee this would go ahead.
The new entrance with step-free access requires an estimated £15 million in funding from TfL, which in October last year had to be bailed out to the tune of £1.8 billion.
Cllr Gray conceded that the committee “can’t control the finances, now or in the future, of TfL” but said the entrance “certainly will not ever get built” if refused planning permission.