Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A curious land deal

This vast heap of putrefaction and squalor can be found on land adjacent to Forest Road, between the junctions with Chatham Road E17 and Higham Hill Road. And therein lies a tale...

Two years ago this land belonged to the people of the London Borough of Waltham Forest. But the council decided to give it away to a housing association. The first anyone knew of this was when this fence went up (below) blocking the land off. With it came a legal notice inviting objections.

Technically this land formed part of the highway. And it is questionable whether or not a local authority is legally entitled to block off the public highway without first going through statutory legal processes. This fence may have been unlawful. However, the council claimed it wasn't and it had to act urgently to prevent flytipping. (As you can see from the current state of this land the council is passionate about a spotlessly clean and tidy environment.) Only the most brutal cynic could imagine that the council might deliberately fence off the land in order to deter objections from members of the public who might want to access the site in order to assess its environmental value.

In the event, two local environmental groups objected to the loss of this public land.

In the face of an unwithdrawn objection to the permanent stopping up of this land this matter would once have required a public inquiry, involving the judgement of an objective third party in the shape of the Planning Inspectorate. But lo! The Blair government 'streamlined' planning objections in cases of this sort by removing all involvement by the Inspectorate (which is a professional and reasonably objective body with a pesky track record of sometimes agreeing with local objectors).

Under the exciting new Blairite legislation the matter was transferred to the arbitration of the Mayor of London. Better still, the council was tasked with conveying the gist of any objections, along with its own explanation of why these objections held no validity. Objectors are excluded from the process, have no way of knowing if the council is accurately conveying their objections, and the matter is decided in secret by the Mayor. Amazingly, a Labour Mayor agreed with a Labour council that the land could be disposed of.

And now for the funny bit. Having been given this land and granted planning permission, the developers have done nothing with it. Funny, that. They were supposed to be itching to build on it but for two years the land has remained a wilderness.

It could have been regenerated as parkland, a green oasis in a grim urban environment. It could have been used for a striking piece of sculpture celebrating William Morris, who was born a short distance away.

Instead it has been given away to a developer and lost to the people of this borough forever. And the land is now a filthy waste space and a glaring eyesore as well as a health hazard. And, mysteriously, the developers have chosen not to build on it. Gosh, this isn't going to be one of those cases where the developer comes back with a completely different plan to the one originally agreed, is it?

A mountain of putrefaction and the loss forever of public land - another triumph for Council leader Clyde Loakes!