Victoria Munro told us on the Waltham Forest Echo website late last month that the council were planning a big opening ceremony to introduce the partly completed Fellowship Square to the borough. Formerly the fountain and surrounding paths and lawns in front of the Town Hall on Forest Road, at present the development consists solely of a new "fountain" occupying the space of the original one, but when the GLA gives its approval the next stage will involve the building of a three-storey civic building and five blocks of flats ranging in height from five to nine storeys. This will add 433 new homes to the site, more than a third of Waltham Forest’s target for this year set by the London Plan, half of which will be for so-called ‘affordable rent’ or shared ownership. What has been described as a "small part" of Chestnuts Field behind the Town Hall will be disposed of to developers Countryside Properties to make way for the housing development.
Déjà vu anyone? After some six years of confrontation with Save Our Square and numerous protests and petitions, approximately one third of the main town square is to be handed over to developers Capital and Regional to build more privately owned shops (even though they are having considerable problems renting out the ones they already have) and blocks of flats ranging up to a ridiculous 34 storeys in height. The Fellowship Square project will be another example in which grassy public open spaces are lost and ugly 1960s style tower blocks take their place. According to the Planning Application submitted by Countryside Properties the Chestnut Field sports ground behind the Town Hall which is to be the site of the new flats is used “by only a handful of local sporting groups on a very ad-hoc basis”. Also "Due to surface water flooding, the field is ... regularly water-logged and unpleasant to play on.” Much better therefore to have people living on it.
The new fountain with its 144 individually programmable jets was certainly popular with young children at today's launch event, whose organisers were exceptionally lucky with the weather. As well as the fountain the "square" was packed with small pavilions offering ethnic food and an assortment of commercial and craft outlets.The amount of live music, or performances of other kinds, was relatively small and items involving audience participation few, with repeated gaps of an hour during which the fountain itself was the only attraction listed.
The most spectacular and unusual presentation was an aerial display in which a woman acrobat suspended from a tethered balloon performed a series of trapeze skills accompanied by classical music, although she remained at some distance from the fountain area and her efforts received surprisingly little acknowledgement.
Between features a small jazz band played almost continuously in a tent behind the former Magistrate's Court.
While today's event attracted a cowd of several hundred, consisting mainly of families with young children, it is hard to imagine how the location will function as a children's attraction throughout the summer or (even less plausible) throughout the year, while awaiting the arrival of the new Chestnut Field residents, since the Town Hall is relatively remote from shops or transport links other than local buses. The council however plans to offer a summer of "free and low cost cultural events, art installations and performances that will enlighten, inspire and invigorate your senses."
It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the new "square" is the council's preferred focus for future street life generally, a sop perhaps for the loss of a large chunk of the Town Square and market area which up to now has been the primary venue for all outdoor activities. This will become especially noticable during the peiod of years for which the main town square is likely to become a building site.