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The Reality of Town Planning

Background to this discussion

On Saturday 3rd October Forest Radio made a request to the Waltham Forest Council for an interview with a representative regarding general aspects of the new 15 year Development Plan for the borough. We made no stipulations about what form the interview should take, whether by way of Zoom, which the council representative could host if he/she wished, sound only, or even a recorded telephone interview with a single individual at each end. We sent details of the questions we wanted to discuss which are reproducd below. We pointed out that these were frequently voiced concerns about the borough's future and that we were offering this opportunity for the council to explain the reasoning behind its intentions and clear up misunderstandings.

A series of emails followed with long gaps in between in which we were referred from one Department or individual to another, each of them saying in essence that they were not the right person to answer our questions. Finally, almost exactly one month later, we received the following response from a senior member of the council whom we will not name as our intention is not to embarrass any individual: "We have read your email carefully and several of the points you raise refer to specific sites in the borough where there are planning application (sic) waiting for a decision. We are sure you appreciate that as a Planning Authority it is important that nothing is said which could be favourable or detrimental to those planning applications. Hence we regret we are unable to provide someone for your show at this time."

We could of course have continued the correspondence, suggesting that the council representative might answer some questions and not others (!), but after the passage of so much time and the strong tone of the refusal we decided that it wasn't worth any more of our efforts, and instead of pursuing a reluctant council we would ask Adrian Stannard, a long-standing commentator on matters of planning and architecture, to comment on our concerns. The result was the blunt and often shocking Zoom discussion you see above. Adele Tinman joins us 13 minutes or so into the conversation.

The local Planning Committee it would seem have about as much real power as the Wizard of Oz in the 1939 film of that name. The entire consultation and planning extravaganza, as many have long suspected, is pure theatre. All the decisions that matter have been made long ago and nothing that you or I can do is going to change a thing. We really do mean nothing. So what do the Planning Committe do for the salaries they draw? Make us think that we have been consulted, presumably.

Below is the list of questions submitted to the council in the hope of an interview. We didn't address them individually in our Zoom discussion but covered almost all of them in the course of our conversation.

We are very grateful to Adrian for the insights and enlightenment that he brought to our chat.

Here is our original question list:

1. How many new flats can a community assimilate at one time? The area from Blackhorse Road along Forest Road to Tottenham Hale was never a residential area so what resources will the council need to help that huge community establish? Leyton and Lea Bridge is expected to have over 5,000 new flats - how will that impact on the existing community?

2. In the past the council's response to any fundamental criticism of its long term plans or specific planning decisions such as giving over more public space in the town square to a private company to build more shops at the cost of destroying mature trees, the response has been that their hands are tied by Government or GLA directives. Is there in fact any point whatever in our having a local planning authority if its function is simply to rubber stamp whatever City Hall or Westminster tells it to do? Does local democracy in fact count for nothing?

3. Tube - both the Central and Victoria lines were at capacity before lockdown what impact will the extra housing have on tube journeys? No Government will sanction another tube line for the area so no additional capacity can be added.

4. The Chingford to Liverpool Street line can't be linked to Stratford because there is no spare station capacity. Will the number of journeys remain low while the City collapses because of people working from home, or will the incomers be commuting to the City?

5. Covid - what impact will this have on working practices i.e. will people need local offices so they can hot desk for their company rather than finding space in their homes or commuting?

6. Open space - Friends of the Earth have just published a report showing access to open space across England, and Waltham Forest is listed as very deprived. That is, more open space is needed so why can't the Homebase site be used for playing fields for all the schools and the college surrounding it?

7. Roads - online shopping is generating a huge amount of logistics traffic so how is reducing the capacity of the roads going to prevent gridlock? Many of the new developments are car free - fine but how do they get deliveries if the roads are grid locked? There is no room for building new roads.

8. North Circular and M25 - are at capacity for most of the day and there is usually a major accident each week bringing them to a halt. If the accident takes a long time to clear the traffic finds alternative routes and roads like Forest Road become jammed so how will the communities cope with blocked roads?

9. Buses - there is very little capacity on the buses at busy times so how are these new car free communities expected to get around? 2 bikes take up as much road space as a car.

10. Services - health, schools, open space etc. are not "a planning issue" when the Planning Committee decide on an application, but it is vital the space and resources for these are allocated in the right places.

11. Isn't it true that the solution to projected population growth should have been another Milton Keynes, but no Government has seen that as a solution so London is now expected to absorb another 3m people - surely this can't be done without devastating damage to the existing communities?

RUNNING TIME OF VIDEO: 50 minutes 27 seconds approximately

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