Walthamstow: the painful birth of a town transformed

The Blackhorse Mills development seen from Hawarden Road

The skies over E17 are now full of cranes. When I look out across the beautiful open water from Coppermill Lane, huge hulking towers loom at the Blackhorse Mills development at Blackhorse Road.
In the town centre, at South Grove and Wood Street, vast blocks are going up. On Lea Bridge Road, towers are surging into the sky by the station.
We are assured they are ‘good quality’ in every way. The ‘public realm’ of the future will be fully landscaped. Affordable homes will be provided.
This, we are told, is the future of cities in the face of the housing crisis.
But to raise questions, we are told, is to question the need for new housing and regeneration, and only underlines our unthinking privilege and nimbyism.
Wood Street redevelopments

Indeed, many local people have become alienated and resentful of this "regeneration" as they feel powerless in the face of its unstoppable march.
Developers often take a paternal tone when announcing their projects: our run-down towns "need" their luxury apartments in order to "move forward" and prosper.
We have been told we have little choice in plans to transform Walthamstow town centre, with a third of the public space in the central square consumed by an extension to a shopping mall. Four towers of up to 29 storeys will loom above this reduced space.
God help the “pound a bowl” guy from Afghanistan as he sells his discount fruit in their intimidating corporate shadow. It’s certain he won’t be able to afford to live in one.
Each project, as it pops up, justifies itself in one way or another.
For every multi-million pound block, we are awarded a small landscaped play area. There will be apprenticeships to save kids from resorting to drug dealing and stabbing each other.
Millennial couples in professional jobs in London will be able to slog their guts out for a one bedroom flat with co-working space and a view over the cormorants.
But very little thought seems to have been given to how the town will look and feel by the end of this  high-rise construction spree. Is it strictly necessary for us to build skyscrapers? Why have the blocks been designed to be so hefty and menacing? And who, pray who, can afford to live in them?
The Walthamstow Wetlands were opened for us all to enjoy…I remember the joy I felt at this prospect.
But now, every time I cycle past the reservoirs I wince at the added joy of a vista of tower blocks across the water. Was this the price we, and the ducks, had to pay? The residents will enjoy fabulous views of the wetlands, but the coots will not enjoy a fabulous view of them.

Blackhorse Mills earlier on in construction
Last night, I looked at the plans for 17-storey student accommodation behind Willowfield school. Well, it could win prizes for efficient land use, but not much else.
Again, I look forward to the landscaping after the towers obscure any existing natural views of the sky and reservoirs. I hope it is maintained.
And what about the physical and mental health of residents as they cope with this invasion into their physical and visual space?
They are ‘consulted’, but the council and developers have no real care for their views. They are secure in the knowledge that the majority of people in E17 (me included) would rather have a tower block than a Tory council.
I have not seen or heard a single apology for the ongoing works. The constant crashing and crunching of construction traffic, the pollution that we all must endure for no apparent benefit to ourselves.
I know this is London, and many argue this is London life. If you don’t like it, cash in your house and move to Somerset. The constant renewal and transformation is the only certainty there is.
But let us not forget, in the great maelstrom of money, brick and nasty plastic cladding, that people (and herons) are living here.
Amid the planning jargon that masks a weak argument for an unjustifiable project, don't forget that a town is not just a business from which to make a profit. It is a place to live.


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