Lea Marshes LVRPA
User forum May 2012   
Filter Beds and Walthamstow Marshes User Forum held at the Ice Rink on Wednesday May 23, 2012.

It was a comedy of errors or carry on revisited. It would have been funny if the issues had not been so serious.

The most extraordinary was when Greenspace Manager at Lea Valley Regional Park Authority Martin Page thought he was being clever in the last second of the meeting by saying words to the effect, everyone agree the new terms of reference and code of conduct. Since there had been no discussion, everyone looked blankly. He then said that the new terms were agreed. But having been agreed in this ludicrous way, doesn't that make them ludicrous? This must add ammunition to the Hackney councillors who want to abolish the user group and replace it with something more meaningful.

Byelaws:

So what happened to the byelaws? We got conflicting and absurd accounts. First we were told they'd been sealed and needed to be unsealed. One of the LVRPA team said the problem was they need to cover new geographical areas. Well, if there was new stuff would there be a new consultation (a statutory requirement)? Yes there would, then no there wouldn't. Apparently it was all a question of seals: a version had been sealed by LVRPA but the Government needed to seal the document and had yet to do that. So what did the original statement about a need for unsealing mean? It was all as clear as mud.

Golf course:

The bad news (though we already knew this) is that the golf course will be closed on July 8. Waterworks Centre manager Angela Lever gave us the good news. All footpaths will remain open (including the path beside the Flood Relief Channel). The camp site would be cleared on August 13 and the Camping and Caravanning Club would vacate the area seven days later. Apparently the Camping and Caravanning Club are going to have a team of 12 running the operation. It is going to take months to restore the golf course but at least we were promised it would be restored.

Sandy Path:

We got an assurance that the Sandy Path is not going to become a road. At the previous user forum in February we were told of a £100k scheme to refurbish the path. Asked if it would be widened for vehicle use, an LVRPA officer replied: "Absolutely not, it will just be for pedestrians." A bit weird since it's already frequently used by vehicle traffic including heavy construction lorries and the weekly municipal dustcart visit. But we will remember the promise.

Spending the cash:

A small amount of money (far less than LVRPA is to spend on Sandy Path) is available thanks to ill gotten gains in the form of payment to LVRPA from the Olympic Delivery Authority for the Municipal Open Land the basketball court was built on. Apparently we were being consulted about how this money was going to be spent (or in some respects had already been spent) but when people at the meeting objected they were told the public had been consulted by some mysterious process dating back to 2008 that nobody remembered or by the Park Development Framework. There's no disputing that LVRPA has done a lot of what it calls consulting over the years, but it is very strange to argue that it's already consulted about how to spend money long before anyone knew the cash was going to arrive! Clearly the LVRPA team expected to be hauled over the coals over this issue and had prepared an answer. There will be a special meeting just to discuss this in August. Clearly they are hoping most people will be on holiday or watching the Olympics and the current head of steam will have evaporated. They may be disappointed. (What actually happened was LVRPA cancelled the extra meeting.)

Despite putting the item off until August there was some discussion about the proposals. LVRPA officers were all in favour of open views from the ice rink entrance (the permanently traffic clogged Lea Bridge Road) to Porter's Field. I pointed out that this would mean open views of the blocks of flats planned for Essex Wharf from Porter's Field (a pretty dismal sight). LVRPA wants to open up the vista by cutting down the vegetation around the oxbow but there were cheers when one of the users proposed a return to wilderness.

"Half the problem," one of the users said,"is the manicuring. It's beginning to look like a municipal park." Another user said: "We don't want new concrete benches, or new pathways, put the money into investing in natural habitat."

This drew an interesting response from Martin Page: "We are not planning on doing any more prettifying of the marshes."

Reinstatement:

LVRPA did not seem to believe it could do much about returning Porter's Field to the way it was prior to the building work. ODA had suggested three options and the favoured one was growing a special turf and laying this down in October I pointed out that according to the ODA document its ecological survey was carried out in April when the site had been scalped, so ODA couldn't possibly know what the ecology was like and therefore couldn't carry out the agreement. This gives LVRPA considerable power to have an impact on the process.

Butterflies:

A volunteer has agreed to do surveys of the marshes.

Sustrans flooding

Gavin Johnson revealed that the contractor hired to deal with the flooding in January hadn't done a proper job, hence the second lot of flooding in March. Users asked if LVRPA could enhance the alternative path used during flooding.

Ecological management

Natural England has advised LVRPA to adopt a system called Countryside Stewardship for parts of Lea Marsh outside the SSSI. The idea is to replicate the agricultural regime of a century ago. When users complained that there was excessive mowing and tidying they were advised to raise the matter with Natural England.

Ecological Surveys

It was revealed that for some years LVRPA has been carrying out a survey of species in the SSSI

Dawson Show

Shaun Dawson chief executive of the LVRPA is going to meet the public in June.

Barking idea?

Martin Page came out, admitting that he is a dog owner. This statement was prompted by stories that three dogs appeared to have suffered ill effects after walking on Sandy Path. A vet suggested chemicals, presumably resulting from the construction of the basketball courts, were to blame for one dog's illness. Apparently Martin Page had taken a lead role in investigating the issue attending Porter's Field with the Environment Agency who took water samples from puddles on Sandy Path. Earlier on the day of the meeting (May 23, 2012) he had met with the Olympic Delivery Authority and a further site investigation had been carried out. Inside the fence protecting the construction workers involved in building the basketball court there had been security guards with dogs, he pointed out. The dogs had been on site 1,200 hours without any ill effects being experienced. Martin Page suggested the Giant Hogweed could be to blame. Whilst this seems pretty unlikely it is true that there has been more Giant Hogweed about this year than usual. Of course, the park should be getting rid of this rather unpleasant plant in order to abide by statutory requirements.

Jonathan Brind
Golf Course Saved. Hackney Councillors Barry Buitekant and Ian Rathbone lobbied LVRPA chief executive Shaun Dawson in May 2012 and during the meeting Shaun Dawson announced that the golf course would be reinstated after the Olympics.
Claire Weiss's report on the same meeting:
HEADLINES AND CONCLUSIONS - my personal impressions. The LVRPA's half-baked plan known as Park Development Framework, originating 2010, has been skewed by the carrot of ODA cash for the construction of the basketball courts and the follow-on guilt money supposedly mitigating the harm done to the land.

The terms of the ODA/LVRPA licence for the basketball courts do little to foster proper collaboration between the organisations, and are disadvantageous to the shaping of the post-October 15th future of Leyton Marsh. The promise to Waltham Forest Council that the land could be returned in pristine condition by 15th October has been exposed, again, as unachievable. Leyton Marsh is teetering on the brink of long-term damage that will take many seasons to repair. Avoiding this long-term damage requires major changes of attitude at the highest levels of both organisations and within LB Waltham Forest.


DETAILED REPORT FROM MEETING

About fifteen people from Save Leyton Marsh attended the LVRPA Filter Beds and Walthamstow Marshes User Forum on 23rd May, held in an upstairs room overlooking the rink at the Ice Centre. We joined about seven or eight other Marsh users including three or four who are also supporters of Save Leyton Marsh. A manager from LVRPA chaired the meeting and four members of staff introduced various agenda items. After the meeting I was asked by SLM to note down some of the main points from the meeting, which are below.

I have noted only those points of direct interest to the current Save Leyton Marsh campaign: there were a number of other very interesting reports, especially from the ranger staff, about the developments of the flora and fauna in this area which it was a privilege to listen to. Please add any further points which I may have glossed over.

BACKGROUND

Before writing these notes I thought I would check out my own memory of the background to the meeting and in doing so I came across the email string below, courtesy of Fizle and Charlie. On reading the Stephen Bromberg email to Fizle of 27th April I now understand what the confusion was about the stages of consultation concerning the proposed 'improvements' to Leyton Marsh and what ODA call the 'Reinstatement Plan'. I have shaded in rusty red below where Stephen Bromberg reveals, without a hint of irony, that the proposals were all consulted upon during the course of 2010/2011, failing to mention that this was before members of the public and members of local authorities knew anything about the basketball court construction plans. The windfall of the £65k dropping out of the ODA contract seems to have prompted a wishlist of items with little strategic thought. Stephen Bromberg's email goes on to claim that a range of proposals for Leyton Marsh was discussed at the November 2011 and February 2012 meetings of the Forum. However there was no evidence of this in the minutes of the February meeting, nor reference in them to such discussion in the November meeting. Little surprise that the LVRPA rep at the ODA farcical meeting at Riverside Nursery on 16th May was gagged.

Further confusion bubbled along throughout the meeting as to which particular marsh areas were being referred to: the original Porters Field Meadow nomenclature being used by some, Leyton Marsh by others, and yet others insisted on calling the piece of land the Walthamstow Marshes.

MAIN POINTS AND COMMENTARY

the old bye-laws are still in force, as the new ones are waiting for the SoS seal to be imprinted. The bye-laws as they appear in the noticeboards around the site are the full statement and not a summary. New bye-laws were needed to enable the LVRPA to operationalise its authority over lands acquired since the approval of the old bye-laws. A sort of post-hoc rationalisation.

the conversion to a campsite, for the Olympics, of the Waterworks golf course has been effected by simple contract with the Camping & Caravanning Club. There will be no late nights and no loud music. Campers will be in their pyjamas by 10-30pm, if we can believe it. More to the point, it will be February before the golfers can get back on the course again, due to the need to restore the land following the removal of the tents and caravans. At this point, Save Leyton Marsh supporters could hardly contain their indignance, and pointed how we had been banging on for some time that the promised return to original state of Leyton Marsh by 15th October, after the construction on it of a three-storey-high building with foundations, could never have seriously been on the cards.

the spending of the £65k, referred to above: we were told that the £65k is not the actual Reinstatement Plan, it's for extras. The list of grass seeds etc accounts for £45k of the total, and we were now being asked about how to spend the remaining £20k. After several enthusiastic suggestions from the Users, all of which (with the exception of one proposing that the money be spent on increasing the ranger staff complement) were themed on wildness, retention of natural habitats and opposition to turning Leyton Marsh into a manicured urban park, it was decided that a special Users Forum meeting would be called in August, to be convened on the marshland, and at which this will be the only item on the agenda. Users are invited to put proposals.

the Reinstatement Plan is quite simply the identified covering to be placed on the excavated and filled-in land once the buildings are removed. We tried to convince the LRVPA staff that the options should be discussed with us before any recommended proposal goes to LBWF Planning, and there was some reluctant acceptance that this could happen. The balance to be struck is whether to use the ODA's preferred option of quick-fix grow-quick Big Turf and slap it down over the hole on 15th October thus enabling public access as promised by the ODA to Waltham Forest Council, or whether to go for the more ecologically sound idea of growing from seed, an option that would restrict access for some time. We pointed out how this dilemma also demonstrates that the plans approved by Waltham Forest were never feasible.

with some relief, there was a positive meeting of minds on an idea coming from the floor that young people could be involved in creative activities around artistic graffiti painting on walls/ bridges in the Park. However the wide-ranging discussion did evoke some exasperation at the readiness of the LVRPA to point the finger at illicit parties held in certain parts of the Marsh, whereas it had plainly allowed a huge tract of its own land to be taken over and ruined by the ODA.

when it looked as if the meeting was going to end without a mention of our two major concerns, SLM supporters insisted on having minuted our report about the continued existence, for more than two months, of thousands of cubic metres of unlawfully-stored contaminated rubble on the south side of the ODA's building site. We described the environmental hazard that this now meant for the Marsh, the adjacent waterways and the users. We were flabbergasted to find out that the senior person present from LVRPA did not appreciate the differences between the two stretches of rubble heaps, that one was not in the approved plans and is contaminated in particular with asbestos, and that they were still being added to. The 4-Rail Services report to NUSSLI identifying the asbestos in the LVRPA-owned land was apparently unknown to them. The short-term interests of the ODA, compared to the long-term duties of the Authority to protect and steward the Marsh became horribly clear at this point.

in a final revelation, after we had insisted also on reporting the illness of three dogs on the Marsh, one of which had been diagnosed as suffering from chemical poisoning, the LVRPA manager was keen to assure us that investigations were going on about this - he knew, he said, because he had been working on this for three days! Gasps of surprise form the floor - we tried to explain how his having kept this news from us, wanting to keep anything to do with the situation on Leyton Marsh off the agenda, coupled with his lack of knowledge or concern about the existence of massive piles of contaminated rubble on the Marsh, has exacerbated the lack of trust that we have in the ability/inclination of the various authorities to protect Leyton Marsh as a green open space. We felt these matters are the key urgent issues in this part of the Lee Valley Park and yet they were not intended to be discussed at that meeting. He was told in no uncertain terms that if he did not want people to make assumptions about any link between the two issues of contamination he should see to it that the rubble heaps are removed without delay.

all this led to a discussion as to the lack of accountability by the Directors of the LVRPA, and further exhortations from us that the LVRPA should be acting in partnership with the ODA, LBWF and us prior to the next formal planning round, if there is any hope of a reinstatement plan actually succeeding. The laughable terms in the LVRPA/ODA licence according to which the LVRPA has no clout in terms of penalising ODA for non-compliance, were revealed as a significant obstacle. We felt that everything we had heard demonstrated that there was a woeful lack of co-operation, particularly between the LVRPA and the ODA. The possibility of long-term damage to the Marsh as a result of botched reinstatement methods is looming large.

after the meeting overran its time by ten minutes, the remainder of the agenda was jettisoned. Further small group discussions ensued.

They will let us know the date of the next meeting in August, by which time the Reinstatement Plan will have been considered and decided by Waltham Forest Planning Committee and the Marsh's fate will have been sealed.

Apologies if I have missed anything out - please add in. I thought it was a deeply depressing meeting, but at least we are making our points heard, everywhere we go.

Claire