Waltham Forest Council has rushed to begin work in breach of planning conditions on the highly controversial new bridge at Marsh Lane Fields – on which they plan to squander more than £250K on a cosmetic replacement for the existing, nearly new foot and vehicle bridges during a time of savage austerity cuts in one of London’s poorest boroughs.
The vehicle bridge is now fenced off and the road has been dug up on both sides. The Council have ignored the pre-commencement planning condition, required by the Environment Agency, that is intended to ensure the bridge does not cause increased flood risk to the neighbourhood.
Work begins on the bridge – without permission
Before construction began, approval should have been sought and granted for a flood storage compensation proposal, due to the impact of the bulkier, higher new bridge on flood risk from the Dagenham Brook which the bridge crosses. But the Waltham Forest Council Planning Officer had heard nothing about such a scheme when contacted. She informed us that when got it she would be consulting the EA.
This is reckless behaviour by the Waltham Forest Council officers responsible for the bridge project, since until the flood compensation measures are designed and agreed it will not be certain that they are practically or economically achievable or that the impacts on the environment will be acceptable. It seems they will involve substantial excavations and landscaping of potentially contaminated land in the vicinity of the bridge, greatly increasing the scope and complexity of the project.
This planning officer also said that the Council do not consult the public about discharge of planning conditions so couldn’t promise to let us know when the proposals do materialise, and the public’s comments don’t have to be considered. It was pointed out that the planning condition required the flood compensation plans to be submitted and approved before the development commenced. She agreed this meant work shouldn’t have started, didn’t know it had started and would go down and have a look!
It’s a familiar story of facts on the ground materialising before adequate answers about the purpose and design of the works are shared with the public. At Wednesday evening’s Lea Bridge Ward (WF) Community Forum Cllrs Afzal Akram and Masood Ahmad could not answer the direct question about the purpose of the construction of a new bridge, nor could they account for the amount it is costing local Council taxpayers (£250k).
They deflected the questions from residents to their own Council Officer who was floundering to make a clear response, other than the spurious claim that a new bridge would ‘attract more people’ to the newly-named park.
Residents expressed great concern that the work programme for this contract has not yet been made available publicly, and that it is proving to be chaotic and poorly planned. They were alarmed at the Council Officer’s report that the precise location of a large gas main in the area of the proposed new bridge remains unidentified, in spite of excavations having been made to the furthest depths possible without requiring special conditions.
This means, amongst other things, that the size of the new bridge abutments (which will be embedded in the quite deep banks of the Dagenham Brook – currently providing habitat for wildlife) have not yet been finalised.
The Chair of the meeting Cllr Afzal Akram stated that he was going to seek further information about potential or suspected delays to this contract, which seems to proceeding on an ad-hoc and improvised basis with poor communication between the Council and contractors and between Council and public.
Though work began on the bridge on Friday, lack of signage means the public will not be aware that the pedestrian/ cycle bridge currently still remains open or when it is likely to be closed or what the alternative routes will be. There is confusion over whether the vehicle bridge will be permanantly or intermittently closed or how long the works will take.
It has now emerged that vehicles needing access to Marsh Lane ( residents, allotment tenants and service vehicles) are being given keys to the Seymour School car park and will involve them driving down a footpath through one of the busiest parts of the park and next to the children’s play area. There is no warning signage or any attempt to address the safety implications or potential conflict between vehicles and park users.