Ever since the temporary privatisation of Metropolitan Open Land for a private training facility on Porter’s Field Meadow (Leyton Marsh) for the London 2012 Olympics, we have seen a number of areas of previously open marshes enclosed and part-privatised. The old golf course area by the Waterworks, turned into a private campsite for the London 2012 Olympics, was due to be restored in 2013. Now it is partly fenced off for a pony paddock, which only received permission for temporary use and was meant to be mobile.
The area behind the Lee Valley Riding Centre received permission from Waltham Forest Council to be further developed for commercial horse livery. The adjacent paddock was consequently subdivided into tiny electrified pens, over-grazed by horses and left in a state that even shocked the Hackney representative on the LVRPA when he visited last month (see picture below). An agreement between the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee and the LVRPA was meant to see this land transformed every other year into a wildflower meadow for all. That was another broken promise, clearly.
Yet all of these enclosed or part enclosed spaces are Metropolitan Open Land (M.O.L.). M.O.L. is a unique designation for London that is meant to protect strategically important open spaces to serve the needs of Londoners. It has the same status in law as greenbelt.
The most recent form of ‘income generation’ from publicly owned assets will be from the waterways adjacent to Leyton Marsh. The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority has written a letter to all the boats mooring there temporarily on a continuous cruising licence informing them they must pay the Authority for a residential leisure mooring in order to remain. The letter claimed that the Springfield Marina is ‘responsible’ for the nine moorings on Leyton Marsh. The boats have been ordered to vacate unless they are willing to provide details of their licence, boat etc and are to pay for a permanent residential mooring at the site.
Work has already begun on the land in anticipation of this imposed arrangement, clearing it of undergrowth and mowing one of the few spots that had previously escaped the savage mow down every year. This is despite the fact that the towpath is part of the Metropolitan Site of Importance for Nature Conservation, which extends down to the water. The clearance was not discussed, consulted upon or approved at any previous LVRPA workshops or forums with the community.
However, the propriety and legality of the LVRPA’s actions is doubtful. There is nothing in the byelaws restricting mooring and the Park Act sections 36 & 37 only deals with vessels ‘sunk, stranded or abandoned’ and houseboats in a condition ‘injurious to the amenity of the waterway’.
Derrick Ashley of the LVRPA argues that the LVRPA is opposed to residential moorings as they’re contrary to the statutory purpose of the park as a leisure destination – somewhat at odds with the fact that they’re making money from it and now trying to expand!
Moreover, the deeds which cover the area of the Willows, Leyton Marsh and the actual site of Springfield Marina itself state that the land was left in ‘perpetuity for public use.’ Yet the land is being rented for private use at commercial rates by the Marina, which is managed by the LVRPA.
At an Authority meeting we attended back in October 2012, the representative for Haringey, John Bevan reported on his ‘pleasing’ visit to the Marina, with the exception of the ‘junk boats’ he had seen there and on the waterways. He reported that they were working on a ‘solution’ to what he and the Marina management regarded as the problem of these boats.
Whilst each of these developments and changes in land use can be viewed in isolation, it is important to consider that there appears to be an overall pattern for restricting access and use of our marshes by the public for the purposes of so-called ‘income generation’. The history of this area, the nature of the land and the founding purpose of the Authority should be re-examined in the light of recent history. People gave up their commoners’ rights to grazing cattle on the marshes at the turn of the 20th century in return for use of the land freely and in ‘perpetuity’. All the marshes is Metropolitan Open Land. Legally development should only occur when such development is essential for ‘preserving open use’ of the land. Finally and perhaps most significantly here, the purpose of the Authority when it was established during the 1960s was to act as guardians of the land, preserving the whole park for public use.
Is the LVRPA following its remit by pursuing a focus upon ‘maximising the return on land and property assets’ as stated in its recent report? This report led members of the Authority to decide to transfer LVRPA venues (and in future possibly other assets including open spaces) over to a charitable Industrial Provident Society. The treatment of our open spaces in the recent past suggests whether or not public assets are managed by this unelected Trust or by the Authority, the focus will be on commercialisation of public land.