The London Borough of Waltham Forest plans to build its way out the post-COVID downturn, prioritising public health with a new hospital and healthy living environment at Whipps Cross, turbo-charging its own development projects with 18,000 new homes and building a new national comedy theatre and cultural venue
Speaking at the special NLA webinar Waltham Forest: opportunity through adversity last Friday Cllr Simon Miller, cabinet member for Economic Growth and Housing Development said the reworking of the borough’s town hall was a good example of its approach to providing opportunity and confidence for development partners and residents, pressing ahead with development sites and adding to its house-building programme. It is innovating to ensure its high streets remain relevant and attractive, said Miller, with an approach to flexible use and even becoming a pub landlord to ensure that pubs can remain the ‘glue’ to communities. ‘Investing in the future is going to be critical’, he said. ‘We can’t salami slice our services and management down to reflect changing budget circumstances that will serve no-one well’.
Some of this will come through housing and opportunity areas, said the authority’s strategic director economic growth and housing delivery Stewart Murray, saying that in lockdown the strategic decision was that public health impacts would be the priority. But those London boroughs that are ‘on the front foot, being ready for economic recovery’ will be those that benefit most. Waltham Forest is ‘turbo-charging’ its own development projects towards an 18,000 new homes target, becoming an early adopter on virtual planning committees, for instance, and opening a national comedy theatre in 2022 as a ‘fantastic cultural venue for the borough’.
Another big scheme for the borough is Whipps Cross hospital, with an architect-led design team set to be announced in the coming ‘two to three weeks’. Alastair Finney, Whipps Cross Redevelopment Director, Barts Health NHS Trust, said the redevelopment programme, which is four years in but still feels ‘in the starting gate’ is continuing ‘in top gear’ to improve the ‘haphazard planning’ that has affected the site over previous decades. The new scheme provides a new acute hospital on a smaller footprint with other health and care facilities and hundreds of new homes. These, said Deborah Sinclair-Day, Associate Director, Planning & Development, Whitechapel & Whipps Cross, Barts Health NHS Trust will be 50% affordable housing, including potential for key workers, with improvements to the public realm and a ‘healthy living environment’ with commercial healthy living opportunities for gyms, cafes and the like. Construction aims to begin towards the end of 2022, with an opening projected towards the end of 2026.
The scheme is ‘an absolute gem’, said Jonathan Martin, director of inward investment at the council, and ‘a real project that delivers something new emerging from the pandemic’ that is ‘a very easy sell’ to the investment market. Building 1500 new homes will also allow people to become involved and deliver a lot of outcomes for residents and the supply chain. Director of planning Jane Custance added that they had been laying bets on what people might say in consultation with one prediction being potential moaning about how much car parking there would be. ‘But actually, the first person asked whether there would be an opportunity for music and singing within the new development’, she said. Whilst the council had excelled in its sustainable transport improvements and made efficiencies in planning over the pandemic period, it had to be careful to enable some elements of society, such as the elderly, also had access to services. Moreover, residents want much more of a ‘Netflix’ experience when it comes to a ‘one-touch council’, said Miller.
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