Within weeks of the Covid-19 UK lockdown announcement in Spring 2020, Waltham Forest Council launched its Economic Recovery Plan
, detailing how it would build confidence, resilience and future prosperity in the local economy of the north-east London borough.
Three key challenges were identified: supporting high streets and businesses to recover, restarting development projects as quickly as possible for residents to have access to homes and new space and investing in sustainable transport solutions to benefit the climate.
The Council has progressed development in the borough despite the restrictions posed by the pandemic. In December 2020, the first stone was laid for the fountain at Fellowship Square, the project to redevelop the Town Hall, creating a new cultural hub in the heart of the borough. As well as refurbishing and regenerating the much-loved historic buildings that make up the Town Hall complex, the site will be opened up for a wide range of community activities. In doing so, it will continue to support the local creative economy and transform the way the Council operates and delivers services to Waltham Forest residents. Fellowship Square Phase 1 will be completed summer 2021 with a grand opening whilst Waltham Forest and its development partner, Countryside Properties, moves swiftly into Phase 2 to realise 500 new homes, 50% affordable housing and a new civic centre and neighbourhood for the borough.
Progress is not in short supply. Refurbishment work has started at Walthamstow’s famous EMD/Granada cinema. The proposal includes a 950-seat theatre, bar and restaurant, community space, garden terrace and more. The £25m investment into the venue’s revival is part of the Council’s London Borough of Culture legacy commitment to place culture at the heart of its communities, as well as driving economic, social and environmental benefits to Waltham Forest residents and businesses.
To that tune, planning permission has now been granted to The Collective to create a 350 -person capacity cultural and music venue, a café, bar and restaurant, 300 co-living rooms and more in Blackhorse Road. Work is also set to start on the Blackhorse View development of 350 homes in January 2021 and elsewhere, planning permission has been granted (subject to legal conditions) for 573 homes at the Lea Bridge Gasworks. There are additional planning applications being submitted for other key sites in early 2021, including for The Mall and the Homebase site on Fulbourne Road in Walthamstow and sites at Lea Bridge Station.
To support businesses, the Council has distributed over £48 million in government grants and innovations such as the award-winning Choose Local campaign
are persuading residents of the value in supporting local businesses through the Covid-19 crisis.
Waltham Forest’s Public Service Strategy
, launched in October 2020, sets out the authority’s priorities. As well as connecting people with jobs, enabling residents to lead safe and healthy lives building confidence in the borough’s future, the Council has set out its 15-minute neighbourhood concept, an ambition for all its residents to be able to access shops and services in 15 minutes by bike or on foot, an approach personified by the Fellowship Square Town Hall redevelopment project. This will enable a deeper, stronger recovery from Covid-19 and help foster the more local, healthy and sustainable way of life that many residents are calling for.
The Council knows there are challenges ahead. But the ambitions to prioritise the wellbeing of communities and bring prosperity and tangible benefits to Waltham Forest remain undimmed.