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Walthamstow Stadium housing estate plans approved
CONTROVERSIAL plans to build a housing estate at Walthamstow Stadium have been approved.
11.55PM: This live blog is now going to close for the night. Thanks for reading and we'll have more reaction to tonight's verdict tomorrow.
In brief, L&Q's planning application for 294 homes at Walthamstow Stadium was narrowly approved tonight at a heated council meeting which lasted three and a half hours.
The evening was quite emotional at times, and councillors who voted for the plans were confronted at the end of the night by a minority of furious campaigners.
There was lots of heckling and at one point the council chair even threatened to eject all members of the public.
So, what next? Well, the application is to be referred to London mayor Boris Johnson and the Greater London Assembly. So potentially it could still be thrown out.
Mr Johnson has spoken publicly of his support for a return to greyhound racing at the site but he also has tough targets for building new housing in the capital, so it's unclear quite what he'll do.
What is clear, however, is that this is not the end of the Walthamstow Stadium saga. But this is undoubtedly a hugely significant chapter in both the history of the iconic site and the future of south Chingford as a whole.
11.40PM: To recap, the councillors who voted for the plans were Jenny Gray (Leytonstone ward, Labour), Asim Mahmood (Markhouse, Labour), Ebony Vincent (Markhouse, Labour) and committee chair Peter Barnett (Wood Street, Labour).
Those councillors who voted against were Ed Northover (Larkswood, Conservative), Alan Siggers (Valley, Conservative) and Liz Phillips (Cann Hall, Liberal Democrat).
The application was therefore passed by four votes to three.
It was alleged during the meeting that Labour councillors had been ordered by the party whip to vote in favour, although they all denied this.
More reaction from L&Q, MPs and campaigners is expected tomorrow morning. L&Q's people left the meeting pretty sharpish after the application was approved, so I didn't get a chance to speak to them.
I did however chat with campaigners and a few councillors but we'll have a summary of everyone's views from each side tomorrow. As you would expect, people who were against the plans are disappointed at the outcome and vice versa.
Overall the vast majority of those who attended were against the plans, and only one person (other than L&Q) spoke in favour.
11.35PM: The dust has now settled, everyone's been kicked out of Walthamstow Assembly Hall and this epic meeting is well and truly over.
Things got very heated there at the end, so I took a quick break from the blog to get up close to what was happening.
In short, a group of about a dozen campaigners ran up to the councillors who voted for the plans and shouted at them.
A few people had to step in to prevent things escalating, but there was no violence and the crowd eventually dispersed.
The councillors made a hasty exit via a side door.
I spoke to a few residents and campaigners afterwards and they were all predictably pretty upset (but not surprised) by the final result.
11.10PM: Members of the crowd have gone up to shout at the councillors who voted in favour of the plans.
11.06PM: Furious scenes here. All Labour councillors voted for, Lib Dem and two Conservatives voted against.
11.05PM: Application is approved.
11PM: Vote about to be held very soon. Cllrs Vincent and Mahmood ask some questions but don't indicate which way they will vote.
All committee members have now spoken, Cllr Siggers is raising a few objections again, but looks like a final decision due to be made any minute now.
10.56PM: It's mostly quiet again. Cllr Gray votes yes (although there is some booing). So that's three against, two for, and two yet to speak.
10.55PM: Loud heckling now and slow hand clapping.
Cllr Barnett threatens to eject all members of the public unless they stop heckling.
10.50PM: Cllr Barnett moves the officers' recommendation (i.e. he votes yes).
Cllr Jenny Gray is now speaking, seems like she will vote yes as well.
10.43PM: Chair and Labour Cllr Peter Barnett is speaking now. Seems like he will vote for the plans, prompting heckling from the crowd.
Despite it getting late most people are still here (although a dozen or so have left).
Regarding the amount of affordable housing, Cllr Barnett said: "We'd love 50 per cent affordable housing but we all know in this committee that we've moved away from that quite a few times before."
He said there was a desperate need for more affordable housing.
10.38PM: Cllr Phillips says she will vote against.
10.35PM: The third committee member, Liberal Democrat Cllr Liz Phillips, is now speaking. She is critical of L&Q and looks like she will also vote to reject the application. Cllr Siggers did not explicitly say he would vote against, but seems likely. So that's three out of seven so far.
Meanwhile looks like the meeting will go on probably until about 11pm.
10.30PM: This blog disappeared for a moment there, apologies. Technical problems but working to get it fixed.
The second member of the committee (out of seven) is now speaking. Chingford Tory councillor Alan Siggers is being very critical of the plans, looks like he will also vote to reject the application.
10.15PM: Another council officer says that while the amount of affordable housing in the plans is just 20 per cent (below council target of 50 per cent), officers factored in the viability of the site, so it was justifiable.
She added there was a severe shortage of three-bedroom affordable housing in the borough and L&Q's plans provided a good rate of these.
10.07PM: Council officer David Scourfield is responding to Cllr Northover. He denies his claims and says English Heritage has been properly consulted.
10PM: More from Cllr Northover. He said the plans were "effectively a ghetto" and were "not acceptable". He said the plans risked repeating the mistakes of high-rise housing estates of the 1950s and 1960s. He said: "we are walking like blind men into this complete mess once again. I despair when I see these things [applications]."
Cllr Northover has confirmed he will vote against to loud applause from the crowd.
9.53PM: Chingford Conservative councillor Cllr Ed Northover is first to speak. It's clear he has grave concerns and has strongly criticised the council officers who wrote the report recommending the plans be approved.
He said report appeared to have been written by people who "had come to a conclusion that this was the right decision and then worked backwards to justify why that was the case."
He said the report was "rushed" and that it was deeply worrying that the application was being heard before English Heritage was satisfied it had enough information on the plans to make its own judgement.
9.50PM: The panel of councillors that will decide the application have begun their public discussion of the plans and questioning of the various parties involved. There's seven councillors and the majority vote wins.
9.40PM: It's just been the turn of four local ward councillors to speak.
They have all attacked the plans. Cllr Nick Buckmaster got the loudest applause and another ovation. He said: "Let's push on and back the local community and accept Bob Morton's offer while it's still on the table."
There were also loud cheers for Cllr Jemma Hemsted, who said the amount of affordable housing was "disgraceful" and said residents had not been properly consulted on the final version of the plans.
Cllr Bernadette Mill also received applause when she pointed out that English Heritage did not back the proposals.
Cllr Paul Douglas said L&Q had done a poor job of looking after the stadium in the last few years. He said the application should be delayed because there were many outstanding issues.
We're now going to take a short break before the committee begins its discussion of the plans.
9.25PM: Gary Ince, chief executive of the North London Business board and the Waltham Forest Business Partnership, is the first person to speak in favour (other than L&Q).
He said the plans will create 200 short-term jobs in the construction industry and 300 long-term jobs.
Mr Ince said the plans "provide long-term sustainable employment to local people and gives hope to a part of London where so many people have little hope."
He was roundly booed by the crowd. He seemed a lot braver than L&Q's representatives and didn't falter during his speech.
9.15PM: A woman from Conrad and Partners, who is working with L&Q on the plans, is now speaking. I'm afraid I didn't catch her name as it's getting quite noisy here.
There was a brief moment of calm but it then kicked off again with more heckling. People are angry that she's been speaking for more than five minutes now.
Cllr Barnett has told them to be quiet and people are settling down again, but lots of people are muttering. She said the application would respect the heritage of the site and "enhance the character of the local area."
9.08PM: L&Q's Mike Johnson is being heckled by the crowd. There's lots of booing and shouting. He looks and sounds very uncomfortable.
Meeting chair Cllr Bartnett is appealing for calm, as is SOS's Ricky Holloway.
Mr Johnson said: "We are committed to improve the life chances of our residents and those of the wider community."
He added that it will be a "sustainable development of high quality homes which will enhance the community as a whole."
Many in the meeting are angry that L&Q is being given longer than three minutes to have its say, unlike residents.
Cllr Barnett said it was fair that L&Q had more time because its number of speakers was less (two).
9PM: The interested third parties have now finished speaking and they were all against L&Q's plans. Now it's L&Q's turn to have their say. After that we're going to have some speeches by councillors in Chingford.
8.55PM: Speeches by Ilford resident Howard Berlin and Gail Penfold of Walthamstow Stadium Area Residents' Association. Most people here greeted what they said with loud applause.
Seems to be getting more and more noisy here. No-one has spoken in favour of the application yet.
8.45PM: Racing personality John McCririck has just made his speech, which was also greeted with loud applause and another standing ovation.
He pointed at L&Q's representatives and said: "The hard-hearted people over there only want to make money.
[There's] no consideration for locals here."
He also pointed at council officer David Scourfield and accused him of bias, saying he had shook hands with L&Q's people like they were "bosom buddies".
Committee chair, Cllr Barnett, did not like that. He shouted back angrily: "Do not question the impartiality of our officers. Do not do that again."
Mr McCririck continued undaunted and said: "let's keep it [the stadium] and pass it on to future generations".
8.35PM: Ex-Liberal Democrat leader and former councillor John Macklin has just made a passionate speech, which was interrupted several times by loud applause. He also had a standing ovation from about a third of the crowd.
Mr Macklin said if the housing estate was approved then the community would lose its "unique selling point".
He said: "This [L&Q's plan] is not sustainable, it will not be prosperous and it will not create an integrated community. It will destroy these things."
8.26PM: Each speaker is only allowed three minutes, so I'm having to be brief with my descriptions of what was said.
David Cunningham and Linda Jones, both from SOS, have just spoken also attacking the plans. Ms Jones said the housing provision was inadequate for the community's needs. Haven't had anyone speaking in support yet.
8.25PM: Mr Holloway accused the council of plotting since 2007 on plans with L&Q for a housing estate at the arena.
He said: "This council is rotten to the core".
He accused Cllr Marie Pye and Cllr Terry Wheeler of being direct supporters of L&Q. He said Cllr Pye had passed confidential information to L&Q while Cllr Wheeler had "hatched" the plan with L&Q for the housing estate.
Mr Holloway added: "We want our stadium back, these local people want jobs and there is another application on the table [Bob Morton's]."
8.20PM: SOS campaigner Ricky Holloway has just given his speech, which ended with a standing ovation. Deafening roars of support. More on what he said in a minute.
8.10PM: Local residents Toni Phipps and Pamela Fleisch have both spoken attacking L&Q's plans. They are both members of Walthamstow Area Residents' Association.
They raised concerns over "unsuitable" housing and flooding. Their speeches were greatly with thunderous applause from the vast majority of those present in the hall. It's clear most people here are against L&Q's plans.
8PM: Another council officer, David Scourfield, has strongly defended the impartiality of council officers. He said: "The approach by the council...has been consistent on this application as with other applications."
7.53PM: Council officer has detailed the plans for 294 homes, etc, and recommended the application be approved.
He also verbally notified the committee of Greyhound Safe's petition of 1,248 names against a return of dog racing to the site.
7.45PM: A presentation is now underway detailing L&Q's plans.
7.35PM: The meeting has started. Committee chair Cllr Peter Barnett explains there will be two votes, one for the planning application and one for listed building consent.
7.25PM: Most people, include the planning committee panel of councillors who will make the decision on the application, have taken their seats. Everyone is chatting away as we wait for the meeting to start.
The seating in the hall is mostly taken up except for the upstairs gallery, so less of a turnout than the meeting for the former EMD cinema in Walthamstow last year. Back then not everyone could fit in the Assembly Hall, which is not the case this time.
Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy has just posted this message on Twitter: "In a packed jubilee room with lots of Walthamstow's finest older residents waiting for @lizkendall mp" - so looks like she won't be able to make it tonight.
7.23PM: There are a total of 23 people listed to speak at tonight's meeting - looks like it will be a long one.
They include six councillors, five SOS activists, John McCririck and residents. MPs Stella Creasy and Iain Duncan Smith are also listed but I can't see them here. Ms Creasy did say earlier both MPs may not be able to attend due to a commons vote tonight.
Apparently ex-football star Teddy Sheringham isn't coming to the meeting but made a brief appearance earlier to meet protesters outside the Assembly Hall.
7.20PM: I've just been chatting with racing pundit John McCririck, who is here with his trademark deerstalker hat and cigar.
He said: "I used to love coming to Walthamstow Stadium, after the closure of the White City track it was the première greyhound track in London.
"What's disgraceful is that there's no social housing in L&Q's plans, unlike those from Bob Morton who will have greyhound racing and housing.
"To lose Walthamstow Stadium would be absolutely appalling."
7.12PM: The public have started to take their seats at Walthamstow Assembly Hall. I estimate there's between 100 and 200 people here. The top gallery is empty but SOS say there are more residents coming soon.
6.45PM: This blog is taking a short break and will resume shortly after I've made the five minute walk to the town hall and spoken to some of the campaigners outside.
In the event of my computer dying/exploding, etc, and there's silence on this blog, check our Twitter feed instead (link below).
Less than 45 minutes to go until the meeting starts.
6.35PM: I asked L&Q earlier today if it had any further comment to make ahead of tonight's meeting, but it did not.
But here's a recent statement from the housing association about its proposals for the site: "We are confident that our plans will deliver a £50million iconic development which preserves the heritage of the site and provides around 300 new homes, a modern leisure centre run by the community for the community, a children’s nursery and allotments, as well as over 250 jobs to meet the needs of local people."
6.20PM: The 'Greyhound Safe' campaign group has submitted a last-minute petition calling on the council to disregard the return of dog racing to Walthamstow Stadium as an option for its future.
It contains singatures signed by 1,248 people from across the world.
While tonight's planning application contains no provision for dog racing, it will be very difficult for it to be held at the arena ever again if L&Q's plans are approved and housing is built at the site.
Like the local Green Party, Greyhound Safe believe dog racing is cruel. They say it results in unnecessary death and injury to many of the animals which take part.
6PM: The Waltham Forest and Redbridge Green Party have accused campaigners from SOS of "scaremongering" and misrepresenting L&Q's plans.
The party is strongly against any return of greyhound racing to the site. They say dog racing is cruel to animals, an accusation the industry denies.
Spokesman Mark Dawes says: "There are issues with the current L&Q scheme but these need to be addressed in a calm and rational way.
“Unfortunately SOS have made this very hard by their misrepresentation of the L&Q scheme and scaremongering”.
They say SOS posters depict a tower block which "looks nothing like" L&Q's plans.
Mr Dawes added: "They also refer to the L&Q scheme as a 'slum housing estate' which it certainly is not.
"These continual misrepresentations of the L&Q scheme to the local community have meant that some objections to the L&Q scheme are not based on fact but on SOS’s nightmare fictional vision."
5.45PM: Save Our Stow (SOS) have issued a statement urging members of the public to attend tonight's meeting.
SOS want L&Q to sell the arena to millionaire businessman Bob Morton. He has promised to reopen the stadium with dog racing and housing. L&Q say his plans are not viable.
They say: "SOS make a plea for all residents, supporters of historic buildings, supporters of fight the heights and supporters of the stadium to attend this evening.
"We urge you all to attend and show this council that it cannot be allowed to close another leisure facility and deny us much needed local jobs.
"This site is not needed for housing targets in the borough and with L&Q offering no social rented housing and only 24 affordable it does nothing for this borough's homeless.
"The council officers report recommends to accept L&Q plans even through the report was completed two days prior to receiving the environment agency flood plans.
It also states that the land registry does not state how much was paid for the track - [but] the land registry states £18.1million."
5.35PM: Click here to see the council papers for tonight's meeting. In short, L&Q's plans are for 294 homes in a mixture of houses and flats, along with a nursery, allotments, a cafe, creche and parking spaces.
5.23PM: Chingford Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith and Walthamstow Labour MP Stella Creasy have been two of the most vocal critics of London and Quadrant's (L&Q) plans to build a housing estate at Walthamstow Stadium.
Ahead of the meeting they've issued a joint statement attacking the proposals, which they say will not do much to help the borough's housing crisis because there is no provision for social housing.
The statements says: "We agree with Waltham Forest Council's stated ambition to provide a mix of housing for our community so the news that L&Q will not be providing any social housing in this plan at all is proof they are not meeting the real needs of Waltham Forest's residents.
"Given that there are 21,000 people on our housing waiting list this omission is a critical flaw in L&Q's plans.
"Furthermore, not only are there no social rented properties in this proposal, it will also only deliver 24 flats at 'affordable rates' of rent which are higher and so meet a different need in our local housing market.
"This doesn't meet the council's ambitions which it set for itself that there should be at least 50 per cent affordable housing in any development.
"All this goes to show this proposal is simply not good enough and we urge the planning committee to demand a better deal for the residents of our borough."
4.30PM: In other news, campaigners from Save Our Stow (SOS), who are firmly against the planning application and want the stadium reopened with dog racing, have said that former football star Teddy Sheringham and racing pundit John McCririck will be among those at tonight's meeting protesting against the housing estate plans.
However it appears unlikely that borough MPs Stella Creasy and Iain Duncan Smith will attend.
Ms Creasy told me there is a parliamentary vote she has been asked to attend this evening by her party, and that Mr Duncan Smith will also probably have to go as well.
Despite being from opposing parties these two MPs have been remarkably united in their calls for the housing estate plans to be rejected. More on that later.
4.15PM: Welcome to the Waltham Forest Guardian's live blog coverage of today's crucial day for the future of the Walthamstow Stadium site.
The meeting doesn't start until 7.30pm but we're starting this blog early as there's been a number of developments already today.
First off, it's been announced that the meeting will be held at Walthamstow Assembly Hall - and not the town hall council chamber as previously advertised by the council.
This shouldn't affect things too much as the buildings are, of course, right next to each other in Forest Road, Walthamstow. But it will allow more people to attend.
The last time this happened was for the planning meeting over the former EMD cinema building in Walthamstow last year. That meeting was so packed not everyone could fit in. Wonder if the same will happen for tonight's meeting?
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