No more hope for campaigners over Walthamstow Stadium (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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No more hope for campaigners over Walthamstow Stadium
Campaigners against a housing estate planned for Walthamstow Stadium have abandoned hope of launching a judicial review.
Chair of local residents’ association Gail Penfold has said the group will not qualify for legal aid and cannot afford to raise the £50,000-£100,000 needed to take their case against London & Quadrant’s (L&Q) 294-home development proposed for the site in Chingford Road, Walthamstow, to the High Court.
She said: “I’m gutted, just gutted. I honestly believe that if we had the money we would have won.
“The fact that it comes down to money is the harsh reality. That central government and our council failed to listen to the concerns of residents who didn’t want the L&Q build is just tragic.
“To lose such an iconic part of our national heritage is very sad.
“We would like to thank Saunders Solicitors, Alun Jones QC, and Shaun Wallace for their commitment, hard work and time spent trying to assist us all of which was given free of charge.”
She added that the association would welcome the people who eventually live at the estate.
The proposals were controversially approved by Mayor of London Boris Johnson in October last year after Waltham Forest Council passed them in May.
Campaigners have opposed the plans for years for what they claimed was overdevelopment as well as a lack of social housing provision.
Others have fought for a return to dog racing at the site and the judicial review was set to investigate the decision-making process behind the approval of L&Q’s plans.
Mrs Penfold claimed legal advisors told her the mayor’s and council’s decisions were fraught with faults, but the group has been unable to secure legal aid to progress their case.
Building work is now widely expected to begin after the firm told the Guardian last week that the threat of a judicial review was delaying construction.
The news marks the end of the long fought battle over the future of the landmark site which for so many years was one of the UK’s most popular greyhound racing tracks at which David Beckham worked in his youth as a bottle collector.
The saga has been the centre of controversy, including the revelation that L&Q bought the stadium for £18 million in 2008 despite it now being worth just £7 million.
Campaigners claim taxpayers would be forced to fund the shortfall but L&Q said it did not consider the investment a loss because it anticipated making a long-term profit.
MPs Iain Duncan Smith and Stella Creasy backed the campaigners’ fight but their support was not enough to stop Waltham Forest Council narrowly passing the plans by four votes to three in May 2012.
Boris Johnson then decided not to intervene after claiming the stadium was an “acceptable loss” due to benefits including a £1.75 million investment in Waltham Forest Pool and Track the development would bring.
Campaigners then pinned their hopes on the possibility that Secretary of State for Communities Eric Pickles would decide to intervene, but the council controversially rubberstamped the final paperwork within two days of the mayor’s decision.
This effectively denied Pickles a 21-day window to decide whether to call the matter in, sparking the government’s ire enough to call the local authority “unreasonable”.
L&Q must preserve the iconic frontage and historic tote in their development.
A spokesman for the company said: “We look forward to beginning work as soon as we can, subject to meeting the remaining conditions in the planning process.
“We will build 294 much needed, high quality homes for people on a range of incomes. Our scheme will bring £50 million worth of investment into the borough, including £3.8 million to improve local leisure, education, health and transport facilities.
"This will preserve the architectural heritage of this iconic and historic site for the whole community. Our plans will also create up to 250 jobs, including many apprenticeships and training opportunities for local people.”
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