Friday, 30 May 2008

Fight The Height needs you! Demo at noon on Sunday 1st June

The demo against the Arcade tower block - and tower blocks in Walthamstow generally - will be at noon this Sunday, 1st June in Walthamstow town square.
Please save the date, please come along and please tell all your local friends and family. Everyone involved in tower block decisions - from local councillors on the planning committee to Mayor Boris who has the power to veto tower block plans - cares about public opinion. So put simply, the more of us that turn up the more notice they will take!
The demo promises to be short and fun for all the family. Hope to see you there...

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About us - why Fight The Height?

Fight The Height was originally founded by Cleveland Park Residents' Association but now has members from all over Walthamstow. What brings us together is our opposition to the tower block planned for the "Arcade" site (on the corner of High Street and Hoe Street) and to the many other tower blocks planned for Walthamstow, such as the ones currently being fought by Blackhorse Action Group.
The general problem with tower blocks in Walthamstow is that they're out of place in an area that's typically low-rise, two- and three-storey Victorian houses. Plus no-one wants to live in them - according to a recent survey by the Architecture Commission, less than one per cent of people would live by choice in a tower block. What's more, the main argument in favour of tower blocks is that we need high density housing, but there are better alternatives - as explained in this interview with the experts from The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment.
There are a couple of other reasons why the Arcade tower block in particular - which developer St Modwen and LBWF council plan to be around 18 storeys - would be disastrous for central Walthamstow. For starters, it will contain a massive Primark, which would put many small shops and traders on Walthamstow Market out of business. And it is also due to include a VUE multiplex cinema... and while Walthamstow certainly needs a cinema, the right place for it is undoubtedly the highly listed EMD/Granada two doors away. A multiplex in the Arcade development would be the final nail in the coffin for plans to get the beautiful EMD reopened.
What do we propose instead? Put simply, we think the council - which owns the land - needs to go back to the drawing board. And this time it needs to: a) genuinely involve the community in the design process; b) come up with a low-rise design that includes facilities that the community wants and needs; and c) balance the need to recoup money from the site with the need for a quality development that residents want - right now the council is simply planning to sell to the highest bidder!
[Many thanks to the Walthamstow Guardian for the use of the photo. It was taken by David Edwards and is copyright Newsquest]

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St Modwen flags are coming down

Haha! As suspected, the arrogant St Modwen flags on the Arcade site are indeed illegal because they don't have advertisement consent.
Responding to our complaint, a council officer said: "The matter has been raised with St Modwen who have undertaken to remove the flags at this time. They have however indicated that they will be making an application for advertisement consent to put them back, and we will consult on this in the usual way." He adds that the flags should be down by early next week.
Hmm, small victories. But this isn't just about the illegal flags themselves... although they are pretty obnoxious. It's about the fact that St Modwen have pitched up in Walthamstow and think they can act like they own the place. They've put up hoardings that boast they will be on site in Spring 2009 but they haven't even applied for planning permission yet, let alone got it. They make it sound like it's a done deal. Trust us, it isn't!

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Thursday, 22 May 2008

Could St Modwen's plans be delayed?

Arcade site preferred developer St Modwen has delayed plans for revamping Hatfield town centre, blaming "the unstable state of the finance, retail and property markets", according to this Herts 24 news story.
Could this happen to their tower block plans for Walthamstow? We very much hope so... but a delay isn't enough. We're hoping that the impending housing crash will make the council and St Modwen do a complete u-turn on their plans.
What Walthamstow really needs is for the council to go back to the drawing board - this time with genuine involvement of local residents and market traders - and to come up with a scheme that will actually be good for Walthamstow. Time and again councillors and officers have come up with plans that won't work, and that never materialise anyway. Locals seem to have a much better idea of what Walthamstow needs - so why don't they just ask?!

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Wednesday, 21 May 2008

St Modwen's Arcade site flags illegal!

It turns out that St Modwen isn't allowed to fly those horrid big flags on the Arcade site! We've consulted a planning expert who tells us that flags are regulated under advertisement consent, not planning permission, but that a developer is only allowed to fly such flags on site once they have full planning permission for the development itself. St Modwen hasn't even applied for planning permission yet.
We're not in the least bit surprised. Flying corporate flags illegally fits perfectly with a developer that arrogantly boasts that it will be working on site in Spring 2009 (almost as if the council has promised that it will get planning permission...). Ordinarily a council would serve an enforcement notice on a developer for putting up flags illegally, but because they're working together we're guessing the council is unlikely to do so unless we remind them.
So... we have complained to the council and asked them to get St Modwen to take those flags down at once! If you're furious about them too, please send a quick email saying so as well - to LBWF's assistant director for development Shifa Mustafa and CC it to the cabinet members for environment Cllr Bob Belam and regeneration Cllr Terry Wheeler.
Many thanks to the resident who tipped us off about this. Please everyone keep all those ideas and relevant newspaper clips coming!

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Antiscrap: Calling all artists

Fab campaign group Antiscrap is organising an exhibition for the E17 Art Trail called "State of the Borough 2008" (a response to the council's invitation only non-debate of the same name) and are asking artists to give vent to their feelings about the state of Waltham Forest... celebrate life here, get involved with the debate, produce mock film posters, postcards, prints, paintings or what you will.
For example, they've suggested local campaigns could translate their messages into art works: a film poster for "Withering Heights" from Fight the Height, a "wish you were here postcard" from the St James St library, a "where are they now" set of photos for all the closed and missing cinemas, etc.
Entries have to be ready for hanging on Friday the 5th of September, they must be in wooden frames with mirror plates. The exhibition will be in the indoor market in Wood St, where the "Inspired by William Morris Exhibition" was held last year. If you would like submit work or request further information drop an e-mail to
So... if you feel inspired to contribute, whether for Fight The Height or with something else, drop them a line! We'd certainly love to see artists respond to the monstrous tower blocks planned for Walthamstow and the lack of council foresight that will see a multiplex and a giant Primark where locals want to see a reopened EMD and shops that compliment Walthamstow market and trigger real regeneration not corporate .

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Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Arcade hoardings take the mickey!

Look really closely at the artists' impression on the Arcade hoardings you can see a Bang & Olufsen shop (a very high-end hi-fi emporium - click on the picture above to see it bigger). Which stands in stark contrast to the planned Primark that we, and market traders, fear will put many stalls and smaller shops out of business - see the story below.
The devil is in the detail... The hoardings do say "This image is indicative and does not resember the final scheme" but we think the contrast between Bang & Olufsen and Primark shows how much St Modwen is taking the mickey out of Walthamstow.
The Arcade scheme was supposed to kick off regeneration. But we don't think a massive cheap clothes shop, a boarded up high street and decimated market sounds like regeneration. This planned tower block offers Walthamstow nothing that we want or need, but it threatens to damage what we already have.
If you agree, please join us at noon on Sunday 1st June in Walthamstow town square for a short demo against the tower block plans that promises to be fun for all the family.
Oh and many thanks to the resident who pointed this out - and the many of you who are constantly emailing in with relevant news, it's much appreciated!

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Could Boris block the tower block?

It's well worth reading two stories from yesterday's Evening Standard: The towers that Boris could stop being built and Comment: credit crunch will dictate skyline. These explain that Boris is embracing the powers to veto planning permission that Ken gave himself, but intends to use them to overturn planned tower blocks all over London.
The interesting thing is that many of the 14 developments the Standard picks out as likely to be axed are barely taller than the ones we're facing in Walthamstow, on the Arcade site and at Blackhorse Lane. Could we be numbers 15 and 16?!
We're contacting Boris, and his new planning adviser Sir Simon Milton. And we'll let you know how we get on...

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Monday, 19 May 2008

Developer buys Walthamstow Stadium

No prizes for guessing the site of the next piece of overdevelopment for Walthamstow... news reached us this weekend that the world famous Walthamstow Stadium dog track has been sold to a development consortium. See the Walthamstow Guardian story. The sale has been rumoured for years but the owners have long denied it. The track's tote board was listed by English Heritage last year... but now it looks like the stadium will be demolished and the tote board will no be surrounded by yet another high-rise housing development that no-one wants.

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Friday, 16 May 2008

SAVE THE DATE! Sunday 1st June

Our first demo against the tower block plans will be daytime on Sunday 1st June in central Walthamstow.
More details to follow soon but please try to be available for a short, fun protest against the plans that should get us lots of publicity.
New to Fight The Height? Please click here to find out more about how and when you can object to the planned tower blocks that would overshadow low-rise Walthamstow, the planned Primark that would be a disaster for market traders, and the planned multiplex that would be the final nail in the coffin for the EMD/Granada cinema.

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Meeting re: the giant telly

Next Tuesday (20th May) 7:30-9pm at Waltham Forest Theatre in Lloyd Park there will be a meeting about the giant telly - sorry, "live site" - proposed for the town square.
Sadly the meeting is only open to members of Apex Arts (the artists formerly known as Waltham Forest Arts Council). But... you can join on the night for a tenner, so if you're feeling a bit arty and you want to find out more about the plans and question the people behind them (about stuff like why does it have to be right next to the children's playground or why must it be on for 16 hours a day even when there isn't anything worth watching) then why not turn up and sign up!

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Blackhorse Action Group social

It's not all doom and gloom, even when you're fighting several tower blocks - including one 23 storey monster! Tomorrow (Saturday 17th May) the fabulous Blackhorse Action Group are having a big social at Douglas Eyre Sports Pavilion, Coppermill Lane. Expect fun for all the family from 3pm, then a bat walk and grown-up entertainment from 7pm. See the Blackhorse Action Group website for more info - and see you there!

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Sunday, 11 May 2008

"What can I do?!"

New to Fight The Height? Thanks for visiting! Here's how to get involved in the campaign against tower block plans in Walthamstow...
1. Join us! Please send a quick email to saying that you support us - we'll add you to our email list and keep you updated on actions, for example letting you know when to object to planning applications and when we are holding demonstrations.
2. Tell everyone! Please send a quick email to all your local friends and family and tell them about our campaign, giving them the website address. It's simple maths... if tens of thousands of people see this website, thousands will join the campaign and hundreds will send in objections at the right time. Being bombarded by hundreds of letters will make a HUGE difference to the councillors who make the decisions - and could be enough to save Walthamstow from tower block plans.

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Friday, 9 May 2008

Could Boris's new man help us?!!!

According to this Evening Standard story (from 6th May) Boris Johnson has appointed Westminster Council leader Simon Milton to advise him on housing and planning... and Westminster is known for its opposition to tower blocks. Mr Milton will be hearing from us!

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High rise: heaven or hell?

In this recent article from Star magazine, Bill Hodgson looks at the history of what went wrong with tower blocks. It's fascinating stuff... According to a recent survey by the Architecture Commission, less than one per cent of people would live by choice in a tower block. Which is why tower blocks are being torn down while others are being built! (like the one pictured, in Glasgow, being demolished last year).
Over to Bill for a history lesson...
The recent row between council leader Clyde Loakes and his deputy Keith Rayner over the role of tower blocks in public housing has re-opened a long running debate on the merits of high rise living. While Councillor Loakes believes new blocks could solve the borough’s potential housing shortage, his deputy argues such a move would repeat the costly mistakes of the past. The dispute erupted following the publication of research suggesting 12,000 homes must be built in Waltham Forest to accommodate a projected population increase of 20,000 people.
Click on "Read More" below to read the full article.

On the up
In May 1949 London’s first council housing tower block was opened in Holborn. A staggering 2,700 more would follow around the capital in the years ahead. The early blocks were inspired by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier who sought to solve the problem of overcrowded cities by building elegant ‘streets in the sky’ for socially diverse communities. “We must decongest our cities by increasing their density,” he said. “We must improve circulation and increase the amount of open spaces”. He envisaged residential towers with lavish communal roof gardens set amidst vibrant green spaces with transport freeways to ferry inhabitants to their workplaces.
His ideas were seized upon by councils across Britain, desperate to replace slum dwellings and re-house citizens made homeless during the Second World War. Le Corbusier’s vision seemed irresistible at a time when economical construction methods using prefabricated panels and concrete promised a brave new world for the urban dweller.
The early blocks offered spacious and well-appointed living space but it was not long before financial constraints forced compromises in both materials and dimensions. Le Corbusier’s emphasis on green spaces and public facilities was also sidelined in the rush to accommodate as many people as quickly and cheaply as possible.
The crowning glory of London high rise living emerged in the 1960s when the heavily bombed Cripplegate area provided the setting for the new Barbican Estate. An enormous concrete jungle softened by artificial lakes and networks of terraces and trees, the Barbican offered affordable accommodation for City workers with social housing available on the neighbouring Golden Lane Estate. “The intention is to create a residential precinct in which people can live both conveniently and with pleasure,” said chief architect Peter Chamberlin. “Despite its density the layout is spacious. The buildings and the space between them are composed to create a sense of order without monotony”. The project was perhaps closest to Le Corbusier’s intentions and the aspirations of the post-war planners. Ironically, as the Barbican prepared to welcome its first tenants, the reputation of British tower blocks was about to be dealt a fatal blow.
The fall from grace of tower blocks began on 16 May 1968 in Newham when the newly opened 23-storey Ronan Point partially collapsed following a gas explosion, killing residents and causing chaos in the local area. Although blocks would continue to be built for housing throughout the 1970s, the disaster destroyed public confidence in their structural safety while reports of poor insulation, inadequate security and insect infestations further tarnished their appeal. Many blocks had also been hastily constructed at inconvenient out-of-town locations with little provision for transport, welfare or shopping which isolated them from the wider community. Problems with faulty elevators made them especially unpopular with the elderly, young families and disabled tenants. Meanwhile, poorly maintained and badly lit communal areas provided a breeding ground for petty crime which left many residents living in a climate of fear. The blocks were now firmly recast as ‘slums in the sky’, blighting the landscape and perpetuating the social problems they were designed to eradicate.
Widespread demolition of tower blocks began in the 1980s with mass removal programmes carried out around the country throughout the 1990s, echoing the post-war slum clearances which had preceded them.
When Labour swept to power in 1997, architect Richard Rogers was appointed to formulate a new model for urban living and social housing. Planning laws were introduced to encourage sustainable low rise developments of three to six storeys. Lord Rogers developed blueprints for human scale urban villages with a ‘ten minute walk rule’ to ensure residents would have easy access to shops and services.
Yet a select few tower blocks remained surprisingly resilient and would eventually inspire a cautious reassessment.
In the 1980s, Notting Hill’s Trellick Tower was London’s most notorious housing block. Stories concerning vicious rapes in dimly lit stairwells, children being attacked outside their homes by heroin addicts and squatters setting fire to flats made lurid newspaper headlines. The block’s fortunes were unexpectedly revived when ownership transferred to a tenant’s management organisation that introduced a range of improvements including a concierge, intercoms and CCTV. Crime dramatically fell and the block was boldly reinvented as an icon of urban cool. Now a mixture of private and social housing, it gained the ultimate seal of approval when English Heritage listed it. Tellingly, Trellick stands amidst some of the country’s most attractive Victorian housing and is a stone’s throw from the fashionable bustle of Portobello Market. Less than 10 minutes from the West End by tube, it makes a strong case for the viability of tower blocks situated in an already popular location.
Similarly, the Barbican Estate has confounded the sceptics and is now regarded as a stylish London address. “It is of special architectural interest for its scale, cohesion and ambition,” said former arts minister Tessa Blackstone. “It is much loved by residents and has earned itself a place in the hearts of Londoners”. Location has again played a major role in the Barbican’s appeal with one of the world’s greatest arts institutions on its doorstep and the City of London a gentle stroll away. Nowadays one bedroom apartments sell for £350,000, well beyond the reach of the average City worker for whom it was designed.
Nevertheless, one local housing expert warns these examples are not indicative of the bigger picture. “Despite a few notable exceptions, the overwhelming evidence is clear,” she said. “Exceeding five storeys does not work in the context of social housing. It is a proven recipe for disaster and shouldn’t even be considered”. She points to a recent survey by the Architecture Commission which found less than one per cent of people would live by choice in a tower block.
With much brownfield land earmarked for development in the neighbouring boroughs of Newham and Tower Hamlets and the government planning a massive expansion of London to the east via the multi-billion pound Thames Gateway project, perhaps councillors should really be debating whether Waltham Forest needs substantial extra housing at all.
Article reproduced courtesy of Star Magazine/The Lightside.

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