Changing the scenery

By Martin Esom | 27 July 2016

The latest official house price index shows that Waltham Forest is in the third highest area for growth in the UK, behind only the City of London and Slough in Berkshire.

It’s no surprise to me or anyone who is already familiar with the borough that more and more people are choosing to set up home here, with our thriving arts and cultural scene, excellent transport links and more green space than any other London borough north of the Thames.

Waltham Forest has changed immeasurably in recent years, largely due to the huge amount of work we have put in to bring regeneration and growth to the borough.

The council has invested millions of pounds to improve our parks, leisure centres and high streets and in the last few years resident satisfaction has reached its highest ever levels. We also delivered 1,200 new homes in the borough last year, with 65% of these being affordable.

Gentrification is a word we inevitably hear whenever growth in London is talked about, but our vision is to create thriving local communities where existing residents and those new to the borough can enjoy quality lives together.

There is a huge demand for more housing in the borough and we have set the ambitious target of delivering 12,000 new homes in Waltham Forest by 2020.

In order to achieve this we are creating partnerships with quality investors and developers who can work with us to realise the potential of the borough.

We are determined to provide the additional housing the borough desperately needs but it is equally important we are providing the supporting infrastructure that our communities require.

With every new development we also want to ensure that we are working to the highest possible design standards, so we have quality new buildings that complement the local environment.

The council is keen to ensure our regeneration plans benefit everyone and through discussions with our residents we know that schools, GP surgeries, transport links, jobs and leisure facilities all need to be high on the agenda.

We are making sure these priorities feature prominently across all of our key regeneration schemes, so we are creating communities that families feel part of and want to remain in for a long time.

A perfect example of this is the award-winning Scene at Cleveland Place (pictured) development in Walthamstow, which saw the council work in partnership with housing developer Hill to provide 120 new homes including 73 affordable rent and shared-ownership apartments.

The development also included a new cinema, which we had not had in the borough for over a decade and was something our residents had been crying out for.

There are also five new restaurants which have really helped to stimulate the local evening economy and are starting to make Walthamstow a night-time destination for local people who would historically spend their time and money outside the borough in the evening.

Just down the road, the historic EMD Cinema foyer is back open to the public for the first time since 2003, as a pop-up bar. Our long-term aspiration for this site is to turn it into one of the best entertainment venues outside central London.

The Scene has acted as a catalyst for regeneration in Walthamstow Town Centre and a number of schemes are due to start soon which will provide a range of housing, as well as extra school places, a new medical centre, more retail space and new creative workspaces.

In September we will also be opening a new state-of-the-art leisure centre in Walthamstow, which will be one of the biggest and best in the capital with facilities to put in the shade those offered by the largest health club chains.

Nearby Blackhorse Lane has been designated as a ‘housing zone’ by the Greater London Authority, which will accelerate the delivery of 2,500 new homes for the area.

To support growth here we also plan to create 1,000 new jobs, 1,500 new permanent school places and deliver a new medical centre.

Already well known locally for being the home of new ideas and creativity, Blackhorse Lane will also benefit from a £1.1m injection of funding to develop a new ‘creative industries zone’, which will ensure the area maintains its unique cultural identity.

In May this year Lea Bridge Station in Leyton reopened to commuters after 31 years, thanks to a campaign led by the council and a cash injection of nearly £12m.

Providing direct links to Stratford and Tottenham Hale with journey times as short as five minutes, the station is expected to serve over 350,000 passengers a year by 2031.

This will kick-start our ambitious regeneration plans for the Leyton area, which include providing 2,500 new homes by 2025, investment in new sporting facilities and more sustainable transport options.

We are well aware that the EU referendum vote may have an effect on our regeneration plans, with the housing market slowing and property and housing developers seeing initial falls in the value of their shares.

While the long-term impact remains highly uncertain we are keeping in close contact with all of our development partners and I remain confident we can deliver on our goals for regeneration.

These are incredibly exciting times for Waltham Forest and people are starting to take notice of our potential as the fastest growing borough in London.

Our job is to continue supporting this growth while shaping a borough for everybody to live, work in and enjoy.

Martin Esom is chief executive of Waltham Forest Council

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