Friends’ AGM begins with fears that progress stalling, but ends on note of cautious optimism

The Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Wanstead Parklands (FWP) was held on Wednesday (29 March 2017) at Wanstead Golf Club. It was well attended, and saw some key developments in the Wanstead Park campaign.

The most important came via an address by the Superintendent of Epping Forest, Paul Thomson, which was followed by an open discussion. The Superintendent had kindly offered to attend the meeting after writing to the Friends’ committee to inform them that the City of London would not be able to meet its objective of making a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in the August 2017 round.

For several years, Wanstead Park’s principal stakeholders have been working on a “Parkland Plan” to guide Wanstead Park’s regeneration and future management. This is a response to the decision in 2009 by English Heritage, now Historic England, to add the Grade II* listed park to its register of parks and gardens “At Risk” on account of its particular deep-seated problems and generally declining condition. The Parkland Plan was designed to form the basis of a potential bid to the HLF for a grant of up to £5m under the “Parks for People” programme.

Mr Thomson began by thanking the Friends for all they do. He had said confidently at a public meeting in January that the deadline could be met, but this was not now possible. He cited uncertainties such as an interim assessment by reservoirs inspectors that the dams of the Wanstead Park lakes required reinforcement. The City was contesting this but, if the assessment was confirmed, very significant expenditure would be required.

Mr Thomson said that the door was still open to a lottery bid, but there needed to be greater clarity on costs first. He then touched on some other current issues.

Mr Thomson said that a new problem was that an outbreak of Phytophthora ramorum had been discovered in Wanstead Park. Known in America as “sudden oak death” the disease was a serious threat to beech trees in particular. The outbreak seemed to have been caught early, but expert advice was being awaited on how to tackle it.

Parking was becoming an issue due to proposed restrictions by Redbridge. A high proportion of visitors to the park came by car, and an increase in visitor numbers post-restoration would be difficult to accommodate. The expansion of parking in the park itself would be difficult without impinging on the historic landscape.

There followed a Q&A session, in which FWP Chairman John Meehan pressed Mr Thomson on the likelihood there was going to be a lottery bid. He replied that officers would be making a recommendation to that effect. They recognise that piecemeal work will never be enough to deal with the park’s biggest problems: only the major capital injection offered by a lottery grant could do that.

Paul Donovan, a longstanding critic of the City of London’s management of Wanstead Park, expressed concern about the deteriorating condition of the lakes, particularly in the light of a reported underspend by the City’s Department of Open Spaces. Mr Thomson said that the underspend was not due to Epping Forest, which had spent all the money allocated to it and was due to overspend in the coming year. He also said that immediate problems with the Heronry Pond were due to be rectified in May by the installation of a pump to replace the one which had broken down.

Mr Thomson said that plans were also being made for a siphon to allow water to pass safely from the Perch Pond into the Ornamental Water without risking spread of the floating pennywort infestation. In the longer term, the installation of pipelines to allow water to be moved between the borehole and any of the lakes was being considered, but this would need to be included in the Parkland Plan and financed, in due course, by the HLF grant.

John Cryer MP summed up and suggested hosting a round-table summit between interested parties to hammer out outstanding problems and agree a timetable. This was supported by John Meehan and Paul Thomson.

Diane Gardner and former chairman Dwight Wood sign in those attending.
Following the election of the new committee, Richard Arnopp and Tricia Moxey gave a presentation of historic images of Wanstead Park, Wanstead Flats and Bush Wood.
Tricia Moxey.

Paul Thomson, Superintendent of Epping Forest.
John Meehan, Chairman of the Friends of Wanstead Parklands.
John Cryer, Member of Parliament for Leyton and Wanstead, and a longtime supporter of the campaign for Wanstead Park.
John Meehan, John Cryer MP and Paul Thomson.