Wanstead Park Summit offers potential breakthrough on lottery funding

The long-awaited Wanstead Park Summit was held at the House of Commons on 22 November 2017. It brought together a high-profile gathering of stakeholders in the project for the park’s regeneration, and the Friends of Wanstead Parklands have hailed it as a “potential breakthrough” in resolving obstacles to a lottery-funded scheme of improvements.

Historic England representatives explained that Wanstead Park was nationally - and even internationally -significant as a designed landscape. The park’s Grade II* listing placed it in the top 30% of all parks and gardens. It was placed on Historic England’s “Heritage at Risk” register in 2009 due to its declining condition.

In March of this year, John Cryer MP spoke at the Friends of Wanstead Parklands’ Annual General Meeting and proposed the Summit in response to the news that the City of London’s intended bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund was to be delayed once more due to uncertainties over costs.

The original intention was that the bid would focus on the state of the lakes, but recent positive developments mean that the water issue is less immediately urgent. This has provided an opportunity to review priorities, and the recalibrated bid to cover the first phase of work would focus more on visitor experience. Improvements would aim to harmonise with the park’s natural aspect and safeguard – and even enhance - biodiversity. The project partners work closely with local conservation groups to ensure any plans do not adversely affect the park’s wildlife.

The City of London Corporation reiterated at the Summit that it was still aiming to submit a bid in August 2018. They also announced that the Parkland Plan - which would form the basis of the bid - is due to be completed by the end of December.

A significant obstacle to taking the project forward has been the provisional designation of the lakes as “high risk” by the Environment Agency under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. If that was confirmed, the cost of remedial work to strengthen the dams could easily be £5-10 million. The City needed to be clear about the extent of its liabilities, before giving the green light to the Wanstead Park project. Environment Agency representatives at the meeting agreed to a meeting before the end of the year with the City of London Corporation to try to resolve this.

Councillors Sheila Bain and Paul Merry spoke of the importance of Wanstead Park for Redbridge and the residents of neighbouring boroughs and voiced supported the proposals for improving Wanstead Park, including the provision of natural play facilities. The City of London Corporation agreed to meet with Redbridge to identify potential sites and consider progressing this outside of the HLF bid process.

Friends Chairman John Meehan said –

“We were encouraged to hear that the City of London is still aiming to submit a bid by August 2018 and complete the Parkland Plan by the end of the year. In the meantime, it’s important that the City of London continue improvements to the park, like measures to address the water levels, and consider smaller projects, like children’s play. We are urging the Environment Agency to resolve as soon as possible the outstanding question of the status of the lakes as this has significant implications for work the City of London can undertake in the park.”