Residents in Tower Hamlets, who are campaigning to save their local park from Thames Water’s “super sewer” plans, have celebrated its 89th anniversary in a display of community solidarity.
Thames Water want to use a section of the King Edward Memorial Park in Shadwell to construct a “combined sewer overflow” which would connect to a new “super sewer”. But they are now considering alternative solutions put forward by the residents group that would diminish the size of the works.
Last Saturday, dozens of local families and supporters of the Save King Edward Memorial Park (SaveKEMP) group gathered for the park’s ‘Big Birthday Bash’ to celebrate its anniversary.
Toni Davey of SaveKEMP praised the stand taken by the local community, as well as the event’s success in spreading awareness of Thames Water’s plans. She said: “A lot of people who have come here today still don’t know that this park is under threat and there are people walking around in shock. The community have all pulled together; they were here earlier helping me put up gazebos, and they’re here now with black bags picking up rubbish.”
The residents say the overflow shaft would close the Thames path, replace green space, and require a busy access route for vehicles through a wildflower area. The site will be in use for at least three and a half years, and will leave permanent ventilation structures standing in the area. The alternative plans put forward by the group would relocate the works to the nearby Heckford Road building estate.
Carl Dunsire, the chair of SaveKEMP, has used his expertise as an engineer to scrutinise Thames Water’s proposals. He argues that the usable river front would be blocked by a cofferdam “about the same size as a premiership football field.” Walkers and joggers would be taken through the works via stop-go gates, whilst the park’s size would be greatly diminished. He added: “They’ll prioritise construction. I know they will because that’s what I’ve done my whole life.”
He said the construction works could also “create a perception of the park” that would permanently dissuade local residents from visiting. “This borough is not a wealthy borough; it has high obesity, some lower socio-economic residents, and it’s difficult to get people out to park […] it makes it so much harder for kids who already want to be watching TV out into a local park.”
Rene Hodgins, a local resident and mother, said: “It would be a terrible shame. My mum only lives there; she says her washing is going to stink. No-one is going to want to live next to a sewage work.” She added: “I don’t want my kids breathing in the fumes that are going to come from it.”
Nick Tennant, Communications Manager for the Thames Tunnel project, talking to EastLondonLines earlier this month, argued that the Heckford Street alternative offered by SaveKEMP would cause greater disruption to the local area as a whole. He said: “Using the foreshore was our preferred option and still is our preferred option.” He also said that campaigners have overlooked people residing close to the Heckford estate: “We need to give the Heckford Street community an opportunity to have their say.”
Dunsire said: “Our supporters are predominately through Shadwell and out into Wapping. If he’s saying ‘oh well it’s going to affect other people’ he clearly hasn’t grasped that the park has a huge amount of people that rely on it. The park is used by people far and wide- we get responses from people over at East London Mosque, over at Watney Market, over at the Whitechapel Market. It’s a huge asset.”
“Thames Water in my opinion have approached this very confidently because they feel that the last government and this government have given them a pass to do this […] that may be valid to think that, but if you exclude the community there are consequences.”
The SaveKEMP campaign has attracted wide support. During the birthday celebrations, Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman made a brief appearance. Also present was Andrew Boff of the Greater London Authority, who sits on the Planning and Housing Committee at City Hall. Boff said protecting the park was of high priority due to the relative lack of green space in east London compared with the west: “The residents have, quite rightly, fiercely defended this plot of land. This is one of the last few remaining pieces of green space in this area […] chip away at this and we will never build it back up again.”
He said the Thames Tideway Tunnel (TTT) to which the sewer would connect is important, but should not come at the expense of unique local amenities: “The TTT is an extraordinarily important piece of civil engineering for the public health of the whole of London- we need to find a compromise. The residents themselves have shown their willingness to compromise, to an extent Thames Water are now making noises that they’re willing to.”
Davey said this realisation was key to the community’s successful defence of the foreshore: “I don’t know if this is going to make Thames Water change their mind, but I think it will make us fight even harder to protect what we’ve got.”
She added: “I use this park daily. I’m an old east-ender. I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve had to watch everything that is ours taken away from us; they’ve built Canary Wharf, and the whole of our river is gone to their flats. This is our last little bit of river, this is our last bit of heritage, this is all we’ve got left and they’re not taking it away, no way. We’ve got a very diverse community and we’ve got a very proud community, and we’re going to fight to the end to hang on to this park.”