Campaign to create East London’s first wild swimming pond launches petition to save land from developers

The disused site that volunteers are hoping to purchase, captured using a drone. Photograph: Jonathan Perugia

The team behind plans for East London’s first wild swimming pond has launched a petition to save the site from a government-backed development.

The East London Waterworks Park (ELWP) campaign has been made aware of London boroughs’ intention to submit a planning application.

London Councils, a cross-party organisation that represents the capital’s 32 councils and the City of London, said London boroughs intend to use the land to build a “secure children’s home”.

In response, ELWP submitted a freedom of information request to the government, asking: “If this is the only site in the entire Greater London area that a secure facility for children can be built on, why are the developers failing to provide evidence that this is the case?”

The developers refused to respond, saying the site selection analysis cannot be shared because it is currently “in draft” and “still being developed”.

The land is a disused, ex-Thames Water depot on Lea Bridge Road, and ELWP has plans to turn it into what they call a “brownfield rainforest”.

An illustration of the vision for the site. Image: courtesy ELWP

The ambitious proposals include wild swimming in the Victorian filter beds, conservation volunteering, a forest school, and a community hub. The facilities would be accessible to all for free.

ELWP is a crowdfunded initiative that has, since 2019, galvanised the support of more than 5,000 people in the local community who have collectively raised more than half a million pounds to buy the site.

Five years later, it has a circulated a petition in opposition to the planned development.

The petition currently has two thirds of the signatures of its 6,400 goal.

A spokesperson for London Councils said: “London boroughs are taking forward proposals to deliver a much-needed secure children’s home that will provide specialist care for London’s most vulnerable children. There is currently no facility of this kind in London.

“As part of the site selection process for the proposed development, around 450 sites were identified initially, of which 70 were longlisted for further consideration and assessment.

“In addition to the site selection process, a sequential assessment is being developed – this is a requirement for the planning application for this site.  The final sequential assessment will contain details about the other sites that were reviewed as part of the site selection process and will further confirm the Thames Water Depot on Lea Bridge Road as the only suitable site for this facility.

“We have explained that the final sequential assessment, and details of the other sites that were considered, will be included as part of a future planning application.  The planning application will be subject to a period of formal public consultation during which views on the proposed development can be expressed.

“It is important to note that the proposed site is currently in the ownership of the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities and managed by the Department for Education (DfE).

“With regards to plans for a water park on this site, LocatED, the DfE’s arm’s-length property company that advises the DfE, has previously communicated to East London Waterworks Park that this site is not for sale.

“The Department for Education has also confirmed that, as a public body, it is obliged to consider alternative educational or public sector uses for the site prior to considering a commercial disposal.”

Last year, while in her previous role as parks chief, Hackney Mayor Caroline Woodley said of ELWP’s plans: “We warmly welcome this vision of sustainability, decarbonisation and nature recovery.”

She continued: “Bringing back open water and returning this site to nature would offer Hackney and Waltham Forest residents greater access to green and blue infrastructure.

“We know we need community partnership across London to become green and resilient, and this project sets a truly inspiring precedent.”

The Citizen has approached Mayor Woodley for comment, and asked if she intends to sign the petition, but she is yet to respond.

You can find the petition here.

Update: this article was amended at 5pm on 22 March to include comment from London Councils, and also to clarify London boroughs’ intention to build a “secure children’s home”.