Campaign behind wild swimming plans accuses government of ‘misleading’ public

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

The East London Waterworks Park (ELWP) campaign has accused the government of giving out “misleading” information about the sale of an ex-Thames Valley depot on Lea Bridge Road.

ELWP is raising money in an effort to purchase the disused site, which is owned by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and managed by the Department for Education (DfE).

Campaigners want to turn the land into a “brownfield rainforest” and create East London’s first wild swimming pond.

But a row has erupted after ELWP learned of London boroughs’ plan to redevelop the site for use as a secure children’s home.

In response to a petition by ELWP urging people to fight the development, London Councils, acting on behalf of London boroughs, gave a statement to the Citizen in March.

Part of it read: “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.”

However, ELWP said that it “does not recognise the description of the site sale” and believes it to be a “misleading characterisation of our discussions with the DfE and LocatED”.

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

Campaigners shared a letter with the Citizen from the DfE, dated March 2021, which states: “It has not been possible to find an educational use [for the site]. We will advertise the site to other government departments or public sector bodies.

“If no education or public sector need is established, the department retains the option to sell the site for a commercial return.”

The letter was sent from Elizabeth Berridge, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System, to Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy.

ELWP said that during conversations with LocatED a year later, “we were talked through the disposals process, were told that other organisations were interested in the site, and it was made clear to us that we needed to raise money to be taken at all seriously”.

“Certainly, the narrative has changed in the last few months, but it is not correct to suggest we have always been told the site is not for sale,” it continued.

In response to the accusation, a representative from the DfE said: “An educational need was identified after consulting with other government departments and public sector bodies and are now proposing to build a secure children’s home on the site.

“LocatED has previously communicated to the community group that this site is not for sale, and they will be updated accordingly should this position change.”

A spokesperson for London boroughs said the secure children’s home that is to be built on the site is “much needed” and that “LocatED and DfE have followed the HM Treasury guidance for disposing of public land in any communications with individuals and groups that have made enquiries about the future of the site”.