The Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Wanstead Parklands was held on 25 February, at Wanstead Cricket Club. Following the main business of the evening, Wanstead Park Project Manager Peter Wilkinson gave a presentation about the draft "Parkland Plan" and answered questions.
Mr Wilkinson said it was good to see the display panels behind him. He had addressed the Friends' AGM a year previously, and at that time he had been far from sure the Wanstead Park project would get as far as this. In his brief talk he would introduce the draft “Parkland Plan”, set out the context, and explain what would happen next.
Mr Wilkinson said that the previous year he had focused on the evolution of the partnership between the various stakeholders. These comprised the City of London, Wanstead Sports Grounds Ltd., the Parish of Wanstead, the Friends, the boroughs of Redbridge and Waltham Forest, English Heritage, Thames Water and the Environment Agency. The work of the partnership was carried out by two committees: the Steering Group, which dealt with strategic issues; and the Liaison Group which dealt with day-to-day management. The latter also included representatives of the Aldersbrook Families Association and the Wren Group.
Mr Wilkinson said that a meeting had been held with Michael Murray of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), at which was discussed what should be included in a grant application if one materialised. Mr Murray had said the HLF would welcome an application for Wanstead Park, and was keen to see plans developed. However, these needed to be based on a “vision” for the park. The Steering Group's response was to develop a “Parkland Plan”, which could take anything between 5 and 25 years to implement based on the funding options adopted.
To bring the “Parkland Plan” to fruition, the Steering Group had appointed Landscape Design Associates (LDA), paid for by the City of London. LDA had started work before Christmas, and had a tight three month schedule to complete the project.
Mr Wilkinson introduced the display. He said that LDA's plan celebrated the uniqueness of the landscape and waterscape, and recognised the park's potential not only as a place of tranquillity, but one which could accommodate a variety of activities and fun. The plan would be presented in a form that would fit the requirements of the HLF, and would also address the concerns of English Heritage (shortly to become Historic England) with a view to getting the park off the “At Risk” register, on which it had been placed in 2009.
In the meantime, the draft plan had been put out for public feedback to get local people more involved. The deadline was short, as LDA needed to finalise its proposal by the end of March. After LDA had taken stock of the public reaction and made any adjustments to the plan, a set of discussions would take place within the partnership and with the City of London.
Mr Wilkinson said there were two options -
- If a lottery bid was made, the main priorities of the Parkland Plan could be achieved over 5-6 years.
- If the City opted for a self-funded regeneration of Wanstead Park, the plan would still guide the progress of the work, but the time-scale would necessarily be much longer.
Although the Parkland Plan was informed by a potential lottery bid, there was no assumption that one would be made.
He concluded by urging members and supporters of the Friends to give feedback.
Mr Wilkinson's presentation was followed by a question and answer session [The answers are given by him unless noted otherwise]
Q. What are regarded as the major priorities for the park?
A. The most urgent single problem was the state of the water cascade, and the Heronry Pond in particular. However, there were a variety of other short-term priorities which were much lower cost, such as scrub clearance. Other priorities were introducing a new maintenance regime for The Plain, making the western side more suitable for amenity and recreation. Also, the area around The Temple would be turned into a hub for the park, with an improved range of facilities.
Q. Would the plans focus on different user groups? At present there was a lack of facilities for children and families, and major issues with dog management.
Mr Wilkinson agreed. He said that the introduction of natural play facilities was being considered, though a conventional playground was not considered suitable for a heritage landscape. Better paths would help people with young children, as well as people with mobility problems. Another possibility was improved cafe facilities.
Greer Nicholson mentioned the Friends' interpretation project in terms of education and enhancement of visitor experience.
Mr Wilkinson said that dog management needed to be dealt with by a combination of education and enforcement.
Q. I have recently returned to Aldersbrook after a break of some years. There have been some changes, some for the better: the park seems more used and the work around the Grotto and Chalet Wood represents a real improvement. However, other things remain disappointing, such as accessibility, provision of benches and litter.
Agreed, seating is essential to make the park more welcome for disabled and older visitors.
Q. There needed to be a policy for dealing with the litter problem.
Q. Any solution to the problems of the Serpentine Lakes needs to involve an increase in the inflow as well as addressing leaks.
Noted, but the view of the hydrologists was that increasing inputs substantially would be problematic and could not, in itself, solve the problem.
Q. [Cllr Paul Merry] I am a Redbridge Councillor, and would be happy to help with an application to set the Friends up as a registered charity. The Friends have my full support and I congratulate them on their professionalism.
Q. Why would the City of London NOT go for HLF funding?
Greer Nicholson said that issues surrounding funding were complex, but sustaining the improvements to the park once improved were challenging in terms of long term funding.
Q. More needed to be done to cater for young families. New natural play facilities had recently been set up at the Hollow Pond.
Agreed, we do need to look at this.
Q. Might an outdoor gym be worth considering? Using wellness to promote the park?
Agree that we need to consider facilities to encourage active use of the park.
Q. [Cllr Sheila Bain] I am a Redbridge Councillor, and very supportive of the provision of play space.
Thank you. Noted.
Q. Would the proposals result in a net loss or gain in wildlife habitat?
Richard Arnopp said that if the Heronry Pond was to be completely relined, as seemed likely, there would be an opportunity to make it much more hospitable to aquatic flora and fauna, and to birds. The opportunity could be taken to vary the depth of the restored pond, reinstating some of the lost islands and creating reed-beds in some areas. This could be a really important gain in ecological terms.
Mr Wilkinson said that although some trees and scrub was likely to be lost, most of it was not particularly special ecologically. Along the restored view-corridors, there would be creation of new woodland-edge habitat, which would be a gain in terms of diversity. He said that the reintroduction of docile cattle (for example long-horn) on the eastern side of The Plain might also be a long-term possibility.
Q. The Park Plan display would not be available for very long, and some people might struggle to see it and respond within the required time-scale, especially if they did not have access to computers. It was also very complex!
Agreed, but we have done what we can, and tried at least to make sure that the display was available in a number of locations.
Q. What happens next?
After finalisation of the Park Plan by LDA, in the light of public feedback, funding for the plan would be considered by the Steering Group and then the City of London will consider the options including a lottery bid.
Q. Is there any “designed approach” to cutting down litter?
A really interesting question! I am not aware of any research around that specific issue but we will look into this.
Q. The park's entrances are currently far from obvious.
Agreed. Some work is already under way to improve the entrances, and the local authorities near the park have agreed in principle to create signage.
Q. None of the buses which pass the park mention its existence.
Good point, we will look into this.
Public displays on the draft Parklands Plan are available to view until 8 March.
However, the deadline for viewing and responding to the proposals online has been extended until 10 March.