Heritage: Fairlop Waters Country Park - our bit of countryside in Redbridge
- Credit: Archant
Fairlop Waters today stands as a monument to what can be achieved when concerned residents and elected councillors are prepared to stand up to be counted when the openness of the Green Belt is under threat from developers.
Fairlop Plain was part of Hainault Forest until 1851 when the land was farmed for agricultural purposes. In both World Wars parts of the Plain formed Fairlop Airfield and in the late 1940s and 1950s, the disused airfield saw motorcyclists and powered model aircraft enthusiasts enjoying the derelict land.
This Crown land was then owned by the London County Council and later by Ilford and Redbridge Councils – the latter two benefitting financially from the highly profitable sand and gravel extraction which took place from the 1950s onwards and continues today.
The golf courses were constructed over the first area to be excavated (which had been in-filled with household refuse) and later the sailing lake was developed, together with the meeting hall and bar.
In the 1980s Redbridge Council granted a developer a 125 year lease (and having been handed a copy of this by a man-in-a-raincoat-on-a-dark-night, I can confirm that any lawyer worth his salt could have driven a coach and horses through it!).
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In the late 1990s the developer holding the lease applied to Redbridge Council for planning permission to build the London City All-weather Racecourse – and this started a ten-year battle by residents and some councillors to prevent what they perceived as the desecration of the openness of the Green Belt of Fairlop Plain.
Two residents’ groups – Barkingside 21 and the Aldborough Hatch Defence Association (AHDA) – were at the forefront of the campaign to keep Fairlop Waters a green open space. Speakers opposed to the racecourse (which was little more than a dirt track with a huge stand and restaurant facilities and not akin in any way to Ascot or Newmarket) at the Public Inquiry in the summer of 2001 included MPs, Councillors and representatives of the two residents’ groups.
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The arguments for and against are chronicled in the local press of the time. Suffice to say that public meetings and large numbers attending Council meetings and the Public Inquiry made clear that there was a considerable body of local opinion against the racecourse – and a small minority in favour (some of the latter being folk who thought that their businesses might benefit financially).
The Planning Inspector allowed the developer’s appeal against the decision by Redbridge Council to reject the planning application, but in the summer of 2002, encouraged by the then MP for Ilford North, Linda Perham, the Deputy Prime Minister overturned the decision. Threats of Judicial Review and a High Court challenge followed, then a revised planning application was submitted – but in 2005 the developer went into administration.
Uncertainty on the future of Fairlop Waters was finally resolved in the autumn of 2006 when Redbridge Council bought back the lease from the Administrator for a sum said to be in the region £1,500,000.
Announcing the decision, the Leader of the Council said that the site would be “back in the Council’s direct control” for the racecourse “was never popular with local people, was opposed by the Council and never seemed in the interests of Redbridge. We have stopped the plan in its tracks and we will improve the site and its facilities for the local community.”
In the years since, Redbridge Council Officers and Councillors, supported by local residents and residents’ groups, have worked to fulfil that dream, with financial support from the National Lottery, the Mayor of London and other trusts.
New footpaths have been created, tree planting has taken place, new boulder and natural play areas have been installed. It is a haven of nature and enjoyed by all.