Regeneration plan will not tackle deprivation says Forest Gate campaign

A campaign group against Forest Gate regeneration plans claim developers Obsidian are failing to address the underlying causes of deprivation in the area.

As the Recorder were going to press, Newham Council were concluding a planning hearing to decide whether to approve or reject the controversial plans submitted by Obsidian.

Save Forest Gate Action Group prepared a statement of rebuttal to development director Richard Cutler’s comments [Recorder, Feb 1] that states: “We believe the underlying causes of deprivation are unemployment, poverty, poor housing, and a lack of education.

“Nothing that Obsidian proposes will tackle these problems.

“Few jobs will be created, except for construction jobs that are unlikely to go to local people, and some will be lost.

“Bringing wealthier people to the area may increase average wages but it doesn’t help those on low wages currently living here.

“Overcrowded housing in the area will not be improved, and the low proportion of family housing and complete lack of affordable housing in the development will not help local people living in poverty, nor will it improve education.”

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But Save Forest Gaters believe crime figures released to support regeneration have been misleading as the area residing in the top 10 per cent for deprivation nationally includes a homeless men’s hostel in Durning Hall.

They also point out that crime in Forest Gate South was nine per cent higher than the rest of the borough, while Obsidian’s figures place their mark closer to 20 per cent.

One aspect the group have opposed is the build of high rise structures, including a 27 storey tower block, which they say will destroy the Victorian heritage of existing buildings on Woodgrange Road, the former Princess Alice public house, and the Royal Mail Sorting Office.

Obsidian hired heritage architect Robert Adams but the campaign group are far from satisfied with this solution, stating: “You cannot justify knocking down irreplaceable historical buildings merely by promising to replace them with mock-Victorian modern buildings, however well-designed these may be.”

Proposed solutions to tackle crime and anti-social behviour, such as regular police and community meetings, concierges and CCTV, also came under attack as the group branded them tools to keep the new “wealthier” residents safe, doubting their ability to reduce existing crime.

The war on chicken and betting shops is also unfounded, say the group, as their numbers are exaggerated and the fried chicken shop “provides Halal food to the local Muslim community” run by “a businessman whose future has been thrown into uncertainty.”

Save Forest Gate Action Group say they do not share Obsidian’s view that Forest Gate is a deprived area whose high street needs to be saved, going so far as to state “It looks to us as if Forest Gate is moving forwards.”

They say there are only two and a half empty shops on the high street which is less than the national average of 14.3 per cent and residents’ decision to shop elsewhere is more down to parking costs on Woodgrange Road than the choice of retail outlets.

A report on the plans by the Greater London Assembly (GLA) said that Mayor Boris Johnson deemed the high rise buildings “unsuitable for this area” and questioned other aspects of the Masterplan to do with community facilities, affordable housing, and heritage assets but the Obsidian team said this was a natural part of any development process and they fully expected to gain approval in the future.

On the contrary, Save Forest Gaters will be “astonished” if the plan gains approval and think the plans are a prime opportunity for Mayor Johnson to intervene.

Concluding with a message to Newham Council, Save Forest Gate Action Group said: “We hope the Council refuse this application and will support our calls for a community-led regeneration of Forest Gate instead.”