Big day for Wanstead Youth Centre

The full Redbridge Council will on Thursday evening be debating a petition against the closure of Wanstead Youth Centre.

The petition was signed by 2,432 people, enough to trigger an automatic debate before the council. The agenda paper can be seen here, but it doesn’t tell you much about what might happen.

The final decision will be made by the Redbridge cabinet – the inner group of senior councillors which make material decisions – possibly next Tuesday.

It remains to be seen if the council will accept the request by campaigners that a 12-month moratorium be placed on the closure to give time for proper consideration of the building’s future to take place.

The proposal from Vision, the charity which runs leisure facilities for Redbridge, was only published in January and the site – which has been used for more than 50 years – faces closure at the end of April.

It also remains to be seen if the councillors will exercise democratic control over Vision’s proposal or if it is prepared to accept the decision at arm’s length.

One of the risks which was highlighted at the public meeting at the centre earlier this month was a rising sense that Vision had become unaccountable even though it runs key public assets including parks and libraries.

The council meeting will be streamed from 7.15pm on this page – a recording should be available afterwards.

High Street ad screens: It’s a no

Image: Redbridge Planning

Redbridge planners have rejected three applications to put hi-tech advertising screens on Wanstead High Street, saying they would not fit with the character of the area.

The three screens – one outside Gail’s, one outside the Lighthouse fish and chip shop, and one near Luppolo – would have had illuminated screens and also a phone (not in a box) and a defibrillator. However, the high street is part of the Wanstead Conservation Zone which restricts the use of internally-lit signs – shops are not supposed to have them.

The rejection of the plans said the screens would be:

at odd with local distinctiveness and character and appearance of the wider conservation area and its siting would detract from the openness of the street scene and the frontage of the street facing commercial units and would add to visual clutter which would further undermine the vibrancy of the district centre, failing to preserve the character and appearance of the conservation area. As such, the proposal would be contrary to Policies LP26, LP28 and LP33 of the Local Plan and HC1 of the London Plan.

The story is not necessarily over though. The rejections also note the the applicants had not consulted with the council before submitting the plans, and advises them that they should seek “pre application advice” before they resubmit.

  • There are several defibrillators currently available in Wanstead. This is not a complete list – please send any additions to and we will plot them on a map for everyone’s reference.
    * Wanstead Leisure Centre
    * Wanstead and Snaresbrook Cricket Club
    * Alan Burgess Centre (Corner House)
    * The Nightingale Pub
    * Tesco
    * M&S
  • (Thanks for defib. info: Toni, Kat)

Wanstead Youth Centre campaigners: ‘Wait a year’

Wanstead Youth Centre should remain open for the next 12 months while alternative sources of funding for its future could be explored, campaigners have said.

At a packed public meeting with council officers at the Elmcroft Avenue centre, the speed of the closure process was strongly criticised.

Campaigner Jon Gritten

Jon Gritten, who spoke for the Save Wanstead Youth Centre campaign, said: “Three months from the start of the consultation to the proposed date of closure is just appalling.”

Redbridge Vision is planning to close the centre on April 30, having announced its plan at the end of January. The final decision will have to be taken by the council cabinet.

The plan is based on a report which says £2.4m of improvements are needed at the site, and that an £86,000 annual subsidy is needed from other Vision activities – such as leisure centres – to cover running its costs.

Mark Baigent, Redbridge’s corporate director of regeneration and culture, said that if the council decided to borrow the necessary funding, it would cost the council £160,000 per year for 40 years to pay the loan off. And even if the investment were to be made, the centre would still need to be closed temporarily while the work was done.

“There isn’t an option where we just keep the building open and not do the work,” he said, though he did confirm that the building was currently safe.

The centre is currently used by a wide range of sporting activities for children and young people, and also has community facilities for disabled people and other groups. Campaigners say 1,200 people use the centre each week.

Many campaigners spoke of the impact closure would have on users’ wellbeing.

Eileen Flinter of the Wanstead Society said children deserved a place where they could be safe. “Our community and our children deserve better than the underpass,” she said, referring to the nearby M11/A406.

One centre user, Ellie, 15, asked: “Is the mental health of the young people who use the centre being taken into account?” She said warnings were constantly being given to her generation about the dangers of county line gangs, exploitation and poor mental health. “This is one of the few places that holds our society together,” she said.

Mark Baigent said notes of the meeting would be included in the report which would be considered by the council cabinet. But Jon Gritten said there had been no proper consultation by the council, and that the meeting had only taken place because campaigners had organised it. Redbridge and Vision had not even conducted a cost benefit analysis of the proposal. “It’s false economies,” he said.

He said the council should call a 12-month moratorium on the plan while the true cost could be assessed, and while users of the centre could be engaged in finding ways to improve its financial standing.

Keith Prince, Greater London Assembly member for Havering and Redbridge, said if there was any question about how valued the centre was by the community, the number of people attending the meeting showed the answer. He called on the council to engage with the campaigners and said the cost of a child “going off the rails” was going to be a lot more than £100,000.

To accusations that the council stood to make money by selling the centre for development, Mr Baigent said no valuation of the site had been conducted. He also said that the council was prepared to consider looking for grant funding to renovate the centre, but that in the council’s experience there would not be sufficient funding available. He also said that in his experience the consultation period was “ample”.

The decline in funding for the council meant it “had to make some very difficult decisions,” he said.

Spot the difference

One of Wanstead’s most prominent trees is no longer – it had to be chopped down because of storm damage which made it unsafe.

The enormous cedar at the Shrubbery on Grosvenor Road was at least 15m high and was a familiar landmark across a lot of central Wanstead. Planning officers gave permission for it to be removed because of the risk of branches falling. They did however specify that a replacement tree be planted in its place.

There was a crack in the main stem of the tree, caused by a storm, which meant the weight of the crown could not be supported by the trunk, the council decided. 

The Shrubbery is a Grade II listed site. The National Heritage List for England has this verdict on it:

SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: The Shrubbery is an attractive group of three apartment blocks of circa 1935 by Cockett, Henderson & Gillow Ltd for the North-East London Property Company Ltd. The exteriors and interior spaces draw on Art Deco style and Moderne streamlining in their design and are thoughtfully conceived. Although some flats have been subject to alteration, the plan-form is largely intact and there are surviving examples of high quality interiors with notable detailing. The Shrubbery is of special interest as an impressive and thoughtful example of an inter-war apartment block development in a modern style.
The Shrubbery in 1940 following bomb damage. The tree is on the left. Photo courtesy local historian Dr Colin Runeckles

There is one remaining Cedar on Grosvenor Road, below, which makes one wonder about how old these trees are/were – they can live for hundreds of years. It also raises the somewhat intriguing thought that perhaps Charles Dickens (who owned a property slightly further down the road) might even have seen these young trees.