Gazette letters: River Lea and M&S

Volunteers cleaning the River Lea on Mother's Day. Picture: SOPHIE SCOTT

Volunteers cleaning the River Lea on Mother's Day. Picture: SOPHIE SCOTT - Credit: Archant

I have written today to the chief executives of the Environment Agency and the Canal and River Trust having seen little in the way of effective action from either of these agencies to tackle the oil spill on the River Lea, writes Cllr Ian Rathbone, Lea Bridge ward.

I understand not only do they not know who has done this, they still don’t know where it continues to come from.

It has now reached the stretch of river covered by my ward, Lea Bridge, despoiling the river bank and ruining wildlife.

As ward councillors we are calling on them to take urgent action and get this stopped. No more excuses for doing little or nothing.

Lea Bridge ward councillors have campaigned for years with local conservationists like Save Lea Marshes for the river and canal to be cared for, in the face of weak excuses and uncaring indifference from the Environment Agency and the Canal and River Trust, who spend more time blaming one another than doing anything effective to protect our waterways.

The River Lea is still one of the most polluted rivers in the UK. This latest catastrophe of the oil spill demonstrates once again that no organisation is taking any proper responsibility any more for our precious waterways and leaving it to a small bunch of dedicated volunteers to try and tackle the problem on their own.

Urgent and immediate government action is needed to protect this river from this serious outbreak of pollution which is badly hitting wildlife and the riverbank natural environment – and the culprits found and prosecuted and made to pay for the damage they have caused.

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We hope the government will treat this as a wake-up call to setting up a proper waterways authority with the teeth to enforce and prosecute, and adequately funded to look after this precious resource which is for the benefit of the whole community.

I read with interest that M&S Simply Food is facing local objections in applying for an alcohol licence for an as-yet unbuilt Simply Food store in the 57 East development by Dalston Kingsland, writes Nick Perry, chairman, Hackney Society.

This news comes on the very day Hackney Council conceded to an unrelated developer’s request to amalgamate three retail units on Stoke Newington High Street into one, in order, apparently, to accommodate an M&S store. It remains to be seen whether either of these stores actually open, in light of the news last November that M&S would be slowing down the opening of new food stores.

The change-of-heart of a high street retailer in challenging financial times is something well known to those of us who previously kept Sainsbury’s at bay in the very location that M&S now apparently has an interest, at 195-201 Stoke Newington High Street.

The Gazette sympathetically covered the Stokey Local campaign to keep a developer from building five storeys of luxury housing on top of a large Sainsbury’s store – over 10 times the size of the M&S now proposed, and engulfing a much larger plot of land backing on to Wilmer Place and Abney Park Cemetery.

When that proposal first emerged in 2011, it attracted instant ire from local residents and businesses for a number of reasons – the effect on the ecology of Abney Park, the low level of affordable housing, the effect on transport, the displacement of 70 small businesses and homes on site and the effect on local independent shops, to mention just a few. But one recurring criticism levelled at the campaign was the contention that we “wouldn’t be complaining if it were to be a Waitrose or M&S”. Indeed, it is a criticism borne out when I raised the prospect of M&S coming to Stoke Newington on Twitter today – some are keen to welcome a variant of the iconic chain back to N16 after an absence of nearly half a decade. Personally I’m not so sure. But in any event I recognise this M&S store is much smaller and less injurious to the local economy, ecology and environment.

The Stokey Local campaign battled on through the council planning committes and the courts, ending in legal failure in 2015, having reached the Court of Appeal.

But by this point, the financial landscape had changed and Sainsbury’s had lost interest. And with them, went the developer.

The same plot now belongs to three different owners. The former shoe factory on Wilmer Place is now, somewhat perplexingly named the Cotton Exchange and is home to 33 homes varying in price from £300k to £875k.

The shopfronts that were involuntarily vacated in 2014 have now been given the green light for the supposed M&S store. And the PR consultancy that bore the brunt of our ire over the doomed Sainsbury’s development, Four Communication, had surprisingly returned with a new client to begin a public consultation over a proposed mixed-use development on the the former private car park in Wilmer Place.

So forgive me for not assuming M&S’s emergence at either Dalston or Stoke Newington is a done deal. If there’s one think I’ve learned it’s that supermarket chains follow the money and can be persuaded to modify their plans if the numbers don’t work.