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Walthamstow Wetlands sets an exemplary precedent for legacy projects at the Olympic fringe

Thames Water’s project is a shining example of that great rarity: joined-up thinking, writes Hattie Hartman

London is privileged in its many parks and open spaces and in an exemplary knock-on of Olympic Games legacy, the capital is about to gain one more, six miles north of Trafalgar Square. In a bold move, Thames Water is to open the Walthamstow Wetlands, roughly two-thirds the size of Hampstead Heath, for greater public use. This will complete a key link in public access to the green spaces of the upper Lea Valley, connecting them to the Walthamstow Marshes and towards the Olympic Park to the south.

In addition to supplying much of London’s drinking water through its 10 reservoirs, the 200ha Walthamstow Wetlands is a nationally significant Site of Special Scientific Interest, which serves as a refuge for migratory and wintering birds. Currently it is frequented by avid birdwatchers and keen fishermen by permit only.

Planning permission was secured in June by Waltham Forest Council for a scheme led by Kinnear Landscape Architects, which will transform the operational reservoirs into an urban wetland reserve and create new ecosystems on the site. A boardwalk along the River Lea will provide a route through the reserve for pedestrians and cyclists.

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With £4.4 million awarded earlier this month from the Heritage Lottery Fund, funding is in place for Witherford Watson Mann Architects to refurbish two 19th century buildings on the site. A decommissioned Victorian pumping station will be transformed into a visitor centre with exhibition spaces and a café, and a Grade II-listed mill will become a viewing station with the addition of a new observation platform. Thames Water will maintain the site as fully operational for the supply of drinking water, while public access will be managed by the London Wildlife Trust.

This project is a shining example of that great rarity: joined-up thinking. Strong local authority leadership has nurtured the project to its current stage by establishing a steering group to enable collaborative decision-making between the numerous partners, many of whom are also part-funders: Thames Water, the Greater London Authority, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the London Wildlife Trust. It’s also refreshing to see strong integration between landscape architect and architect - both were engaged from the project’s inception. Works are due to commence next year, with completion anticipated in 2017.

More immediately, September sees the launch of two new annual green events - both free. On 4 September, AJ Spec Live, an afternoon event at the Building Centre devoted to green products, will host speakers from Architype, Arup Associates and BBM Sustainable Design, who will exchange views on the latest developments in green specification. Hear about Architype’s University of East Anglia Enterprise Centre, currently on site, and how to specify using the Living Building Challenge and the Well Building Standard.

Meanwhile, Open-City is inaugurating a ‘green exemplar’ strand to its annual Open House event which will be launched with a debate: ‘London: designed for healthy living?’ Check out the Open House London guide in next week’s AJ and book your places.

Finally, mark your diary for the AJ’s second annual FootprintLive conference on 20 November, which focuses on sustainability in the city. More details and bookings at: footprintlive.architectsjournal.co.uk

hattie.hartman@emap.com Twitter: @hattiehartman

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