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Politicians join forces to demand halt to Sheppard Robson’s Olympic Park bridges

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A cross-party group of London Assembly Members has demanded a rethink of two bridges proposed by Sheppard Robson for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London 

In a letter, seen by the AJ, Labour members Nicky Gavron and Navin Shah, the Green Party’s Caroline Russell and Conservative Andrew Boff also call for an ‘immediate halt to demolition’ of Vittoria Wharf, a 19th century warehouse, as part of the plans.

The bridges are intended to connect the planned Sweetwater neighbourhood in Hackney Wick to Fish Island to the west. 

The so-called H16 bridge, linking Sweetwater to Stour Road, will require the Vittoria Wharf – a Victorian warehouse which provides affordable workspace for artists and other creatives in the area. In 2013, the warehouse was listed as an Asset of Community Value.

The second bridge, known as H14, links Sweetwater to Monier Road, and involves removing the current Monier Road footbridge and replacing it with an ‘all-modes’ bridge.

Both bridges were granted reserved matters planning approval by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) in April, which is also funding the crossings, having been granted outline planning permission in 2012. 

In the cross-party letter, which was sent on 20 July to the recently appointed chair of the LLDC Peter Hendy, the Assembly members state: ‘The demolition of Vittoria Wharf, an Asset of Community Value and a cultural asset, is contrary to the mayor’s aim of protecting low-cost workspace.’

The members refer to a London Assembly meeting on 17 July, during which Assembly Members accepted the appointment of Hendy as chair of the LLDC and discussed the two bridges, particularly alongside London mayor Sadiq Khan’s ‘ambition to reduce traffic and promote a Healthy Streets agenda’.

‘A number of concerns were also raised about the particular importance of public engagement and the need for the community to be at the heart of the process, with a role for the chair in ensuring the success of this,’ the letter continues.

Planning work to allow the construction of the new bridges has started, and the LLDC told the AJ that both should be completed in 2018 or 2019. 

The politicians echo the views of a previous letter sent from Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs to the deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills Jules Pipe on 17 July, also obtained by the AJ.

I still believe that the LLDC can review this decision and pause construction

In this letter, Biggs writes that he is ‘fundamentally concerned at the apparent lack of consideration the the LLDC has given to genuine local representations against the wisdom of this bridge and the need for additional crossings’. He adds: ‘I still believe that the LLDC can review this decision [on H14 and H16] and pause construction while my position is considered.’ 

The four members write that, following Bigg’s letter, there is ‘every reason for a review of the bridges in this light together with the need to meet air pollution legal limits in the shortest time possible and the need to re-engage with the community’s local representatives.’

They also demand that the ’supporting documentation and rationale’ for the requirement of the bridges is made public, and ‘if it is a contractual arrangement, this should be made clear’. 

The Sweetwater neighbourhood will create 650 homes, a primary school, two nurseries, a healthcare centre, and shopping and community space funded by Places for People and Balfour Beatty. The LLDC told the AJ it has an agreement with the two developers to install and pay for the bridges, which are part of the planning conditions.

Other practices working on the neighbourhood, which is being masterplanned by Sheppard Robson and Studio Egret West, include Astudio, Alison Brookes Architects, Piercy & Company, shedkm, and Fabrik. It is set to complete in 2023. 

Vittoria Wharf has been the focus of local group Save Hackney Wick, which is campaigning to save the building. It believes that, if the bridges were planned today, a different site would be proposed. 

The bridge and major road system would jeopardise the possibility of improving and creating liveable neighbourhoods

’The [H16] footbridge is not essential and its main flaw is that it requires demolition of the Asset of Community Value,’ the group said. ’The [H14] bridge and major road system across the park and Fish Island would jeopardise the possibility of improving and creating liveable neighbourhoods here.’

An LLDC spokesperson told the AJ that the ‘priniciple of constructing the bridges’ dates back to 2004, as part of the original Olympic Games planning permission, and was ’confirmed in other planning permissions granted in 2006, 2007 and 2010’. 

In another letter seen by the AJ, dated 14 July, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow Rushanara Ali wrote to LLDC chief executive David Goldstone demanding that both bridges should ‘have proper review and be tested in detail with value for money clearly established before the project proceeds and demolition takes place’.

She added: ‘The strategic value of Vittoria Wharf as [a] provider of low-cost workspace, cultural infrastructure and support for hundreds of careers and businesses should be fully recognised and supported.’ Ali also wrote that her constituents were concerned that ‘decisions are being based on plans drawn up as early as 2003’. 

Responding to the letter, an LLDC spokesperson said: ‘There is no further opportunity within the planning process to halt work on the bridges, which will bring significant benefits to existing and future residents and businesses.’

The spokesperson, who said the proposals for the bridges had been ‘re-visited and re-tested several times’, added: ’The bridges are a key part of ensuring that local area infrastructure can cope with future demand as the number of homes and businesses in the area increases.’

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