In the first of two articles outlining the speeches given at the Friends of Wanstead Parklands’ AGM last month, Richard Arnopp recounts the words of the City of London’s Director of Open Spaces Colin Buttery
Colin Buttery explained how his department’s remit involved managing the protection and conservation of the City of London Corporation’s green spaces in London and South East England. Among many others, these include Hampstead Heath and the ancient woodland of Epping Forest.
Mr Buttery said that the City of London had acquired several large open spaces by Acts of Parliament during the 1870s and 1880s. These had been vested in the City’s care on account of its long-standing record as a focus of charitable activities. Epping Forest had been acquired in 1878 and, in common with the other open spaces, had since been funded by the City using the interest from assets invested in the 19th century. In recent years, the budgets of charities supported by the City of London have been under financial pressure, with a need to deliver efficiencies. Funding granted by the City has reduced by about 25% in the last six years, but self-generated income has increased to help maintain the Forest.
Mr Buttery said he had joined City of London about two years previously. However, Wanstead Park was well known in the heritage and landscape world, and he had long been aware that it required substantial investment. What he had not appreciated before becoming director was that the real stumbling block to the restoration of the park was uncertainty over the status of the lakes under new flood management regulations. It was not until 2018 that the Environment Agency finally confirmed the Wanstead lake cascade met its criteria for being classified as ‘high risk’. This meant there was a potential threat to life in the case of an extreme flood event. An independent panel engineer had provided initial advice, but a further engineering report would need to be commissioned before a programme of works was finalised.
The lake issue is now the main driving force for the Wanstead Park project. As the essential works are a statutory requirement, the City will find the money from central budgets rather than from the budget of Epping Forest. However, other works to the lakes can be carried out on the basis that there is no sense strengthening the dams without addressing additional issues, such as leakage, at the same time. Such non-statutory works could then potentially be used as match-funding for a Heritage Lottery Fund bid to bring about wider improvements.
Mr Buttery said a proposal had recently been made to secure £150,000 for a ‘scoping exercise’ to pin down costs for the Wanstead Park project. The timeline was difficult to predict, but he suggested an implementation period of perhaps five to eight years might be realistic. Lessons from the Hampstead Heath ponds project would be used but, whatever the ultimate cost, it would certainly be “a big project” costing many millions of pounds.