Walthamstow Dog Stadium closed in 2008 and was subsequently bought by London and Quadrant Group (L&Q) for £18m. The site is now worth an estimated £7m. L&Q plan to build 294 new homes on the site, however campaigners have long argued the plan is not viable and represents poor value for taxpayers.
Save our Stow (SOS), a campaign group set-up to oppose the development, has the backing of Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, and the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Woodford Green. They also had the backing of London Mayor, Boris Johnson, who said in 2010:
London has a rich tradition of dog racing and it is lamentable that some of its iconic stadia have suffered decline and closure in recent years. I urge Londoners to support this increasingly endangered pursuit and the owners of the remaining stadiums to preserve these in active use or dog racing for the benefit of Londoners. I urge the owners of Walthamstow Stadium to take full consideration of the needs and wishes of local people with regard to the future of this sporting venue.
So what’s changed since then? If anything, the case against the development has stengthened. In 2011, a viability assessment was commissioned, however Waltham Forest Council was not prepared to publish the report. Campaigners requested a copy through the Freedom of Information Act, and it was just at the beginning of October this year that the Information Commissioner ordered the council to let campaigners have a copy.
The report shows the development is likely to make a £14.5m loss, and based on current values it is not possible to generate a project surplus able to support a Section 106 contribution. Under the Section 106 agreement, London & Quadrant Housing Trust was obliged to pay £3.8m including contributions to local education, leisure, healthcare and environment services.
You would have thought this would be enough to kill-off the development, however two days ago, Boris Johnson approved it saying the following:
I share the sadness of many about the demise of dog racing from this historic corner of London. I believe this proposal will provide a major boost for Walthamstow, creating new jobs and new homes, many of which will be affordable and attract desperately needed new investment into the area. No viable plan has been put forward to bring racing back.
As the development is likely to make a £14.5m loss and L&Q’s Section 106 undertakings are unlikely to be met, it is difficult to see how the Mayor thinks it will attract new investment into the area. As to his comment about there being no viable plan to bring racing back, this is disputed by local campaigners, including Stella Creasy and Iain Duncan Smith.
If this is allowed to proceed, local people will be left with a development they don’t want; will not see a pound going towards other projects; and will no doubt have to suffer from increased traffic and pressure on public services. The alternative of bringing dog racing back to Walthamstow will generate local jobs, which will be of huge benefit to the local economy.
On her website, Stella Creasy has urged Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to intervene. Both she and Iain Duncan Smith have worked valiantly for their constituents and appreciate this could be the final throw of the dice. Residents only have a further 19 days to persuade Mr Pickles to intervene, and on her website, Stella Creasy has included a suggested e-mail they can send him.
This proposed development is unpopular and bad for taxpayers. It’s now up to local people to give it one final push to convince Eric Pickles that they are right, and Boris Johnson is wrong.