Friday, 16 December 2011

Olympic bid to occupy Leyton Marsh

updated 1 Jan 2012
updated 11 Jan 2012
updated 15 JAn 2012

It is still worth sending objections (11 Jan). 

The Olympics Development Authority (ODA) have applied to Waltham Forest council for permission to erect on Leyton Marsh a basketball training centre comprising:
  • Two 11 metre high modular court buildings
  • A tented reception facility
  • An access road
  • A drop off area
  • Car Park
  • Plant storage containers
  • Perimeter fencing
The location will be be to the north of the Ice Centre. Construction is planned to start on 1 March and the ODA say they will be off the site by 15 October.

Residents in Hackney have several concerns about this application. They can be summarised as:
  • Increased traffic congestion on and around Lea Bridge Road
  • Light pollution into buildings and surrounding land on the Hackney side of the River Lea
  • Noise pollution from tannoys  into buildings and surrounding land from the courts themselves and associated amenities
  • Loss of amenity for Hackney and Waltham Forest residents in terms of loss of open green space
  • Detrimental effect on wildlife both through the immediate loss of habitat on the site, and through loss of part of the buffer zone  between the Ice Centre and the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on Leyton Marsh
For more detail see the very detailed objection from the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee.

If you wish to object or comment to this proposal you should write to:
Terunesh McCoy

Development and Management Group
London Borough of Waltham Forest
Sycamore House
Forest Road
London E17 4JF

Please quote application number 2011/1560.

The planning notice is dated 12 December and objections and comments originally had to be received within 21 days of that date, i.e. 2nd January 2012.

But the officer's report is not yet written and it is still worth sending objections (at 11 Jan). When the situation changes we'll update this item again.

If you want any more information please contact committee member

Please post any objection or comment preferably as a comment here for other people to see, and/or to Barry.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Next Group Meeting 7 December

Next Group meeting 
Wednesday 7 December 
7 pm
Nye Bevan Community Hall
Redesigning the Casimir Road entrance area 
including old paddling pool, kiosk/toilets and north edge path
The National Grid road
NG says it will remove the lay-by and new railings early next year. Do we want to push for removal of the old railings too? And what about the railings around the enclosed green, which has become an informal dog walking area?
Better elections

Mike & Wendy's motion (in comment below)

    The committee met on 30 November to finalise and timetable the agenda and the four items here are likely to use up all the meeting. If there are other things you'd like discussed please do still add them as comments, for discussion here and at future meetings.
    The full agenda document is here.

    (First posted 27 Nov)

    Friday, 2 December 2011

    Improving committee elections

    Most community groups have to headhunt and arm-twist to get a committee together. But at last February's AGM, MUG surprised itself by having contested committee elections - 14 candidates for 12 seats. There was not time in the meeting for hustings, so votes were presumably cast on the strength of what voters happened to know about candidates.

    Obviously it would be better to have a way for candidates to make statements and for members to assess them. At the same time, we don't want to set up a process which discourages people from coming forward for the committee: too complicated or rigid a process, and in a less active year the group might find itself with a weak committee or none at all. And it's hard to see how the AGM could fit in speeches from more than a dozen candidates.

    So, simply, we suggest that candidates can make a written statement in advance, if they like.

    The committee has drafted some rules to cover the details of how this could work, and we hope the group can discuss and adopt them, with any amendments, at the 7 December meeting, for use at the 2012 AGM next February.

    Please do make comments here -- the more we can sort out online, the less meeting time we'll have to give it. 

    Before the Meeting

    1.       Invitation to stand sent out at least 4 weeks before meeting (email, park noticeboards)
    2.       Candidates invited to send in statement by 1 week before meeting, which will be posted on website.
    3.       There is no word limit for statements for posting online but candidates must submit a version not longer than 200 words for printed circulation at the meeting. Longer texts will be truncated when printed.
    4.       Candidates should be nominated by one other park user; nomination can be at meeting (i.e. candidate may send in statement without having a nominator)
    5.       People can stand and be nominated at the meeting but cannot make a statement at the meeting

    At the Meeting

    6.       Committee will prepare a reasonable number of voting papers, with space for those standing at the meeting to be added
    7.       Committee will prepare a reasonable number of copies of a document containing the 200-word candidates' statements.
    8.       Candidates can identify themselves but not make an oral statement.
    9.       If there are more than 12 candidates, an election is held by secret paper ballot
    10.   If candidates stand at the meeting the chair will read out their names for voters to write on the ballot paper
    11.   If there are too few voting papers prepared, blank lined paper will be distributed and the chair will read out all candidates' names (as many times as necessary)
    12.   Everyone at the meeting has 12 votes (or the number of committee seats up for election if other than 12)
    13.   The meeting will elect 2 tellers to count votes. They may be users, council officers or local councillors attending as observers. They will not be candidates, unless no other person can be found.
    14.   Tellers will announce the names of people elected but not the number of votes received
    15.   Tellers promise not to reveal any other information about votes cast
    16.   After the election, ballot papers will be placed in a sealed envelope and kept for 6 months by one of the tellers or by another person acceptable to the meeting


    If committee place(s) become vacant between AGMs:
    17.   An election will be held, using the same procedure, at the first possible group meeting (i.e. if the vacancy occurs less than 4 weeks from a meeting, the election occurs at the meeting after that).
    18.   If there is only one seat up for election, and more than 2 candidates, single transferabvle vote will be used.

    Footnote: Single Transferable Vote
    STV: Voter numbers candidates in order of preference. Teller redistributes 2nd (etc) votes from candidate(s) with least votes, until one candidate has a 51% majority.

    Northern approaches: can we rehab the Casimir/pool/playground area?

    We hope this will be an important discussion at the group meeting on 7 December. We could make progress towards turning an ugly and wasted corner of the park into something worth having.

    For a more readable/printable copy of the document, click here.

    Wednesday, 30 November 2011

    Let 1,800 flowers bloom

    Molly has been asking every morning if we can go and see the it has proved to be a good way of teaching her a bit more about the seasons and patience!

    1,800 bluebells, snowdrops, daffodils and wood anemones .. that's how many we planted on 12 November. Thirty-plus people, of all ages from 4 to 70-odd, joined in at various points between 11 and lunchtime. Plus several dogs.

    The last arrivals found us all done & dusted, never got their hands on a trowel and had to be content with arguing about how to spell amonemonme anemone, and admiring the Great Green Gazebo as we worked out how to dismantle it - fortunately nobody took any photos of that process.

    And as Alice said - what about the north side? Quite right. We plan to sow wildflower seeds there next Spring. Maybe we could add some snowdrops in the green, and some plug-planted foxgloves. Where would you like to see those go in? Around the fruit trees we planted with Beecholme TRA in February? (Which have done very well thanks to Beecholme allotmenteers' regular watering through the Spring.)

    Planters: Alice & Laurie, Emma B, David, Harry & Vita & Orson, Michael, Terry (& Rags), Christine W & grandchild, Ruth & Ilsa & Lana, Pippa & Lola, Sara & Molly, Vicky & family, Ellen, Diane & Freya, Andrea & Mia, Claire, Christine K, Justin, Nicoletta, Jane, and, umm.. have I missed you out? - let  me know & I'll add you. 

    Thanks to Hackney Marshes Users Group Community Tree Nursery for lending tools; biodiversity officer Kate for getting us off the ground & getting plants, park manager Paul for other organisational support & as always Salvatore for enthusiastic commitment to aftercare.

    Sunday, 23 October 2011

    Funfairs: MUG comments and council reaction

    Here are the comments we sent to the council, based on what you said to us. I hope you feel we got it right - please let us know.  A printable pdf document is here.
    The council has now invited MUG to a meeting and we are asking exactly what this will cover. Please keep your comments coming. You don't have to be original - if many people say the same thing, that's useful.
    Millfields Users Group comments on the two applications for funfairs on Millfields in March-April 2012
    George Irvin 9-18 March
    Joseph Manning 20-29 April


    We have concerns about events quotas, timing, duration, previous breaches of terms and damage to the park, location and site layout, and affordability for local families.

    Response period

    It is not easy to get a representative opinion from a park user group in just 1 week. The committee meets monthly and the group quarterly. Fortunately email (300+ addresses) and the web help us here, and the web page asking for opinions has been viewed 58 times since Monday. Some park users' comments can be seen following this item:
    Other comments have been received by email.

    How many funfairs should Millfields host a year?

    LBH's draft events policy proposed a maximum of one, and MUG did not disagree.  The council must have had reasons for setting this maximum, and I think it follows precedent. In 2011 we suddenly had two: Manning's ran in (I think) June and Irvin's in July, both for 2 weekends. Irvin's had in fact applied for a single weekend in September, and my records don’t include any consultation of MUG on the change of date and duration (my records include all MUG committee discussion emails to February 2011, at which point I became secretary and have all council emails to MUG). I can't find a record of an application from Manning's for 2011. I have recently asked the events team to send me any paperwork that's missing in both these cases.

    For the time being (and possibly wrongly), I have to assume that an application for one fair for one weekend in 2011 somehow translated into two fairs for 4 weekends (and weekdays). Obviously such a step change in intensity of use shouldn't pass by default but should be clearly decided upon, since it disagrees with the council's draft policy. The balance of comments is, I think, against having more than one fair a year. We should aim for more community-originated free events such as the Family Fun Day
    Almost everyone who has commented has objected to holding 2 funfairs so close together. They would occupy the park for four weeks out of eight. MUG must therefore object.
    A 2-weekend run, with erection and striking, results in a fair occupying the park for a fortnight. Millfields is theoretically a large park, if you add up the acreage, but its dissected layout means that the land occupation of such a large event is more intrusive than simple arithmetic would suggest.

    Irvin's seems to be proposing to open on the intervening weekdays (it would be good to confirm this) but Manning's explicitly says it is not. We suggest users will be unhappy with a fair simply parking, closed, on the park in a large and prominent position for a week.

    On the other hand, if Irvin's opens on the weekdays, who will be its customers? It aims at families, but the dates it requests fall in school term. (The School holiday is 30 March - 16 April.) Would it in practice simply be using Millfields for parking for a few days as well?

    LBH, by the way, gets significantly less revenue from the fairs on days they are not open - £500-600 less depending on the size (see Events Consultation).
    Breaches of Terms, and Damage not made good
    The fairs are presumably subject to 'Terms And ConditionsFor Hire Of Parks And Open Spaces', LBH 2011.

    I have posted online photographs and comments on breaches and damage by Irvin's in 2011:
    I didn't scrutinise Manning's so closely (because it didn’t occur to me that the council would permit such blatant breaches) and can't comment on their behaviour. Presumably the events team have the site plan which each fair submitted and it would be interesting to see those for both fairs for this application and for 2011.

    Irvin's put a pool on grass, a very heavy weight with presumably an impermeable base. The site was bare of grass afterwards, remains a scar, and recovery has been so sparse that re-seeding must surely be required (see photo on web).
    Terms: "No plastic or rubber carpet underlay shall be placed on the grass at any time. Coconut matting or similar materials shall not be laid on the grass for more than 3 days. No wooden flooring shall be laid on the grass for more than 10 days." (T&C 6.4)

    Irvin's parked an HGV 1 metre from a young tree (see photos on web). The permitted distance for HGVs is 7 metres, for vans 5 and for cars 4 metres. At other young trees, vehicles were parked right against the crowns and may have also been in breach.  (T&C 6.6)

    'Any damage caused to the grass or trees as a direct result of the Event will be
    charged to the Hirer. The cost of the repair shall be determined by the Council’s
    Parks Department and shall be non-negotiable.' (T&C 6.4.12)
    Damage to tree roots may not be evident for some years but perhaps the parks department could invoice on the basis of likelihood of the trees, for example, suffering a setback in growth or being more susceptible to disease. Will the council pursue Irvin's for this and for the cost of re-seeding the grass?

    Clearly the council must take in hand the communication and enforcement of terms and conditions affecting trees and other plants before MUG can agree to either of these applications.
    Location in the park and submission of site plan
    The fairs sites stretched into the north Millfields arboretum with the unhappy results just described. The arboretum is (obviously) dotted with semi-mature trees and MUG questions whether it is a suitable site for the heavy vehicles and rides of a funfair. We certainly wish to see a site plan before agreeing to any more funfair applications.

    (For those unfamiliar with the site, the arboretum lies towards the east of north Millfields and runs in a north-south belt parallel to the waterside plane trees. It is an important feature in the Millfields Biodiversity plan and has been, and will continue to be, the focus of much volunteer care and development by local people.)
    A user commented on Manning's:
    "We spent £14 to get 3 (short) rides per child - felt ripped off - They advertise a certain rate per ride outside but once you're in they seem to have a lot of rides with more expensive prices that 'aren't included'!"
    We suggest that a family-oriented event shouldn't be getting this kind of feedback. Will the council investigate pricing and affordability for local families?

    Again, this comment militates in favour of free community-based family events such as the Fun Day.
    Visitor origins, Traffic, Parking and Sustainable Transport
    Beecholme Estate TRA tells us that families there enjoy the fairs. Residents in the Leagrave/Hillstowe Street area draw attention to increased traffic and parking. Is anything known about the proportion of local to non-local visitors? What traffic and parking load is expected as a result of non-local visitors?

    We would like to suggest provision of secure supervised cycle parking inside the fair to encourage families to cycle there. Several local primary schools have cycle training programmes and everything possible should be done to get parents cycling with their skilled-up children. Advice on this can be had from Streetscene's sustainable transport officer. It might be interesting to lay on a Dr Bike so that bikes can be fixed while families enjoy the fair.
    Security and public order
    A member of the Community Action Panel tells us that the CAP and the police are happy with the fairs' approach to order, and this testifies that both fairs take this question seriously and are successful. MUG was approached by one or two residents of Casimir Road about street disturbances nearby the fairs, perhaps as a result of groups of youths being refused entry. We don't have very clear information about this, and don’t know whether it was reported to the police. But we suggest that it would be worth the Safer Neighbourhoods team paying some attention to this question during the fairs.

    Monday, 17 October 2011

    How do you feel about funfairs?

    [Sequel is here]

    The two funfairs that visited this summer would like to come back in March and April 2012. How do we feel about that? Did you go? Did you enjoy them? Did you notice any problems? Are they too close together in time? Should they go somewhere else in the park? Please let us know.

    Some thoughts:
    • Both fairs are aimed at families with kids. They enclose the fairs and charge £1 for entry. They don't allow alcohol or groups of unaccompanied youths, and they use tokens for rides. The Leabridge ward Community Action Panel (CAP) is apparently happy with them, as is the Beecholme Estate TRA.
    • Some Casimir Road residents raised concerns with MUG about street behaviour nearby.
    • Irvin's in July broke the rules about protecting trees and grass (see photos below). In view of the rules about keeping vehicles away from trees, perhaps the arboretum is not a suitable area for them.
    • Both fairs want to visit for 2 weekends. One of them is going to be closed on the weekdays in between, just occupying part of the park. Counting their set-up and take-down days the two fairs will be on Millfields for 4 of 8 weeks in March and April. Is that too much?

    Irvin's put a pool here in July. Grass still hasn't recovered in October.       

    Council rules say: No plastic or rubber carpet underlay shall be placed on the grass at any time. Coconut matting or similar materials shall not be laid on the grass for more than 3 days. No wooden flooring shall be laid on the grass for more than 10 days.

    Irvin's parked this articulated cab right next to a young tree for a fortnight. Tree roots extend underground to 12 times the trunk diameter, so the roots were being crushed by the weight, and asphyxiated as air was forced out of the soil. Vehicles were parked as close as they could get to other trees in the arboretum. But most of the young trees have crowns at head height, so the vehicles couldn't get as close as with this narrow Lombardy poplar.  They may have been breaking the rules at other trees too - but we didn't get photos.

    The wheel marks at the same spot three days after the end of the fair show that the HGV was just a metre away from the tree trunk (the length of my jacket on the ground).

    Council rules say:   Vehicles shall be parked on boards / tarmac at all times.   The Hirer shall ensure that no vehicles park next to the base of trees, even on tarmac areas. The following requirements for the distance of vehicles from the base of trees shall be:  
    Cars – 4 metres
    Vans, caravans – 5 metres
    HGVs, coaches, plant vehicles and generators – 7 metres 

    Wednesday, 12 October 2011

    Park equipment stolen for 3rd time

    For the third time, the Millfields gardeners' lockup was broken into last week in broad daylight, and all the tools stolen. Thieves drove a van in at 11 in the morning, cut the padlock, loaded up and left. It seems the theft isn't covered by insurance.  So once again, the gardeners are left without the equipment they need to get on with their work. 
    There seem to be two underlying problems with the park storage -
    • The depot is shared between the park and Hackney Homes. As a result, the depot can be open with no park staff present, and HH staff don't challenge strangers monkeying with the park lockups and equipment.
    • There doesn't seem to have been any upgrading of locks. A simple box around the padlock would defeat bolt cutters, a pretty standard feature on industrial containers like these.
    Maybe if MUG had taken it up with a councillor there would have been action -- but why should that have to be how things work?

    Wednesday, 5 October 2011

    Nature spotting with the kids

    From Alice Westlake ... 

    Over the summer I've been taking my two young kids out around North Millfields to see what flora and fauna we can spot. The idea, as I understand it, is just to build up knowledge about what lives on Millfields. Well, so far the answer seems to be: nothing very unusual! We have seen lots of dandelions and daisies (or daisy-lions and dandies, as Hector calls them), ladybirds, bees, woodlice and something that may have been a soldier beetle - and taken and drawn plenty of pictures of them! It's good fun to do with small children, and I am sure if we persevere, and with a little help from other like minded folk, we will start to build up a more complete picture which includes some of the less regular visitors to our park.

    At the end of the summer term, at my instigation, a small group from Laurie's class also went on a biodiversity walk around N Millfields and took some pictures which they posted on iSpot, of earwigs, damsons (?) and fungi.

    One place we focused our attention on was the wildflower belt alongside the river. When we first started looking there, this had been newly planted and looked quite pretty although it seemed to consist exclusively of poppies, nettles, comfrey and hoary mustard, most of which can be found all over the marshes. There were many different types of bees frequenting it, bumbles and solitary, although I noticed that there were no butterflies - why not?

    When we went back a few weeks later, the flowers had all finished and the whole scene was quite different; it just looked like an un-loved and weedy verge, was very full of litter and I hardly saw a single bee. In one place where the fence had been broken down people had clearly been trampling across it in large numbers as the plants had been completely flattened over a wide section. 

    Anyhow, we will do another trip soon to look out for interesting fungi and spiders, now that autumn is here...
    If you're like minded folk and would like to join Alice, Hector & Laurie looking for mushrooms and spiders, please email .
    Laurie is at Southwold School. 

    Thursday, 29 September 2011

    September Open Meeting decisions

    The group's Open Meeting on 17 September decided to:
    • Go ahead with the orchard path on the lines decided in April. You should see signs of this starting soon. All the work will be done by hand
    You can see the minutes here (with the agenda and treasurer's report).

    Next meeting: Wednesday 7 December, evening. Venue to be announced.

    But don't wait for the meeting - have your say here.

    Sunday, 11 September 2011

    MUG in print: September Update / publicity flyer

    Thanks to our Grassroots Grants funding for the fun day and summer stalls, we've been able to afford some printed publicity.

    The 'update' newsletter summarises work described in more detail here on the blog.

    There is also a general purpose publicity/recruitment flyer.

    Every copy that reaches new people makes a difference. You can get reasonable quality downloadable versions of these by clicking the images. If you can print a copy for a shop window, waiting room, noticeboard, cafe, etc, or get them into school mailings or similar ... well, it all helps.

    If you would like some of the printed copies, get in touch.

    Unfortunately we can't afford a professional designer, so we have to be content with a layout that is, let's say, clean but clunky. If any of our 300 supporters has the skills and can spare some time, it would be quite a step forward for us.

    (I also have a feeling our pdf files are bigger than they need be, so if anyone can suggest a solution which'll work on a 10-year old laptop running Windows 2000...)

    Thursday, 8 September 2011

    It needn't be grim up north

    The north edge of Millfields is one of the least-loved-looking bits of the park. For several months the committee has been working on ideas about this, and we tried to consult about some of them at our stall in the park in June -- a plan which was a bit sabotaged by the incredibly unseasonable cold, wet weather that day. Still, we distributed some information about ideas, and had some useful comments from users. We also publicised and discussed ideas at the fun day on 21 August. At the group meeting on 17 September we hope the group will be able to make some decisions.
    Ø      The Casimir Road entrance looks unloved & unwelcoming.
    Ø      Grass doesn't grow or look good in the shade of the big plane trees by the playground.
    Ø      Tarmac near the trees is damaged by the strong roots
    Ø      The abandoned paddling pool is an eyesore
    Ø      The kiosk and toilets are enclosed in the playground, not accessible to other park users
    Ø      The path along the north edge is in bad condition and bordered by an ugly metal fence
    Ø      The north-east (towpath) entrance is a mess

    Ø      Casimir Road by the gate is now motor-free. Remove the vehicle gate, and echo the footway paving in the park entrance, pulling the pedestrianised street into the park.
    Ø      Replace scraggy grass and lumpy tarmac with a clay/gravel surface, French park style, where people can stroll, sit, or play.
    Ø      Break the pool surface into hardcore: lay a new surface suitable for a social area - a plaza (see State of Play, 23 July)
    Ø      Add benches, chess table, tennis table, etc, under the trees and in the new 'plaza'.
    Ø      Realign the playground fence so that the kiosk is at least partly outside it (see State of Play, 23 July).
    Ø      Reposition the north side path inside the tree line
    Ø      Plant along the north fence to hide it

    Ø      Latham's yard section 106 funds: £45,000 for north side. Not enough to fix the path, says LBH, but enough to improve the entrance.
    Ø      'Walk England' funds: LBH obtained £10K for the north-east end which had to be spent by the end of summer 2011. We were expecting to be consulted about its use but they've now (8 Sept) gone ahead without that: "The resurfacing works will match the treatment which has been undertaken along the river in North Millfields, tarmac with a gravel scree.  We will also be looking at replacing the bin in that location with a more suitable version."

    There is no funding allocated to the other ideas yet. There is about £200,000 in the kitty from National Grid's 'rent', with another £100K to come by 2014 (see our Funds page). Would this be a good way to spend it? Please come to the meeting, and/or comment here.

    Family Fun Day Photo File

    Good weather ... lots of people (over 400) ... plenty for kids to do ... 30 people signed up to the group.... good grub ... Nothing more to say, really, except thanks to everyone who came, contributed, set up, stewarded, staffed the MUG stall, or ran a free activity -- notably our local musicians The Muckers, and Gilbert with his kid-friendly tightrope. Plus thanks to the funders. This was Millfields on 21 August ...

    Thanks to the funders

    £2,000 from Grassroots Grants
    £200 from Vision Homes

    Cycling and walking: sharing not segregation

    You probably haven't noticed that small sign
    on that tall post, pointing down the wrong path
    MUG has negotiated a redesign of the Black Path aimed at making it more comfortable for walking and cycling. 

    The Black Path is the diagonal path across south Millfields. It forms part of the London Cycling Network, and some years ago was widened and marked to segregate cycling and walking. 

    Since then it has been realised that segregation may not produce the most comfortable shared use. The solid white line markings tend to suggest that the path is an extension of the street and some people behave accordingly. Better results can be obtained by removing the line, restoring the look of a park path, and making it clear that users are expected to share, with walkers having priority.

    Temporary signs will
    introduce the change

    A study of this method in Kensington Gardens shows that desegregation does indeed reduce conflict. For some people this seems contrary to common sense, but, as so often, common sense is not what guides human behaviour.

    The group decided back in 2008/9 to go for desegregated shared use. At that point the master plan consultations came along and put everything on ice for a couple of years. But with that out of the way, we reminded Streetscene earlier this year of this outstanding demand. Streetscene agreed that some of the borough's TfL sustainable transport allocation could be used.

    There has been a fair amount of negotiation about the exact method. Currently we expect the white markings to be burned off, leaving the fading green surface which people can be expected to overlook. But there is apparently a slight possibility of affording a complete resurfacing and we are waiting for an update about that.
    Permanent markings
    will be something
    like this

    Temporary signs will introduce the change, and be removed later to reduce visual clutter. While they are up they will be more noticeable than the current signs, which are small and perched eight feet up on poles. The only permanent marking will be a stencil on the ground at each end of the path.

    We have had good advice and support from the Hackney group of  London Cycling Campaign. In late September we'll hold a joint stall with LCC to publicise the change to cycle commuters. That'll be at commuter time - a Cyclists' Breakfast - and any sturdy souls willing to join the committee and LCC in the park with leaflets, coffee and juice at 8 o'clock will be very welcome! 

    Leaflets, coffee etc will be funded by our Grassroots Grants award for summer stalls.

    A welcome by-product will be the elimination of a hazardous depression in the path surface towards the south-west end, which becomes a large puddle after rain and an ice sheet in cold weather. At least one person has been injured on the ice -- I know because I picked her up and took her indoors to recover. Streetscene assure us that the camber can be restored during the works. 

    A nuisance in the wet, a hazard when iced up

    Tuesday, 6 September 2011

    Negotiating the orchard walk

    By New Year we hope there will be a new all-weather walk by the orchard. Together with the new pedestrian span of Cow Bridge, this will give a pleasant circular stroll across the Lea and back via the filter beds.

    The path follows the
    desire line near the bench

    MUG committee member, and designer, Harry Hewat researched a low-impact method which allows the path to run unobtrusively among the big waterside trees. The surface will be gravel chosen to look as natural as possible.

    The committee has been working with council officers on this project since April (background here), when the group decided (minutes here) it would like a path, so long as the route, width and surface are right for the orchard area.

    Worn ground shows where people like to walk behind the thicket
    The walk will link to
    the footbridge
    The original council proposal took a line through the middle of this space, since it had to steer clear of trees because the proposed building method would have damaged the roots. MUG's proposed alternative involves a plastic grid laid on a shallow base and filled with a gravel mix. So far, it has satisfied the requirements of both LBH Parks tree officers, for tree root protection, and of LBH Streetscene engineers for a practicable method for council contractors.

    Funding is from Transport for London's annual sustainable transport allocation to Hackney, so it's not using any of the park's own project funds. We explained LBH's reasons for wanting to get on with the project in our April posting, and although it's not MUG's highest priority, it seemed sensible to take the opportunity.

    Harry puts MUG's ideas to a site meeting  involving Streetscene,
    parks tree officers, and our park development officer
    By engaging with the council on this, the committee has also been able to negotiate a council commitment to redesigning the walking/cycling shared use arrangement on the Black Path, something that MUG called for in 2008 but which was shelved during the master plan consultations. If it came to a choice, the group might prefer to spend TfL's money on that, but it seems that both projects can be afforded from this year's money.

    Thursday, 18 August 2011

    Zebra saved from floods

    For the past few years residents of Powerscroft Road and nearby streets have faced a giant puddle -- OK, a small lake -- when they headed for the park after rain via this zebra crossing. (For those who don't come this way in the wet, it's at the 5-way junction of Powerscroft, Millfields and Chatsworth Roads, which is tricky enough as it is, especially if you're not in your nimblest years, or crossing with a child.)

    Road contractors created the water feature when they filled in a gutter during the last redesign of the junction, so that the water no longer flowed to the drain intended to catch it. They left the gutter nice and horizontal, apart from a decorative little upward slope, which isn't really the point with gutters. Emails to the Streetscene project manager at the time got no joy.

    But we now have a rather more responsive set-up at Hackney Streetscene, at least as far as Millfields is concerned. When I raised it again recently, they promised to fix it by mid September. So two provisional cheers, saving the third for when the work is done.

    Wednesday, 10 August 2011

    Tree tidying

    From Parks Development Officer, Bruce Irving:
    Ash tree with honey fungus
    damage near north
    substation wall
    I am just writing to let you know that some tree work will be taking place at Millfields over the next few days.
    Works will include some canopy lifting, the removal of dead wood and some larger limbs, which need to be removed.
    Works will also include the felling of three trees which are diseased.  These include a young / mature ash located next to the substation which is suffering from Honey Fungus and a similar sized lime. A young plane tree located on Leabridge Road will also be felled as it is suffering from honey fungus.
    Diseased wood will be removed from site, larger sections of timber will be stacked in the wooded edge of the river on south Millfields in order to create habitat and the small branches will be chipped and used as mulch on site.
    The damage to this lime tree
    shows that honey fungus is thriving
    on damaged wood below ground

    Friday, 5 August 2011

    Bat walk illuminates habitat wipe-out

    27 people, of all ages, came out last Friday night to explore the presence of bats on Millfields, armed with bat audio detectors courtesy of our expert guide Alison Fure.

    Learning about bats and bat detectors
    photo courtesy David White
    What we discovered was that our efforts to improve habitat in the park are being nullified by dazzlingly bright lights on the towpath at Hackney Council waste transfer station, and likewise on British Waterways land near Paradise Dock and the Princess of Wales.

    Bats are found near water because the moisture keeps their wings in trim. They'll fly along rivers and canals looking for the best food spots. Big trees full of insects are ideal hunting ground for them, and woodland edge meadows with wildflowers and long grass (which we have more of on Millfields than a few years ago) also raise the insect count. But few, if any, will hunt where there is bright light. And they live for decades, so they remember the good places and steer clear of the bad.

    We expected to find bats easily by the community orchard, with its canalside woodland and meadow, but there was hardly a squeak. That's not so surprising when you realise that just to the south, the towpath to Cow Bridge is as bright as a sports stadium thanks to the massive floodlights from the waste station.

    The waste station lights are so devastating that we couldn't even detect bats on the opposite side of the canal, showing that the lights have driven bats out of the trees on the edge of the Essex Filter Beds wildlife reserve. It was only when we walked on the less lit section of the filter beds towpath, opposite the orchard, that our detectors picked up bats in the trees which overhang the filter beds wall. You couldn't have had a more vivid demonstration of how the lights have devastated the habitat of a protected group of species.

    Too bright for bats to linger near the pub
    photo courtesy David White
    By Paradise Dock and the Princess of Wales, Alison said that the Daubenton's bats she found feeding here 5 years ago are no longer pausing to hunt -- they may just whiz through on their way to somewhere more congenial.

    Security may be the pretext for this lighting level, but ironically it makes us less safe at night. Too much light destroys your night vision, so that when you move into a less lit area you are at a disadvantage. Moderate lighting would be more secure; and more comfortable for Paradise Dock residents trying to get a good night's sleep.

    Biodiversity Officer Kate Mitchell, who helped MUG set up the walk, has immediately taken the waste depot lighting up for us with her council colleagues. Kate and MUG will also be trying to get something done about the lighting under British Waterways control.

    After hearing Alison's introductory talk on bats, we could understand more fully what a loss these fascinating creatures are to the park. We were all geared up to spot this year's young bats flying with their mothers, trying to cadge a feed.

    But on the bright (?) side, there are still some bats to be found on Millfields, and it's worth looking. Local resident Maggie Murray tipped us off to look on the north-east corner of the cricket field, and demonstrated how she lures them towards her by making a kind of chirruping noise. Maggie is now the Millfields Bat Whisperer -- can anyone else do this?

    So please let us know if and where you spot bats. Apart from the sheer interest, any scrap of information may be useful in future battles to protect the park.

    All about urban bats: The London Bat Group

    Saturday, 23 July 2011

    State of Play

    We have a working group of 5 committee members working on play. The group has begun discussions with the council and Ruth Smyth reports on progress.

    The playground - can we use this space better?
    We are only at the initial stage, but it could be a very exciting development for the park - all ideas need to be fully scoped out and of course full consultation with park users.  It does feel like we are finally going to get some dramatic improvements to play in the park, for everyone to enjoy.

    The council has money set aside for play in the park, and is keen to move ahead.  The easiest option is to update the North side facilities.  As long as we stick within the footprint of the current playground, no planning permission is required.  Hence we agreed to brief Theories (the playground design specialists) to start the design/ consultation stage as soon as possible.  In theory we could be making improvements to that space in Spring 2012. The basic proposal that will be given to Theories to scope out is to update the Victorian space to modern standards – in a similar manner to the recent redevelopment of the play facilities on Hackney Downs.  We discussed having a fenced area with facilities for smaller kids, and an unfenced space with facilities for older kids – the plan is to reuse the best pieces of play equipment, and add in new ones too.  This would all be done within the current foot print of the playground.

    MUG has been trying to get the toilet/kiosk used better
    for some years
    Toilet facilities were mentioned, and I am pleased to report that the men's toilet lock has been fixed so we expect to see these opened more frequently now.  (We will be monitoring this).  We also stressed to the council our desire to see the kiosk opened – this may still be a pipe dream at this stage, but we will continue to campaign for this.

    We also discussed the paddling pool space and made it clear to the council that action must be taken to turn this into a useful space for the park.  The council believes using it for any form of play e.g. water feature or climbing frame will face objections from its nearness to housing.  After much (heated) discussion, we reached a potential agreement that it could be turned into a lovely plaza type space, with seating and space for families etc to congregate.  If we can find funding we may be able to do this as part of the redevelopment of the Casimir Road entrance, dramatically improving this space.  We will keep you updated on this.

    Simple play equipment at Well Street Common
    We also petitioned hard for play improvements on the South side, as the road makes it dangerous for parents with kids from the South side to use the North side playground.  We proposed 5-6 natural play items, made from wood, e.g. bucket swing, climbing frame, similar to Springfield Park. The council have agreed to scope this out as part of the North side development. We discussed the potential location of the play equipment and suggested possibly near the Orchard, the dog free zone or by the basket ball courts to create a hub of activity.  The proposals once scoped out by Theories would be consulted with the community later this year.  For this development we have 2 potential issues – firstly we need to secure funding, but we believe it is worth agreeing a plan at this stage, and we will continue to lobby for funding.  Secondly any structural changes on the South side require planning inspectorate permission as it's common land.  This will likely delay any construction on the South side to 2013.

    We hope you are as excited as us about bringing some much needed improvements to our park.  This plan is only at the initial stage, we are keen to hear your views, but there will of course be a full consultation process once designs and plans are scoped out by the professionals.