Campaigners have hit out against the Canal and River Trust (CRT) for attempting to sell the freehold of a strip of the River Lea to private developers.
A 380m stretch on the Bow Free Wharf towpath has been earmarked for sale to Vastint, a development company owned by furniture group IKEA.
Vastint already owns 26 acres of land to the east of the towpath, where it is building a mass development of 1,200 new homes, 58,000 square metres of workspace and a 350 room designer hotel.
The CRT, entrusted by the government with the care of 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales, claims selling the land is in the “best interests” of the waterway, enabling Vastint to build a new river wall.
“The existing river wall is in a very poor state and poses a potential environmental risk because of the contaminated land behind it,” a CRT spokesperson said.
“The narrow strip that we’re proposing to transfer to Vastint will enable them to build a new river wall and ensure its ongoing upkeep.”
But campaigners say the developers could repair the existing river wall, without needing the additional land.
“They could easily rebuild and repair the existing wall – that would satisfy the requirements for the river containment and flood protection,” said Del Brenner, spokesperson for Regents Network, a campaign group for London’s waterways.
In a letter last month to the CRT, Mr Brenner wrote: “It is the responsibility of the developer to see that this is carried out to the prescribed standards and quality. And it is the responsibility of the trust to see that this is achieved.”
Land owned by the CRT is considered a protected asset, transferred from the British Waterways Board to the CRT in 2012 “to hold permanently for the benefit of the public”.
Yet the CRT announced in a public notice on their website that they intend to sell part of the land on the River Lea.
To secure the transfer they simply need consent from the Environment Secretary, which is currently pending.
The Regents Network is calling for a public consultation before the sale, saying an announcement on the CRT website is inadequate notice and the precedent could threaten the future of the canals.
“They are just fobbing us off,” said Mr Brenner. “There is something rotten about the CRT selling the space they are supposed to be protecting. If the sale goes through it will provide a dangerous precedent.”
The CRT say the sale will not affect navigation of the waterways: “It’s our remit to keep the waterways open for navigation and the proposed transfer will not affect boats being able to use the Lee Navigation”
Brenner – who is also a member of the London Waterways Commission, a canals advisory committee to the Mayor of London – says it is the Mayor’s responsibility to safeguard the canals.
“The Mayor has a duty to preserve waterspace in London. If he turns his back this time, what will be next?” said Brenner.
A spokesman for Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London said: “These plans have already been approved by the London Legacy Development Corporation. Since then, the Mayor has been asked to take a view of the scheme by an organisation that campaigns for the restoration of waterways.
“He has advised that he has no strategic policy concerns and will liaise with the Corporation and the Canal and River Trust to ensure any issues are addressed.”/ 28 January, 2016