One of the great things about east London is its open spaces.
We have great shops, busy streets, fantastic shopping centres and any number of places of entertainment, but we also have some lovely open spaces. The need for these was recognised in the 19th century with the passing of the Epping Forest Act, protecting for all time a broad swathe of forest land from Manor Park and Forest Gate up to Epping and beyond. Hence, while Stratford and the Olympic Park are great, it is the wonderful Wanstead Flats that have a special place for many as the start of Epping Forest.
Old photos show the bandstand and tram stop at the Forest Gate end of Wanstead Flats, and there is a long tradition of holding fairs and firework shows on the west side between Centre Road and Dames Road. But to the east, between the football changing-rooms and the City of London cemetery, lies a fabulous sanctuary of flora and fauna. Here, rare skylarks breed in the grassland, migrating birds flock to the lake, and an early morning walk can be as peaceful and tranquil here as in the depths of the countryside. It’s a blessing.
It is not surprising, therefore, that proposals before the Corporation of the City of London for music festivals next summer attracting as many as 30,000 people a day have met with a storm of local protests. Plans included a mainstage, extensive fenced-off areas, sound systems more usually associated with the likes of the Glastonbury Festival, and food stalls with all their inevitable packaging and waste. Quite apart from the nuisance to local residents, with clogged roads, the potential for damage to the wildlife is devastating.
The Corporation has since announced that 2019’s festivals have been shelved, but that similar plans for 2020 are to be considered soon.
We had a warning with the grass fires in the summer of 2018. Lest we forget, the London Fire Brigade had to deploy more than 200 firefighters for four days to save Wanstead Flats from a disaster. If, despite that, the Corporation allowed a music festival, with all its infrastructure and tens of thousands of fans, to go ahead the risks are very real of far greater permanent damage to the precious and fragile eco system of the grasslands around Alexandra Lake.
There are many suitable venues for a large music festival in east London, including but not only the Olympic Park, but the western end of Wanstead Flats is not one. Let’s pray that the City of London listens to us and changes its mind, not only for 2019 but also for 2020 and beyond.
(The photo at the top is one of the many fine images by Wanstead Flats Womble, whose excellent Twitter feed can be found at @womblesnaturE7 )