Monday, June 01, 2015

Oakfield – First they came for the Allotments

Back in 2006 Redbridge council hatched a plan to sell off allotments (including those in Fullwell Avenue and New North Road) to provide housing, or rather to raise capital; the housing was incidental. There was a huge campaign against the proposals and eventually the council backed away. But they still needed to raise some capital to balance the books (the swimming pool we never got costs money) and so they looked elsewhere.

The first clue as to our council’s immediate intentions came shortly after in 2008 when the Frenford Club was given a £6million bribe grant to move from Oakfield to the PLA site in The Drive. They haven’t completely vacated Oakfield yet because the pitches at the PLA ground are not yet up to required standards. The other club on the site, the Old Parkonians, is a bit more problematic. They have already been moved twice, from what is now Bronte Close in Gants Hill and then from what is now the Timberdene Estate opposite another prime target, the allotments in Mossford Lane; and they have 25 years left on their lease.

So, let’s take a stroll along Fencepiece Road from Trelawney Road down to Fullwell Cross. We come to St Francis Church and we can see the playing fields at the back of their car park. A little further on and we come to the first of two “ransom strips”, then the second and then the existing access road to the Oakfield site.

There is also potential access to the site at its northeast corner from Hazelbrouck Gardens, at present a narrow cul-de-sac off New North Road.

Now, it is not beyond the wit of woman, or even a man to conclude that when the houses in Fencepiece Road were built, that those gaps were deliberately left, and have been allowed to remain, to allow further development to the rear; what is now the Oakfield site. Access roads are a crucial feature of any development site for housing. So we could conclude that Oakfield has “always” been a target for development, except that in 1935 the Green Belt was established. We can’t help but notice that it is extremely convenient that the recent (2010, two years after the Frenford event) “independent” review has recommended that the one piece of green belt the council wants to sell (to raise capital, the housing is incidental) “no longer meets Green Belt criteria”. What sort of logic or reasoning is this? Green Belt is there to stop houses being built on it. Do you see any houses on Oakfield? No. It has up to now, and is still serving its purpose.

We have heard the argument that the railway line is a defensible green belt line against urban sprawl and that Oakfield is surrounded by housing, but this is complete balderdash. It is only defensible if you have the right and powerful arguments to back it up and it is not defensible if there are powerful arguments against, and if a local authority wants to build on green belt they usually find a way, as has been shown by Epping Forest District Council. And besides, the railway (not the “tube” but served from Ilford in those days) and the houses that border the site were there long before the 1935 Green Belt Act. So what has changed, other than Redbridge council now need an intravenous cash injection?

Let’s look at the map for greater Barkingside. It is a very unusual map, quite unlike any map you will see for anywhere else. Communities develop and grow around transport nodes or hubs. Ports, rivers, canals and crossroads, and then came the railways. Just like, for example Seven Kings, communities grow up around railway stations and, this is the crucial bit, on BOTH sides of the track. This is not the case in Barkingside. The east side of the track is pretty devoid of any housing; it’s green belt. In fact there is green belt on the west of the track too. Not just Oakfield but the King Solomon High School site (schools are a permitted use of green belt) and all the playing fields to the south, between the railway and Heybridge Drive. The arrival of the Green Belt left Fairlop station and to a lesser extent Barkingside station in no man’s land much to the annoyance of developers at the time, no doubt. Now let’s look at the planning rules this council are obliged to adopt, from their own report:
Growth will be concentrated in the most accessible locations with developable and deliverable sites, the best public transport options and where the services and facilities of town centres are readily available to support new residents and be reinvigorated by them. This will, in turn, enable established neighbourhoods and heritage assets to be protected from excessive development, and to preserve their character and identity.
In other words, the aim is to reduce car dependency (which does not necessarily reduce car use) by providing homes within walking distance of railway stations and shopping centres. So if this applies to the Oakfield site, which it does, then it must also apply to the land immediately east of Fairlop and Barkingside stations, which, as noted, also happen to be designated as green belt and therein lies an apparent contradiction at the heart of the proposed local plan, except there is another fly in the ointment that needs to be accounted for.

The clue as to why the eastern side of the railway line has not yet been developed for housing is staring us in the face; it is the former use of Fairlop Waters. Once farmland it was excavated for gravel and the holes filled in with household waste, except for the lake, which is a lot bigger than it was originally. Gravel extraction is currently taking place in a huge area behind the Dick Turpin, and the next phase is, you guessed it, the fields on the eastern side of Barkingside station, south of Fairlop Waters and stretching across to Aldborough Road North. Redbridge council receive considerable revenues from gravel extraction which has to be set against the money’s they would otherwise receive for the sale of developable land.

The irony here is that the Aldborough Hatch Defence Association, and our good friend Ron Jeffries, have been fighting gravel extraction for decades, but without gravel the council would, without a doubt, have found the right arguments to declassify that land from green belt status and that whole area would have been a housing estate by now.

Other little factoids:

After World War II, Fairlop Plain was the alternative option for London Airport, what is now Heathrow.

In the early 1980s the now forgotten M12 motorway, and a new railway line, were to slice their way through what is now Claybury Park, just north of Ravensbourne Gardens, through the then Old Parkonians playing fields (now Timberdene), the allotments, across the Oakfield site, through all the playing fields along the north side of Forest Road and then over Hogg Hill and south of Hainault Forest.

Fairlop Plain was also considered, along with Rainham Marshes, as a potential site for EuroDisney.

Airports, motorways, railways and leisure facilities are permitted use of green belt land, so don’t be surprised if you wake up one morning and find one of them on your doorstep or cartoon characters in the Town Hall.

This has been a party political broadcast on behalf of the Barkingside Cynical Party.


  1. i do seem to remember that back in 2012 the guy who owns the forest farm land was refused a camping site for some reason to do with too much activity or people around,,,,i have tried to find it but have had no joy.

    1. Yes, it was a camping site for the 2012 Olympics. But they did approve a container site in Hainault Forest Country Park. Just saying.

  2. "Just like, for example Seven Kings, communities grow up around railway stations and, this is the crucial bit, on BOTH sides of the track."

    Not so, I'm afraid! Trains started running through the Seven Kings area in 1839 (as far as Romford) when the Eastern Counties Railway (later the Great Eastern Railway) first started. However, their aim was the long distance market and saw no point in opening intermediate stations once the initial network evolved.

    Thus, when Cameron Corbett started developing the Seven Kings and Goodmayes areas in 1898, there were no stations nor any realistic possibility of there being any. Therefore Corbett approached the GER to request the building of a railway station to serve the area, guaranteeing the Great Eastern Railway that it would take £10,000 in fares in the first five years after Seven Kings station was opened, or he would personally pay the difference. Takings well exceeded that figure.

    So, the chicken and egg situation is reversed compared to the Fairlop loop of the GER to which you were referring which, opened a mere 5 years later shows a complete reversal of the GER's policy towards suburban travel ...

    1. So, you're saying that Seven Kings grew around a railway station, which is kinda what I said, innit?

    2. No - Seven Kings was developed first. The station only opened later after pressure from the developer.

    3. Knowsie, please try to understand the difference between the words "start" and "grow".

  3. "Green Belt is there to stop houses being built on it. "

    I think this piece is clinging to an outdated, sacred cow notion of greenbelt. The thing about greenbelt is it isn't very green. It cramps towns and cities within, and creates longer, polluting commutes and shopping trips. Why shouldn't we instead demand green corridors linking plenty of green spaces (and allotments)? And perhaps the community to meet the council half way by doing something to improve the greeness and connectedness of the gardens, if they are lucky enough to have one?

    Here are some good challenges to greenbelt as sacred cow.

    1. Not at all, Mira. I am arguing the case on their terms.

      What you are trying to do is change the Terms of Reference to question green belt per se. That is a good debate to have but it isn’t on the agenda. There are lots of green open spaces within Redbridge and in London as a whole that are not classified as green belt but are nevertheless protected and nobody would dare to build on or develop them. Valentines Park and Hurstleigh Gardens come to mind. Oakfield is not protected in that same way simply because it isn’t necessary while it remains green belt. I would suggest that it should be protected in that same way.

      As you say we need green corridors. We also need good sports pitches and recreational open green space – parks.

      If we are going to question the green belt then all of it should be questioned and considered, not JUST Oakfield.

    2. Oakfield is nothing like Valentines Park, nothing at all. It is greenbelt currently with some private clubs playing football and cricket, I can't just take a few friends and decide to have a kick about or bowl a few. On the greenbelt review, there was, if you believe in conspiracy theories, an opportunity for the Council to release other bits of land. The simple fact is a layman could see it is entirely possible to find cause to de-designate Oakfield, just look at a map, but the local authority need to have this shown officially, nothing sinister, just what you have to do.

      "greenbelt is there to stop houses being built on it" not exactly correct. The purpose of greenbelt was to stop the coalescence of towns. In the case of Oakfield it, even to the most partisan, no longer does this. Unless of course we knock down the properties either side of it!

    3. Sorry jack. There are a number of ppg2 criteria, not one. There are also prevention of urban sprawl and prevention of encroachment onto the countryside. An overhead view demonstrates that Oakfields is in the front line. Even the council's own green belt review concluded that development of oakfields would break the urban edge. In other words oakfields does prevent urban sprawl and prevents encroachment. Therefore it is green belt whether you are for or against development.

  4. Part 2

    Fast-forward to the 1920s, and the draft maps for Ilford’s town planning scheme (a local development plan, approved in 1933) show Fairlop Plain largely excluded: that land was Crown land and subject to an agreement whereby at least part of it was to be set aside as open space. Meanwhile, the London County Council was searching for sites outside London where it could implement its policy of cottage or ‘out-county’ estates (such as that at Becontree). In 1934, the LCC produced a report highlighting potential areas for such new estates. One of the sites listed was Fairlop Plain and the LCC approached the Crown Commissioners asking if 940 acres there could be sold and developed for housing. On hearing of this, the Greater London Regional Planning Committee argued that the land was essential for use as an aerodrome: in the previous year, the GLRPC had suggested that open space outside London’s built-up area might be useful to the Government in time of war by providing locations for aerodromes and barracks. The Air Ministry was also in favour of an e aerodrome on Fairlop Plain stating that it viewed ‘with considerable apprehension the passing of the land into the builders’ hands thus ruining a potential aerodrome site when there are so few remaining’.

    Ilford Borough Council soon got wind of the LCC’s proposals and asked the Crown Commissioners to withhold a decision until the council had decided which it favoured – it soon plumped for an aerodrome, approving the purchase of 1,064 acres on Fairlop Plain for that purpose. The Commissioners agreed and, while maintaining an appearance of detached interest towards the LCC’s housing scheme, they supported keeping the land as open as possible, later explaining that they had tried ‘simply to invent every possible kind of public use which will preserve the property as a public open space of some kind in the future, while securing the revenue which we must, as trustees, secure’. Ilford’s purchase would have required a Government loan of £250,000. As this was opposed by the LCC, a public inquiry was held in 1935, and the council’s loan application was subsequently approved.

    At this point, the City of London Corporation appears on the scene, saying that it has been looking for a suitable site for a new airport for London. The Corporation was prepared to buy the land so Ilford BC stepped down. Backed by the Government’s Maybury Committee report, which recommended that the site at Fairlop should be reserved for use as an airport, the Corporation drove forward its project to develop Fairlop: it appointed an Airport Committee, bought the land, worked out costs (£1,100,000 in total for a ‘super standard’ airport) and selected architects who drew up plans (including a new station at Fairlop). Negotiations between the Corporation and the Crown Commissioners took longer than anticipated – Hansard of the late 1930s is full of MPs’ questions about the delay. No construction work started, but in 1939 it was confidently predicted that the airport would be operating by 1941-42. Then came the Second World War, at which point the Corporation’s Airport Committee noted: ‘Though the outbreak of hostilities has rendered necessary the suspension of further development for the present, the Committee hope that in happier times they may be allowed to continue their efforts to further the project initiated by their Chairman’ . . .

    In 1940, 290 acres of the airport site were requisitioned by the Air Ministry for the construction of a military airfield, RAF Fairlop; this was declared operational in September 1941. Numerous fighter squadrons were subsequently based at RAF Fairlop, until the last ones left in March 1944. Later that year, the airfield became a barrage balloon centre, and it finally closed in 1946.

  5. Part 3

    Towards the end of the war and through to the 1950s, the Government was looking at what airports were required for civil purposes and Fairlop featured in these deliberations. However, the development of aircraft technology during the war had increased rapidly, and it soon became clear that new civil airports would have to be considerably larger than had previously been realised. Furthermore, the post-war Labour Government’s policy was that all airports required for regular scheduled services should be acquired by the State – which was not what the Corporation had in mind for Fairlop at all.

    By now, Ilford BC was again interested in the land and approached the Corporation stating that if the land should not be required as an airport in the future and the Corporation at any time had in mind disposing of it, the council would like to be given the first chance of purchasing it. In 1946, the council passed a resolution passed protesting at the continuance of plans for an airport at Fairlop as the site was needed desperately for housing and other civic development. Eventually, in 1952, the Government announced that it had completed its review of aerodromes required to serve the London area; it had come to the conclusion that there was unlikely to be any requirement for the use of Fairlop and that the land would be de-requisitioned as quickly as possible. Ilford BC thereupon decided to acquire the land and a deputation visited the Corporation, expressing a desire to purchase the land for use as open space. I assume it was on de-requisition of the land that Fairlop Plain became part of the Green Belt, but I don’t know that for certain. If anyone knows exactly when that happened, I’d be most interested.

    The final nail in Fairlop’s coffin came in 1953 when the Government published its White Paper entitled ‘London’s Airports’ (Cmnd 8902). Here the Government proposed Gatwick as the second London airport and announced that Fairlop Plain was unsuitable for use as a civil airport.

    Negotiations between the Corporation and Ilford BC continued for a long time until, in 1955, council members learnt that they were to purchase 920 acres of Fairlop Plain for £76,000 plus a further £282,400 for the unexpended balance of the land’s development value. Within a few months, the extraction of sand and ballast had begun on the site, at which point my story ends.

    PS. I also have some notes on the M12 project (and its predecessor ‘Radial Route 7’) from 1963 until its cancellation in 1985, if anyone is interested.

    1. Part 1 seemed to disappear after I'd loaded it. I've added it again, following the M12 notes below.

  6. what a great piece of reading,,thank you Alan,,,what would be nice is if this information could be on display with some pictures in the bar of Fairlop Waters,,i was there the other day for the first time in a long while, and i could not believe how bland the whole place looks (the bar that is) . i did see the new statue its very nice.

  7. Alan; just a thought, i have just wikipediad the M12 motorway would I be right in assuming that it would have gone through the Oakfield site as it says it would have run from clayhall to the south of Hainault

    1. This is what I know of the M12 plans, in two parts to fit the character limit.

      Part 1

      Early plans

      The first mention of a road along the route of what was later proposed as the M12 is the Greater London Plan 1944. In the plan, Express Arterial Road 7 would have headed out from Woodford via Claybury and Hainault to reach a proposed Express Arterial ‘D’ Ring at Hog Hill. Both these roads would have been the equivalent of a modern motorway and interrupted only by a small number of fully grade-separated junctions. However, the economic climate in Britain during the post-war era did not allow for major infrastructure development on the scale proposed, but the route of Express Arterial Road 7 would be closely followed by that planned for the abortive M12 motorway 30 years later.

      There have, in fact, been three different M12 proposals since Abercrombie, all or partly along the same corridor, beginning in the 1960s. The route of the western section is fairly reliable, but beyond Noak Hill it begins thrashing about all over the place in a blur of alternative route options. Its three destinations were to be Brentwood, the proposed Maplin Airport near Southend, or Chelmsford.

      Brentwood route

      In 1963—66, the Ministry of Transport carried out a traffic study and preliminary site investigations for a South Woodford—Brentwood motorway, sometimes known as Radial Route 7, the name being a hangover from Abercrombie’s proposal. Later in the decade, when formulating its Greater London Development Plan, the Conservative-controlled Greater London Council proposed a network of urban motorways to serve the capital. The network comprised three (later four) ring roads, known as Ringways (the innermost of these was referred to as London’s ‘motorway box’), which would intersect the MoT’s radial routes. The numbering is sometimes confusing because the M12 route shared the Radial Route 7 title with the later proposed route of the M11 from South Woodford to Hackney Wick. In the earliest plans, the M11 was to take a different route down the Lea Valley and it was the western end of the M12 that would run from South Woodford to Hackney Wick and Angel. The M11 line was later revised to head towards Angel, leaving the M12 starting at South Woodford instead.

      The M12 would have begun on the M11/Ringway 2 interchange at South Woodford, near Charlie Brown’s Roundabout. The junction layout here was designed with areas of empty space (now mostly opened up as linear parkland) to accommodate the M12 and its slip roads, and in several places part of the M11 is carried on bridges or viaducts with nothing underneath them.

      From the South Woodford interchange, the M12 would have closely followed the course of Radial Route 7, running east between Wanstead and Woodford, cutting through the Claybury Asylum farmland on the south side of Hospital Hill Wood, crossing Tomswood Hill and Fencepiece Road (I recall there were several empty houses in Fencepiece Road in the 1970s, which were destined to come down if the M12 went ahead). The motorway would then have proceeded to the north of Forest Road through Oakfield Playing Fields and all the other sports facilities there, crossing the A1112 near Dog Kennel Hill then gradually arc around to the north of Havering-atte-Bower heading off towards Ringway 3 (now the M25) and the Brentwood by-pass.

      The Ringways became one of the major political issues in London and, when the Labour Party regained control of County Hall in 1973, the plans were promptly scrapped. The following year saw Labour back at national level and Anthony Crosland, the new Secretary of State for the Environment, endorsed the GLC action thus killing off the inner Ringways scheme. The problem then became one of what to do about the outer Ringways, parts of which were about to start construction. The outcome was a plan to join them together into one London Orbital - today's M25, comprising halves of two different ring roads, with bits tacked on to join the two. And by this time, another destination for the M12 was on the horizon . . .

    2. Part 2

      Maplin Airport route

      In April 1971, Edward Heath’s Conservative Government announced that preparations for the building of a third major London airport should begin, and that the airport should be on Maplin Sands, just off Foulness island, 50 miles from London down the Thames estuary. The project would also include a deep-water harbour suitable for the container ships then coming into use, an oil terminal and a new town for the accommodation of the thousands of workers who would be required. Preparations went ahead and, during the next two years, much work was done at the administrative and planning level.

      The routes of possible transport links to the Essex coast were not immediately divulged. It is possible that fixing the routes was delayed until after serious work on the new airport had begun, thereby making it more difficult for objectors to prove that the routes were unnecessary. When the routes were made public, it was seen that road access would have taken the form of a revised M12 – a dual four-lane instead of dual-three motorway, with a parallel four-track high speed railway line.

      Several route options were proposed. The most likely line was to use the earlier Brentwood route, then run alongside Ringway 3 for a short stretch, before heading east once more just prior to M25 junction 29. This would have followed the A127 corridor (although a little to the north), and avoided Rayleigh to the north, showing a pronounced ‘hump’ in the route. From north of Rayleigh, it would have headed south of Hawkwell and Rochford before finally terminating at Maplin.

      A number of other possibilities were put forward, including where the M13 appeared as a set of possible alternative alignments for the M12. In the transport study for the airport scheme, the number M13 was proposed for route options where the motorway would more closely follow the A13 than the A12. Although the existence of the M13 proposal depended largely on it being a simple alternative line for the M12, there was a slim chance that it could be another road in its own right. The study was keen to make sure there was enough capacity to get people to and from the new airport; it suggested that one dual four-lane motorway might not be enough and that both the M12 and M13 should be considered.

      No definite final route was ever selected and, in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis, the project was dropped in 1974 by the incoming Labour Government. Stansted was subsequently selected as the site of London's third airport and the focus shifted onto the M11 instead. Construction of an M12 motorway remained a possibility, however, and the projected route continued to be shown on some maps. In August 1976, the Secretary of State for the Environment predicted a start date of 1983; by February and March 1977, the Secretary of Transport was stating that no start date had been determined. About the same time, Redbridge BC was noting that the M12 would affect the landscape and ecology of the borough, although stating that the project was particularly long-term in the light of recent financial cut-backs.

      In June 1985, following a review of the country’s roads programme, the Government published ‘National Roads England 1985’, which announced the withdrawal of the M12 project and, in February 1986, the Department of Transport ended the safeguarding of the route for the M12 within the M25.

      Chelmsford route

      An M12 project was included in the ‘Roads for Prosperity’ White Paper published in 1989. This would have run from the M25 out to the Chelmsford by-pass. The project was cancelled in 1994.

  8. It looks like Part 1 got missed, so here it is (again).

    Weggis’s writing above is most interesting, especially his thoughts on how the land to the east of the railway has survived. I’ve been researching the history of the never-built Fairlop airport intended for this area and my research has thrown up several reasons why the land there has remained largely undeveloped. In the hope that some of you might find the following of interest, I’ve tried to summarize what I’ve found so far (not easy as the written-up version currently runs to over 200 pages and I still have much more research to do). I’ve also had to separate this into three parts in order to meet the 4,096 character limit.

    Part 1

    The expansion of metropolitan Essex in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was one of the most remarkable features of the county’s recent history. At that time, Ilford was growing at an ferocious pace – its population rose from 11,000 to 78,000 between 1891 and 1911 – and when the Great Eastern Railway opened its new line from Ilford to Woodford across Fairlop Plain in 1903, the company had high hopes of that growth continuing. Contemporary writers anticipated development on Fairlop Plain too.

    Writing in 1901, Ilford historian George Tasker predicted: ‘Barkingside has great possibilities before it. At present its population is mainly rural, but with the opening of the loop line of railway between Ilford and Woodford, via Barkingside, and with the completion of the electric tram system from Ilford, the place is sure to develop rapidly, and what is now land on which wheat, oats and vegetables grow so readily will ere long be covered by houses, and will contain a population exceeding many times that which now resides within its borders’.

    In 1902, Robert Hunter, co-founder of the National Trust and supporter of saving Hainault Forest, wrote: ‘A line has been authorised, and is nearly completed, from Ilford on the Colchester line to Woodford on the Epping line. Along this line houses will surely swarm, and one of its stations will be within a mile of the main block of the rescued forest’.

    The following year, a writer in the Essex Review observed of Fairlop Plain: ‘In conclusion it is to be hoped that the speculative builder will not be allowed too free a hand in running up a great number of houses of the cheap and nasty kind, but rather that certain restrictions may be placed upon indiscriminate building, and that houses of certain approved types only may be erected. Another consummation greatly to be desired is that trees should again flourish in the district where Hainault Forest was formerly a glory’.

    The GER’s hopes were misplaced, however. The houses never came and Ilford’s building boom petered out. Moreover, in 1908, Hainault station was closed due to lack of passengers, not re-opening until 1930 when Ilford’s second surge in development was beginning (Fairlop station was also considered for closure at this time).

  9. To Alan S or anyone else knowledgeable on the Fairlop Airport proposal.

    Regarding the Fairlop Airport proposal, had it been built (via significantly less residential and industrial sprawl) which nearby stations would have likely served the Airport?

    - Fairlop station seems to be out of the question given people would have to cross Forest Road to get to the Airport.
    - Barkingside station is apparently much nearer to the former RAF Fairlop site and partially explains why Station Road currently leads to nowhere.
    - Newbury Park station meanwhile have heard that both the station itself as well as King George Avenue towards Sainbury's were originally intended to serve Fairlop Airport, with plans for Newbury Park station to be further expanded.

    Also how would Fairlop Airport have affected the development of the M12 motorway assuming it follows the South Woodford to Brentwood / Chelmsford routes?

  10. I've only just seen this follow-up, so here are some answers:

    If the airport had been built, there would have been a new Fairlop station too - a few hundred yards south of the existing station, which would have been closed.

    Station Road at Barkingside took over part of the route of a long-established footpath in existence well before the arrival of the railway (or RAF Fairlop).

    There were pre-WW2 plans to develop Newbury Park station as a much bigger transport hub, but not connected to the airport. Post-war austerity put a stop to that.

    King George Avenue is a relatively recent road; it goes through the site of the former railway goods yard and some now-removed tube train stabling sidings (you can still see the stains from the cable runs on the concrete walls). The road was built long after the airport plans had been killed off.

    Had the M12 been built, it would have passed through the playing fields north of Forest Road, so avoiding any of the airport land.

    I hope this helps.