As things go from bad to worse to extra-worse-worse, one of the few things that Londoners can rely upon right now is a soothing winter walk. As research by the UK’s Canal & River Trust reports, walking beside water increases the mental health and wellbeing benefits of a stroll enormously, and London is blessed not only to have its mighty Thames but numerous canals and basins.
Now, though, part of one of them, the Regent’s Canal – which stretches from Paddington to Limehouse – is threatened. Two east London councils, Tower Hamlets and Hackney, have, separately, taken it upon themselves to attempt to destroy highlights of the Regent’s Canal through unsympathetic planning.
Hackney Council once protected Holborn Photography Studios in Shoreditch by granting it a local listing. The complex, the largest of its kind in Europe, has been described as a ‘university of photography’ and employs hundreds of people. It was created out of disused – but characterful – canalside industrial buildings. Plans to redevelop it have been refused by two previous judicial reviews. Now, though, Hackney’s Planning Committee might give the go-ahead to a slightly amended redevelopment proposal. Guess what said proposal looks like? Yep, it’s a blankly homogenous block of flats with a wack-looking café/bar/whatever at towpath level.
Meanwhile, and, if possible, maybe even more depressingly, neighbour authority Tower Hamlets has its sights set on Belmont Wharf Canal Club. Currently, this is home to a lot of picturesque narrowboats, a low-rise clubhouse and a community-orientated wildlife garden with the aims of protecting and increasing natural biodiversity along the canal. The initiative was supported at the time by British Waterways and Tower Hamlets Council. Now, though, the council would like to stick two massive blocks of flats on the site. These ones are the colour of what doctors call ‘clay stools’ and don’t even appear to do towpath users the courtesy of featuring a wack-looking café/bar/whatever.
It would be a real shame if Regent’s Canal lost two interesting and stimulating features and replaced them with two more blocks of flats. London’s lost a lot recently: people, businesses, attractions. Our minds and spirits aren’t refreshed by walking next to blank walls and security cameras. Obviously, that’s an opinion. It’s just the right one.
Like lights as well as water? Here are London’s best seasonal illuminations.