diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The next Olympic Park neighbourhood to slip glacially into existence will be Bridgewater. It'll be a triangular offshoot of Pudding Mill, bounded on three sides by the Greenway, the railway and the City Mill River. During the Olympics it was used for conducting security checks, but since then has been mostly left as fenced-off hardstanding.

Essentially it's six wasted acres, the only bright spot being the allotments along the northern edge.

But plans for Bridgewater's 600 new homes have now been put forward, and allotment holders fear they no longer see quite such a bright future.

Manor Garden Allotments were quietly productive for a century until London won its Olympic bid. In 2007 the original site off Waterden Road was controversially fenced off and flattened to become part of the northern half of the Olympic Park, because promises that the land would be held "in perpetuity" were no match for a global planning onslaught. Two smaller replacement allotments were eventually provided, one off Marsh Lane in Waltham Forest (opened 2013) and the other here at Pudding Mill (opened 2016). It took a season or two to evolve from "a few sheds by the railway" to "lush horticultural vibe" but is now positively the latter. Plotholders worry it may not be for long.

The issues are building heights and lack of sunlight. The remainder of the Bridgewater triangle is to be crammed with housing in order to meet building targets, including six 11-storey apartment blocks. Four of these are planned to rise close to the allotment boundary - two to the southwest and two to the southeast - even though the LLDC once promised lower blocks instead. And once they're built the clear sightlines that plotholders currently enjoy will disappear, making direct sunlight an intermittent rather than permanent feature.

Which brings us to the thorny subject of "how much sunlight is enough sunlight"?

The map on the left comes from LLDC planning documents. In orange and red are all the areas which will receive less than 2 hours direct sunlight on 21st March after the new flats are built. Hardly any orange or red is evident, except in the shadow of sheds and up close to the site boundary. All the rest of the allotments, in green, will still receive more than two hours direct sunlight. This is fine, say the developers, two hours is all you need.

The map on the right comes from an independent study paid for by the allotment holders. This time the red area shows the area which will receive less than 8 hours direct sunlight on 21st March after the new flats are built. It covers about two thirds of the site. The rest of the allotments, in green, will still receive more than eight hours direct sunlight. This is not fine, say the allotment holders, this is "no sunshine" and "will severely restrict the areas that can cultivate vegetables".

So who's right?

The developers have based their figures on official BRE guidance on overshadowing.
“It is suggested that, for it to appear adequately sunlit throughout the year, no more than two-fifths and preferably no more than a quarter of any garden or amenity area should be prevented by buildings from receiving any sun at all on 21 March. If, as a result of new development, an existing garden or amenity area does not meet these guidelines, and the area which can receive some sun on 21 March is less than 0.8 times its former value, then the loss of sunlight is likely to be noticeable.”
In this case all of the allotments will receive some sun on March 21st, indeed bar a few shed doors the entire site gets at least two hours. That'll be why the planning documents say "the Pudding Mill Allotments meet the BRE Guideline recommendation for amenity spaces with the proposal in place." This is exactly the kind of thing most planning applications say, not just this one. Fret not, your vegetables will still grow.

The allotment holders have instead picked 8 hours as their threshold, a rather tougher threshold to beat (especially when the spring equinox sees only 12 hours of daylight). At present the whole site easily exceeds eight hours, the only significantly shadowy local presence being a 135m tall skyscraper 200m away. A bunch of highrise flats around the perimeter would diminish that total somewhat, but it seems an exaggeration to describe less than 8 hours as "no sunshine".

I don't have a garden so I don't know what the appropriate sunshine threshold for vegetable cultivation should be. I do know that my north facing balcony gets no sun whatsoever on 21st March, and only a brief splash mid-afternoon during the summer, but that plants still grow. They seem to thrive on daylight rather than direct sunlight, as many plants do, but I'm not sure to what extent allotment-type growth relies on direct contact with the sun. However I assume that a substantial number of shadowy allotments exist across the country which fail to meet the 8hr+ criterion yet still manage to produce prize-winning veg.

The Pudding Mill Allotments won't be quite so pleasant once they're rubbing up against a building site and then a cluster of 38m-high flats. But to claim that "the LLDC's current plans may mean the end for our allotments" does seem somewhat of an overreaction. If you were planning on moving into one of Bridgewater's new apartments at the end of the decade, it might be wise to put your name down on the waiting list now.

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