Walthamstow Wetlands; Regeneration must provide long-term sustainable communities

The official opening of Walthamstow Wetlands this week sees the start of a long term partnership between Legal & General and Europe’s largest urban wetland nature reserve.

Dan Batterton, BTR Fund Manager, Legal & General Investment Management, Real Assets

The official opening of Walthamstow Wetlands this week sees the start of a long term partnership between Legal & General and Europe’s largest urban wetland nature reserve. It also highlights some of the innovative thinking of how a long term developer of housing solutions has locked in social value to a community on behalf of its future resident’s health and wellbeing.

When we first bought the site for our 440-home Build-To-Rent scheme in Walthamstow, our largest BTR scheme to date, there was no doubt that a development of this scale would have a significant impact on its local environment and community. As a long-term investor we have a responsibility to ensure that we understand the long-term vision for the local area so that we are helping to transform our UK landscape for the better now and for the future.

This makes early engagement with the local authority key and how we learnt about ‘London’s Best Kept Secret’.

Ten times the size of the London Wetland Centre in Barnes, yet unknown to Londoners for decades, Walthamstow Wetlands is now one of the UK’s most important wildlife sites. Even better, it is now open to the public for free.

It became clear during our early engagement with Waltham Forest Council that the Wetlands was high on the priority list. There was a need for advice on how to preserve the Wetlands and keep it open to the public as a critical part of London’s conservation and education effort.

Together with the help of Legal & General’s Social Investment Team, led by Graham Precey, we decided to support the Council by contributing £26K to commission charity specialists CAF Bank to help Walthamstow Wetlands in the early stages of its set-up. Our partners CAF Bank met with Waltham Forest Council, Thames Water and the Wetlands Trust to give them advice on how to structure a trust, which then evolved into a strategic piece on the ambitions for the Wetlands. Work delivered included developing a theory of change model, recommendations on operational structure, funding streams and the opportunities for the Walthamstow Wetlands to increase its social and environmental value.

As well as helping support this initial set-up it was evident that there was a need to support the Wetlands over the long-term to conserve the nature reserve and ensure that it can stay open for the public. Therefore as part of our long-term commitment to supporting the Walthamstow community we are also contributing £38k per year for the next 10 years to fund the preservation of the Wetlands

Why are we doing this? We do not want the homes we build to be a gated community. We want our residents to feel proud of where they live and be a part of the local area. Therefore living next to and preserving Europe’s largest urban wetland nature reserve is an essential component in improving the physical and mental wellbeing of our residents, their families and members of the local community. We believe that if approached in the right way and in collaboration with local authorities our buildings can make a difference and help transform and regenerate the urban landscape.

Legal & General has raised pension fund capital for an open-ended BTR fund as well as a £600m joint venture between Legal & General Capital and PGGM, meaning it already has significant investment firepower. Therefore as well as Walthamstow we are building BTR homes throughout the UK in Leeds, Bristol, Bath, Salford and Birmingham with ambitions to have 6,000 units in planning, development or operation by the end of 2019.  At all of our schemes we are looking at innovative ways of supporting the local community and ensuring we create the best possible environment for our residents.