For decades, the Lee Valley was largely derelict, ignored and unloved – known as “London’s privy, workshop and backyard”.
The Lee was London’s working river and the Valley home to railways sidings, rubbish dumps, gravel pits, sewage works and factories turning out explosives, furniture, chemicals, railway engines, electronics among many others, taking advantage of the prevailing easterly winds blowing fumes away from the centre of London.
Rescuing the Lee Valley from its years of neglect and regenerating it as a ‘great playground for Londoners’ gathered pace as an idea during the Second World War. It was suggested in Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s Greater London Plan in 1944 that ‘the Valley gives the opportunity for a great piece of regenerative planning... every piece of land welded into a great regional reservation’.
During the early post-war period the idea lay dormant as Britain was rebuilt. That changed in 1961 when Alderman Lou Sherman, Mayor of Hackney, took up the challenge to regenerate the Valley.
He inspired and persuaded 17 other local authorities to support him and in 1963 the Civic Trust was invited to undertake an appraisal of the Valley’s potential as a vast leisure and recreational resource.
The Civic Trust report was extremely positive and a Bill was promoted in Parliament to establish the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority as the development body with the responsibility and the powers to deliver the vision. Following Royal Assent to the Lee Valley Regional Park Bill in December 1966, the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority was formally constituted on 1 January 1967.
The Authority has a broad and dynamic remit with a duty to develop and preserve leisure, recreation, sport and nature throughout the Regional Park.
Over the last half century Lee Valley Regional Park Authority has, with partners, transformed rubbish dumps, gravel pits, scrap yards and industrial sites into glorious award winning open spaces and world class sports venues that now attract more than eight million visits a year.
With hundreds of different experiences and days out, the park has brought into public use thousands of acres of land to create the 26 mile long park. With three London 2012 legacy venues, other hugely popular centres for sport and leisure venues, heritage sites, marinas, gardens, riverside trails, relaxing green spaces, campsites, nature reserves and internationally important wildlife habitats – the park is fulfilling its founders’ ambition of a “green lung” for the region and a “playground for Londoners”.
This work has been a catalyst for regeneration up and down the valley, boosting local economies and placing the Lee Valley Regional Park at the heart of the London, Stansted, Cambridge Growth Corridor.
Today the park offers everything from adrenalin charged white water rafting to some of the most precious open spaces in the capital, from the chance to ride the London 2012 Olympic velodrome to getting away from it all with miles of walking, running and cycling routes.
But the job is not complete.
The park has grown by 700 acres since 2000 and the Park Authority has ambitions to acquire a further 2000 acres. It also has plans to bring more leisure opportunities to the region.