Local residents in Surbiton have expressed concerns about a proposal to turn a former Victorian waterworks into a public park with meadows, playgrounds, picnic areas, cycling tracks, and an underground employment space.
The site, which is designated both a Site Important for Nature Conservation and Metropolitan Open Land, is now privately owned by Cascina Limited who have announced the plan.
Local resident, Dominic Blackmore, said: “I think it is a daft plan. Underground workshops with a park on top virtually in the banks of the river. I don’t know what Cascina are up to but this doesn’t add up.”
The controversial company has previously been unpopular with residents and the Kingston Council.
In October last year, Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court ordered Cascina to carry out overdue maintenance work to the site and to contribute £12,000 to Kingston Council’s legal fees in the case.
Cascina are running a survey on a website called Surbiton Riverside until December 1 to see what local residents want in the park and to determine whether an underground employment space will be supported.
The website describes the plan as a “great opportunity” to create this “high quality open space” but offers little information about the proposal and does not say who is behind it.
A Cascina spokesperson told the BBC it was carrying out the initial consultation to establish what residents wanted to see in the proposed park.
However, a number of residents have expressed their distrust. Surbiton local Nick Boyle, said: “This is likely another method of trying to win the hearts and minds of the local community.”
Local residents have found it hard to ignore Cascina’s poor record of maintenance of the site.
Sean Hart said: “Cascina haven’t taken care of any of the heritage including scraping of foliage using heavy machinery on the sides and beds. They’ve let the railings and brickwork degrade until forced to paint them by the council.
“They’ve accumulated a lot of waste on the site so that it resembles a fly tipping dump.”
The filter beds in Seething Wells were historically used to provide clean water to London until the site was decommissioned by Thames Water in 1992.
A group of local residents, the Seething Wells Action Group (SWAG), has been campaigning for the site to be turned into a nature reserve for some years.
SWAG want the site to be “a public-access wetland wildlife reserve and place for wellbeing, leisure, research, learning and heritage.”
A SWAG spokesperson said that they feel strongly that this is a missed opportunity, namely, “the chance to preserve the heritage, protected species, and biodiversity of the site, including the filter beds themselves and the chance to open them up to us all.”
SWAG welcome Cascina’s acknowledgement for the need for open recreation spaces in Surbiton.
However, they said: “Cascina’s plan is vague and lacks the consideration of the designations of this site, which make it so unique. The mention of offices is particularly lacking in information.
“There is no provision for any water to remain and the loss of habitat for wildlife would be immense, as well as the loss of wild swimming and a wetlands site for all.”
The spokesperson said they were pleased to see the site owners engaging with the local community and hoped this was the start of a more meaningful conversation and a positive outcome for the Seething Wells filter beds.
“The importance of heritage, biodiversity and wildlife this site holds cannot be understated,” they said.
“We would very much like to have a dialogue and work with them [Cascina] so we can come up with a solution for the site that really will be to the benefit of communities, nature and climate.”
SWAG are running their own survey in response to Cascina’s proposals.
Kingston Council have said that they currently have no comment on the matter.