A new approach
In 1990, QWAG persuaded the National Rivers Authority (NRA) that water storage – allowing the Quaggy to overflow during heavy storms into specially constructed flood plains where the excess water could be contained – would be the best method of flood control locally.
There were two important consequences. A 1989 proposal for more concrete channelling was halted, and at least some river restoration along the River Quaggy and its flood plain was assured.
In 1994, QWAG produced its own plan – Operation Kingfisher – for a complete river restoration of the Quaggy from Chinbrook Meadows (Grove Park) to its confluence with the River Ravensbourne in Lewisham town centre.
In 2002, at Chinbrook Meadows, some 300 metres of concrete channel was bulldozed under the supervision of the Environment Agency – the NRA’s Successor body. This was the first Operation Kingfisher proposal to be put into practice, and QWAG was instrumental in making it happen.
The effect has been dramatic. Today, a restored river burgeoning with plant and animal life has revitalised what was an uninteresting, little-used public recreational space. A report in the Homes & Property section of the London Evening Standard (20th August 2003) highlighted the restored river as an added attraction to people considering buying property in the area.
Sutcliffe Park and John Roan School playing fields
Success at Chinbrook Meadows was followed in 2003 by two projects crucial for alleviating flooding of 600 homes and businesses downstream in Lewisham. These projects were first proposed by QWAG in 1992.
At Sutcliffe Park, the Environment Agency released the Quaggy from an underground culvert. Today the river flows across the park in a sequence of meanders exactly matching those it had in the 19th century. At the same time, the surface of the park has been lowered and shaped to create an enhanced “natural” flood plain where flood water will collect during severe storms. Instead of a flat and uniform stretch of metropolitan grassland, there is now a rolling landscape with a range of natural habitats – the river itself, a lake, ponds (with dipping platform), wildflower meadows, reed beds and a variety of native trees.
In the neighbouring John Roan School playing fields, an entire section of concrete channelling has been replaced by a natural river, full of life and free to harmlessly flood when water levels rise.
Following completion of projects at Sutcliffe Park and John Roan School playing fields, flood alleviation work is set to continue (2004-2007) downstream through Lee towards Lewisham.
Two sites offer particular environmental benefits. Open land at the Willow Country Club, near Weigall Road in Lee, will be enabled to store storm water as part of the flood alleviation scheme. And at Manor Park in Lewisham, the Quaggy will be naturalised to become a more prominent and attractive feature within the park.
Much of the remaining river is constrained between buildings, roads and gardens. Thanks to flood alleviation by water storage, there is no longer the need for more and bigger concrete channels – instead, the river bed and banks can be made more natural and a low-flow channel created that will benefit water quality and fish.
Lewisham town centre
Here, both the Quaggy and Ravensbourne rivers are encased in concrete. Since 1991, QWAG has been promoting the benefits of restoring rivers in this highly urbanised and heavily used location.
Now, with a £250 million urban regeneration project for the area, the opportunity has arrived. Urban Renaissance in Lewisham (URL) is a Single Regeneration Budget project which seeks to improve the environment around Lewisham’s “Transport Interchange” (the rail, DLR and bus stations) and establish better pedestrian links with the town centre.
QWAG has been actively involved with the project from the beginning, stressing the benefits of restored rivers – for the people who live, work and shop here and for wildlife. Thanks to QWAG, one of URL’s aims is to “make the rivers an attractive feature… bringing them to life, ensuring they become an integral, attractive living part of the public realm.” Public consultation is in progress, and detailed plans have yet to be submitted.
- 1989 Proposal to enlarge and extend concrete channelling along the Quaggy for flood alleviation.
- 1990 QWAG successfully argues that flooding is best alleviated by water storage.
- 1994 QWAG publishes Operation Kingfisher – a plan for full river restoration of the River Quaggy.
- 2002 The River Quaggy in Chinbrook Meadows is restored.
- 2003/4 The River Quaggy is restored in Sutcliffe Park and John Roan School playing fields.
- 2005 Reed bed created to filter run off from drains into the River Quaggy at Willow Country Club.
- 2005/6 Works to improve the river bed and create a low-flow meandering stream within some of the existing downstream concrete channels.
- 2006 River Quaggy enhanced at Manor Park
- 2007 River Quaggy (and River Ravensbourne) restored in Lewisham town centre.
QWAG believes that restoring rivers offers environmental, educational, and amenity benefits.
But the work can be expensive, particularly when breaking up and removing concrete channelling.
To date, most of the work has been undertaken where financing has been largely justified for other purposes – primarily the protection of property from flooding.
To carry out a complete restoration of the Quaggy, as proposed in QWAG’s Operation Kingfisher, it will be necessary to justify some funding in terms of environmental and social benefits alone. QWAG believes in those benefits. But ultimately it is the people who live and work here who must decide what happens to their river.