An innovative restoration project has literally provided a framework for the future.

A natural-looking river or a concrete drain? For QWAG supporters – and we believe, the public at large – there’s no contest.

So when re-development provides the chance of repairing damage inflicted on the Quaggy during the 19th and 20th centuries, QWAG is always there, strongly arguing its case.

In 2002, the transformation of the Sultan pub in Lee High Road into Nandos restaurant, offered just such an opportunity. The restaurant, with residential flats above, backs onto the Quaggy at a point where the river is also a highly visual feature from the bridge in Clarendon Rise. Unfortunately, the river had received ‘the treatment’, a wide, flat concrete base and vertical walls. In consequence, for passers by, it provided a dreary scene devoid of life.

June 2006: Barren vertical walls and a wide, flat concrete base

June 2006: Barren vertical walls and a wide, flat concrete base

QWAG brought together the architects from Nandos and the Environment Agency. As part of its Flood Alleviation Scheme (FAS), the Agency was planning in-channel improvements up to the boundary of the site. Nandos wanted an outdoor eating area overlooking the Quaggy but was faced with the view of an ugly, dead drain.

A deal done
While the Agency, when it reached the boundary, would have know-how, materials and equipment, it couldn’t justify a purely aesthetic and ecological project as flood alleviation work. For the developer, a naturalised river offered advantages to customers.

Result? The Agency estimated the extra cost at £2,000 – low, because necessary equipment would be to hand. The developer made a “unilateral undertaking” as part of the planning agreement with Lewisham Council that it would pay £3,000 to the Council on condition that Lewisham used the money to improve the river.

A project nearly lost
The years went by. Nandos and its residential flats were built and occupied. The FAS got underway and work proceeded downstream. Then QWAG made enquiries about the Nandos river improvements. Oh dear – hiccups.

Lewisham Council could not confirm whether or not it had received £3,000 or even whether an agreement had ever actually been signed. Eventually, after a year of enquiry and questions from QWAG, the problem was resolved.

About the same time, QWAG discovered that nobody in the Agency was aware of the idea, plan or costing agreed three years earlier. Instead, a figure of £50,000 was quoted for the extra work – for £3,000 the job couldn’t even be looked at. A meeting with the Agency Area Manager produced a more sympathetic response, particularly as QWAG had the original correspondence. The Agency agreed to contribute £25,000 to in-channel improvements to the money already offered by Nandos.

A new view of the river Quaggy – why is it so important?
So, at last the project got underway. Work started this autumn (2006) and was finished in November.

December 2006: A new riverbed, low-flow channel and homes for invertebrates and for plants

December 2006: A new riverbed, low-flow channel and homes for invertebrates and for plants

The concrete river bottom had to stay but a new winding, low-flow channel of fast moving water has been created centrally. Heavy timber beams set strategically in the river, both direct water and stabilise a new natural-looking gravel riverbed. It is not possible to restore riverbanks here, but low marginal beaches will provide homes for invertebrates and waterside vegetation. The boxes (left) and wooden framework (right) mounted on the brick and concrete walls should also become colonised by plants.

This short stretch of river is especially important to QWAG. It demonstrates what can be achieved even in places where full river restoration is not possible. Ecologically, the improvement might be small, but as an attractive and interesting visible feature in the locality, the gain is immense. People crossing the Clarendon Rise bridge will now realise the Quaggy is indeed a river, not a drain. Instead of a drab, depressing scene we have quick-flowing water and, in due time, burgeoning wildlife. Surely, all spirits must be lifted.

Our thanks to Matthew Blumler whose persistence helped bring this campaign to a successful conclusion.

Make a splash without getting wet!