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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

Moselle Brook commemorated in new Hornsey Park development

Out for a walk with an ex-neighbour yesterday, I ventured up to the new development to the west of Hornsey Park Road, north of Turnpike Lane. Most of the development to the west of Mary Neuner Road seems to be all but completed and building work to the east is well advanced.

The developers appear to be creating some reasonable green spaces. I seem to remember the Haringey Rivers Forum pressing for the portion of the Moselle Brook that runs through the development site to be deculverted  as part of the project. I'm assuming that's not going to happen. A Moselle Brook feature (memorial?) has appeared in its place. It comprises a two-part water feature and a relief map of the brook. 

A 'pocket park' between the road and the railway line, to northern end of the development, is the site of a large block of quarried stone with a relief map of the course of the Moselle Brook through Haringey

Pocket Park looking east. The relief map feature is on the right of the photo. In the foreground is the bubbling element of the accompanying water feature.

Relief map from above. If you zoom in, you can see various locations marked.

Pocket park looking west across flowing part of water feature

Relief map plaque.

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The Developer was quite relaxed about "daylighting" the Moselle and set funds aside. Unfortunately Haringey Planning seemed to have an almost visceral hatred of such a course and insisted the Moselle had to pass a bathing quality standard in a series of tests before this could happen - we've been told that no river in the UK meets this standard. Incidentally directly behind that sculpture is a wooden fence and 30 yards behind that the Moselle is briefly visible as it leaves the railway embankment. There's an adjacent small wall you can stand on to see over.

Thanks, Eugene. I was wondering if PMRA were involved in this at all. 

It's a bit of a shame for me that this conversation has taken the course it has! But that's rivers for you or it would be if we didn't try to control them. I hope I can get back to the Moselle!

Thanks Hugh, for putting up the pictures from the Clarendon site, and to Eugene, for illustrating the real Moselle Brook that the developers have chosen to hide. This beautiful culvert entrance doesn't feature in Pinching and Dell and isn't referred to in the Friends of Parks Forum's Moselle 'River' Walk either. It used not to be accessible except from the gas-works. The first photo I'm aware of was taken - probably by Colin Marr - on a site visit during the building of Mary Neuner Road in 2009. There was also - about fifty metres downstream, next to Gasholder Number 3 - a viewing grille which Eugene discovered when he and I were creatively trespassing ten years ago. It showed just how close to the surface the Moselle is in Wood Green (only 1.8 metres down as it crosses under Mayes Road at the back of the Mall). This was apparent during the building of MN Road when they actually had to raise the road to clear it safely. The canard that it was too deep to restore was still being repeated by consultants during the consultation on the Wood Green Area Action Plan. It was the main plank of National Grid's objection to deculverting in 2012 when PMRA were condemned by members at the Planning Sub-Committee for proposing the Brook should be restored in our objections to National Grid's proposals for the site. 

It is true that St William, once they had bought the site, took a more sympathetic view of the Brook than National Grid. Haringey's strategic policy required them to assess the feasibility of deculverting, an option they at first rejected in preparing the planning application that was heard on February 12th 2018. By now their objections related more to the loss of accessible open space but primarily to the problem of water quality. As Eugene said, Haringey supported these objections as did the GLA property wing - like the Environment Agency the GLA enviromental team supported restoration. In its final submission to Haringey St William had conceded to a compromise - that restoration be adopted but made conditional on the improvement of water quality. This was not what Haringey officers recommended but by now the PMRA/Haringey Rivers Forum campaign had been picked up by politicians and a well-chaired Planning Sub agreed that it should be a planning requirement to deculvert and that St Wiliam should produce appropriate designs for a short stretch between the embankment and the raised earth bund at rear of the line of back-gardens at Hornsey Park Road. And indeed if you look at the way the new park is laid out you can see that it would be relatively easy to dig it up. But everything remained stuck with the question of water quality. The compromise agreed was that for deculverting to take place ‘the water quality must meet the "Good" criteria for Inland Waters of the EU Bathing Standard Directive or such other water standard as agreed between the landowner (St William), the Council (EHO) and the Environmental Agency.’ That's the equivalent of the Serpentine or Hampstead Ponds!

St William are required to test the water quality where the Brook enters the site once a year. They've done this every year since 2018. Amazingly, the Brook has reached a 'Good' standard on several occasions but never consistently enough to trigger restoration - broadly speaking, that means virtually no coliforms or e coli. We've not yet received the results from this year's testing - St William have a tendency to say they'll do things and then not do them until pressed. It's hard to see the Brook reaching that standard, despite a well-sustained effort by Haringey and Thames Water to deal with misconnected properties upstream. Subsequently, the Rivers Forum has tried to get the Council to recognise that the standard is inappropriate as a benchmark for river restoration - Pymmes, Turkey and Salmon's Brook in Enfield wouldn't meet it, for example. With Haringey's agreement we got UCL to carry out a desk-top review of the issue which I've attached. Haringey has never formally responded to this opinion. At the moment there is not yet an over-arching body within the Council to consider such a question but as the new Local Plan will have a Blue Space strand in it the likelihood of a dialogue on the question is gradually improving.

There have been three planning applications since then where restoration has had to be considered. The two from private developers - for the Iceland site (on Brooke Road) and the Frankum and Kaye site near Downhills Way - have both rejected the option and the objection has gone unchallenged by Haringey. The main issue is the lack of room in relatively small sites. It seems pretty clear that if Haringey had a determined commitment to restoration these decisions might go the other way, reducing the profitability of the site and its capacity to meet statutory targets for housing provision. This was also the problem on Clarendon: yes, the new park is a pleasant if rather manicured place but it's a quite inadequate level of provision for a site which will host 1800 properties. But that's a result of the way Haringey granted permission ten years ago. 

The third application is a bit different and I don't claim to be up to date on the situation. But the need to demolish two blocks on Broadwater Farm Estate has created an opportunity for restoration downstream from Lordship Rec. Here the idea has been promoted by Haringey regeneration and residents quite extensively consulted. Not surprisingly given the condition and appearance of the Brook much of the time on the restored section in the Rec people have not been keen and a restoration is not likely to happen. And this was the fundamental problem when it came to deculverting on the Heartlands. A brilliant feat of habitat restoration on the Rec had been allowed to turn public opinion against deculverting. The Moselle was commonly referred to as a sewer. It took seven years for Haringey to fix the notorious misconnection of the Alexander Primary School toilets in Wood Green - it was fixed in 2019 by two guys with a small digger in a fortnight.

So why isn't the Brook now sparkling on the Rec? On bad days, three years on, it can still be pretty smelly. Some of the problem may be historical - old deposits working their way through. It seems unlikely that the problem is caused by human poo. Besides the school and another smaller issue near Hornsey High Street, which was also sorted out, misconnected toilets are relatively rare. The main problem are sinks and washing-machines. Once a site is identified property-owners are generally cooperative and where required enforcement is effective. But methods of detection are not entirely efficient and new misconnections continue to appear. A touch speculatively, the Friends of Lordship Rec and the Rivers Forum are also concerned that some of the problems are coming from businesses in Wood Green and on Lordship Road. Although they don't accept this proposition Thames Water have agreed to carry out an investigation of the surface and foul water systems between the railway and Lordship Rec. Which is a big commitment and good news. And work is ongoing to improve monitoring in the Rec itself and to start pooling data across all the bodies responsible for testing. Recent rests do show that, regardless of the smell, the Brook is on some parameters at least getting cleaner on the Rec. 

So back to PMRA and the Heartlands. It is true that resident involvement underpins the memorialisation of the Moselle on the new Clarendon site. The park was our idea too - picked up by National Grid and St William only when they realised they wouldn't be able to build a mews behind the lime-trees. But we've had no input on design and it was not our idea to recognise the Moselle as an idea - we were consistent in calling for the reality. Most of the material that Eugene and I submitted to Rachael Champion related to the gas-works and the lost gasholders, which will appear in the form of story-boards and sculptures. But we never met her and heard very little from her while she carried out her brief. PMRA is not acknowledged on the story-boards and we weren't invited to the unveiling of the sculpture in 2020. We have had some input to the new Moselle Walk path which will link the park with Brook Rooad and the Penstock Path. Sour grapes, eh? Not entirely - St William's contractors did some very helpful rubbish removal two years ago.

Five years on from the Planning sub-Committee decision the national policy landscape has undoubtedly changed. As regards legislation the government is more sympathetic to river restoration and blue space. But they won't fund it properly, support adequate regulation or penalise the water companies to prevent massive pollution. And indeed they may permit further deregulation. But in London there is a real movement, with Enfield at the head of it, to make blue space an essential element of nature recovery. Haringey needs to catch up and has been attempting to do so although the political enthusiasm needed has yet to fully take shape and will need to support public education on a larger scale. River restoration doesn't fit neatly into the climate change portfolio. It may seem utopian to pursue the restoration of inner London's river systems, but a revitalised urban water cycle would be a long-term benefit to the city. In our most recent meeting with St William I asked when they intended to make the Moselle culvert visible through that wooden fence that shows in your top photo, Hugh. Brian Paterson, the site manager (who also built Smithfield Square where they had to reculvert the Moselle - yet another lost Haringey opportunity!) said they intended to but that there was an issue about the smell. It is very occasionally a bit whiffy there but not often. And we have to face the fact that nature recovery in London will come at a cost: a healthier planet will mean all sorts of incovenience.

And I hope at the next meeting of the Haringey Rivers Forum we can bring together the dramatic developments in Enfield with the slowly emerging Hornsey Wetlands Action Group proposals!


Thanks for this detailed update, John. It sounds like it's been very frustrating, but not yet hopeless.

Regarding the smell of the river. Someone was monitoring it at Lordship Rec during Covid and weirdly the smell disappeared during lockdown so we felt it was not caused by residents but by Businesses in the area.

I understood it was caused by bad sewage connection from a school. Would explain the lockdown pause in smell….

It polluted the Moselle/Lea for many years but stopped a few years ago, this was the update from Haringey Council on 22 Feb 2019- 

At 1800hrs yesterday evening, after a full two weeks of hard work by the two engineers on site at the school, I am pleased to say that Alexandra Primary Schools misconnection was rectified. The school is no longer polluting the Moselle.

A bit tangential, but when it is quiet - late night/early morning - constant runming water can be heard beneath the grating at the kerb at the junction of Albert Rd and Stroud Green Rd. The topography is quite strong here, where the SG Rd slopes gently down from Tollington Park towards that point. Do these things indicates the presence of the Stroud Green brook.

Very interesting. I was known to boast once or twice about when I lived on the banks of the Moselle.

Never mentioned that no vineyards were involved.

We were further upstream and of course it was culverted before our houses were built.

Oops, my reply was to the post as a whole, not re Stroud Green Brook!

I'm not famillar with the Sroud Green Brook. It isn't included in Albert Pinching's book on Haringey's streams, but this could be because it was just south of Hornsey's (and hence Haringey's) border.

The primary reference source for the brook having existed seems to be A History of the County of Middlesex (which is what Wikipedia relies on). This in turn references the Daniel Lysons 1813 Environs of London book. 

Below is, in fact, is what Lysons wrote. (Note that he doesn't use the name Stroud Green Brook: he only refers to a "small stream". So the History of the County of Middlesex in fact has no authority for the name).

His reference is below:

The publication used a a source by Lysons does indeed refer to the Boarded River, but the only thing mentioned being crossed by it, at the point indictated by Lysons, was an ancient bridle way. The magazine author does go on to describe an ancient waterway in the second column, but my reading of it is that he is describing a brook "a quarter of a mile" away, probably by the New Stone Sluice, as shown on Rocque's map of 1761, or possibly the flow shown of the 1807 map below, but not by Rocque. It's worth noting that Rocque doesn't show any waterway in the place Lysons referred to. (Full page of the Gentleman magazine is attached at the foot of this comment). 

I've found a problem of 'Chinese Whispers' again and again with eighteenth and nineteenth century historians. One guy writes something once and then is either misquoted, misunderstood or new facts are invented around what he wrote. So, these days when I see an odd-looking 'fact' that relies solely on one nineteenth century author I check and re-check. 

I've checked old maps beyond Rocque and nothing appears on the 1869 Ordnance Survey Map. I have a copy of the 1807 Ordnance Survey Drawing, but only part of it in high definition. That part just includes part of the area to the south of present-day Finsbury Park. This seems to show a waterway in the area that Lysons claimed, but the map suggests that it rose at the New River which makes me wonder if it was a small flow created by "water oozing through" the boarded river. 

As things stand for me now, the only source for the existence of the Stroud Green Brook has been discredited and no other text reference for it exists. Cartographic evidence for it is weak at best. There is certainly no evidence that I'm aware of for anything up by Albert Road. So, although I'll be very happy to be proved wrong,  what you hear may just be a drain!


More on various Hornsey brooks in:

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 6, Friern Barnet, Finc.... Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1980




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