City Island artist Tim Allen is on a mission to open the old Leaway towpath so he can walk to the Olympic Park
- Credit: Mike Brooke
One thing Tim Allen wants to do is walk along the Lea River to the Olympic Park and even out to Hertfordshire from his home at the new City Island complex.
But he gets stuck before he even reaches the old Cody Dock less than a mile upriver.
He can manage the meandering river’s double loop that curls through the Leamouth estuary, which feeds into the Thames at Bow Creek, by crossing at the A13 Canning Town Bridge.
This is where gets no further. The Leaway towpath from Bow Creek is suddenly blocked by 500 yards of the towpath that’s been fenced off over the years by a privately-owned lorry depot and the Electra business estate.
Tim, a freelance animator and teacher, has now started a ‘friendly’ petition to get the Leaway path opened up to the public north from the A13.
His petition has 1,000 signatures so far, pointing out that the Electra Path is fully lit at night and “in superb condition”, yet it’s shut off by a parasade fence.
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“You could walk all the way to Hertfordshire if it wasn’t for this closed-off stretch,” he explains.
“It’s almost in perfect condition with lifebelts and pathway lighting, but is behind locked gates.
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“There’s no quayside activity going on. It’s not being used as a riverside wharf, but was clearly laid out as a towpath.”
A safety chain-link fence runs along the waterfront and lifebelts are dotted every few yards.
But the projected Leaway towpath going north from Leamouth doesn’t get passed the Canning Town Bridge, despite a clear signpost marking the route. You get no more than a few feet before coming up against the depot and business park blocking the way.
There’s a half-mile detour through the dusty streets of an industrial neighbourhood before you can rejoin the Lea at the Cody Dock community project.
“The petition is to make all the Lea a public right of way,” Tim is eager to stress. “It would connect tens-of-thousands of people to the river.”
Families on Poplar’s Aberfeldy Village estate opposite Cody Dock are already cut off by the A12 Blackwall Tunnel Approach dual-carriageway, the busy A13 East India Dock Road and scrap yards and old warehouses on the Lea waterfront, Tim points out. Opening up the Leaway path would give them access to the Olympic Park and the Upper Lea Valley.
Add to that City Island’s 1,600 households, with another 1,500 homes being built nearby at Blackwall’s Good Luck Hope development.
Cody Dock was part of the industrialisation of the Lower Lea Valley during the 19th century, when it opened in 1871 to supply the Canning Town gasworks, but lasted only 30 years before being abandoned.
Environment enthusiast Simon Myers rediscovered the dock in 2011 when it was “choked to the rafters” from more than 100 years of industrial waste and flytipped rubbish.
Simon set up a community charity with volunteers to rejuvenate it. His community manager Belle Tidswell says she wants to see the Leaway path project restarted.
“We get 30,000 people down this path every year who get this far and come up against the fence,” she explains. “They either have to turn back or go on the long-way-round through the industrial area to pick up the path further down.
“The fenced off path is beautiful. We’d love to see it opened up.
“I’ve sent letters of the council, but there’s lots of paperwork and layers of private land management getting in the way.”
A project manager has been employed jointly by Newham and Tower Hamlets councils to negotiate new river crossings and improve public access to the Lea. This includes opening up closed sections of the old towpath.
A town hall spokesman revealed: “Discussions are continuing with landowners of the Electra business park and the European Metal recycling plant to open up this section of the Leaway Path. This would create a continuous route from the Olympic Park to the Thames.”
Cody Dock, meanwhile, remains the dead end of the Lea towpath stopping abruptly just half-a-mile short of Leamouth and the Bow Creek estuary leading down to the Thames, with most of Poplar and Canning Town without access to the river.