By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter
A new park on fields that ‘inspired The Railway Children’ could come to Lewisham – if campaigners get their way.
Campaigners have dubbed their decade-long plans the ‘Railway Children Urban National Park’ after author Edith Nesbitt, who used to live in the area.
The beautiful surroundings are widely believed to have inspired her 1906 novel The Railway Children – which became a film in 1970 – and is set to return to cinemas in April 2022 with The Railway Children Return.
The huge seven-hectare park at a Lewisham beauty spot would include an accessible 4.5km nature trail stretching from the South Circular to beyond Elmstead Woods – along the National Rail line.
The trail would bring visitors through wet woodland, chalk grassland, the River Quaggy, cemeteries, nature reserves, Chinbrook Meadows, Northbrook Park, and the ancient Elmstead Woods.
A late August vote on the neighbourhood plan would make the campaigners’ dreams for the Grove Park site one step closer to becoming a reality.
If voted through, the neighbourhood plan would offer extra legal protection from ‘damaging developments’ – protecting the land for future generations and wildlife to enjoy.
The Grove Park Neighbourhood Forum campaigners want to create a welcoming home for different species and protect biodiversity.
They claim the land is possibly the last remaining urban site that offers the habitat needed for the five species of under threat Hairstreak butterflies.
Grove Park Councillor Suzannah Clarke is a huge supporter of the plans and praised the campaigners for their “visionary” work.
Cllr Clarke said: “I’ve worked with the community very closely on this and it’s been an incredible example of community resilience and determination.
“We were really worried because this land has been constantly under threat of development.
“We desperately need more places rather than fewer places like this in London.”
At a scrutiny meeting last year, Lewisham Mayor Damien Egan said he “fully supported” the urban national park and that it was a “genius idea”.
Cllr Clarke added: “And it’s become much more important and accepted in the planning department at Lewisham so I hope that within the next couple of years we can achieve this.”
Local resident Ben Donaldson has urged people to back the plans.
He said: “A yes vote is a vote to protect the last remaining green spaces around Northbrook Park and the Grove Park Nature Reserve for future generations.
“A yes outcome will force the council to listen to the community’s plan and reduce the chances of more inappropriate development on green spaces.”
A referendum on the plan is set to take place on August 26. Anyone local to the area can vote.
The council pledged at a meeting in July that it would look at stopping “inappropriate development” and work with the community and landowners to protect the park.
Cllr Paul Bell, cabinet member for housing and planning, said the council fully supports the plans.
He said: “The council has put a number of planning protections in place to safeguard the land in this area and prevent inappropriate development, as well as designating part of the land owned by the council as a nature reserve, helping to protect wildlife and biodiversity.”
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