By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter
Town hall chiefs voted to flog off three retreats which offer breaks to deprived kids because they are a cash drain and cannot produce enough rent.
Lewisham council will go ahead with a decision to sell off land formerly used by a children’s charity despite calls to reverse it.
Wide Horizons was an adventure learning charity formed in 2004 through a joint initiative between Lewisham and Greenwich councils.
But the charity, which managed eight outdoor centres and provided adventure activities to nearly 47,000 children, was forced to close in 2018 over a lack of funding.
Lewisham owns three of the centres – one in Dartford and two in Wales – but agreed to sell off the land in January.
The decision was criticised by the council’s overview and scrutiny business panel, which said the sales would be “detrimental” to future generations, and called on the council to reverse it.
The call-in, debated at mayor and cabinet on March 11, was rejected.
Councillor Luke Sorba, children and young people select committee chairman, and Cllr Liam Curran, sustainable development scrutiny committee chairman, asked that the decision be delayed until more research was done on the potential for the land.
Cllr Curran said the decision was “essentially privatising school playing fields”.
He said: “The report says it does not appear to have created challenges for Lewisham schools in providing alternatives, but is that a strong enough evidence base we’re going to make a decision on?
“I can give you evidence as a scout leader for 15 years taking children to fields, open spaces, mountains, rivers – the introduction of children to nature has profoundly beneficial effects on their development and we agreed that we think there are several things that could be done here.”
He urged mayor and cabinet not to rush into the decision.
Cllr Sorba said the land had the specific purpose to provide “rare experiences for the most deprived children and young people in Lewisham to get out of the city and into the countryside”.
He said scrutiny members, although they appreciated its value, did not feel Beckenham Place Park presented an “alternative”.
He said: “While we really appreciate the need to generate income to make all of our assets value for money, the benefits of the cash that will be raised can often be short-lived, whereas land is a rare asset that persists and we felt that more consideration should be given to seeing these three pieces of land as an investment for the future.”
The council is obliged to take the highest bid for the land sales, but Mayor Damien Egan asked the council to look for public sector buyers, like councils, to try to ensure the land does not go to the private sector.