By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter
Lewisham’s sustainable development committee chairman has urged the council to protect land the community has plans to turn into a 7.2 hectare park.
Councillor Liam Curran also warned that it was a risk of “atrocious” damage from developers.
The Grove Park Neighbourhood Forum is aiming to turn the land from the South Circular to past Elmstead Woods Railway Station into the ‘Railway Children Urban National Park’, a new district park for Lewisham.
The name is a nod to the novel by Edith Nesbit, who lived in the area and whose writing is thought to have been inspired by it.
The plan reimagines the site as an accessible nature trail with Grove Park Nature Reserve at its heart.
The GPNF has already put forward a neighbourhood plan, though it is yet to be accepted by Lewisham Council.
And the plan is also under threat from private landowners who have attempted to develop it numerous times, and have damaged it by cutting down trees.
Stuart Oldroyd, of 3242 Investments, who owns a patch of land behind the Ringway Community Centre called the horse meadow, recently had the gates to it illegally padlocked to prevent people coming through.
Children attending the Adventure Applied learning programme provided by the Centre usually walk through the horse meadow to get to the Grove Park Nature Reserve. They, along with the local community, have easement rights to it.
The council responded by putting a tree protection order on the land, but construction workers arrived at 8am one morning last week with heavy machinery.
They claimed they were there to “clear some brambles”, but locals – who were not warned in advance – were skeptical, noting what “looked like tree chippers”.
Locals and ward Cllr Suzannah Clarke fended them off, but remain concerned they could come back at any time.
On the incident last week, Stephen Kenny, co-founder of the Baring Trust, said: “We managed to delay the destruction of the SINC (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation) for a bit – residents were brilliant.
“[It was] shocking really, there is a lockdown and this is not needed, and we’re in the middle of a climate emergency
“Badgers, hedgehogs, birds, lizards etc. and the other priority species on this site get to keep their homes a little longer.”
Concerns were also raised about the risk of Covid-19 transmission regarding “non urgent works”.
At an overview and scrutiny meeting on Tuesday Cllr Curran, trustee of the Baring Trust and a member of the GPNF, said the park is an “incredible opportunity to implement council policies across the piste” including “climate change, flood prevention, our green policies, clean air, [and] housing”.
“We have been lobbying behind the scenes to urge to council to embrace this rather than hinder it by inaction, because several parts of this new park are under threat from developers who are cutting down trees and damaging the natural environment deliberately in an atrocious way,” he said.
Cllr Curran urged the council to take the “legal action necessary” to prevent the developers from inflicting “permanent damage to this amazing jewel in the crown of Lewisham that should be embraced with both hands”.
Mayor Damien Egan attended the meeting, during which all scrutiny members were able to put questions to him.
Cllr Curran asked if he would look into getting the whole space designated a Site of Metropolitan Importance, applying a woodland TPO, and recognising priority habitats.
“The key thing is about the acceptance of the Grove Park Neighbourhood Plan,” he added.
Mayor Egan committed to looking into it.
“I fully support the urban national park – I think it’s a genius idea.
“So yes, I can give you that commitment to look into that,” he said.
The mayor added that officers have been in touch with the developer “to explain that if there is any illegal activity that we will take action”.
Pictured: Machinery arriving at the horse meadow
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