A developer has blocked safe access to woodland used by school children for outdoor learning in Grove Park.  

Two weeks ago it emerged the gates to the council-owned Ringway Community Centre were padlocked, while a sign was erected saying “private land, unauthorised access not permitted”. 

Local primary school children use the woodland beside the centre, sublet to and run by the Grove Park Community Group, as part of Forest School, which promotes learning outdoors.  

To get to the Grove Park Nature Reserve safely – not via main roads – the children walk through privately-owned land, which they are legally allowed to do after being granted access.  

But now, as schools reopen, the owner of the land, Stuart Oldroyd of 3242 Investments Ltd/Tilco, removed the chain and lock on the gate and replaced it with his own.  

News Shopper:

Cllr Liam Curran, chair of Lewisham Council’s sustainable development select committee, blasted the move as “unlawful” and “shocking”.  

“He has unlawfully padlocked the bit behind the Ringway Centre because we have community access to it.

“The land behind the Ringway Centre and the Ringway Centre itself are used for Forest School and outdoor learning and hundreds of school children have benefitted from that in the past year.  

“We were just about to resume with the schools going back but now we can’t,” he said. 

Cllr Curran is also pushing the council for tree preservation orders (TPO) on Mr Oldroyd’s land over fears trees and habitat will be destroyed to make way for inappropriate development.  

3242 Investments was previously investigated by The Forestry Commission after an area of ancient woodland it owned in Crawley “was wrecked by contractors, turning it into a muddy wasteland”. 

Crawley Borough Council said a “significant number” of trees were felled in Burleys Wood without permission before it was informed. 

At the time, none of the trees were covered by preservation orders, but the has since protected those left. 

Cllr Suzannah Clarke, Grove Park ward councillor, said what happened in Burleys Wood was “deeply concerning”, and worried “that trees may be destroyed and that the Nature Reserve and surrounding land could be facing a serious threat”.   

“These natural areas are proven to be vital to the whole community and have been essential during the pandemic.   

“They are of enormous value to the whole of society and must be protected from those interested in short-term gain,” she said.  

Cllr Clarke added: “It appears that the developer has stopped safe access through the pathway from our Community Centre to the Nature Reserve, which people have used for years, particularly school children.” 

She said she does not understand why the developer would do this “if his intentions are honourable”.  

Environmental and heritage group the Baring Trust said that the local community asked to buy the land in 2017 to protect it as a site of importance for nature in perpetuity.  

But 3242 Investments, acting for the previous owner Taylor Wimpey, told them the cost was £500,000.  

The organisation says that 3242 Investments subsequently purchased the land for £7,500. 

“The developer was well aware of the community’s authorised access when he purchased the land off Taylor Wimpey,” a spokesperson said. 

The developer applied to build a trailer park on the site, which is Metropolitan Open Land and a site of importance for nature, but the application was refused this August. 

A previous application from another developer nearby to build riding stables on the site formerly sublet by Willow Tree Riding School was also refused earlier this year. 

Lewisham Council’s planning officers said the proposed development “would give rise to materially larger buildings on MOL” that would “result in an urbanising visual impact and harm” to the land.  

Officers also took issue with the developer’s plans to cut down trees, which they said would have “a detrimental impact on the character and appearance of the site”. 

Stephen Kenny, of the Baring Trust said: “This vital site has been used by schoolchildren for vital outdoor learning and activities and our plan is for it to be part of a 30-acre natural park that the community has campaigned for many years now.  

“We are worried that the developer could destroy the land at any moment. There is a clear and present danger to the land and we hope the council will move swiftly to protect it.” 

The developer has not responded to a request for comment.  

The land is part of the wider railway corridor land, made up of the Grove Park Nature Reserve, private land and allotments, Northbrook Park, and some Network Rail land – it includes various priority habitats including wet woodlands. 

The Grove Park neighbourhood forum was set up in 2011 – the group created a neighbourhood plan, which if adopted will go into local planning law, that includes a plan to make the land the ‘Railway Children Urban National Park’.