Lewisham’s cabinet member for housing and planning has refused to put more protections on land which is under threat from developers in Grove Park.

The Grove Park Neighbourhood Forum aims 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.

See related: Feature: Railway Children Urban National Park

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It has put forward a neighbourhood plan including the proposals,which is set to be examined starting next week, three years after it was submitted.

Responding to a members’ question from Cllr Liam Curran ahead of full council on Wednesday (November 25), the member for housing and planning, Cllr Paul Bell, set out the expected timetable for the GPNP.

The results of the examination should be published in February 2021, and if the plan is successful it “will have significant material weight and will be used as part of the suite of policy documents to make planning decisions”. 

But campaigners and councillors fear the plans are under threat from landowners in the area because there are inadequate protections in place.

See related: Grove Park Community Group brand developer's actions illegal

Developers have repeatedly tried to build on it and damaged it by cutting down trees – one recently sent construction workers down with heavy machinery but they were fended off by locals and a ward councillor.

The developer in question, Stuart Oldroyd, of 3242 Investments, owns a patch of land behind the Ringway Community Centre called the horse meadow and recently had the gates to it illegally padlocked to prevent people coming through.

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Children attending the Adventure Applied learning programme provided by the Centre usually walk through it to get to the Grove Park Nature Reserve. They, along with the local community, have easement rights to it.

The council responded to concerns by putting a TPO on the land.

But at full council Cllr Curran repeatedly pushed for more protection.

He said the evidence in the local plan regarding Hither Green Sidings Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) – including National Rail land, the horse meadow, and the Willow Tree Riding Stables - is “flawed and inaccurate”.

He said the council is “failing in its duty” because it “does not recognise the existence of the priority habitat wet woodland” in the area.  

“The enemy are at the gates, there’s no point to discuss it anymore because the developer is waiting to destroy [the land] behind the Ringway Centre,” he said.

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Cllr Curran asked that a woodland TPO be put in place, which protects trees that are about to grow, because a regular TPO “is insufficient”.

He put as his background before and after images of what Network Rail did to its patch of land in 2018, cutting down everything, because of the lack of protection.

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He said: “The council has failed to record the wet woodland priority habitat in the Hither Green Sidings by not updating the SINC review, which is now five years old, and will be included in the local plan.

“Can [Cllr Bell] give us a guarantee that the existing protections are sufficient to prevent any destruction of the site [...]”

Cllr Bell said “unfortunately, there are no guarantees in life”.

“Particularly around when we don’t own the land. The response to the SINC and the professional advice we’ve been given suggests that there are adequate protections in place.

“If there’s any evidence to the contrary, then please bring this to my attention,” he said.

Cllr Bell said the planning service “is satisfied that the 2015/2016 SINC review is a sufficiently robust evidence base for the local plan and that the absence of a reference to wet woodland does not mean that it is flawed”.

He said the planning department “has taken action already” and “made very clear statements around the activity by the developers”.

“Officers will continue to do that in order to make sure our green spaces are protected,” he said.

See related:Grove Park: Developer warned not to damage protected land

He offered to have a discussion with Cllr Curran and residents in the area, but said this week “would not be possible”.