A community group is urging people to object to a proposed development that would destroy rare wetlands and vital habitats if it goes ahead.  

The land in Grove Park, previously used by Willow Tree Riding School, is home to wetlands and species such as the common newt, frog, toad, migrant birds, hedgehogs, hairstreak butterflies, and bats.  

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The site, just behind Northbrook Park, came under threat in 2019 after owner Austringer Estates Ltd, a company previously registered off-shore under a different name, applied to build new stables. 

But the application was refused because the proposed development would have had an “urbanising visual impact and harm the openness of the Metropolitan Open Land (MOL)”. 

“The proposed tree removal and unrestricted grazing on the site would have a detrimental impact on the character and appearance of the site and would lead to a demise of trees which in turn detract from the TPO and MOL designations.  

“The proposed site layout is considered to be unacceptable in terms of pedestrian and highway safety; and insufficient information has been submitted to determine the impact of the proposal on the safety of the users of the highway network,” according to Lewisham’s planning decision.  

But now the developer, with the help of agent PWA Planning, is appealing the decision.  

The developer says it wants to clear the perimeter of the land to make way for a 1km track for horses.  

PWA Planning is behind several housing developments in Preston with Austringer Capital, a developer which appears to be linked to Austringer Estates Ltd.  

Community group Friends of Grove Park Wetlands, along with other local groups, is urging people to oppose the plans.  

Campaigners believe the plans for the new riding school are a guise to enable the developer to flatten the wetlands and destroy important habitats, making it easier for bigger developments to be approved in the future. 

“When the nature is gone there will be nothing left to protect,” a spokesperson for FoGPW said.  

Appealing to the public in a statement they said: “In July 2020, many nature lovers in Grove Park objected to a planning application to develop the Grove Park Nature Reserve. 

“When word got out that a cherished green space was under threat, the number of objections rose from a handful to almost 100, and the application was refused. 

“We were successful that time, but sadly the green corridor is under imminent threat once again via the adjacent Willow Tree Wetlands.  

“This time the threat comes from a retail park developer.  

“Large parts of the site have been left undisturbed for decades, providing a priority habitat for rare species and a natural flood defence system for the Quaggy.  

“It is a crown jewel of Lewisham’s natural environment. Like much of the Grove Park railway embankment and surrounding areas, the land has been bought by developers intent on putting profit before community health and nature.” 

See related:Developer blocks safe access to Grove Park nature reserve

See related:Developer warned not to damage protected land

See related:Feature:Railway Children Urban National Park

The group said PWA Planning is “experienced in winning planning appeals which will allow them to build on valuable green spaces”. 

“While a new stables could be of benefit to the community, a detailed look at the application reveals that the planned stables appears to be a front to pave the way – literally – for further applications once the land has been cleared,” they said.  

FoGPW is asking people to object to the plans to save the wetlands, which includes a very rare inner London wet woodland and wetland priority habitat. 

They say the development would interrupt the continuous green corridor for flora and fauna leading to the nature reserve and on to Elmstead Woods, while riding stables should not need the 1km track.   

Added to this, 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.      

Its neighbourhood plan reimagines the site, made up of 7.2 hectares, as an accessible nature trail with Grove Park Nature Reserve at its heart.   

The trail would bring visitors through wet woodland, chalk grassland, deciduous woodland, the River Quaggy, cemeteries, nature reserves, Chinbrook Meadows, Northbrook Park, and the ancient woodland of Elmstead Woods.    

A central aim of the plan is to protect biodiversity and to create a welcoming home for different species, some of which are at risk of becoming extinct.   

But this proposal could put the planned district park at risk, campaigners say.   

To comment on the appeal email the Planning Inspectorate at VE.RT@planninginspectorate.gov.uk by March 5 with reference APP/C5690/W/20/3254911.

PWA Planning has been contacted for comment.