A shocking report from charity CPRE London highlights how the council’s Local Plan has put every open space in the borough at risk from development, writes PAUL LUSHION, our environment correspondent
Croydon, and its planning protection-lite revised Local Plan, has been given “star billing” in a conservation organisation’s critical report which claims there are more than 50 parks and open spaces in London which are under immediate threat of development.
Environment campaigners CPRE London’s report Forever Green? calls on the London boroughs to take urgent action to safeguard precious public parks.
But their report has come too late to stop a chunk of Thornton Heath’s Grangewood Park being auctioned off last month, or to halt the bulldozers in Waddon, as around a dozen mature trees were hacked down next to Duppas Hill Park last week.
Alice Roberts, the head of campaigns at CPRE London and a co-author of the London-wide report, told Inside Croydon, “Nothing is safe: all kinds of green space – from public parks, including historic and even royal parks, to vast areas of Green Belt, sports pitches, recreation grounds, open fields, nature reserves and green spaces in housing estates – are coming under threat. Many of the sites have protected Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land status.
“Developers and borough councils are often behind the threats.
“This situation is extremely alarming. London only has half the green space it needs for a population its size and the limited green spaces we have are coming under more pressure since the start of the pandemic, despite their growing importance. Meanwhile, attacks on Green Belt threaten loss of countryside around London while leaving rundown brownfield sites unused.
“Threats nearly always relate to money one way or another because land is worth much more if it can be developed. This is exacerbated because there is currently no mechanism that provides robust legal protection for parks and open spaces in London.
“The planning system doesn’t seem provide adequate protection any more either.”
CPRE London defines the threats thus: “We deem a site to be threatened if there is serious concern it will be lost as a result of development.”
Among the many examples where parks and open spaces are under threat, the CPRE report’s “danger list” includes Wimbledon Park in Merton, where the All-England Tennis Club want to build a vast new stadium over the existing, GRade II-listed parkland.
In Bromley, the council wants to build a SEND school on a section of Walden Wood, an area of importance of nature conservation including wet woodland and open scrub. “The decision was made without consultation or public notification, or recognition of its status as important habitat,” according to Barbara Arora from a Chislehurst parks friends group.
The CPRE London also flags up another Bromley scheme, a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul proposal to develop part of the listed Crystal Palace Park, a disused caravan site, to raise funds to pay for maintenance and up-keep elsewhere in the parkland.
Southwark Council’s home-building plans, using “infill sites”, building on kids’ playgrounds and grass areas in between existing buildings – very much like many of the schemes pursued in Croydon by council-owned Brick by Brick – are also widely criticised in the CPRE London report.
Even common land, with public protections going back to the Middle Ages, is not safe from development – and modern-day “enclosures” – in 21st Century south London. Tory-controlled Wandsworth wants to fence off part of Tooting Common to create a for-profit football facility, “commercialising a public space”, according to residents.
CPRE London also includes the Beddington Farmlands nature reserve in neighbouring Sutton as a cause for serious concern, after incinerator operators Viridor failed to carry out environmental improvements which were included in the conditions of its planning permission.
But in Croydon, CPRE London’s report has deemed every open space in the entire borough to be under threat as a result of the recent Local Plan review. Environmental groups in the borough declared the Local Plan – being rushed through before the local elections in May – as “nothing more than a developers’ charter”.
Some, including a local MP and the Mayor of London, think that the council’s Local Plan revision is unlawful.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, adopted the London PLan in January last year, CPRE London says, “The London Plan contains policies to protect Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land, although these need to be effectively applied.”
CPRE London’s Roberts says, “Despite welcome policies in the London Plan and positive action by some boroughs, the national reforms in 2012 have opened the system up to greater challenge, so if you can argue that building on a green space is ‘sustainable development’, then that seems to trump all protections. Obviously that is arguable, but it just creates a bonanza for lawyers and puts the party able to pay for legal support in the strongest position.
“As a result the protection of London’s green spaces ultimately falls to local communities who are prepared to fight for them. Often they don’t have the necessary expertise or resources. Even so, there are many local groups prepared to campaign – and we, and others like the London Gardens Trust, help them as far as we can.
“Urgent action is needed to address these growing threats. We now want all those standing for election to borough councils to commit actively to identify green spaces under threat; and positively plan, with local groups, to save those spaces. Where a borough council is actively involved in creating a threat, we are urging them to think again.
“Ultimately, we need effective legal and planning policy protection for our precious green spaces. That may well mean new legislation and changes to the National Planning Policy Framework.
“Until effective protections are in place – your local park is only as safe as the communities who befriend it and are prepared to fight for it.”
Read more: London Mayor joins critics of ‘unlawful’ Local Plan review
Read more: Toxic legacy that could destroy borough’s character forever
Read more: Residents have 48 hours to save 70 parks and open spaces
Read more: Butler caught out in another lie over sale of public park land
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