Residents who have turned a former car park in west Greenwich into a community garden face eviction within weeks under new plans by Greenwich Council to build on the site.
The Royal Hill Community Garden has survived two attempts to build on the narrow strip of land close to the former Greenwich police station. But this time, the council plans to throw the garden out in April, before formalising plans to build a home for adults with learning difficulties, which would replace an existing facility on nearby Ashburnham Grove.
Neighbours took over the site after the Metropolitan Police stopped using it as a car park. It sits in an infilled railway cutting, used as part of an ill-fated line to Greenwich Park until a century ago.
The council maintains the residents are using the site illegally. Councillors on Greenwich’s cabinet will be asked to agree to spend £175,000 on feasibility studies at a meeting next Wednesday.
Previous plans to build on the site have been thwarted by the council’s own planning committees. In April 2017, councillors on the planning board threw out plans for two three-bedroom semi-detached homes, one three-bedroom house and a one-bedroom flat after 93 public objections, saying that it was too big for the site and would not add to the West Greenwich conservation area.
Another plan, for two four-bedroom homes, one three-bedroom home and a one-bed flat was rejected by an area planning committee in 2013.
Locals have long fought for the site to remain in community use, and in August 2016 Greenwich & Woolwich’s Labour MP Matt Pennycook unveiled a small mural on the site.
But the council leadership – also Labour – has also made its disdain for the community garden clear. After an 800-strong petition was presented to the council in 2017, former leader – and current cabinet member – Denise Hyland declared: “We cannot leave a piece of land that can house two families as an allotment [sic].”
The current plans see the existing home for adults with learning difficulties at Ashburnham Grove sold off and a new one built on the site of the community garden. The council says the existing building is unfit for use and its residents were moved out in December. An alternative proposal to rebuild this site is mentioned in the documents but not expanded upon.
“The site is currently being unlawfully used as a community garden and this will need to be cleared in order to develop the site,” meeting documents say. “The site is built on a former railway cutting and it is therefore essential that a range of ground investigations are undertaken in order to inform the design of the scheme.
“In order to undertake site surveys the community garden will need to be entirely cleared. A letter to local residents will be issued to explain this and give notice that the surveys will be commencing so that they can clear the site.”
The new proposal comes less than four months after a community garden a mile away in Deptford was cleared by Lewisham Council for development plans, with clashes between police, bailiffs and residents who had been occupying the site. Security guards are still on duty at the site, off Deptford Church Street.
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