A developer behind rejected plans to build a trailer park for “key workers” has blocked safe access to woodland used by schoolchildren for outdoor learning in Grove Park.
Two weeks ago it emerged the gates to the Lewisham 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.
The developer had applied to build a trailer park on the site, which is Metropolitan Open Land and a site of importance for nature, but the application for “18 mobile units for key workers” was refused in August.
Labour councillor Liam Curran, the chair of Lewisham Council’s sustainable development select committee, called the move “unlawful” and “shocking”.
“He has unlawfully padlocked the bit behind the Ringway Centre because we have community access to it,” he said.
“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.”
Curran is also pushing the council for tree preservation orders on Oldroyd’s land over fears trees and natural habitats will be destroyed to make way for inappropriate development.
Two years ago, 3242 Investments was 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”. The 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 Crawley Borough Council has since protected those left.
Suzannah Clarke, a Grove Park ward councillor, said what happened in Crawley was “deeply concerning”, and worried “that trees may be destroyed” in Grove Park “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.
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 did 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.
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.
Grainne Cuffe is the Local Democracy Reporter for Lewisham. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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