Public inquiry demanded into Shooters Hill horse centre

Campaigners want a public inquiry into plans to build an equestrian centre on land at Shooters Hill, after Greenwich Council’s planning board backed the Olympics-linked scheme last week.

Woodlands Farm Trust chair Barry Gray says the scheme will be “a significant overdevelopment of metropolitan open land“, and that the board’s decision was “ill informed, irrational,” and influenced by a report from council officers that contained “a significant number of inaccuracies”.

The council’s planning board split on party lines for the issue, with the five Labour councillors – including leader Chris Roberts – backing the scheme and the two Tories opposing it.

Dr Gray has written to the Department of Communities and Local Government and London mayor Boris Johnson to outline his worries. In it, he says…

“I believe that the decision reached by the Planning Board of the London Borough of Greenwich was ill informed, irrational, and partly based on a report from officers that contained a substantial number of inaccuracies that affected the final decision.

“This has led to the granting of planning permission to an inappropriate development on MOL which has commercial components and is entirely inappropriate. Aspects of the so called ‘evidence’ within the officers report were mere assertions with no base of evidence.

He continues:

“There are serious material inaccuracies within the report relating the very special circumstances, for instance, it is stated that there are no riding facilities within the Borough, but there are riding facilities, and this was brought to members of the planning board attention at the meeting.

“There are riding facilities at New Lodge Riding School in Mottingham and also in Mottingham Farm Riding School. These riding facilities are signposted on Greenwich Council’s own website, and in the case of New Lodge riding school was recently the subject of an extensive article in Greenwich Council’s own publication, Greenwich Time.

“How council officers could have made such a serious mistake in reporting to the Planning Board is beyond comprehension. Therefore a key element put forward by officers as a very special consideration for inappropriate development does not exist.”

He adds that there is also no evidence that the centre is essential for the smooth running of the Olympic Games, and “there is no guarantee that there will be any sporting advantage or cultural advantage to the local population”.

“No evidence on pricing, funding or the degree of community benefit, (if any), is provided,” he says, commenting that a proposed equine therapy centre shows there would be a commercial benefit from the development which would be above any community benefit for building on the site.

Dr Gray, who led the 1990s campaign to stop a motorway running through Oxleas Woods, also criticises the “peculiar aspect” of Greenwich Council effectively applying to itself for the development.

“The permission was determined in favour of development by members of the planning committee who have clearly spoken out in favour of the Olympics, the Equestrian Skills Centre and the so called legacy value of this centre in the past,” he says.

“It is therefore essential, in order to establish public confidence in the process, that a public enquiry be called so that the decision can be tested by examination of the evidence and cross examination.”

My own observations on the issue, for what it’s worth, can be read here.

3:50pm update: LOCOG confirmed this afternoon that it is not planning to use the Shooters Hill equestrian centre as a staging point for next summer’s Olympics – despite having used the site during the test events – and is looking for an alternative site in Greenwich borough.


  1. There are many people writing in support for this public enquiry. Lets hope the Mayor pays attention to this or we will see many developments on open land, not just here but all over London.

  2. I’d have more support for Woodlands Farm if they hadn’t unilaterally blocked the Green Chain Walk for months by locking a gate where the footpath passes over their land. As far as I know it’s still locked.

  3. That’s one of the nicest sections of the Green Chain Walk that Woodlands farm has blocked. Replaced by a long detour through the streets.

  4. Take it up with Woodlands, they should have the answer but don’t let it deter us from the site next door. It’s not only them campaigning against it. Maybe if we had access to this land, like we should, the Green Chain Walk can go through there instead.

  5. I know what their answer is – they say that it’s to stop people stealing/killing their sheep. My response is that a couple of isolated incidents (however distressing) isn’t a good enough excuse to block a public right of way for months/years as they have done. My point is that, when people act in such a high-handed manner, they lose my sympathy. It seems to me that, on its own merits, the case against the Council is a good one. They made the decision on incorrect facts, fanciful conjecture and they didn’t consult properly.

  6. Precisely, Steve. This tends to make Dr. Barry Gray look little better than a hypocrite.

    His professed concern about the need to preserve open land on Shooters Hill might carry considerably more weight if his Woodlands Farm stopped blocking the Green Chain Walk where it passes across his property.
    Dr. Gray is joint chairman of the Woodlands Farm Trust.

    The Green Chain is one of London’s major long-distance walking routes. A network of public rights of way stretching from Crystal Palace to Erith on the Thames Estuary some 22 miles away, it was established 36 years ago and traverses woodland, parks, open spaces and footpaths as well as public roads.

    It was the brainchild of Greenwich Council and was established and developed in conjunction with Bexley, Bromley and Lewisham Councils, the former Greater London Council and and the Greater London and South East Regional Sports Council.

    Despite being signposted and promoted for over 20 years without demure as part of the Green Chain Walk, the farm four or five years denied a public right of way existed across its fields and without consultation started blocking access to Green Chain walkers.

    The trouble reportedly arose after sheep on the farm were mauled by a dog. First it was just a padlocked farm gate and some barbed wire. But for the last two or three years the Green Chain footpath across the farm has been blocked at both ends by formidable six-foot steel fencing and gates kept chained and padlocked and clearly installed as a permanent fixture.

    Green Chain Project Officer Mark Budd and his team claim on the Green Chain website to be “doing all we can to resolve this issue”. But the website now shows an alternative route for walkers that totally bypasses the farm and redirects them through nearby housing on public roads.

    Despite meetings with Dr. Barry and site visits by Mr. Budd and his team “no resolution has been achieved that can reconcile the needs of both parties,” Mr. Budd advised me when I wrote to him last year.

    The councils involved now have to decide what to do. It’s taking them a long time and meanwhile, it does rather look as if Dr. Gray, like many another farmer and landowner around the country, is principally concerned to keep walkers off his 89 acres, and has succeeded despite numerous protests. Which prompts the question in his case, what price “open land” on Shooters Hill?

  7. I do not nor am I a member of the farm. Yes I am sure there are some issues to iron out but lets put this into perspective. The donkey man on 341 Shooters Hill has been told to move with no alternative site. This man has been doing donkey rides on Blackheath for 64 years and been renting this site for 30 odd years. This man is severely disabled himself. I was shocked when I saw him walk into the Planning Board Meeting on the 13th let us spare a thought for him and where he will go. What about the Learning Disability group who also reside there, again told that they will have to move off but not told where they are to go or even if there is a place for them. Check the link below, check the title of the web site then when on the page scroll down to see 341 Shooters Hill LD group.

    This is not a quest set out by Dr Gray and Woodlands farm this is an issue that effects everyone in the borough who were not informed about this venture and the cost it will cost toTax payers. A college run by Hadlow, for 16+ paying fees in the range of £9000 per year. The cost to Oxleas Wood because they want to ride in it. The cost to the environment, the wildlife, and the psychological cost to our health and well being when ‘Bit by bit we are losing our land’ to these ludicrous ideas.

  8. We all make mistakes and if any way I have misinterpreted what I have heard or what I have been told then please put me right and I will apologise profusely.

  9. We would not be in this situation if Woodlands Farm allowed the development on the Abbatoir site. Concerns about horses walking across the farm. Unbelievabl,but true. Seems like a small minority of vocal Luddites,not really looking at this modest development are happy to deny residents of Greenwich the benefit of an Equestrian Centre so much enjoyed by residents across this land where similar facilities exist in the countryside. Same people who tried to deny young people the opportunity of a BMX track. Strange world we live in

  10. ‘The Luddites were a social movement of 19th-century English textile artisans who protested – often by destroying mechanised looms – against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt were leaving them without work and changing their way of life. The movement was named after General Ned Ludd or King Ludd, a mythical figure who, like Robin Hood, was reputed to live in Sherwood Forest’.

    Cited Wiki

    Strange words you use, it seems we are not the ones destroying anything only thinking this was a land of democracy and that we all had a right to voice our views and opinions.

    What a ludicrous thing to say, to blame Woodlands for the situation we find ourselves in… it’s all their fault? for the reason you punish us and put an equestrian centre in Greenwich when it is not needed…..bizare!

    I still have not been told I am wrong therefore I am right!!

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