Abbey Wood’s Olympic legacy – trees on a football field?

It’s not often I head out as far as Abbey Wood, but an email from Emma suggested I should investigate strange goings-on in SE2. Greenwich Council were planting trees as an Olympic legacy on a green used for playing football, she said. Or, in her own words…

On the Co-Op estate in Abbey Wood there’s a rectangular green which is a fenced off area. It’s just grass, not remotely attractive, but is used by kids playing football and cricket and I’ve seen organised football group stuff there occasionally too. It’s pretty well used and, as far as I know, very peacefully.

About 6-8 weeks ago groups of very small saplings appeared all around the edge of the green.. They were then mulched a few weeks later so that there are now beds all around the edge. At the time I was curious, and thought maybe the council were bringing them on to plant them elsewhere. As far as I was aware there had been no notification/consultation about this and I did a bit of googling, but could find no reference to the trees being planted. I admit I gave up and carried on with stuff.

Yesterday a sign went up on the fence around the green: apparently they are part of a programme to plant trees in the borough for the Olympics. Personally I think the notice is slightly hysterical: the saplings are tiny and planted in groups as shrubs so hardly likely to ‘grow tall and shade the area killing off the grass and making it useless for a play area’ (at least not for 50 years or so…), but it does seem a bit rich that a playing field has been planted up with shrubs or trees: there’s a bloody great wood less than 5 mins up the road, and although there’s a playground not far off as far as I know it’s the only stretch of green which ball games are officially allowed on in the area.

I’m sure they could have found somewhere more appropriate to plant them (such as the stretch of green just up the road where ball games are not allowed). I wish I knew who’d put up the notice, there’s nothing on it saying who unfortunately.

Over the sumer there were notices about the green being closed on Sundays because of noise nuisance, so if I were a cynical person I might wonder if the council were trying to discourage the playing of games there.

By the time I got to visit, the notice had gone, but the shrubs were still around. Greening Street Green won’t win any Green Flag Awards soon – it’s a non-descript, fenced-off patch of grass with a sign forbidding the use of motorcycles. It’s easy to see why it’s a favourite for football or cricket – it’s just the right size for a decent knockabout.

But now the space available has shrunk thanks to these saplings, sat in their rubbish-strewn beds. It’s unclear just what Greenwich is hoping to achieve here – in an area crying out for some decent sports facilities, perhaps it could do with some goalposts, or even one of the outdoor gyms that have sprung up around the place.

Instead, the idea seems to be to turn this place into a little shady grove – but perhaps at the expense of young footballers and cricket players. Whatever the plan, it’s clear Greening Street Green is going to need a bit more love over the years than it gets now. Which surely should have involved bringing local people in from the start, instead of suddenly plonking some trees down.

Olympic legacy cock-up or a brave plan to transform a manky bit of green? It’s probably a bit of both, but it’s a beautiful example of how dire Greenwich Council’s communication skills are. It’s a nice idea to plant 2,012 trees to mark the Olympics – but it’s worthless if you don’t carry people with you.

The 2,012 trees wheeze has been around for a little while, having been launched in 2009 with “consultations” at the council’s Great Get Together jamborees, and again in Greenwich Time last year. But all’s gone fairly quiet since then, apart from the odd photo of Chris Roberts with a spade in his hand.

Happily, thanks to the good old Freedom of Information Act, I have a list of locations. They are… (descriptions as supplied by Greenwich Council)

Lower Paget Rise, (Woolwich, SE18)
Creek Road (from Gonson Street to Deptford Church Street, SE8)
Greenwich High Rd (Junction of Merryweather Place, SE10)
Chevening Road, (East Greenwich, SE10)
Porcupine Close, (Mottingham, SE9)
Bexley Road (from Alderwood Rd to Avery hill Rd, SE9)
Green Chain Walk, (Eltham, SE9)
Eynsham Drive, (Abbey Wood, SE2)
Burrage Road opposite Crescent Rd, (Plumstead, SE18)
Villas Road/Sandbach Place, (Plumstead, SE18)
Elliston House, Grand Depot Road, (Woolwich, SE18)
Defiance Walk, (Woolwich, SE18)
Ridgebrook Road / junction with Rochester Way, (Kidbrooke, SE3)
Eltham Road/ junction with Horn Park Lane SE12
Greening Street Open Space, (Abbey Wood, SE2)
The Slade, (Plumstead Common Rd, SE18)
The Point, West Grove and Vanbrugh pits, Blackheath, SE10)
Horn Park, (Eltham, SE12)
Queenscroft Park, (Queenscroft Rd, Eltham, SE9)

Other trees have been planted at sheltered accommodation sites (bracketed bits added by me)
Minnie Bennett House (Shooters Hill Road, Kidbrooke)
176 Shooters Hill
162 Shooters Hill
40 Littleheath (Charlton)
Ann Stroud Court (Eltham Road, Lee)
Bill Walden House (Wellington Street, Woolwich)
Wentworth House (Charlton Road, Blackheath)
Mandela House (Pendrell Street, Plumstead)
1 Garnet Close (Eltham)
133 Langton Way (Blackheath)
Strand Court (Strandfield Close, Plumstead)
Eltham Road (Lee)
Hyder Court (Hervey Road, Kidbrooke)
Colliston House (Woolwich Road, Greenwich)

Have you seen any of the 2012 trees out and about? Did you take part in the consultation process – and what was the response? I’d be interested to find out.


  1. Given the size of those ‘trees’ (think they are technically called ‘whips’ when they are so small) they will need a lot of care and attention before they threaten anyone with shade. Wonder if they’ll survive.

    About consultation – well at a Greenwich Council event at Charlton House a year or two back a map was put up and we were invited to put flags where we thought trees could be planted. I put one in my road, our trees went down in the great gale, but we haven’t been given any. Mind you, if they were as small as those planted in Abbey Wood I’d be pushing up daisies myself before they made a difference.

  2. Indeed, looking at those little things, it’s tempting to think: “What’s the point?”

    That “pin the flag on the map” caper could have been done online to garner a few more responses. I guess the responses at Charlton House must have been binned, considering there’s none in public places in SE7.

  3. Trafalgar/Woolwich Rd could really do with some trees to make this busy road a little more attractive and maybe to make a dent in the exhaust pollution.

    ….any chance?

  4. – hullo Nelson – lots of people would like trees along Woolwich and Trafalgar Roads – in fact since I have been on the Council it is the one place people ask for them to go all the time. When we did the Liveability scheme four-five years ago the residents on the steering group asked for lots of trees and the tree department surveyed the whole road – and came up with only possible sites for two or three trees (which went in). The tree men said that there are underground services below pavements which need access. Some of the shops have cellars which run under the pavement – and a lot of the frontages are owned by the shops and are not part of the actual pavement although they look the same. They also need to have a wide enough pavement to get buggies and wheelchairs past. I understand that Trafalgar Road has the same problems.

    I don’t know about the Olympic trees – all the ones I deal with are ones where people have asked for them – but I’m always happy to take suggestions forward.
    (Don’t ask about the Peninsula because that is all HCA – as are the ‘American trees’ which TfL have planted along the motorway – and they don’t tell anyone anything ever)

    I could also say a lot of nice things about the Greenwich tree-men, who are an interesting bunch when you get them on the subject of the trees (and tree diseases)

  5. Hi Mary,

    Can we suggest the wide pavement outside row or shops is Lassell Street. The pavement is tired and could do with some trees to soften the stark boundary of the East Greenwich conservation area.


  6. I’m very much in favour of tree planting, it just seems a rather funny place.

    Quite a few of the ‘trees’ on the green haven’t come into leaf and look decidedly dead, and every time I walk past another one or two of them have been pulled up.

    I wonder who took the signs down? (Actually I wonder who put them up!) I remember seeing another sign there a few years ago referring to ‘The Friends of Greening St Green’ but have never been able to find any reference to it since. Anybody got any clues?

  7. Another classic from the council in Abbey Wood is them planting trees on a grass verge next to the railway line that is to be dug up imminently to move utilities and widen the tracks from 2 to 4 for Crossrail. Those trees will have a short life. They were planted to partly replace trees they had chopped down nearby on grassy areas away from the rail line.

  8. Paul i will ask about the shops at the top end of Lassell Street and if it is possible. If you want to send me your email I wouild be grateful as it will take some time to get an answer to put here and by that time the blog will have moved on and you won’t be moving old posts. But I will see – and i agree it is the sort of corner where it would make a real difference. One problem might be that all those odd grassy bits in that area are owned by Morden College..

  9. … and the irony is that the ‘Olympic legacy’ entails developing the green field site next to Woodlands Farm!

  10. Hi Nelson’s Left Eye
    I’m curator for locally based arts and environment artist collective, Avant-Gardening and I am really interested in collecting local people’s feelings about East Greenwich, in particular the green and shared spaces in the area. We are about to start a socially engaged arts project in the area which will capture local people’s stories, memories and aspirations for the future; documenting the regeneration process and looking at how local communities can have a voice in the process.
    I will be at the East Greenwich Pleasuance Picnic tomorrow – sharing some wild flower plug plants and talking with residents about the project. I will also be asking people to complete a form about their feelings about air pollution in the area as the basis for research for the London Sustainability Exchange. On Thursday a small group of artists and residents will be walking the river path, mapping the spaces and sharing some blue sky thinking for the area which will inform our project.
    There is more about Avant-GArdening on our website and if you are interested in this project please drop me a line so I can add you to mailing list and shared resources for the project

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