Campaigners desperate to save an unlawful community garden in Greenwich have been dealt a blow by the council.
Greenwich Council’s cabinet agreed last night to close and fence off Royal Hill Community Garden as it investigates building a new housing scheme.
Neighbours got together three years ago to clear what was the car park for the former Royal Hill police station after rubbish started to build up.
From there, the Royal Hill Community Garden has evolved into what users say is a vital green and open space for families.
Last night, councillors said its project needs to be taken forward due to housing needs.
It comes after campaigners organised a petition backed by more than 200 people in little over a week.
Speaking at the meeting, local resident Mary Kate Connolly pleaded for the decision to be pushed back so the community could have a say.
She said: “It has support from people of all ages and creeds from all round Greenwich. The community has created and flourished here – it did not exist before.
“This is a vibrant community site – it should be the stuff of dreams for the council. Prosthetic community schemes are made to bring communities together, and often they don’t work. This is already happening.
“The premature, draconian measures to destroy the garden before you begin to talk to us is not in the spirit of what you’re suggesting would be a mindful process.”
The garden is compiled of donated goods and survives through volunteers. It has no permission to exist – neighbours stepped in to renovate a derelict site.
Connolly said residents want a “proper consultation” on the future of the site, which they say is not viable for new homes.
The council is planning to close the garden, fence it off and undertake a feasibility study into developing the land as a replacement for the nearby Ashburnham Grove care home.
The garden is on top of an infill railway cutting, 50ft above a long-closed railway line – and the council says vital investigations must be undertaken to “inform the design” of its new scheme – bringing with it an imminent closure.
The garden has already survived two attempts at development, including an attempt for a couple of houses in 2017.
Sizwe James, cabinet member for regeneration and growth, said: “I fully appreciate the garden’s community value. I regret we are unable to keep it open until the building actually starts but feasibility works have to be carried out.
“We are committed to consulting residents, the cabinet paper is the first step to agree the strategy and funding to develop the design. We will be talking to you – residents will be consulted in advance to the planning application.
“We are committed to working together and engaging with the community.
“We do need to move forward. There’s a lot of need for beds for people with learning disabilities and they deserve the best accommodation we can find them.”
Councillors unanimously agreed to close the garden and undertake a feasibility study into a new development.
Video by Darryl Chamberlain.
Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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