An “urban national park” inspired by The Railway Children, linking the South Circular Road with Elmstead Woods, could be on its way if campaigners in Grove Park get their way.
The Railway Children Urban National Park would honour the author Edith Nesbit, who lived off Baring Road in a home that backed onto woodland by the tracks to Grove Park. Her 1906 novel is said to have been inspired by her walks in the area.
Her novel became a film in 1970 and will be revived next year in The Railway Children Return.
Campaigners want to create a seven-hectare park with an accessible 4.5km nature trail, which would bring visitors through wet woodland, chalk grassland, the River Quaggy, cemeteries, nature reserves, Chinbrook Meadows, Northbrook Park and the ancient Elmstead Woods.
A local referendum on a neighbourhood plan for Grove Park is being held on August 26. If passed, it would offer extra legal protection from “damaging developments” in the area – protecting the land for future generations and wildlife to enjoy.
The Grove Park Neighbourhood Forum says the land is possibly the last remaining urban site that offers the habitat needed for the five species of under-threat Hairstreak butterflies.
Grove Park ward councillor Suzannah Clarke praised the campaigners for their “visionary” work, while at a council meeting last year Lewisham’s elected mayor Damien Egan said the urban national park was “a genius idea”.
Clarke said: “I’ve worked with the community very closely on this and it’s been an incredible example of community resilience and determination. We were really worried because this land has been constantly under threat of development. We desperately need more places like this in London.
“And it’s become much more important and accepted in the planning department at Lewisham so I hope that within the next couple of years we can achieve this.”
Local resident Ben Donaldson has urged people to back the plans. He said: “A yes vote is a vote to protect the last remaining green spaces around Northbrook Park and the Grove Park Nature Reserve for future generations.
“A yes outcome will force the council to listen to the community’s plan and reduce the chances of more inappropriate development on green spaces.”
Lewisham Council pledged at a meeting in July that it would look at stopping “inappropriate development” and work with the community and landowners to protect the park.
Paul Bell, the cabinet member for housing and planning, said that the council fully supported the plans.
He said: “The council has put a number of planning protections in place to safeguard the land in this area and prevent inappropriate development, as well as designating part of the land owned by the council as a nature reserve, helping to protect wildlife and biodiversity.”
Gráinne Cuffe is the Local Democracy Reporter for Lewisham. The Local Democracy Reporting Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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