‘We’ve had enough of the Ministry of Defence’s lack of care for Woolwich Common’

Local people walking across Woolwich Common were driven at by unwanted visitors. The Ministry of Defence owns the land but takes little interest in it

People who live near Woolwich Common had to put up cars being driven at them, antisocial behaviour and human waste being flytipped – despite Ministry of Defence promises that it will look after the open space. The Friends of Woolwich Common have had enough, as JANE LAWSON writes.

On Sunday 30 April twenty or so people spent the best part of the morning under the leadership of the committee of the Friends of Woolwich Common, doing the monthly litter pick. They left the common pristine.

But then the following day an illegal encampment of up to nine large vehicles, including wood shredders, arrived and parked by the escarpment. Every year the aggressive behaviour and destruction on the common has escalated.

The outrage detailed on the Friends of Woolwich Common’s Facebook page makes for very difficult and upsetting reading.

They arrived on 1 May, were served with a notice to quit signed by the leader of Greewnich Council on 3 May, but did not finally leave until the 8th.

Woolwich Common
Woolwich Common has been left damaged by the most recent visitors

In those eight days those walking across the common were driven at and threatened by quad bikes and motor scooters driven by underage youths who also rode them on the public roads to the further danger of others.

Cars were raced around the common, and at walkers, with the drivers shouting abuse and yelling at the walkers to get out of the way. The cars and other vehicles were driven all over the common, destroying plants and habitats and churning up mud to make even the designated footpaths impassable.

Woolwich Common
Heavy trucks were brought onto the common

The travellers make a living by offering “garden services” to local households. However, instead of responsibly dealing with the waste, it is dumped illegally on the common. Very often these ‘services’ end up costing large amounts of money with no receipt given. One disabled lady recounted how she had been scammed by these people and her lovingly nurtured garden destroyed.

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  • But that’s not all. They used their wood chipping machines to cut up trees and then dumped the results on the grassland destroying the rare habitat. Small fires damaged the acid grassland. Even worse than that is what they left behind: rubbish, rotting dog food and human faeces.

    Woolwich Common
    Ministry of Defence inaction means the common is vulnerable to antisocial behaviour

    The flytipping remained well into this week. There were piles of wood mixed with household waste and nappies.

    The day the visitors left, two good men immediately went to the common and cleared away nine huge bags of filth and then the secretary of the Friends and another member collected another massive haul. However, it needs professional waste clearers to deal with the rest as it’s a threat to human health.

    Woolwich Common
    Flytipped rubbish contributed to grass fires on the common five years ago

    This happens every year. One of the contractors told me that the cost of clearing the worst of the detritus ran into thousands – all a cost to the public purse – and then the Friends are left to clear up the rest.

    It seems that there are plans in existence to create a barrier round the common to prevent unauthorised vehicles from entering, but to date nothing has been done.

    The common is owned by the Ministry of Defence and it’s their responsibility to care for the land and ensure that those who use it legitimately are safe and protected.

    No citizen should be subjected to threats and abuse and the precious common needs conserving and guarding.

    How much longer do we have to wait?

    You can find out more about the Friends of Woolwich Common and their litter picks at friendsofwoolwichcommon.org.uk. Jane Lawson will be giving a talk about the Green Chain Walk, which passes through the common, at Charlton House tomorrow.

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