My copy of South East Walker, the Ramblers regional newspaper, has just arrived, and once again the Green Chain Walk through Woodlands Farm features in its pages. A letter from farm trustees Barry Gray and Maggie Jones on page 3 and another article by Inner London Ramblers Campaigns Officer Des Garrahan on page 5 represent the latest steps in an ongoing dispute about the (currently blocked) path through the farm. I’ve covered the background in earlier posts.
The stage was set for the latest developments at the start of October at the well-attended Woodlands Farm AGM where a motion was raised to authorise the trustees to negotiate with Ramblers on an alternative route for the Green Chain walk through the farm. This motion was carried almost unanimously, with just two abstentions. As I understand it, the farm’s proposal is that rather than going straight across the farm from the Keats Road/Dryden Road gate the path would turn sharp left along the edge of the farm and link up with Footpath 245. On the map, right, taken from the Green Chain Walk’s “Suggested route if the gates are locked” the farm’s proposed route would go from Gate B to the red alternative route. The farm would pay for this to be fenced, in the same way as Footpath 245, preventing access to the farm’s field.
The Farm Trustees’ letter explains the farm’s position, their contribution to the local community and their reason for locking the gates: “because when the gates are left open they are used not only by friendly ramblers and walkers, but also by arsonists, thieves, drug users and those who have, in the past, set dogs on our livestock, often killing or maiming.” The letter concludes by suggesting talks between Ramblers and the Farm:
Much is at stake here and cool heads are needed. We are reasonable people and not ogres. We suggest that Mr Garrahan calms down a little, gets his facts right and, would it be too much to ask; that he comes to talk to us at Woodlands Farm, particularly as he now has the added responsibility of being a trustee on the Ramblers’ board.
We are not depriving people of the ability to walk in our fields. Subject to the movement of stock they can visit and see what a volunteer-run trust can do to preserve and improve wildlife and biodiversity so near to the centre of London. What they cannot do at present is walk through as if it were a public route.
In a week when we were reminded of the burglary and vandalism at the farm earlier in the year by @MPSGreenwich’s tweet: “3 teenagers who damaged and burgled #Woodlands Farm have received suspended sentences, curfew orders & electronic tagging”, it’s clear that Woodlands Farm are right to be concerned about their security.
Des Garrahan’s article, Blocked Green Chain Walk at Woodlands Farm, is an update on “the campaign to to remove the obstructions blocking the Green Chain Walk at Woodlands Farm and get this part of the route established as a public right of way.” The current phase of the campaign is the collation of witness evidence, and he asks for people who have walked the path through the farm, particularly if it was before 1992, to get in touch with Des at Ramblers’ Central Office.
Des concludes by thanking “all the people at the Green Chain Walk” for their continued support and advice. I assume this is referring to the Green Chain Walking Party which the farm trustees mention in their letter as having rejected their proposal for rerouting the path. According to the Green Chain web site this group is made up of representatives of five boroughs – Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark:
This officer level working party was set up in 1975, comprising Planning Officers from the authorities, and has been in existence ever since. Shortly after this a Joint Committee of Members was set up. This is for the main part composed of the Chairmen or Vice-Chairmen of the constituent authorities Development Control and Recreation Committees. In the case of both the Working Party and the Joint Committee, the Greater London and South East Regional Sports Council are represented. It should be noted that prior to its demise, the GLC was also involved and in fact at officer level provided considerable input. The officer level Working Party meets at two monthly intervals and the Joint Committee twice a year.
The Green Chain Joint Committee is formed of councillors from the five boroughs; unfortunately the Greenwich Council web page link to give further information about the committee and access to agendas and minutes just leads to a blank page, and the committee has no meetings shown in the council on-line calendar for the last year or the next six months.
I’m very surprised that these bodies which are responsible for the running of the Green Chain Walk haven’t taken a more active role in mediating in the dispute. In the meantime the gates are still locked and walkers are being inconvenienced when they try to walk the Green Chain.
I still believe the various parties to the dispute should get together to talk about possible resolutions rather than waste charities’ money on a legal process. Woodlands Farm have clearly communicated what they are trying to achieve, made a proposal for resolving the problem and issued an invitation to talk. The ball now seems to be in Ramblers’ court.