People Against the River Crossing: Were You There?

people against the river crossing
People Against the River Crossing

July the 8th 1993, central government withdraws the Oxleas Woods section of its infamous Roads to Prosperity scheme. The hill is saved!

I’ve been asked whether I’d like to investigate this, and since this is quite possibly one of the most significant things to ever happen here, it seems like a good idea for this site to cover this part of the Shooters Hill story.

Since this is a relatively recent episode, and an example of people power, I’m hoping to include some thoughts from those who participated in and observed the saving of the woods. So, if you were there, and would like to reminisce, I would like to hear from you. If you are interested please get in touch via the email address at the foot of the page.

parc-maps

The map shows how the bypass would have run right through woodlands farm, oxleas wood, and sheperdleas wood to meet the a2

At some point this year a post on this will appear, but for the time being, here’s the oxleas section of an alarm uk publication from 1995 (taken from the limited online information I’ve found so far):

“Whenever I used to visit Oxleas Wood I would visualise the proposed road cutting through it. It’s hard to believe that the woods are now safe. But safe they almost certainly are!

My involvement in the campaign against the East London River Crossing began in earnest in the late eighties. By this time the road had been scheduled for construction for many years and had already been approved by the longest Public Inquiry ever held into a road scheme. That inquiry had lasted 194 days; the transcripts of the proceedings contained 9.5 million words!

Local people, in the form of People Against the River Crossing (PARC) and Greenwich & Lewisham FOE, were fighting a determined and exhausting battle against a scheme which would not only cut a swathe through 8,000 year old Oxleas Woods but would also take out several hundred houses in the quiet and pleasant suburb of Plumstead. But with approval in principle granted, and with the Government, developers and some socialist local authorities strongly supporting the scheme, the odds against stopping it were getting bigger all the time. To achieve victory, a concerted strategy was needed to make Oxleas Wood a big issue locally and give it wider significance – a strategy to make it a symbol of the environmental damage that the road programme was causing and a rallying point for the environment movement. If that could be done, then, given Oxleas Wood’s proximity to Westminster, it might force the Government to back down rather than risk confrontation with a united community and environment movement, in its own “back yard”.

Like all the best campaigns we fought on every level. There were letter-writing stalls at the popular Greenwich market, politicians were systematically lobbied and a well-presented public transport alternative was drawn-up. We organised an “Adopt-a- Tree” scheme; the aim here was to get every tree in Oxleas Wood adopted. As well as bringing in funds and publicity, it would give supporters a real stake in the campaign. And if the worst came to the worst we could invite tree adopters to turn up to defend their tree.

In order to make Oxleas a “line in the sand” for the environment movement, we got some of the large environmental non-government organisations (for example the Wildlife Trusts and World Wide Fund for Nature) to take part in an Oxleas Strategy Group. This helped lock them into a campaign that was ultimately run by local people, but which made the best use of the resources of the national campaigns.

A couple of legal lines of last resort helped propel the campaign into the national news. The Government had failed to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment for the scheme, as required by European Community law. The heroic European Commissioner for the Environment, Carlo Ripa di Meana, took up this complaint causing Prime Minister Major to hit the roof and interrupt a Commonwealth conference to condemn the EC’s action. The complaint was never seen through by the EC, but the publicity was invaluable, as was that which resulted from a High Court case where the “Oxleas 9” (nine local people) put their assets on the line to take the Department of Transport to court over their failure to provide adequate land in exchange for the damage to Oxleas woods. The case was lost, but Oxleas had caught the public imagination and the pressure on the government was intensifying.

Meanwhile, campaigners were preparing for the worst. A “Beat the Bulldozer” pledge was launched, with the aim of getting 10,000 people to pledge to be there if the bulldozers went in. With the TV pictures of direct action at Twyford Down fresh in their minds, as well as the vivid pictures we had painted of what would happen if they violated Oxleas Wood, the Government backed down.

For me the Oxleas campaign had meant hours of hard work in meetings held in draughty halls on dark, rainy nights trying to get the best campaign that I could. For hundreds of local people it had been years of struggle. Was it worth it? Definitely. Oxleas was a turning point. We’d shown how people power could stop roads, a lesson that was quickly learnt right across the country. We’d shown that the environment movement, when it’s focused and working in harmony with local communities, could win. And of course the peace and beauty of OxleasWood has been preserved.

Jonathan Bray, founder and convenor of the Oxleas strategy group

elrc-map

East London River Crossing Trunk Road

From the oxleas woodland management plan:

The Hedgerow on the eastern side of the meadow is composed of mainly hawthorn (Crataegus spp) with some self-seeded oak. This hedgerow is rather special as it contains some examples of butchers broom (Ruscus aculeatus), which is used as an indicator of ancient woodland, as it rarely grows in regenerated woodland. It was the presence of this plant that aided the campaign to stop the East London River Crossing putting a road through Oxleas Wood. This hedgerow was re-laid in 2004 by the GLLAB New Deal project.

Winter Family Activities at Woodlands Farm

Woodlands Farm Winter Activities
Woodlands Farm Winter Activities

The farm’s educational activities are becoming increasingly popular, with thousands of school children visiting each year – and so it’s nice to see that they are putting on some after school activities too. It’s been quite busy there of late, with various new faces moving in, including some ducks, and some sheep from cumbria (via heathrow).

Do Your kids have lots of creative energy to burn?

Join in the fun at our new:

Drop-in family activity workshops

* Explore Nature
* Listen to Stories
* Create Animal Art Masterpieces

WHEN? First Wednesday each month – 3.30-5.30pm
WHERE? Woodlands Farm, 331 Shooters Hill. DA1G 3RP
WHO? Primary and pre-school aged children and families
BOOKINGS: No need to book. just turn up (places are limited)
HOW MUCH? free!

They also have their Christmas Fair coming up next Sunday from 11-3.

Review: Woodlands Farm Summer Show

down at the woodlands farm today it was bliss: as we lazed around on straw bales in the back field the sun streamed down on us and we tucked into ice creams and watched the sheep getting their summer haircuts. the golden fleeces would have pleased jason and the argonauts i’m sure.

the bromley beekeepers were out in their masses selling jars of woodlands honey for £4 a go which the local hayfever sufferers were snapping up in readiness for next year. aside from it’s rumoured medicinal benefits, woodlands honey is also extremely sweet.

the woodlands willow grove was also getting a haircut today with garden obelisks on sale for £8 which would make a lovely gift for a sweet pea or a clematis. fine willow baskets were also on offer.

there were all sorts of other things going on too; wool spinning, kid crafts, an adventure playground, pony rides, owl stroking, giant rabbits, tugs of war, and information on the history of the farm, which is, i believe, london’s last real farm.

this was a bit more low key than previous events, such as the last lambing day, which was a complete roadblock and had all the atmosphere of oxford street on christmas eve; but perhaps that’s not such a bad thing as it was a very calm and enjoyable way to spend a lazy sunday afternoon.

Woodlands Farm Summer Show

Title: Woodlands Farm Summer Show
Location: Woodlands Farm
Link out: Click here
Description: All are welcome at the Woodlands Farm Trust Summer Show. Come and meet our animals, and enjoy the chance to buy quality local produce at reasonable prices, including home-made preserves, cakes and honey. Relax in our café, or get involved in craft activities and games, including the tug-of-war and pony rides. Enjoy displays of country crafts, including sheep shearing, wool spinning, and bee keeping. All proceeds go towards caring for our animals. A great family day out! Time: 11.00-16.30 £3.00 adults, £1.50 concessions and children aged 6-16. Children aged 5 and under go free. Venue: The Woodlands Farm Trust 331 Shooters Hill, Welling, Kent, DA16 3RP 020 8319 8900
Start Time: 11:00
Date: 2009-06-07
End Time: 16:30