Eltham Common Public Inquiry

Google Maps' view of Christ Church School and the common land meadow behind it
Google Maps' view of Christ Church School and the common land meadow behind it

A public inquiry will be held on the 8th and 9th February into the proposal for Christ Church School to use common land on Eltham Common. The Planning Inspectorate’s notice of the meeting states:

Proposed works on Eltham Common CL40

London Borough of Greenwich

Application reference number – COM 219

Ms Heidi Cruickshank, an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will attend at The Public Hall, Woolwich Town Hall, Wellington Street, SE18 6PW on Wednesday 8 and Thursday 9 February 2012 to hold an inquiry into an application by Pellings LLP on behalf of London Borough of Greenwich for consent under Article 12 of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government Provisional Order Confirmation Act 1967 to carry out works on Eltham Common (CL40).

The proposed works comprise the formation of new hard and soft play areas consisting of playground (245 square metres), multi-use games area (858 square metres), soft/grass play area (660 square metres) and new planting (55 square metres and 48 square metres). All areas to be enclosed by fencing (2.1 metre high by 44.5 metre long and 2.7 metre high by 51.7 metre long weld mesh fence) and railings (1.5 metre high by 73.75 metre long painted metal) with gates. A new footpath will be formed from Shooters Hill Road alongside the existing school to the school and new play areas.

The inquiry will begin at 10.00am on Wednesday 8 February 2012. Anyone can attend the inquiry. Anyone who wants to be heard on the subject matter of the application may, at the discretion of the Inspector, give evidence at the inquiry or arrange for someone to do so on his or her behalf.

Copies of the application documents, representations, and plan can be inspected at Eltham Centre Library, Archery Road, Eltham, SE9 1HA (not public holidays). Copies of the application documents and plan are also available on request from the Planning Inspectorate, Room 4/05, Kite Wing, Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Temple Quay, Bristol BS1 6PN

The original application for the school’s rebuilding work and creation of a play area and muga court was approved by Greenwich Council in November. (What’s a  muga court? I had to look this up –  wondering whether muga was a new game, some kind of Nepalese Quidditch perhaps – but it’s just a Multi-Use Games Area). Unfortunately the revamp of the Greenwich Council web-site means that the original documentation is not currently accessible, but the notice above summarises the issue – the use of a 50m by 40m area of common land for a games area for the school when the school buildings are extended into their existing play ground. The area is the field behind the school, alongside the track that leads to Severndroog Castle. The Google Maps snippet above shows the area quite clearly. By my reckoning 50m is  perhaps half the length of the meadow.

Campaigners against the proposal point out that Eltham Common is designated as Metropolitan Open Land, an Area of Special Character of Metropolitan Importance and part of the London Green Chain. Significantly it is also Registered Common Land, which is why there has to be a public inquiry into the proposed changes. Dr Barry Gray gives the details of the reasons for objection in an interview in the Plumstead Common Environment Group Newsletter, arguing, among other factors, that:

The proposed grassland area on which the MUGA pitch is proposed to be built is in an area which is extremely important for nature conservation. In the Greenwich Borough plan it is designated as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance of Metropolitan Importance. This means that it is in the highest category in London and its retention as an ecologically sensitive area is important for London as a whole. I have already alluded to the importance of this site and I think you should bear this in mind when looking at the ecological impact and the landscape impact of the proposed inappropriate development. To quote the Greenwich Borough plan policy 018 “a network of sites of nature conservation importance throughout the borough have been identified for protection”.It seems to me to be a strange form of protection to propose to cover most of the site, in this instance, with hardstanding material for what is, in effect, a fenced soccer pitch.

But, and this is a big but, Christ Church School needs to be able to expand its current accommodation for staff and pupils. It is cramped in its current building, but despite this the school was rated Grade 1 – Outstanding – in its last Ofsted Report. And the area of land involved is quite small when set against the size of Eltham Common, not to mention the totality of the common and woodland area across Shooters Hill.

Although Greenwich Council’s decision to approve its application for the Equestrian Centre next to Woodlands Farm isn’t, and shouldn’t, be a factor in the Planning Inspector’s decision, I feel it complicates the issue. The Equestrian Centre will also be built on Metropolitan Open Land.  It feels like the council is gradually chipping away at the area’s Metropolitan Open Land, paying no respect to its own rules and guidelines set out in the Unitary Development Plan. It prompts the question what will they grab next? Personally if there was a choice between building an Equestrian Centre that won’t provide much benefit to the local community, and allowing an outstanding school the space it needs to do its job I’d have no hesitation choosing approval of the school’s plans.

It should be an interesting Inquiry meeting; I don’t envy the Inspector her decision.

Eltham Common at the back of Christ Church School
Eltham Common at the back of Christ Church School

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