Shooters Hill Multi-Use Games Area open to the public

MUGA Court behind Christ Church School
MUGA Court behind Christ Church School

Mtr. Ariadne van den Hof, the Vicar of Christ Church Shooters Hill and Chair of Premises at Christ Church School, e-mailed to say that the MUGA (Multi-Use Games Area) behind the School is now open for members of the public to use outside school hours. That means that it can be used after 5pm Monday -Thursday, after 4pm Fridays and all day Saturday and Sunday. Access to the area is through a gate at the end of the new path to the left of the school.

This fulfils the agreement made between the school and the Royal Borough of Greenwich when planning permission was granted to extend the school and create a new play area on Eltham Common.

The MUGA has line markings for a variety of different sports, and there is also a permanently marked hop-scotch court! What luxury, when I was at school we had to use chalk.

MUGA Court behind Christ Church School
MUGA Court behind Christ Church School

School Expansion Approved

Christ Church School
Christ Church School

The Planning Inspector has granted consent to the creation of a MUGA court on Eltham Common, allowing Christ Church school to expand its buildings into their current play area. His full report has been published on the Planning Portal decisions page.

This will allow the school to increase its cramped teaching accommodation and play area. Currently their accommodation is 664 square meters short of the Department for Education and Science guidelines and their play area is 1860 square metres below.  It will also provide a more integrated school, removing the need for children to traverse steep outside steps in all weather conditions to get to the church hall for lunches, PE and games.

At the 2 day public enquiry in February the Inspector heard a large number of submissions of all opinions which he summarises in the decision report. He points out that the the proposed works will occupy only1.53% of the total area of the common and 0.15% of the Oxleas woodlands. He also concludes that there is no evidence that the Oxleas Wood Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) will be adversely impacted, and points out that new habitat areas will be created as part of the proposed work:

As part of the application it is proposed to develop new habitat areas of 55 sq.m. and 48 sq.m. These areas will be seeded with shade tolerant wildflower mixes requiring minimal management once established. New planting will be provided along the boundaries of the play areas on the woodland and in the grassland. Other measures will include selective thinning of dense scrub, coppicing of the woodland edge, creation of dead wood habitat piles. The habitat creation and enhancement measures will create a diverse woodland habitat and will enhance the site for a range of bird species. The proposals will enhance the site for a number of bat species by the planting of night scented plants which will attract moths and other flying insects which would provide a food resource for bats; a bat survey did not reveal the presence of any bats on the site.

So the Inspector felt that there would be a net small ecological benefit to the development when balancing the habitat creation and enhancement proposals against the loss of amenity grassland.

Although the Inspector did not think there was a compelling case that the MUGA court was needed by the local community, it will be available, free of charge,  to members of the public outside school hours of 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Thursday and from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Friday during school term time.

The Council has stated that they will not support any future application for further development of the site, such as erection of floodlights or changing rooms.

Although it’s a shame that more of the open space that makes Shooters Hill such a great place to live is being covered, overall this seems like a sensible decision.

Map showing the area of Eltham Common considered by the enquiry
Map showing the area of Eltham Common considered by the enquiry


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