Community Open Day at the Equestrian Centre

Equestrian Centre Community open day leaflet

Hadlow College’s Equestrian Centre on Shooters Hill is holding a community open day tomorrow, Saturday 13th June, but you’ll have to book a slot on 020 8331 3410 to be able to take a look round because the advertised on-line booking system doesn’t seem to work. Visitors will be able to see all aspects of the centre, plus riding displays and demonstrations and they will get to meet the horses. It’ll also be an opportunity to find out about the college’s courses and riding lessons.

The Equestrian Centre was built following the 2012 Olympics as an Olympic legacy project. There was some controversy over Greenwich Council’s decision to grant planning permission, not least because the centre was to be built on a site next to Woodlands Farm that had been designated as Metropolitan Open Land. One of the conditions attached to planning permission was that there should be a minimum of 82 horse-riding hours a week access to the facilities by the local community. The centre is now offering riding lessons in the evenings and at weekends to Royal Borough of Greenwich residents who are over 14 years of age, but at a price.

According to the Hadlow College leaflet you’ll have to pay for:

Membership, costing just £40.00 a year includes:
* Free initial assessment on our mechanical horse
* Discounts on courses and events run by Hadlow College
* Ability to book lessons up to 2 weeks in advance
Lesson Costs (per lesson)
30 minute private lesson £45.00
45 minute group tuition (2-4 riders) £35.00 per person
30 minute private lesson on our mechanical horse £40.00

I managed to have a look round the centre shortly before it opened, but couldn’t take any pictures. I’m hoping to be able to photograph one of the only equine baths in the south-east of the UK tomorrow.

Reception building at the Shooters Hill Equestrian Centre
Reception building at the Shooters Hill Equestrian Centre

Horticultural Skills Centre Planning Application

Entrance to the proposed Horticultural Skills Centre
Entrance to the proposed Horticultural Skills Centre

An application for planning permission to demolish some of the buildings at the Parks and Open Spaces Depot site on Shooters Hill and create a new Horticultural Skills Centre has been added to the Royal Borough of Greenwich planning web site. However it isn’t open for comments at the moment, and it doesn’t give any timescales for when we would need to make any comments.

This is the next step in the council’s joint project with Hadlow College to develop the Horticultural Skills Centre. Hadlow College also run the Equestrian Centre further down the hill.

The planners will need to consider policies on Metropolitan Open Land and the Green Chain in making their decision about this application. A comparison of the plan of the existing buildings with the proposed Horticulural Skills Centre plan, below, suggests that the new buildings will have a smaller footprint than the existing ones which will help prove compliance with the policies.

Existing and Proposed Plans
Existing and Proposed Plans

The new buildings sound like a great improvement on the current constructions:

The form and massing of the building along with the detailing and proportions around the windows, doors and the large roof overhangs will provide a contemporary modern design. The façade materials however, have been chosen to complement the woodland setting so the scheme will relate well to its surroundings taking references from the local woodland context.
Cedar cladding will be a dominant feature of the façade, which is then broken up by window and door elements. Blue engineering bricks are proposed for the plinths. The timber boarding will be fixed vertically and will be naturally finished. Cedar contains natural oils that act as a natural preservative providing a long lasting low maintenance finish. The metal framed windows/doors and roof fascia will be finished in polyester powder coat aluminium with an agreed colour finish which will again provide a low maintenance finish.

My only concern at the moment is with the assertion in the Design and Access Statement that the site “does not contain buildings that are listed, or are of special architectural or historic interest. There is also a low potential for archaeology on the site.” The old coach house on the site may be of historic interest and I’m pleased to see that a building marked on the western edge of the site on both the current and proposed plans suggests that it is not going to be demolished. The latter statement about archaeological potential is contradicted by the council’s Areas of High Archaeological Potential document which is part of the current consultation on the Greenwich Core Strategy. It contains the map below, delineating the Shooters Hill Settlements area of high archaeological potential, which clearly includes the site of the Horticultural Skills Centre.

Greenwich Areas of High Archaeological Potential No 7 Shooters Hill
Greenwich Areas of High Archaeological Potential No 7 Shooters Hill

The archeological interest stems from various interesting finds over the years, such as those from the Time Team excavations. The Areas of High Archaeological Potential document mentions:

  • Bronze Age ditch and associated bronze working slag from the area east of Cleanthus Road
  • Ditch with Early Iron Age pottery sherds and 63 kg of iron slag
  • Prehistoric/Roman pits and ‘huts’ recorded from the Woolwich and District War Memorial Hospital site
  • Remains of a Saxon musical instrument from the roadside area of Shooters Hill Hospital
  • World War II evidence that identifies the area as being part of one of the ‘Stop Lines’ that ringed London

I think the council and Hadlow College need to think again about archaeological potential and allow for it in their development plans and activities. But the new centre still looks like a benefit to the borough.

Horticultural Skills Centre

Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces depot
Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces depot

I wasn’t aware that there were plans for a Horticultural Skills Centre on Shooters Hill, as well as the Equestrian Skills Centre, until I saw ?Stewart Christie’s  (@5tewartChristie) tweet yesterday about Greenwich Council’s decision to give a grant of up to £495,000 to Hadlow College for the development of such a centre. Hadlow, who also run the Equestrian Centre just down the hill,  will put £73,000 towards the cost and will be responsible for any overspend and  ongoing running costs.

It is proposed that the new centre will be built at the Parks and Open Spaces depot opposite Eaglesfield Road, which is going to be empty from April. The site already has buildings on it and from the preliminary plans it looks like the new centre will have a similar layout and footprint as the existing development, even keeping the little roundabout at the entrance. It will “encompass a teaching, administration and a facilities block, alongside polytunnels and raised beds for planting and growing”. They still need to get planning permission for any work, so we will have a chance to comment on the plans. They are working to a tight timetable: they reckon the work will take 3 to 4 months, but want to be able to open the new centre by the end of summer in time for the start of the autumn term.

As well as the grant the council will let Hadlow College have a 15 year lease on the site for a peppercorn rent. The Equestrian Centre also has just a 15 year lease.

Preliminary Plan for Horticultural Skills Centre
Preliminary Plan for Horticultural Skills Centre

The aim of the new centre, according to the council report is:

This element of the Skills Centre is designed to exploit the potential for horticultural jobs both in the Royal Borough, including the Borough’s Council’s own parks and open spaces, and in surrounding areas. The Service Level Agreement will set out the scope of the skills training to be delivered, which will include pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training at levels 1 and 2, adult and community learning, NPTC short courses in areas (e.g. pesticide spraying), embedded literacy, numeracy and IT skills, with the aim of equipping students with a range of transferable skills that will increase individuals’ employability, and provide potential access to a range of jobs and careers.

On the 1894 and 1914 OS maps of Shooters Hill the area where the Parks and Open Spaces depot is now was occupied by a mansion called Summer Court about which I know very little, though it was occupied in 1900 by a bankrupt named William Carter. From the old maps it’s possible that an old coach house on the site, pictured below,  may be a remnant of the Summer Court buildings; I’m glad that the preliminary plans show that it will be retained within the Horticultural Skills Centre.

Old building in the Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces depot
Old building in the Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces depot

At the bottom of Shooters Hill the Hadlow College Equestrian Centre is now occupied and has its first students, though it won’t be fully running until the start of the 2013/14 academic year in the autumn. One of the conditions of their planning approval was that they had to submit a community use scheme, allowing  for a minimum of 82 hours of community access each week, to the council planning authority and get it approved.  The Greenwich Council planning pages show that Hadlow have submitted a scheme, but the document itself is not included and comments are not being accepted. Its status is “Pending Decision”. When I dropped in to the Equestrian Centre earlier today I was told that they planned to provide riding lessons for local residents in the evenings and at weekends starting at the end of the summer.

The Horticultural Skills Centre sounds like a good idea to me, and an enhancement to the area, but like the Equestrian Centre it seems that Greenwich Council are going about it in a slightly odd way.

Farm Conservation

Cynthia and Bella at Woodlands Farm
Cynthia and Bella

Conservation and improvement of biodiversity are central to what Woodlands Farm is trying to achieve, and their efforts have been recognised by accreditation to Natural England’s Higher Level Stewardship Scheme. Their conservation work includes management of  grazing land as traditional hay meadows, restoration of farm woodlands to benefit wildlife and the laying of new hedgerows. If you’re interested in learning how to lay hedges using traditional methods then go along to the farm at 10.30am tomorrow, 9th December,  when there’s a Farm Conservation  Volunteer Workday.

There’s also a chance to find out more about the farm’s conservation work on Sunday 16th December at 11.00am when they are holding a Farm Conservation Walk. As their poster, included below,  says:

Join our Farm Manager and Wildlife Officer for a walk around Woodlands Farm to look at wildlife habitats across the farmland and to find out about how we manage the farm for the benefit of wildlife conservation.

 £1 per adult, 50p per child, farm volunteers free.

Please book in advance. You will need sturdy footwear and suitable outdoors clothing. Please leave a contact number when booking so we can reach you if the weather is unsuitable. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Meet at the Education Centre.

 The farm’s new neighbour, the Equestrian Centre, is close to completion – the project plan on their fence shows that building work ended in October. It is a state-of-the-art facility, with a well-equipped equine therapy centre, stabling for up to 24 horses, a deep, swim-through pool for horses and an indoor dressage arena with spectator seating. There was a lot of local opposition to the plan to build the centre on Metropolitan Open Land, and concern about its impact on the farm’s conservation work. I’m sure the farm will be monitoring this closely, and on the plus side maybe they now have a nearby buyer for their hay.

There are also safety concerns about horses crossing the busy Shooters Hill Road – a new crossing has been built, though it looks to me more like a Pelican than a Pegasus crossing –  and worry about the ecological and other  impacts of horses riding through Oxleas Wood.

It is expected that Hadlow College, who will be running the centre, will move in during spring next year. However before they start using the facility one of the council’s conditions is that:

a community use scheme shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority. The agreement shall allow for a minimum of 82 hours of community access each week and set out how residents of the London Borough of Greenwich will have priority access to the community facilities.

It’ll be interesting to see whether, and how,  things change after the farrm’s new neighbours move in.

Farm Conservation Walk Poster

Equestrian Centre Leaps Final Fences

The controversial Equestrian Centre that is proposed for the area between Woodlands Farm and Thompsons Garden Centre on Shooters Hill Road has passed two potential barriers to its implementation. Both the Mayor of London and the Secretary of State have decided not to intervene in Greenwich Council’s decision to grant approval for the Centre.

The Mayor’s letter stated:

Having now considered a report on this case (reference PDU/2760/GK02 copy enclosed), I am content to allow Greenwich Council to determine the case itself, subject to any action that the Secretary of State may take, and therefore do not wish to direct refusal.

However I request that Natural England are fully consulted in relation to the discharge of condition 22 regarding the ecological mitigation and management plan.

And that from the Secretary of State’s representative:

The Secretary of State has carefully considered this case against call-in policy, as set out in the 1999 Caborn Statement. The policy makes it clear that the power to call in a case will only be used very selectively. The Government is committed to give more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues, and believes planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible.
The Secretary of State has carefully considered the impact of the proposal and the key policy issues, which this case raises. In his opinion, the proposals do not: involve a conflict with national policies on important matters; have significant effects beyond their immediate locality; give rise to substantial regional or national controversy; raise significant architectural and urban design issues; or involve the interests of national security or of Foreign Governments. Nor does he consider that there is any other sufficient reason to call the application in for his own determination.
The decision as to whether to grant planning permission will therefore remain with Greenwhich Council.

The decision does include 31 conditions, including a stipulation that there should be a minimum of 82 horse-riding hours a week access to the facilities by the local community, a prior programme of archaeological work and production of an Ecological Mitigation and Management Plan.

The report accompanying the decision reveals that 12 sites were considered as possible locations for the centre, most of them local sports grounds and playing fields, and the brief reasons why they were discounted.

It also states that the Council are seeking agreement for the Blackheath donkeys to move to a site in Woodbrook Road.

Perhaps most importantly the report mentions the “very special circumstances” that are necessary to justify development on Metropolitan Open Land. Mentions but doesn’t detail…  in the words of the Mayor’s report:

The ‘very special circumstances’ put forward to justify the harm to MOL regarding Olympic legacy, increasing participation in sport, education, community benefit, lack of alternative sites and the financial justification from connection activity on the site are now, on balance, acceptable, and the application complies with London Plan policy.

So that seems to be that. Greenwich Council is allowed to decide on the planning application that they themselves have put forward.

Plan of the area where the Centre will be as it is now taken from the planning documents
Plan of the area where the Centre will be as it is now
Plan of the area where the centre will be after the Centre is built taken from the planning documents
Plan of the area after the Centre is built

Shooters Hill Stables?

Today i was lucky enough to come across a copy of senine, a glossy and entertaining magazine that also has some excellent features relevant to the wider area. One story in this month’s edition particularly caught my eye. In a piece entitled Horse Play they detail proposals that could markedly change the Shooters Hill area by a) placing lots of horses in what is currently the donkey field between woodlands farm and thompsons garden centre, b) by exercising those horses in Oxleas Wood, and c) by increasing the to- and fro-ing of their handlers and vehicles, which may include a new horseback regiment due to move into the garrison. The SSSI designation awarded to the eastern slopes of Oxleas Wood, the attempts to build ringway2 and elrc over it, and the fairly recent development on woodland of the extended café car park and the recently permitted mixed-mode play area for christchurch school and public use (post to follow) mean that the integrity of one of London and nwkent’s last surviving, and in some ways unique (number of wild service trees for instance), areas of ancient woodland continues to require continual and vigilant protection in order to sustain it’s distinct ecology and survival.

Proposals for a new ‘Olympic legacy’ horse riding centre are on course for opening in 2012, SEnine has learned.

The centre will provide stabling for more than 40 horses on the slopes of Shooters Hill.

Maney for the £1m plus centre will come from a variety of sources, including £250,000 from the British Equestrian Federation and match-funding from Greenwich Council Olympic Legacy project.

The location is expected to be between Thompson’s Garden Centre and Woodlands Farm on a council-owned site currently grazed by donkeys from Blackheath.

Detailed plans are expected to be ready for consultation in the New Year but will run into strong opposition from members of the Woodlands Farm Trust concerned at the over-development of open land.

The new centre is intended to increase access to horse riding across the borough and will also include provision for riding for the disabled.

There will also be a link-up with the relocation to Woolwich of the country’s foremost equestrian Army brigade, the King’s Troop, Officers from the Troop, who will move into the former Royal Artillery barracks, will give their time to training at Shooters Hill as part of their commitment to community engagement

As well as stabling, there will also be new indoor and outdoor exercise rings. However, plans to allow the horses to gallop on surrounding land are expected to be opposed by Woodlands Farm and conservationists. Oxleas Woods, are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and horse exercise would churn up paths and leave droppings which could change the area’s delicate ecology.

Chair of the Trust Dr Barry Gray said: “It would be a massive over-development of Metropolitan Open Land and lead to increased traffic in the area. The council seems to take no notice of its own policies for nature conservation and open space.”

I also found a relevant story from 17 December 2009 on the british equestrian federation site, so this is not a new idea at all. I’m not sure why it’s surfaced on the pages of senine now, and can’t find any planning applications on the council website, the land is apparently theirs, so I’m not sure what the consultation process would be, but presumably if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen some time this year.

Andrew Finding, Chief Executive of the British Equestrian Federation says: ” … The centre, which is proposed at Shooters Hill, just a stone’s throw from the Olympic equestrian venue [I’d like to see someone throw a stone to Greenwich Park, ed.], will provide a lasting sporting, community and educational legacy for the equestrian community in the city. This project will also be supported by significant local authority funding. ”

Councillor Chris Roberts, Leader of Greenwich Council said; “We see the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games as a tremendous opportunity to inspire people to take up sports and are doing all we can to develop a new equestrian centre in Greenwich, as well as a host of other new sports facilities.

“A new equestrian centre will not only introduce thousands of London children to the thrill of horse riding, it will also provide educational and training opportunities for many people for years to come. Our plans are to provide a top quality training centre so that people can gain skills and qualifications in an area that will open up opportunities across the world.

“The Games aren’t just a 17-day sports event for London – they are a chance to create new opportunities and inspire people and we have to start now so that the benefits can last for generations to come.”