Let’s create ten major new parks for London, now!

By Alice Roberts
20th November 2021

London has just half the green space it needs for a population its size. And yet there are many green spaces in London which are just sitting idle – at best ignored, at worst deliberately run down by owners and coming under threat from development.

These are amazing green and protected sites which have been undervalued by the authorities – but which local communities want to bring back into use and turn into new parks – and we want to help them do that.

Recent successes  We’ve now been working with 10 local campaign groups for over six months, helping them in various ways, and there have already been some incredible successes! One has raised over £30,000 to develop a proposal to buy the site. Several have gained the vocal support of the local council. Many have piqued the interest of the London authorities. Some are now getting help from our volunteer solicitor. One is very close to succeeding in their aim of achieving Local Nature Reserve status. We will be publishing a more detailed update very soon (watch this space).. but in the meantime.. read more about the local campaigns, and how you can help, below.

How can you help?

  • Are you angered at seeing a green space near you neglected, derelict or simply not used? Please tell alice@cprelondon.org.uk: maybe it could also become one of our new parks.
  • Please support one of the local groups we’re working with by asking to join their mailing list. Find out more about the local campaigns below and email alice@cprelondon.org.uk and we can put you in touch.
  • Please spread the word by sharing our posts on Twitter and Instagram @CPRELondon.

The stories for each ‘new park’ site are very different. One of the sites we feature here – a huge set of community playing fields – was so run down the council nearly gave it away. Other sites we feature have been bought up by speculators, fenced off and allowed to become derelict in the hope that after time local residents will have forgotten about them and they will be able to gain planning permission to build on them. In many cases the owners or custodians have failed to manage the site effectively; or residents won’t even know it’s there because the community is effectively or physically excluded from the site.

These kinds of sites are frequently subject to a cycle of decline: unused or under-used, unloved, under threat. At best these spaces are providing only a fraction of the benefits which they could provide were they to be given an identity as a local park and managed effectively. At worst they are already coming under threat from development – to be lost forever.

But the really amazing thing is that local community groups have come forward to transform these sites in new parks and nature reserves. 

So we are now launching a major new campaign to turn these sites into ten major new parks, creating them from London’s forgotten green assets.

Fly-tipping on a green field in Enfield renders it useless for local people or wildlife – and sets it on a cycle of decline: un-used, un-loved, under threat.

What will our Ten New Parks for London campaign involve?

We want to gain commitments from the Mayor of London and the relevant boroughs to work with local groups to transform these spaces into useful new parks. Some of these areas can become nature reserves; some can become improved sports facilities; some can be traditional parks. Some are so large they can be all of these.

What are we asking London boroughs and the Mayor to do?

We want the GLA and the relevant London boroughs to support the local campaigns and make a clear statement for each site that it will not be released for development; to promise to give each site a new identity as a park to be managed in conjunction with the local community; and to encourage landowners to bring down fences and reinstate public access.

How can you support the campaign?

  • We’re asking Londoners to write to the relevant local authorities, particularly if they live in the area local to one of the new parks, to ask them to support the local campaign.
  • We’re also asking people to tell us about other green sites which are being neglected and could become new parks. Please tell us about sites you feel could or should be brought into use, or back into use, as a local park, nature reserve or playing field, or for some other public amenity. This might be a site where public access has been lost in recent years.
  • You can also support one of the local campaigns. The local groups we’re working with are keen to have more support so it would be great if you’d like to join one of the local campaigns or be put on their mailing list. Email alice@cprelondon.org.uk and we can put you in touch.
  • You can also share our social media posts on the campaign by following us on Twitter @CPRELondon.

Watch this space over the coming year as we work with local groups to make the Ten New Parks for London a reality – ensuring Londoners get the full benefit of all our amazing green spaces.

So here they are! Our first nine New Parks for London (one more coming soon!)…

River Quaggy Trail and Sports Park

Sandwiched between a new housing development of several thousand new homes at Kidbrooke and proposed new housing development in Lee Green district town centre, are various playing fields which also act as an important flood plain for the Quaggy River which runs through them. All the fields had protected Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) status until 2000, when they were all thriving as sports fields.

Playing fields either side of the Quaggy River, once thriving sports pitches, now under threat

Today, whilst some fields are still available to the community, a large area of the fields have been closed, fenced off, overgrown and locked up. Clubhouses have burnt down or become derelict. Three fields have been subject to speculative planning applications.

The Huntsman Sports Ground was designated as Metropolitan Open Land which is the strongest possible protection from development. It also had protective covenants. Despite huge local opposition protections were ignored and covenants lifted and planning permission has been agreed in principle.

To the north of the river, two fields were bought several years ago. The new owners did not renew the sports club leases, made themselves uncontactable by new clubs wanting to lease them, and fenced the fields off, allowing them to deteriorate, knowing full well that after five years of disuse, Sport England is no longer able to appeal to the secretary of state undermining its ability to object to planning applications.

In the 20 years since the Huntsman site was targeted for development, it has turned from a thriving sports field to a disused, derelict one. Greenwich Council removed its MOL status. The High Court removed its protective covenant. It is now all but lost to development.

The Willow Country Club and Manor Way Sports Ground look now to be following the same trajectory: despite Greenwich noting in its Playing Pitch Strategy that it was ‘at risk of permanent loss of playing field land’, and despite an explicit aspiration to ‘protect and secure future use as playing fields with a capital budget of £455,000’ nothing has been done by the Borough to ensure the field is well used.

Willow Tree Country Club and Manor Way Sports Grounds: fenced off at the end of 2020 with major earth movements. The club house was burnt down and extensive hedgerows, trees and wildlife habitat have been destroyed.

The Bowring Sports Ground was the subject of a speculative planning application in 2019. This was refused, but the importance of the site as a protected playing field was not the reason – rather simply that the proposed school was not needed in that location. It remains vulnerable to future speculative planning applications, as do the other fields.

Locals remember when all the fields were well-used sports fields and they want to see them back in use. They point to the need for an over-arching plan for the area and say that with the new, high-density developments bringing a much bigger population, the playing fields will be much needed. They are only too aware that, the longer sites are fenced off with no public access, the more likely they are to be lost to development.

So they are now looking to create a new River Quaggy Sports Park, working with the Borough, owners and managers of all the adjacent sites to create a coherent park with a distinct identity where members of the communities at Lee, Kidbrooke and beyond can enjoy the benefits of well managed sports fields and more generally as an open access site for recreation, walking, leisure and nature.

There is already a separate but related project underway to open up a trail along the Quaggy River which would allow the communities of Kidbrooke and Lee Green to actively travel and celebrate and promote the River Quaggy, avoiding busy and polluted roads.

Banbury Reservoir Park

Near to the vast new Meridian Water housing development in Enfield, there is a patchwork of protected and other green spaces to the west, north and east of the Banbury Reservoir. These have been degraded as a result of fly-tipping, gravel extraction and road building and widening.

In Enfield Borough’s masterplan for the development, various proposals have been put forward for a new park to sit next to the high-density housing. However, it remains unclear which pieces of land would be included in a new park and what they would be for. Local residents are also very concerned that, with a much high population, there will not be enough provision of green space and playing fields for this area which already lacks enough green space facilities for the existing population.

Fields surrounding the Banbury Reservoir can become part of a major new park to support the huge new development at Meridian Water and improve much-needed access to green space in this area which currently has a major deficit

In Enfield Borough’s masterplan for the development, various proposals have been put forward for a new park to sit next to the high-density housing. However, it remains unclear which pieces of land would be included in a new park and what they would be for. Local residents are also very concerned that, with a much higher population, there will not be enough provision of green space and playing fields for this area, which already lacks enough green space facilities for the existing population.

The local standard for public park provision is 2.37 hectares per 1,000 residents. But Upper Edmonton already has a major deficit – with just 0.28 hectares per 1,000 – a deficit the size of 60 football pitches. With the population of Upper Edmonton set to almost double over the next 20 years, if no effort is made to provide more useful green space, a space the size of a staggering 110 football pitches will be needed to close the deficit.

Local residents want to propose a vision for a new park which incorporates various pieces of land directly adjacent to the new development but also land to the north of the North Circular and fields surrounding the Banbury Reservoir, making better use of fields which have been left to become derelict and using Compulsory Purchase Orders for private land where necessary. New features and facilities could be as diverse as new playing fields, a BMX track, ball courts, a nature park and much more. Residents are starting to create a vision for the space.

East London Waterworks Park

The Thames Water depot site on the Lea Bridge Road.

In the centre of the Lea Valley Regional Park and on the border of Hackney and Waltham Forest, this site is protected Metropolitan Open Land. Some time ago Thames Water was given permission to turn it into a depot and, more recently, it was sold on and a planning application to build two free schools was turned down. Now local people are campaigning to buy it and turn it into the East London Waterworks Park.

Part of the vision for the site is to create a wild swimming pond

Their vision is to transform the 5.8-hectare site into a place for wild swimming and a place where people learn to live harmoniously with nature. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to return a brownfield site to nature and, in doing so, create a unique habitat that will increase biodiversity and help improve the physical and mental health of all who visit.

Find out more.

Beddington Farmlands Nature Reserve

Beddington Farmlands is a 161 hectare site (slightly bigger than Hyde Park) at the centre of the wider Wandle Valley Regional Park. Together with the adjacent green spaces of Beddington Park and Mitcham Common, this is one of the largest contiguous green spaces in south London.

Restoration plans for Beddington Farmlands have fallen way behind

The site is an important area for wildlife, is classified as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation and protected Metropolitan Open Land and it was once a jewel in London’s ecological crown. But its wildlife is now in shocking decline and promised management plans have been endlessly delayed. The latest Breeding Birds survey shows eight species now extinct, failed or in drastic decline. The lapwings at Beddington Farmlands are now threatened with imminent local extinction. The iconic tree sparrow has collapsed from a thousand birds to a single breeding pair in just a decade.

And there is next to no public access to enjoy this vast area of open space at the heart of the Wandle Valley Regional Park.

The site is now the location of an incinerator being built by Viridor. Planning permission for the incinerator was given by Sutton Council in 2013 on condition that a comprehensive management plan was drawn up to deliver an abundant, flagship nature reserve for local people and wildlife. Viridor was required to restore the surrounding area, set targets for increasing key wildlife and restore the site into a mosaic of important habitats for wildlife.

Today the incinerator is finished but the restoration plans have fallen way behind.

Residents are campaigning for the Beddington Farmlands Nature Reserve to become a reality. They want Sutton Council, Viridor and Thames Water to put an end to the delays and work together to restore the site, deliver the promised nature reserve and manage the land competently to ensure the survival of the Lapwing as well as other bird species reliant on the habitat.

Find out more: visit the Beddington Farmlands Nature Reserve website, the Wandle Valley Forum website, and read the original petition and the more recent petition.

Dandy Fifth Park

The Buckthorne railway cutting site is divided in the middle by a pedestrian bridge. Half of the cutting, on the north side of the bridge, is the established Buckthorne Cutting Nature Reserve which is accessed by the community on open days and for educational clubs and volunteer sessions.

The other half of the site was used for 90 years by the local scouts and guides (1914 to 2004) for nature-based pursuits until it was sold for development. This section, now under threat, was opened in 1922 by the Lewisham and Deptford Mayors as the ‘Dandy Fifth’ Park, after the scout group who used it at the time, admired for their smart appearance. A scout hut still stands in a clearing amongst mature Sweet Chestnut Trees but sadly it is becoming increasingly derelict since the landowner fenced the space off in the hope of gaining planning permission to build on the land.

The site was used by the Dandy Fifth Scouts for many years

The Dandy Fifth Park was used predominantly by the scouts but also the guides and the local community for walks, summer fairs and functions. Behind the Dandy Fifth Park the scouts cared for a stretch of woodland as an undesignated nature reserve that is now over-run with bramble, smothering the meadow areas.

More recently, debris and waste has accumulated on the site.

Local campaigners want to reinstate the Dandy Fifth Park for the scouts, for the many local schools and nurseries and for the communities either side of the railway track. They also want to bring some wildlife management to the neglected woodland.

A before & after image of how the site looks now (derelict with rubbish dumped) and how it could look in future (restored for the use of local scout and other groups

To mark the centenary of the park’s opening in 2022, local campaigners hope to bring this green space back to its former glory.

Donate to the local campaign. Find out more about the local campaign.

Warren Farm Nature Reserve

Warren Farm in Ealing is a 61 acres site, roughly the size of St James’s Park, and is protected Metropolitan Open Land. It is part of the Brent River Park. The majority of the site was community playing fields but these have not been maintained since 2013.

The community has continued to make good use of the fields and the site was slowly reclaimed by nature, rewilding to form a unique neutral and acid grassland habitat. Species of birds, mammals, plants, reptiles, amphibians and insects both common and rare in London, have been recorded thriving on the land.

The fate of the site has been precarious even though over a decade ago the council voted to give the site Local Nature Reserve status. More recently a decision was taken to lease the site to QPR Football Club to build training facility. This was abandoned in 2020 under pressure from conservationists and the Warren Farm Nature Reserve group was formed.

A plan to designate Warren Farm, and neighbouring meadows along the River Brent, as a statutory Local Nature Reserve has been put forward by the Brent River & Canal Society which campaigned successfully to create the Brent River Park in the 1970s. This proposal would preserve the meadows for future generations and ensure the protection of its rare and endangered species such as the skylark, a Red-Listed bird facing UK extinction.

The campaign to designate the meadows as a Local Nature Reserve has already gained some prominent backers, such as Lord Randall of Uxbridge, forensic botanist Mark A Spencer, young conservationist Kabir Kaul, the Barn Owl Trust, West London Ramblers and London National Park City and a local petition has attracted thousands.

Find out more about the Warren Farm Nature Reserve, their petition and follow #WarrenFarmNR @WarrenFarmNR.

The Railway Children Park

The Grove Park neighbourhood’s biggest community and heritage asset is a stretch of Metropolitan Open Land running parallel to a railway cutting which inspired Edith Nesbit, who overlooked the cutting from the house she once resided, to write her now famous book The Railway Children. The cutting is also a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation with a range of priority habitats that include a wet woodland and chalk grassland, which, if all managed appropriately would create and even richer haven for wildlife. Sitting in the middle is the statutory Local Nature Reserve of Grove Park.

The site is thought to have been the inspiration for the author of the The Railway Children who lived nearby

Local residents have campaigned tirelessly since the first public inquiry 1976 to save this relic countryside from development. The inspector ruled then that it should remain open space with ‘possibility of creating a district park in the Metropolitan Open Land’. The area is deficient in district level parks and so this remains a valid proposition 40+ years later. It will serve the existing and new residents as a result of development being planned in the Grove Park town centre, which is designated a ‘strategic area of regeneration’ in the new London Plan and Lewisham Council’s emerging new Local Plan.

However, in recent years more speculative developers have bought parts of the cutting and its destruction is being accelerated. Some parcels have now been fenced off, the equestrian centre forced to close and serious damage to habitats has been caused by the owner in the hope of gaining planning permission to build.

Local campaigners envision the creation of a new district park – the Railway Children Park – making the whole site accessible again, extending the nature reserve, bringing about the ecological restoration of crucial wildlife habitats as part of the wider nature recovery networks, and creating features and attractions to benefit the whole community.

Before and after images show recent destruction.

Find out more.

‘Edgelands’ – the new River Roding Park

This site is a series of connected green spaces next to the River Roding at the apex of three London Boroughs: Barking & Dagenham, Newham and Redbridge. Two large areas of green space appear to have been bought by developers and fenced off with a view to their being developed for profit.

River Roding Trust is a charity restoring, protecting and preserving the river and surrounding habitat

It is an ethnically diverse area with high levels of deprivation, poor access to green space and communities severed by roads and railway lines.

Much of the land is protected Metropolitan Open Land and also a rich habitat for wildlife.

The Roding River Trust would like to work with the local community to create a vision for a new River Roding Park which would include:

1. The River Roding Path: creating the missing link of the riverside walkway between Barking & Ilford and linking it in to the existing path at Wanstead Park by way of the Aldersbrook, and creating a new public linear park and wetlands on land currently owned by Transport for London.

2. The East Ham Levels Park – a new public park on the three playing fields on the West side of the North Circular, also linking them into the Roding and the Roding Path. Depending on discussions with the community, this could provide much needed sports or play facilities.

3. The Ilford Wetlands: opening up public access along the River Roding through the existing golf course area.

The East Ham Levels

There are owls nearby as well as bats, egrets, grass snakes, sand martins and kingfishers, and a variety of tits and birds of prey the length the River to admire. The Trust monitors the local wildlife most of which is protected under law. Within the actual waters you can see Chub, Carp, Roach, Gudgeon and Barbel in the upper stretches, and Dace, Pike, Rudd, Perch and shoals of Minnows and Eels. The Trust is also looking into removing barriers in the river which impede their travel.

The River Roding Trust.

The Welsh Harp (Brent Reservoir) Park

Part bird sanctuary and part recreational space, this site is 170 hectares of open water, marshes, woodland and grasslands, and a 70 year-old Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Local Nature Reserve. Responsibility for the site is split between landowners (the reservoir and shoreline is owned by Canal and River Trust, the open areas by Barnet and Brent Councils) and managers (the Environment Agency manages the two inflowing rivers and the flood control function; Natural England advises on environmental issues and adjudicates on SSSI status).

The Welsh Harp / Brent Reservoir is a 70 year old SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) but is now facing an environmental crisis

But the site has suffered decades of neglect and, in January 2021, when water levels dropped for dam repairs, it exposed an environmental crisis: vast amounts of rubbish, plastic and other pollution, as well as an excess of alluvium soaked in heavy metals, oils, nutrient pollutants and urban runoff. Unchecked fly-tipping and a lack of biodiversity plan has also held back the potential of the woodlands and open spaces.

Local volunteers have already collected hundreds of bags of rubbish

At this point, local campaigners formed an alliance to push for change. In response, in March 2021, Barnet and Brent Councils jointly announced they are “determined to secure a cleaner, greener future for Welsh Harp” and committed to a “long-term vision” to be outlined in a new upcoming management plan. It followed Canal and River Trust’s recent Action Plan for Brent Reservoir.

Campaigners have now formed an alliance to push for change

So all three land owners have now pledged to work together on the new visioning document and this could be a turning point for this famous but long-overlooked green space. With all the land owners now awake to the need for change, local campaigners have set out a 15-point Vision for Welsh Harp in an effort to kickstart a new era of environmental action at this historic SSSI. The goal is to reverse the decades of neglect and bring real change. They want the fifteen aims, covering the reservoir, shoreline and open space, to be included in any future official plan.

Read the Vision for Welsh Harp by allied campaigners

Follow the Friends of the Welsh Harp and join litter-picks

No. 10… Coming soon!!

One of the proposed new parks is the East London Waterworks Park featuring a pond for wild swimming.

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The legacy of Ethel’s vision and determination lives on thanks to the continued efforts of the Friends of the Peak District, and she remains an inspiration to everyone within CPRE