By Tara O’Connor, BBC Local Government Correspondent
A group of neighbours in South Norwood were upset and surprised to see a tall metal fence go up around their treasured community garden last week.
It has been described as ‘intimidation’ by some members of the close-knit community.
In November 2015, residents of Love Lane and surrounding roads set about clearing rubbish from a green space to create a community garden.
Since then it has been a vital part of the community and particularly important for children.
The land is privately owned by Global Acquisitions Group but it is now registered as an Asset of Community Value (ACV), which means if it were to be put up for sale the community would get a chance to bid to buy it.
Last week a fence with spikes around the top was installed, but since concerns were raised, construction workers have been sawing off the spiked tops.
We contacted the owners to ask why the fence had been put up but they did not wish to comment on the matter.
Residents say the owners have stated local residents will get a key so they can still access teh land but this has not been confirmed to us by the developers.
If true, it means there will only be access from one end of the long garden. Some residents are worried that this will mean people could become trapped inside the fence at the bottom if they were being chased.
John Fletcher has lived in the area for nine years and has five children between the ages of four and 10.
They all spend time playing at the gardens and John was involved with clearing the space and still makes sure it is clear of fly-tipping.
He thinks the fence will encourage people to dump rubbish in the space including tyres and asbestos which community members spent a long time clearing.
“We have no play facilities around here, my 10-year-old can come and play here with a group of kids,” said John.
Pointing to rubbish dumped near the space, he adds: “This is the future, this is what we will have to put up with – rubbish dumped. It will get worse and worse.
“We are not doing anything wrong we are making it a safe and clean space.
“These fences are not making the land any safer. If you can’t get out at the bottom it is a trap.”
Emma Hope-Finch has lived in Love Lane for 20 years and was the driving force behind bringing the community space to life.
She said: “There is going to be a gate which allegedly we will have the key to, which takes away the beauty of what it was – open at all times.
“There is no statute that says a play area needs to be fenced off for safety.
“It is not just us, there is a lot of wildlife here and that is all going to be lost.”
David Levett has been a resident of Love Lane since 1978.
He said: “I think it is absolutely disgusting, it is intimidating and it is destroying everything we’ve built up.
“One of the reasons I decided to come to Love Lane was because of the park and the community. It is one of the rare places that has a real sense of community.”
And Joan Smith who lived nearby for the past 31 years said there have been problems with the land in the past.
She thinks it is the fourth time she has seen something like this has happen.
“It is a recurring nightmare,” added Joan.
“When I moved here it was open field, all the children played here. It has always stayed a community space, a lot of people who live further afield use it too.”
We contacted Global Acquisitions Group through Nudge Factory PR but the company did not want to comment on the situation at Love Lane.
But they did point to a letter put out by Tory councillor Mario Creatura which states that as the fence is just 1.8 metres tall, planning permission is not required.
The letter goes on to say that the landowner was advised that access to the land should be regulated to ‘ensure safe usage’ as if someone hurt themselves on the land the landowner would be liable.
The fencing moves the liability to those controlling access to the site but indicates that the owners do want to keep the land open for locals to use.
Cllr Creatura went on to claim that Croydon Council has since agreed to be the licensee, meaning it would be liable if anything happened on the land but has not returned necessary licensing forms to confirm this yet.
The matter then seemed to take a political twist as the Tory councillor’s letter saw him branded “shameless and utterly unprincipled” by leader of the Labour-run council, Tony Newman.
Cllr Newman’s Tweet continued: “As you must know it’s your Tory government’s permitted development policy that allows your friends the developers to erect the fence without the council’s permission.”
The council has been contacted officially for comment.
On Sunday (November 10) the regular ‘play street’ event – where families are invited to bring their kids along to play together – will take place at the gardens from 2-4pm.
Residents are inviting others to come and see the importance of the space and celebrate the project becoming a finalist in the Healthy Streets Awards 2019.