Town hall in SINC with campaigners who have saved threatened woods

BY CALUM FRASER
calum@slpmedia.co.uk

Residents have celebrated after town hall chiefs performed a U-turn on a housing development.

Campaigners delivered a petition with more than 700 signatures to Lewisham council opposing plans to build houses around the Hillcrest Estate, which would have seen the loss of up to 50 trees in the nearby woods.

Developers Lewisham Homes and the council withdrew their plans, citing local opposition and evidence from an ecology expert. Campaigner Kathleen Towler, who lives on the estate with her 12-year-old daughter, said: “I couldn’t believe it.

We were all just screaming when we heard the news. “We went out for a celebratory drink at the Greyhound on Thursday.”

The scheme would have built more than 20 homes at affordable rent and it would have seen 30 garages and a community centre demolished.

The Hillcrest Wood is a Grade I Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC).

A SINC is a council designation that aims to raise awareness of the area’s importance for wildlife, particularly with regard to planning and land management decision making.

Ms Towler, who was part of the group which delivered the petition on October 4, said: “The council are now fully aware of the importance of preserving the irreplaceable ancient woodland.

“We are so lucky to live in such a wild space where we can live and breathe and hear wildlife.

“It’s a publicly accessible part of the Green Chain Walk, and vital for everyone’s mental health and well-being in Sydenham.

“We need to preserve and enhance the wild lines that exist here between Crystal Palace Park, Sydenham Wells Park, Hillcrest Woods and Sydenham Hill Woods.

These green spaces act as super highways for the wildlife.”

Sydenham councillor Liam Curran, who backed the campaign, said: “It was a poor choice of site.

The plans would have squashed everyone in with little regard for the well-being of the community and in the same process they would have destroyed ecologically significant land.

“We have a lot of empty spaces where houses could be built now like the council plot in Willow Way in Sydenham.

“This is a great place for shops and much-needed houses. “The old Ladywell Swimming baths plot has been empty for nearly a decade now.

“We could still get going with those places before we look at environmentally sensitive locations. “It’s a testament to the strength of the community’s feeling and their organisation.”

Paul Bell, Lewisham’s cabinet member for housing, said: “The environmental research results were inconclusive.

“However, in order to deliver on our ambition to achieve 1,500 new social homes by 2022 in partnership with local communities, we have decided to err on the side of caution.

“We remain wholly committed to developing much-needed new social homes across the borough, including in Sydenham.”

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