‘It’s not under lock and key… a place like this is really important. We need a countryside in our city.’ (SE22 resident who visits Green Dale a couple of times a week to play football on the astroturf.)
‘It isn’t a regimented park… it is scruffy and governed by natural cycles. All the wildlife that is here. Incredible to have this space.’ (SE15 residents, daily visitors to Green Dale to walk the dog.)
I was very moved to read these comments made by local residents about Green Dale Fields, the open space that runs between Sainsbury’s/Champion Hill stadium and the Green Dale cycle/footpath. Volunteers from the Friends of Green Dale carried out an all-day survey of 50 people who used or walked through Green Dale on Sunday 18 June.
A third of people surveyed use Green Dale to walk their dogs, while others use it for football on the astroturf, cycling, tennis and exercising. Anyone can turn up and play on the astroturf pitches – there’s no fee or booking system.
People walking through said they were on their way to places including Dulwich Picture Gallery. As a child, the poet Robert Browning used to walk to the gallery from his home on the corner of Coleman Road and Southampton Way. (A plaque above the dry-cleaner’s at 179 Southampton Way marks the spot.) He described it as ‘a green half-hour’s walk over the fields’, and on Green Dale you can imagine what that would have been like in the 1820s.
Other reasons for being there that Sunday included sunbathing, birdwatching, enjoying the peace and quiet – and collecting long grass for a guinea pig!
Chris Rowse, Chair of Friends of Green Dale, noted that people appreciate Green Dale’s unspoilt character and most said they preferred it to a more ‘manicured’ park: ‘People enjoy the wide open space and wild greenery’.
I love classic Victorian parks like Brunswick Park, Myatt’s Fields and Ruskin Park. They have an incredible density of different things happening at the same time – tennis, the splash pool, picnics and football. But it is also vitally important to have access to wilder spaces. On Green Dale, you can pick blackberries from the bramble hedges; older children can discover the simple pleasures of hanging out in nature; and birds, bats, frogs, and hedgehogs thrive, a short but significant distance away from streetlights and the noise of cars.
‘It feels wild and beautiful.’
‘Tranquillity in the city.’
If you want evidence of the benefits for mental and physical health of green spaces in cities, there’s lots collected here by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. But the comments collected in the Green Dale Survey Report are rich and personal and I’m very grateful that the Friends spent a day talking to people about how they feel about Green Dale.
Today I went to a public consultation event about Hadley Property Group’s plans to redevelop Champion Hill. There will be another chance to look at the plans on Saturday 27 February 11am-2pm, in the bar of the Dulwich Hamlet football club, if you’d like to see for yourself.
I am really keen to see proposals that will give the football club a sustainable future. I also understand the need to build more genuinely affordable homes. I don’t think these proposals will deliver either.
The plans would depend on the developers being given permission to build on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). Like Hampstead Heath, Green Dale Fields are designated as Metropolitan Open Land – this relates to open spaces used for leisure, recreation and sport, or important for nature conservation or habitat interest, for example. The London Plan states that ‘the strongest protection should be given to London’s Metropolitan Open Land and inappropriate development refused’.
Hadley’s representatives quibble that the community football pitches within Green Dale Fields are not ‘really’ MOL, because they are covered with astroturf. They claim that building a new stadium on the footprint of these pitches would have no impact on the views or wildlife in the surrounding open fields. A similar scheme (to move the stadium onto MOL and build a Homebase store on the site of the current stadium) was rejected by Southwark Council in 2003.
The planning settlement that produced the current stadium in 1992 also gave the local community a supermarket on an inappropriate ‘out of town’ scale, with a massive car park between shop and street, three five-a-side football pitches so crammed together that the ball from one game often ends up in the middle of the next, and the uninspiring St Francis Park, which is managed by Sainsburys. The design of all these elements could have been much better.
No one can deny that the previous owners of the football ground neglected Green Dale Fields and discouraged the public from using it. The tennis courts are completely overgrown and the community pitches full of rips. The Friends of Green Dale have done brilliant work in cleaning, rubbish-picking and opening up discussions about the future.
Southwark Council has also proposed various ways of using the space. Initial plans were to over-stuff the fields with play and gym equipment and tarmacked paths, but more recent thinking seems to be towards lighter management in favour of wildlife and informal walking and play, with the addition of a pond.
Like Green Dale Fields, the resources of the current stadium building seem to have been neglected by the previous owners, with little interest in promoting the bar throughout the week, renting it as a community space or improving the gym facilities. This raises questions about the income that might potentially be generated for the football club from the existing stadium.
Hadley’s plans, however, don’t seem to have changed a great deal since the last display in November 2014, so I found myself asking some of the same questions again:
1) If the economic model depends on 2,000 pupils a month visiting the site to use the Multi Use Games Area (MUGA) will they all walk to the site or will some come by coach or minibus? What about schools that use minibuses to get to activities because the group includes wheelchair users or pupils with limited mobility? The plans show no parking area for a minibus or coach (and local streets rarely have room for a car, let alone a coach). We haven’t got to that level of detail yet.
2) Have you spoken to any pedestrian or cyclists’ groups such as Living Streets or Southwark Cyclists about the suggested cycle path? (No) The proposed path is shared with pedestrians and winds in gentle curves along the ‘linear park’. It would not have adequate capacity for commuter cyclists going between Greendale and Dog Kennel Hill; on match days, the path would be blocked by people queuing for the turnstiles. It’s a worsening of the current access, shabby as that is. Yes, I see.
3) How will pedestrians cross Abbotswood Road between St Francis Park and the new linear park? We haven’t got to that level of detail yet.
4) The posters promise ‘as many affordable homes as the scheme can afford, once costs of the stadium have been factored in’. Will Hadley publish its viability assessments? I can’t speak for Hadley.
5) The posters say you are ‘committed to delivering a target of a 35% reduction in CO2’. Compared to what? I don’t know… perhaps an ordinary block of flats without any sustainability measures? So is this any better than what is specified in the London Plan?I don’t know.
6) Will informal groups be able to turn up and play on the MUGA as they do on the community five-a-side pitches? Yes, it’s cramped, as I said above, and the astroturf is in terrible condition right now, but it doesn’t have to be; the point is, anyone can play, anytime, for free. And there are three pitches, instead of just one. Across the road, East Dulwich Estate residents have just lost a kickabout area for football on Pytchley Road – the site of a new block of flats being built by the council. There’s a need for space for informal games. We haven’t got to that level of detail yet.
7) A ‘Match Day Travel Plan’ is promised as part of the planning submission, but has not yet been developed. Isn’t this crucial to the design and functioning of the whole proposal?
In my view, Hadley are proposing a plan as skimpy as the 1992 agreement with Sainsburys. They overstate the biodiversity (meadows! trees! bat boxes!) that can be achieved in a ‘linear park’ that also contains foot- and cyclepaths. They may be overstating the sustainability of the fabled 3G (third generation) pitch too. The Football League voted not to reintroduce artificial pitches last year. As someone asked this evening, ‘What if we get promoted out of the Ryman League?’