Unhappiness with the Dulwich Estate

There is a growing concern among some residents’ associations on the 1960s estates over the Dulwich Estate’s management of the maintenance of the common areas on their estates. The fact that the Estate Office was closed with staff working from home as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has clearly not helped but there is a feeling that it is being used as an excuse. There are reports and emails go answered, gardening contractors go unsupervised and standards of workmanship which are clearly not to specification are ignored. The Estate appears to have struggled with their customer focus during the pandemic and some residents are starting to ask whether it would be better if they managed their own maintenance programmes like several of the blocks of flats do.

The Great North Wood project                         

The Great North Wood was the landscape of woodland and wooded commons on the high ground between Deptford and Selhurst, living on in names such as Norwood and Forest Hill - but now reduced to a scattering of small woodlands and green spaces, with Dulwich, Sydenham Hill and Low Cross Woods being the largest remaining woods.

In 2017 the London Wildlife Trust embarked on a four year “Living landscapes” project, funded principally by a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of some £700,000, aiming to work with volunteers, community groups and landowners to revive the Great North Wood as a home for woodland species and to encourage people to enjoy and to value the natural wealth on their doorstep.  Other funding was provided by the Mayor of London, Veolia Environmental Trust, the Dulwich Estate and the Dulwich Society. The project ends formally in May 2021.  Despite the recent impact of Covid, the project can be judged a success and should leave some worthwhile legacies.

A number of vibrant “Friends of” groups have been established or energised through the conservation work undertaken at 13 heritage sites, and the LWT is developing management plans with these groups. The LWT’s own volunteer group has developed significantly in numbers and skills, and is likely to continue to undertake conservation work in Dulwich, Sydenham Hill and Low Cross Woods.  Habitats have been improved, seen in the increase in native species such as bluebells, foxgloves and wild garlic (the Dulwich Society funded fencing off some areas in “our” woods to allow regeneration of eroded areas, as well as the removal of invasive species such as the poisonous cherry laurel).  Access is being improved by better paths and walkways (the Dulwich Society is currently funding a wooden bridge over the Ambrook  stream at a cost of £2,300), and this will also reduced the erosion of ground cover.  Awareness of the value of these areas have been raised by two Great North Wood Festivals and a wide range of community activities (the Dulwich Society has funded tree identification and dawn chorus walks).  The entrances to the woods have been improved and information boards put in place.

“Lockdown” has seen a large increase in visits to the woods - this has served to emphasise how fortunate we are to have them on our doorstep, and the importance of this project.

The new boardwalk beside the magnificent Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) will reduce stress on the root system around the tree. The cedar is the largest tree in Sydenham Hill Wood and aged at about 150 years old. It was planted as an ornamental specimen when the upper slopes of the wood formed part of the gardens of the Victorian villas that once stood there.

The future of Crystal Palace Park

The enabling development for housing around the edge of the park is still on the table, and it has now been joined by redevelopment proposals for the former caravan site on Crystal Palace Parade. There is a reluctant acceptance amongst many stakeholders that these are probably necessary to ensure a viable future for the park but the Society feels that the plans for a series of large summer musical events are probably a step too far. Everyone accepts that the park needs additional money to be spent on it, after years of underfunding by Bromley and the Mayor for London, but does that mean that residents in adjoining boroughs need to suffer from excessive noise and major traffic disruption?  The current Bromley licensing application by Festival Republic (20/000398/LAPRE) is for two three-day events on consecutive weekends in July, for a period of three years, commencing in July 2021 - with 50,000 people attending each day. The applicants point out that as well as Crystal Palace, there are four stations within walking distance, but will their capacity be adequate and in these Covid-19 times will people use trains? The Society has no problem with any of the smaller events suggested but 50,000 visitors a day over two consecutive weekends is just not feasible.