Community garden fights for survival after landlord threatens to boot them out

By Harrison Galliven, Local Democracy Reporter

Local volunteers from a Croydon community garden are fighting for its survival after the landowner has expressed intentions to build on the site.

The Love Lane garden in South Norwood was reclaimed from a previously overgrown green space backing on to the nearby tram line.

The garden itself is on metropolitan open land, a designation that protects areas of recreation and nature conservation which are strategically important.

“Save Love Lane” sign left on a bench (Picture: Harrison Galliven)

Despite this protection, which is similar to that afforded to Green Belt land, the Friends of Love Lane Group said they were shocked to find that the landowners had signalled an intention to build on their beloved space.

The volunteers also claim that Croydon council, which once hailed the group as “a model for integration for people all over Croydon”, has failed to make contact with the group regarding a settlement.

The Friends of Love Lane group was set up in 2015 when the land was cleared to make a community garden and play space.

Emma Hope-Fitch, the group’s secretary, said that “previous residents had cleared it in the 1980s, so it has been used for a long time by the community”.

She said: “Everything was fly tipped, from the tyres to the chairs and wood. Even the bench, which one of our volunteers has beautified.

“This is metropolitan open land, it has more protection than the green belt, and what we are doing here is what that protection is all about. It’s land for the community.”

She also claimed the landowners offered them a new area nearby, but that it is half the size of the current garden.

They also offered the group £20,000 to build the new area, but according to Ms Hope-Finch: “That is not nearly enough considering what we have put into this place. So far we have only been visited by the property manager, not the landlord, and they came down in winter.

“They need to come down on a day like today and see how beautiful it is.”

The area was initially reclaimed by the group as a safe space for their children to play in instead of them playing in the road.

Since clearing the area, the group have now installed a playground and vegetable patches, which they use to grow seasonal veg and teach children about gardening.

The group previously received support from Croydon council, but are now concerned that the council has failed to reach out to them regarding a deal to keep the land for public use.

When approached for comment, Mayor Jason Perry said: “I am deeply disappointed that this has happened. The positive community use of this otherwise unused land space has been a testament to the work of the local volunteers who have maintained it.

“The original agreement between the landowner and the council to bring the unused, yet ultimately privately owned, space into community use was made several years ago. That agreement secured legal access to the site for the Friends of Love Lane to use for the local community.

“I understand the landowner had offered the potential for a permanent agreement with the Friends group to take over a section of the land, and I would be keen to explore whether there may still be a potential solution here.”

The group have set up a petition to save the area from closure, which can be found here.

Pictured top: Volunteers from Friends of Love Lane Group at the Love Lane garden in South Norwood (Picture: Harrison Galliven)

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