A reader and friend who’s local to Oxleas Woods in southeast London says that there are rumblings currently “of a planning application to threaten it”. This is profoundly dispiriting as we go into 2023, and the 30-year anniversary of Oxleas Woods’ dramatic reprieve from the British government’s Roads to Prosperity plan.
It would have seen a six-lane motorway cut through this ancient woodland, parts of which go back 8,000 years.
Stand in the woods today and it’s hard to imagine the intensity and fierceness of the campaign to protect Oxleas Woods. If my friend is right, it may be time to actively remember that moment.
As Jonathan Bray, founder and convenor of the Oxleas strategy group, describes in his blog, protection of the woodland was a remarkable feat. By the late 80s, he writes, the East London River Crossing “had been scheduled for construction for many years and had already been approved by the longest Public Inquiry ever held into a road scheme. That inquiry had lasted 194 days; the transcripts of the proceedings contained 9.5 million words!”
Accordingly, the challenge was immense.
So was the mobilisation. Locals formed groups – People Against the River Crossing (PARC) and Greenwich & Lewisham FOE. Mr Bray describes the “concerted strategy” to make Oxleas Wood a “line in the sand for the environment movement”, an issue that would become symbolic “of the environmental damage that the road programme was causing”.
How they did it is a fascinating story.