This place used to be boring. Featureless with only a running track – home to Cambridge Harriers athletics club – to break things up, Sutcliffe Park never really had much to commend it. But its design wasn’t just dull, it was also dangerous.
Buried beneath the park was the River Quaggy, which meanders its way from Bromley, through Eltham and Lee to Lewisham, which took the brunt whenever it flooded.
At the time of Lewisham’s last flood, in 1992, plans were in hand to do something about it – but local campaigners persuaded the authorities that rather than continuing to bury the Quaggy, it needed to be given room to cope with flood surges naturally. This would mean returning it to ground level at Sutcliffe Park, and restoring the old flood plain. The park had once been part of the swampy Harrow Meadow, before being landscaped and opened by the old Woolwich Council in 1937, which named it after the borough engineer.
After resistance from Greenwich Council was overcome, work began in 2003, and the results have been dramatic. The dull old park is now a waterside haven for wildlife, a beautiful green space just yards from the roar of the A20. Together with a similar scheme at Chinbrook Meadows in Grove Park, it’s been a win all around, with south-east Londoners getting much-improved parks and a level of reassurance over Lewisham town centre.
While it’s no longer the park’s top attraction, the athletics track remains as the park – on the borders of Eltham, Lee and Kidbrooke – gets set for even more change. A neighbouring football ground, once home to Greenwich Borough FC, was lost for housing development a few years ago, and the Kidbrooke Village development is now rising up to its north, taking the place of the old Ferrier Estate.
Eighty years ago, the old burghers of Woolwich would have looked at you incredulously if you suggested people wanted to live with a view of flooded wetlands. Now, their successors are banking on people flocking to make their homes next to a revitalised river.