‘Greenwich Park Revealed will help us face the future – and we’re still open to ideas’

Greenwich Park
The Greenwich Park Revealed project aims to revitalise one of London’s best-known open spaces

Last month, 853 ran a Viewpoint piece from Meirion Jones about the possibility of Greenwich Park getting back its 17th century Giant Steps.

Now park manager GRAHAM DEAR responds, and assures locals that nothing’s set in stone yet – and any Giant Steps won’t be set in concrete…

The Royal Parks has applied for a grant of £4.8 million through the Parks for People scheme, jointly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund.

The charity has successfully been awarded development funding to work up proposals over the next eighteen months, and then invited to submit a Phase 2 application to secure the full £4.8 million grant.

Greenwich Park Revealed will enable The Royal Parks charity, which manages the 183-acre park, to conserve and improve the World Heritage Site and Grade I-listed landscape for the 4.8 million people who visit every year.

In developing our proposals, a programme of four open days in the park were held in 2017, attended by over 2,000 people. Themed workshops were held on specific subjects including heritage, education and access. These workshops were attended by World Heritage Site partners and amenity groups such as the Friends of Greenwich Park, Westcombe Society, Greenwich Society and Blackheath Society, as well as English Heritage and Historic England.

There is also an advisory group set up including representatives from many of these groups to help steer the project.

Greenwich Park Revealed’s aims

Wolfe statue, Greenwich
Compacted mud at the top of Observatory Hill – visitor numbers are eroding the landscape (Photo: Graham Dear)

What the project aims to do is address management issues around the park. Some of these are due to increased visitor numbers causing erosion, pressure on visitor facilities like cafes and the playground. Some are due to new pests and diseases affecting the trees in the park such as bleeding canker of horse chestnut and chestnut blight.

Other projects are aspirations such as: improving the classroom facilities for school groups and expanding the education programme, interpretation to tell the story of Greenwich Park (something that we currently do not do very well), providing a mobility scheme to help less mobile visitors access the park and Royal Observatory, providing new opportunities for volunteers, and training opportunities and apprenticeships for young people. For the latter we will be working in partnership with the University of Greenwich as well as Lewisham and Southwark College.

On the matter of Wolfe Statue, the giant steps, Castle Hill and parterre banks, there are no definitive plans yet. We have only consulted on ideas.

This formal landscape is such a feature of Greenwich Park and part of the reason why the park is included in the Greenwich Maritime World Heritage Site. Historic England considers the parterre banks and giant steps to be a ‘landscape feature of outstanding special interest’.

Unacceptable erosion

Observatory Hill, Greenwich Park - photo by Alan Stanton
The “desire line” where people walk up/down the hill can clearly be seen (Photo: Alan Stanton)

What is clear is that the increasing number of visitors standing at Wolfe Statute to admire one of the great views of London are causing unacceptable erosion to the slope. The excellent photo by Alan Stanton clearly shows the desire line up the slope.

The only way we can currently stop this erosion becoming catastrophic is to fence off the slope with chestnut paling, something that is in itself unacceptable. At the top of the slope visitors are greeted by an expanse of bare compacted mud.

There must be a good design solution that enables visitors to admire the view without causing unacceptable damage. We do not have that solution yet, that is why we have been awarded development funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Whether that design solution includes a reinstatement of the giant steps or not is also not decided yet. There will be full consultation on the proposals with the public and statutory consultees like Historic England and planners. I don’t know where the suggestion that the steps if reinstated would be concrete came from, but it is not correct.

Another thing that Alan Stanton’s photo clearly shows is the loss of the view of Christopher Wren’s Flamsteed House from the north. This view, which lasted for some 300 years, has been lost over the last 20 years as tree cover has become established on the hill. We would like to restore the view.

It is early days in the project. We have 18 months to develop detailed proposals and submit our second phase bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Over the next couple of months we will be appointing landscape architects to work with us on the proposals and drawing up a timetable of consultation.

Anyone wishing to keep up to date with progress can register for updates at greenwichparkrevealed[at]royalparks.org.uk.

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    One comment

    1. As far as I can remember, 40-50 years, I had visited Greenwich Park all through my childhood and later adult life, and the view towards the City of London and east docklands was always of special interest. The view today, from Wolfe’s Statue, is arguably more dynamic and interesting as much of the eastern dockland area has been redeveloped with office and residential towers, the River Thames, a vibrant tourist and commuter ‘corridor’ and massive redevelopment generally of old industrial and river wharf sites. Great news that landscape Architects will be commissioned to assess ‘sight-lines’ and encroachment of vegetation. Some lovely tactile paving would also be useful to mitigate erosion of grass and soil in the heavily trafficked public areas.

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