Army will work to improve neglected Woolwich Common, minister insists

Woolwich Common left covered in junk in July, nearly four weeks after the travellers’ departure

A defence minister has told local MP Matt Pennycook that the Army will work to improve Woolwich Common, after locals raised concerns about the way the green space is looked after.

Tobias Ellwood told Pennycook, the MP for Greenwich & Woolwich, that he appreciated the “strength of feeling” on the issue, which has prompted neighbours to set up a “friends” group to press for the common to be maintained properly.

A large part of the common was scorched by a grass fire during last summer’s heatwave, in an area where the Ministry of Defence had ignored requests from Greenwich Council to clear up flytipping left behind by travellers that had occupied the site – despite warnings from a councillor that it was likely to lead to a fire. The grasslands have also not been properly reinstated after the common was used during the 2012 Olympics, with the common left covered in stones.

Local residents have long complained about the management of the common, which has been owned by the MoD and its predecessors for over 200 years and still sees military exercises from the nearby Woolwich Barracks. The MoD currently plans to close the barracks in 2028.

In a letter to Pennycook, Ellwood said he was “sorry to note the delay in remediating the land in Woolwich Common”. He said: “I can confirm the Army are currently reviewing their requirement for the land; however, it is expected that the reinstatement will be completed with limited stone removal. The timeframe for this work will be dependent on confirmation of the Army’s requirements and will reflect the grass growing seasons.

“I appreciate your concerns regarding the maintenance and management of Woolwich Common. I can confirm there is provision for ongoing maintenance to be carried out at the request of the Head of Establishment. My officials at the Defence Infrastructure Organisation will assess the requirement with Lt Col Cross to ensure the officials identified can be addressed.”

Neighbours have been frustrated by a lack of action from defence officials to improve maintenance of the common – one complaint is the army permitting it to be used as a car park for events – while Greenwich Council has been reluctant to force the issue by offering to take over maintenance itself.

A Friends of Woolwich Common group has been set up to organise litter picks, press for the authorities to look after the space, and to consider ideas to improve the area. Its first meeting, which is open to the public, will be in the cricket hut on Barrack Field, off Ha Ha Road, on Tuesday 12 February at 7pm.

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