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BARBICAN LIFE


The City’s Planning Department isn’t all bad! Douglas Woodward reminds us that it has some impressive green credentials


Centenary Walk in Epping Forest.


Photo by David Iliff and licensed under the Creative Commons


Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license


o say that Planning Officers – whether Whitehall, County Hall, or even Guildhall species – try to do their best is to praise them with faint damns.


The Green Belt – a City creation T


Our dear Government’s latest attempt to wreck town centres and the countryside – or encourage enterprise – depending on one’s point of view, will do little to enhance the reputation of our planning officials. The up-side for us in the City is that we at least have nothing to fear from the new National Planning Policy Framework – there’s a name to conjure with! The reason for such complacency is simple: while York and Bath and Chester (not to mention all those Green Belts) may tremble at their fate to come, the City of London is safe enough, its own horror stories having already happened. With apologies to those of my friends who love the Gherkin and all those spectacular enterprises of their Lordships Rogers and Foster, one can say that having already agreed the Herons, Cheesegraters and Walkie Talkie monsters (or, if you prefer, triumphs of architecture) we can now relax. You (and I for that matter) may not regard the City of London as the most conservation-minded of local authorities, but what I would claim for the City Corporation is that for the past 140 years it can lay claim to being the “greenest” in the land, indeed the inventor of Green Belt Policy.


In 1871 Epping Forest, being parcelled up by Lords of the Manor for their private use, was under threat of extinction. In May that year the Common Council in Guildhall unanimously resolved to take all possible steps to save the Forest for London. In a three-year campaign, in the teeth of opposition from vested interests, and at a cost of nearly £300,000 in payments of


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compensation and legal fees, the City Corporation gradually acquired the 6,000 acres of Epping Forest. In 1874 the Master of the Rolls delivered judgement for the City against enclosure, with no manorial boundaries whatsoever. In 1882 Queen Victoria came (by train) to declare the Forest open, and handing this vast open space into the keeping of the City Corporation for all time. This story of Epping Forest is well known, but there is so much more in every direction around London: to the east, West Ham Park’s 77 acres; to the west the 540 acres of Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire, many of its magnificent trees more than 500 years old; to the south the area known as the Kent and Surrey Commons, an outstanding stretch of chalk downland – West Wickham, Coulsdon Common, Farthing Downs, Riddlesdown and Spring Park, to which was fairly recently added Ashstead Common, in all another 1,000 acres.


Other than the occasional glimpse of its coat of arms the City’s role in creating, saving and maintaining these vital lungs for London is not all that widely known, but its reputation was such that on the demise of the Greater London Council there could be no other


custodian for Hampstead Heath than the City of London, which took over in 1989. Together with neighbouring Highgate Woods they provide London with another 860 acres of breathing space.


So here we see much of London’s Green Belt and judging by Guildhall’s past successes in seeing off any attempts to encroach upon these of its outlying possessions, let us hope that any new attack under the National Planning Policy Framework will be similarly given the boot!


Barbican Resident, C Douglas Woodward, is a one-time Common Councilman and even now still President of the City Heritage Society


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