Local volunteers from a Croydon community garden are fighting for its survival after the landowner has expressed intentions to build on the site.

The Love Lane garden in South Norwood was reclaimed from a previously overgrown green space backing on to the nearby tram line.

The garden itself is on metropolitan open land, a designation that protects areas of recreation and nature conservation which are strategically important.

Despite this protection, which is similar to that afforded to Green Belt land, the Friends of Love Lane Group were shocked to find that the landowners had signalled an intention to build on their beloved space.

The volunteers also claim that Croydon Council, which once hailed the group as ‘a model for integration for people all over Croydon’ has failed to make contact with the group regarding a settlement.

On a bright weekday morning, Co-chair of Friends of Love Lane Green David Foster told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “We hope to speak to the council at some point in the future and let the elected representatives know about our situation.

"We would like to speak to Croydon Mayor Jason (Perry) and tell him about how important it is to us. We also want to express our confusion about why it seems that this landowner is potentially planning to do a development on metropolitan open land.”

The Friends of Love Lane group was set up in 2015 when the land was cleared to make a community garden and play space.

Emma Hope-Fitch, the group’s secretary, told the LDRS that “previous residents had cleared it in the 1980s, so it has been used for a long time by the community”.

Looking round the garden, she added: “Everything you see here was fly tipped, from the tyres to the chairs and wood.

"Even the bench, which one of our volunteers has beautified. This is metropolitan open land, it has more protection than the green belt, and what we are doing here is what that protection is all about. It’s land for the community.”

She also told the LDRS how the landowners offered them a new area nearby, but that it is half the size of the current garden.

They also offered the group £20,000 to build the new area, but according to Emma: “That is not nearly enough considering what we have put into this place. So far we have only been visited by the property manager, not the landlord, and they came down in winter. They need to come down on a day like today and see how beautiful it is.”

Joan Smith, Co-Chair of the group said, said: “I come down here and litter pick a couple of times a week.

"Often I find quite nasty stuff left here. We do work like this that would cost the council thousands. 

"Before we started work on the area, it was in quite a state. It was overgrown and the alleyway wasn’t always a safe space to walk. However, we find this has now become a place people want to be. When children walk past, they see colour on the fence, which we painted.”

Other members of the group were keen to stress the importance of the garden as a reason for why they love the area and what it does for all the members of the community.

Flavia, a local resident and friend of the group, said: “I’ve recently moved here, and this place gives me such a sense of community, these people make me feel welcome. And it’s so English, I can come here and have a cup of tea.”

Another member, Pam said: “This is not only a place for us and our kids, but it’s a place for older residents as well.

"They usually only have a couple of hours a day and quite often they can’t go into their own gardens because, understandably, they are overgrown. This place is local to them. We always see one elderly resident come down to enjoy a Guinness or two.”

The area was initially reclaimed by the group as a safe space for their children to play in instead of them playing in the road.

Since clearing the area, the group have now installed a playground and vegetable patches, which they use to grow seasonal veg and teach children about gardening.

Elliot, aged 6, said: “I play in the tree house in Love Lane. I’ve played there since I was two years old. My other friends also go there. I don’t want it to get knocked down and have buildings put on top. Please keep it like it is and keep it public, so the public can enjoy it. Please don’t knock it down.” 

The group has been supported by organisations including Play Streets, London in Bloom, and We Love SE25.

They have also previously received support from Croydon Council, but are now concerned that the council has failed to reach out to them regarding a deal to keep the land for public use.

When approached for comment, Mayor Jason Perry said: “I am deeply disappointed that this has happened. The positive community use of this otherwise unused land space has been a testament to the work of the local volunteers who have maintained it.

“The original agreement between the landowner and the council to bring the unused, yet ultimately privately owned, space into community use was made several years ago.

"That agreement secured legal access to the site for the Friends of Love Lane to use for the local community.

“By terminating the agreement, the landowner has effectively left the council, and by extension the Friends of Love Lane, with no legal option but to vacate the land within the next 28 days. I have written to the landowner to ask that he withdraw his termination notice and continue to allow the Friends group access to the site which clearly benefits local people.

“At the same time, I understand the landowner had offered the potential for a permanent agreement with the Friends group to take over a section of the land, and I would be keen to explore whether there may still be a potential solution here."

The group have set up a petition to save the area from closure.