David Mentiply spoke to the Blackheath society about their 75th anniversary.

 

Blackheath Concert Halls in the snow photographed before 1980.

Blackheath Concert Halls in the snow photographed before 1980

Q: The Blackheath Society is 75 years old this year. What do you imagine the founding members of the Society would make of Blackheath today? What have been the most significant changes and events over the years?

They would probably be surprised that the Society has grown so much, and at the range of activities it now undertakes.

Our local historian, Neil Rhind, said in an interview in the Society’s latest Newsletter: “The Blackheath Society is doing well with all the extra-curricular activities it takes on, and the work its committee members do in monitoring planning applications is phenomenal. Its founders would be amazed and filled with pardonable pride at what the infant and novel amenity society has grown into.”

Some major events since our formation in 1937 include (these – and many more – are detailed in our book Guardians of the Heath available from our office):

1949: Fight against post-war plans to demolish the Paragon and its surrounding area
1962-66: Win a battle to save Montpelier Row; Blackheath is London’s 1st Conservation Area
1962-73: Society wins the fight to prevent a motorway being built through Blackheath
2001: Our Village Plan leads to improvements, including wider pavements
2003: The Wilkie Report – commissioned by English Heritage, Transport for London and two London boroughs – leads to improvements to the Heath and the A2 road across it.
2005: Society fights the impact of licensing liberalisation in the Village
2010/12: Further improvements to paths on the Heath; building the new Hub on the Heath

 

Q: I spotted Blackheath Society members, with their fluorescent yellow jackets, removing graffiti from a phone box one Sunday afternoon in the Village. What other activities does the Society carry out?

Apart from the monthly graffiti removal (for which we always welcome volunteers) we clean up the station garden regularly and provide the Village Christmas tree.

But our main activity is monitoring planning applications in the boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich; we also closely examined plans for the equestrian Olympic events in Greenwich Park and, with others, ensured that LOCOG is now committed to returning the park undamaged after the games.

Other recent initiatives: supporting the new Village Community Centre and Library; launching our digital archive of Blackheath photographs; promoting a new organisation to protect and enhance the Westcombe Woodlands near the Heath.

 

Q: The Society has, some would say rather ironically, been in conflict with NIMBY – an events company who plan to hold a two day pop festival on the Heath. What are your objections to the OnBlackheath festival and what do you say to those who accuse the Society of Nimbyism?

We are not against the use of the Heath, on the contrary. But we objected because OnBlackheath was granted a licence to hold a major commercial pop festival in perpetuity, with minimal conditions, which we believed set an unacceptable precedent for use of the Heath.

We had widespread support from our local Assembly and councillors, many letters from local residents and in an editorial in The Mercury newspaper. The Blackheath Joint Working Party, an advisory body of Lewisham and Greenwich councillors and local amenity societies, is also concerned about the environmental and ecological damage caused by overuse of the Heath. OnBlackheath has now advised it has abandoned its plans for this year, citing the pressure on Blackheath of events around the Olympic Games.

This is a very welcome outcome. In our submissions to last year’s unsuccessful court appeal against the concert licence we cited our serious concerns about this clash of dates. We think these are perfectly reasonable points, and there is nothing wrong with objecting to something taking place in your locality, as long as you have reasoned arguments.

 

Q: 2012 is obviously a big year for London. How will the Olympics affect Blackheath and its residents?

We, and many Blackheath residents, look forward to enjoying the Olympics being held on our doorstep and we are looking forward to the Games. But there will be a considerable loss of amenities and some disruption, which we have lobbied hard to minimise. For example, local businesses will be hindered by the station car park being closed for several weeks.

We are still concerned that the transport plans to get everyone to and from Greenwich Park have not been fully worked out. This is one of the reasons why the crowd capacity for cross-country day on July 30 has been cut from 75,000 to 50,000, an action we campaigned for.

 

Blackheath straddles two boroughs – Lewisham and Greenwich. What are the pros and cons of having this dual identity?

The cons outweigh the pros for us because we have to double our efforts to cover planning applications at two councils. Another example of the negative effect of the two-way split is that Lewisham has just closed its library in Blackheath; Age Exchange is now resurrecting the library as part of its enhanced new Community Centre, only just across the road from the previous site, but their building is situated in Greenwich.

The pop concert saga also showed that the two councils were not working together for the Heath, something only partly mitigated by the existence of the BJWP, referred to above. Thus does bring the councils and local amenity societies together, but in a purely advisory role.

 

Since Blackheath is now – in some areas at least – part of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, is the Society not tempted to adopt the Royal appellation? 

I don’t think so – we are very happy as we are now.

 

On your Twitter profile (@BlackheathSoc), it says that the Society ‘exists to preserve and enhance the Blackheath area’. What are the Society’s objectives for the future?

We intend to continue very much in the same vein. As well as the initiatives outlined above, we are aiming this year to attract more and younger members, partly by increasing our public profile. Publicising our 75th anniversary activities in 2012 and joining Facebook and Twitter are just part of this campaign.

We would like to foster a greater community in Blackheath, as well as protect its Heath and built environment. We are all lucky to live in such a wonderful place and we want to try to keep it that way for future generations.

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