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Hands off our nature reserve, say volunteers as land goes up for auction

Warnings that any attempt to build on Mortimer Terrace green space will be fought

23 June, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Terry Reynolds and Jeanne Pendrill

A NATURE reserve which has been looked after by volunteers for more than 30 years is due to be sold at auction next month – prompting fears that property developers will attempt to build housing on the protected land.

Mortimer Terrace Nature Reserve, which snakes along railway lines behind homes in Dartmouth Park, has been put up for sale by owners, the Fitzpatrick family. The site is used for outdoor learning by hundreds of schoolchildren.

Volunteers who manage the site say they were given 24-hours’ notice to remove gardening equipment before the locks were changed on the gates.

Now, they have launched a campaign to block any sale to developers – and hope to raise funds to buy the land themselves.

The reserve, currently advertised with a starting price of £80,000, is around an acre in size and is designated as a “site of importance for nature conservation” – giving it added protection in planning law.

Reserve manager Jeanne Pendrill and trustee Terry Reynolds told the New Journal that the owners’ decision to sell up had come as a surprise.

Mr Reynolds said: “Two weeks ago I had a call from a man who told me he was outside the site and wanted to have a look around. He had seen my number on a gate. He told me he wanted to buy the land for housing. It was the first we heard it was up for sale.”

He added: “The developer told me that if there was any grief with neighbours about it being sold he’d back out. I told him anyone who bought it would have a real fight on their hands.”

The land has enjoyed protected status for more than 100 years.

When railway lines were first carved through Gospel Oak and Kentish Town, a covenant was placed on the strip in 1865 to protect it in perpetuity from any development, with the aim of protecting homes from coal dust and smoke from steam engines. The reserve’s users say that buffer remains vitally important.

“With air pollution a real issue, the site’s original use is just as important today,” Ms Pendrill said. She was surprised that the Fitzpatrick family had decided to sell up. “I have been managing this site for 32 years and the fact this should have been done so abruptly despite our long association feels particularly brutal,” she added.

The campaign to save the land has been backed by Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer and Highgate ward councillors Oliver Lewis, Anna Wright and Sian Berry.

The Fitzpatrick family bought the site from British Rail in 1986 for £365,000 and won permission to build housing on part of it – if they handed over the other section to the London Wildlife Trust for a nature reserve. In 2014, a new group of volunteers established Mortimer Terrace Nature Reserve.

They have set up a fundraising campaign with the aim of bidding for the site, and say any potential developer would face a series of legal challenges if they sought to build homes there.

Ms Pendrill added: “The land cannot be built on, so we feel the idea of auctioning it off with a reserve price of £80,000 is a way of testing the waters.” A public meeting at 7pm tonight (Thursday) at Affinity Cafe, in Highgate Road, will discuss what should happen next. The Fitzpatrick family did not respond to requests for comment.

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