Chislehurst Commons is under threat from development unless new funds can be raised.
This is the stark message from the Trustees of Chislehurst Commons which is facing a funding gap after Bromley Council partially withdrew support.
“The appeal is crucial to the future of the Commons. If they are built over then it will change the character of the area radically and forever,” Vice chair of the Commons’ Trustees Colin Yardley said this week.
On the surface this seems like an overly-dramatic statement; that a £15,000 shortfall, caused by council funding cuts, could threaten entire the Commons which have been a part of Chislehurst for centuries. But delve deeper into the story behind the Commons and the precarious status of Chislehurst’s green spaces becomes clear.
The freehold of the land is owned by a private individual, Princess June Lobanov-Rostovsky. She is the niece of the last Viscount Marsham Townsend and holds the grand title of Lord of the Manor, which has been passed down through her family.
The land is protected from development by an Act of Parliament – the Metropolitan Commons (Chislehurst and St Paul’s Cray) Supplemental Act of 1888. This says that as long as a Board of Trustees exists to manage the Commons then the land cannot be developed on. However, if the Board of Trustees is dissolved then the land reverts back to the Lord of the Manor.
It is understood that Princess June Lobanov-Rostovsky, who is thought to live in west London, has shown little interest in the active management of the Commons. Princess June, who acquired the title through her second marriage, generates income by charging access fees to, for example, utility companies.
It is impossible to determine exactly how much income she gets from the Commons as funds are channelled through the Jersey-based Clover Investment Company Limited. But the level of access fees has, according to those who have managed projects to improve the Commons, frustrated local groups.
“Her motive could be to increase income with road widening, more access for utility companies and dare I say it, selling land to developers,” Mr Yardley said this week.
The Commons cost around £100,000 a year to run, which includes two full-time keeper posts. According to local sources a £15,000 shortfall is enough to threaten the finances of the Trustees.
The Trustees are hoping to raise £15,000 through local fundraising. To donate, call the Trustees’ office on 020 8467 1886 or email darwinc@ntlworld. com