General view of Sutcliffe ParkGet your wellies out. Sutcliffe Park is now open to the public again, after being given a dramatic make-over

Gone are the large expanses of flat, uninteresting open spaces. Welcome is the River Quaggy, above ground in its new channel, meandering through the middle of the park with a rolling landscape.

The Environment Agency (EA) have just completed a £3.8m regeneration of the park. Taking the holistic view to flood protection, strongly promoted by QWAG in 1992, they have transformed the park into a real asset for recreation.

Sutcliffe Park gets the WOW factor

Sutcliffe Park gets the WOW factor

The EA have taken tremendous care to ensure that the park is planted with native species and the materials used to build it have all been from the UK, many recycled, with a high involvement from local people.

The rejuvenated park as a flood storage area realises the dreams of QWAG. But the journey to see this happen has not been easy or quick. In the early 1990’s, in response to proposals to enclose more of the River Quaggy inconcrete, QWAG (previously Friends of the Quaggy), was formed.

QWAG enlisted the help of an expert hydrologist, Ted Hollis, and advocated a radically different approach to flood alleviation – using open spaces for flood storage, rather than encasing the river in yet more concrete.

The National Rivers Authority (predecessor to the EA) was increasingly becoming uncomfortable about the environmental impact of channelisation and investigated QWAG’s suggestion that significant flood alleviation could be achieved by restoring the river and its flood plain in Sutcliffe Park.

The value of using Sutcliffe Park for flood storage was recognised and plans developed. Several different proposals were put forward and in 1997, Greenwich Council granted the Environment Agency planning permission for Sutcliffe Park.

General view of Sutcliffe Park

General view of Sutcliffe Park

On the 12th June 2004, the regenerated park was officially opened by Barbara Young, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency. The importance of community involvement in proposing and promoting Sutcliffe Park’s redevelopment was highlighted. Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham, praised QWAG and said that the most important part of the scheme was that the original idea had come from the community. It was QWAG who first proposed using Sutcliffe Park. Undeniably, the main purpose of the park is flood defence – to storewater in times of extreme weather conditions to protect residential and business properties further down the river. But this is not expected to happen very often.

A lot of thought has been put into the park to ensure it has “dual purpose” – water storage and an recreational area for people to use.

Its features include the river, boardwalks, bridges and footpaths, along with avenues of trees, a wildflower meadow and an outdoor classroom for schools.

Sutcliffe Park is being hailed as a flagship project for the Environment Agency. The ground in the park has been lowered, enabling it to store up to 85,000 cubic metres of water when needed (roughly the equivalent of 35 olympic sized swimming pools). What is immensely important about this project is that it shows that local people can influence changes in their neighbourhoods. QWAG started the process by having an expert (Ted Hollis) who could argue against the “official” proposals, but the “authorities” were also open to proposals led by local people.

This is a really exciting prospect, opening up whole new opportunities for partnerships between communities and authorities to create open spaces which celebrate our rivers, whilst creating diverse leisure facilities for local people.

Sutcliffe Park is now rejuvenated. Local people have led it,s redesign to create a place which is great for both the community and nature to enjoy. Hopefully, other local communities will realise the benefits that river naturalisation through their open spaces can bring and find ways to work with others to make it happen.

Make a splash without getting wet!