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Saving Atkinson Morley's Hospital Green Space
and Working for a Greener London

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Green areas for recreation and sport

Oxygen regeneration in cities

Biological diversity




For many years the UK has been losing large amounts of green open space to building development. The report of the Urban Green Spaces Task Force Survey and the Public Parks Assessment published in 2002 highlighted the problem of declining urban parks in Britain. Further information is available on the web-site of the Greenspace (formerly Urban Parks Forum).

Research undertaken by t
he Greater London Assembly in 2001 revealed the serious loss and deterioration of green space in the capital over the last twenty years. Lack of strategic planning, shrinking budgets and compulsory competitive tendering by local authorities have resulted in many of the Capital's open spaces being sold off or developed for other purposes.

In West Wimbledon over 20 acres of green land have been lost to building development in the last two decades.

Reduction in green areas for recreation and sport

We are now short of playing fields for team sports and other forms of exercise, and obesity, especially in children, is one consequence of this lack of play space. 

 A recent study by the Heritage Lottery Fund  confirms that parks make an important contribution to the quality of urban and suburban life.

At the Atkinson Morley's Hospital site there are some 13 acres of playing fields that the Hospital Trust have allowed to become derelict, despite local schools being desperate for such facilities and willing to pay for their upkeep.  In the recent past schools and clubs from all over London and Surrey have used these pitches in an intensive way.

Reduction in oxygen regeneration in cities

The loss of green space in urban areas across the country means a reduction in the ‘green lung’ effect at a time of increasing urban densities. Cities are consequently seeing rises in urban pollution levels and sharp increases in diseases such as asthma, particularly in the young and elderly,  thus affecting costs of treatment by the National Health Service.

There are about two acres of woodland on this site, which not only support a rich diversity of flora and fauna but also ecologically balance the growing levels of pollution caused by sharp increases in commuter and other traffic on Copse Hill and surrounding roads.

The site forms part of an important green chain”,  a network of strategic open spaces within and without the Borough, maintaining protection against pollution in the wider area of South London, as well as helping to mitigate against global warming.

Loss of Biological Diversity

We are losing our ability to support biological diversity across the country, by the short-term decisions we are taking in farming and planning policy.  This reduces the range of different environments that can be sustained, either because of change in land use or because of increasing levels of pollution. Therefore our ability to cope with environmental accidents and disasters is weakened. 

Around 3 acres of the Atkinson Morley's Hospital site are designated as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) because of the rare plant life and the unusual diversity of flora and fauna.

Taking these three issues together, it can be seen that the lack of strategic thinking by the individual National Health Service Trusts, and the strong encouragement of the Treasury, is driving them to maximise cash sale now and not concern themselves with the impact of increasing health problems on the funding of the National Health Service (NHS) in future years.  Even now it is clear that there is a time bomb lurking for future politicians and civil servants who will have to cope with increased demands on the health service, while having to fund unpredictable rental costs for the facilities.


In most of the major cities in the UK, public sector key workers such as health service staff, teachers, police, fire brigade etc are finding it very difficult to afford to purchase their own housing, and most of the authorities have long ago sold their rented accommodation under earlier rounds of cost saving.  This is creating long-term pressure on staffing levels in all sectors.  The issue is set to get worse under the high rates of property price increases in certain centres like London and Bristol. 

Sales of NHS land are expected to exceed £700m in the three years to March 2003. In September 2002 the Commons Public Accounts Committee said: “Given the price of land, especially in London, and shortages of accommodation for nurses and other essential workers, too aggressive a disposal policy risks high cost in the future as operational needs change.  NHS risks compounding its problems in recruiting and retaining staff if it continues to adopt an aggressive policy of land disposals.”  The NHS needs to think much more strategically about its land assets.

The current Atkinson Morley's Hospital site will be sold to developers as part of St George’s Public Finance Initiative to fund new hospital activity at Tooting, South London.  One of the buildings that it is proposed for demolition is The Firscontaining apartments that are currently used by nursing and other hospital staff.  One unit, The Wolfson Rehabilitation Unit, will remain after the rest of the hospital leaves in July 2003.  They will now have no accommodation nearby to rent to staff.  We would be looking for a positive stand by the Hospital Trust that the affordable housing developed on the site would be for public sector essential workers.


The National Health Service is being asked, with all the other public sector bodies, to work strategically in partnership in each locale, so that there is sustainable, joined-up activity that addresses the complex development issues in each area of the country, while making sure that local solutions do not have a worsening effect on neighbouring areas.  This strategic partnership working is on top of the ‘good neighbour’ policy that the NHS Estates has tried to evolve.

However, in London alone, there have been a number of examples where individual NHS Trusts have pursued aggressive development agendas at odds with the needs and wishes of the local authority and the local community.  For example, in Bromley, The Bethlehem and Maudsley Hospital tried to extend its buildings into Metropolitan Open Land (MOL - urban Green Belt equivalent) in defiance of local planning guidance.  Bromley Council refused their development proposal.

St George’s NHS Trust has repeatedly tried to obtain approval for building development on its MOL land on the Atkinson Morley's Hospital site during the last 10 years.  Merton Council had designated it MOL before the first Unitary Development Plan (UDP) process in 1995.  The Trust appealed to the Secretary of State for the Environment, whose Inspector ruled in favour of the Council.

In the second UDP process (2002) the designation of MOL was retained after appeal again to the Secretary of State. The NHS Trust spent well over £500k trying to get the designation overturned even though the local authority and the local residents, backed by the Department of the Environment Inspector, were saying that this should not happen. 

They have also degraded large areas of the site (playing fields uncared for; sewage and waste allowed to overflow onto parts of the land; dumping of hospital property such as beds in woodland;) in an effort to undermine the MOL designation.  The Hospital has also refused until 2002 to work with local authority and residents groups in finding an acceptable way forward for the site.