By Tara O’Connor, Local Democracy Reporter
“Insulting” plans to build new homes on Croydon woodland have been so unpopular that more than 470 locals have objected.
As well as a three-storey terrace of houses, the plans include a “themed visitor centre” off Hermitage Road in Upper Norwoood.
The plans have been put forward by the Congregation of Our Lady of Fidelity, which owns the Virgo Fidelis School site in Central Hill.
The Catholic girl’s school closed in August 2021 after spiralling debts meant the majority of the buildings became unfit for purpose.
The Gothic school building is now home to Catholic private schools The Cedars and The Laurels. The new plans seek to build on woodland owned by the trustees of the school, which faces on to Hermitage Road, behind Priory School.
This privately owned piece of land was part of the Great North Wood which once stretched between the Thames and Croydon.
A planning statement said: “A modern innovative housing development on stilts will minimise the footprint of the development and give a clear view across the full width of the site at ground level.”
As part of the plans, the applicant wants to give part of the woodland to Croydon council with seating installed. It also includes plans for a visitor centre with teaching rooms.
Outgoing Crystal Palace councillor Stephen Mann said: “While it will be determined after my time on the council this is an insulting application to both the council and residents.
“No consultation, improper documentation and what is essentially a tourist attraction in the middle of protected woodland.”
“This group has history with taking the mickey, as seen with the recent school closure dumping the debt on the council to then sell the site fortunately the plans are so bad I cannot see any other option beyond an outright refusal without even making it to planning committee.”
When Virgo Fidelis was closed, the struggling school’s £2.5 million debt was expected to be handed back to Croydon council.
The school was funded by the council. As a voluntary-aided school the Archdiocese of Southwark contributes to running costs and has influence over how the school is run.
The land and buildings are owned by the religious order Our Lady of Fidelity.
Project manager William Martin said any trees removed will be incorporated into the building which will be in the form of the bow of the Golden Hind, a ship built from timber from the Great North Wood in the 1500s.
He said: “Our Lady of Fidelity, a charity, has been the custodian of this estate since 1848 and has always acted in the better interests of the community and is doing so now for the interests of all the community.”
He also hit back at Cllr Mann’s claim the new visitor centre would be a tourist attraction.
Mr Martin said: “The proposal is especially to make it possible for the old and disabled to enjoy the Great North Wood in comfort. An gistoric link with Sir Francis Drake’s Ship will maximise attraction for the community, it is not a gimmick as alleged by an outgoing councillor.”
Pictured top: The plans have been put forward by the Congregation of Our Lady of Fidelity, which owns the Virgo Fidelis School.