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Yesterday, Des Waters of Southwark Council took the unacceptable step of calling Save Southwark Woods campaigners 'liars' for the way they have represented their campaign to save the woodlands of Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries.
Representatives from Save Southwark Woods met with Council Leader Peter John and Cabinet Member for the Environment Darren Merrill, officers Des Waters, Head of Public Realm, and Rebecca Towers, Parks and Open Spaces Manager, at the council’s Tooley Street offices.
Campaigners asked Peter John to cancel plans to develop the woodlands of Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries for thousands of burial plots, and to become a champion for the vision of a 100 Acre Wood in South London.
However, Peter John did not respond to this request, and events took an ugly turn. Des Waters called the campaigners liars, and said that Save Southwark Woods has been deliberately lying in order to gain support for the campaign.
Campaigners were shocked and demanded an apology, which Des Waters refused to give.
The meeting continued and Peter John agreed to a request that no works will start on the cemeteries at least until Council has either agreed or dismissed the development.
However, Save Southwark Woods were shocked at the appalling behaviour of such a senior member of staff, and have today sent the following letter to Peter John. They await his response.
Dear Peter John,
Thank you for seeing us yesterday and for listening to our demands. Save Southwark Woods has just scratched the surface of popular demand in Southwark for maintaining existing woodland and for increasing it at Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries. The concept of cutting down a tree to bury a body is plain wrong.
We feel the behaviour of Des Waters in the meeting was unacceptable. The Save Southwark Woods campaign – and us as individuals at the meeting – were called "liars" in a loud, aggressive manner, verging on shouting, and he refused to take his accusation back.
Des Waters also stated that the only reason the campaign is so successful, with thousands of supporters, is because we are deliberately lying to them. This is a disgraceful statement aimed purely at undermining a successful community campaign.
Des Waters was massively aggressive to us and that is a disgraceful way for a senior council officer to behave to a community delegation, and even more surprising and shocking to do so in front of the Leader of the Council, yourself.
We will be reviewing our options over the next few days but it looks likely that we will file a formal complaint against Des Waters. We are happy to share the audio recording of the meeting with the council, if need be.
We also feel that you did not do enough to control him, let alone reprimand him for his behaviour. We hope that this does not represent a culture of bullying at Southwark Council, but perhaps this also needs to be examined and eliminated.
We feel Des Waters is too vested in burials and hostile to community groups to be in charge of such a sensitive issue as this, and should be removed from his post immediately.
These cemeteries are full. Inner city woodland ecosystems and wild habitats are valuable for a multitude of reasons and should be protected and extended.
You have an opportunity to create something great for Southwark and for all of London, by creating a 100 Acre Wood in the borough. Please act now.
We have additional questions arising from the meeting which we will send you shortly.
For Save Southwark Woods
The Angel of Camberwell Old Cemetery
Southwark council calls woodland campaigners 'liars'
Press Release 27
26th March 2015
CONTACT SSW CAMPAIGN
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Head of Public Realm Des Waters
forced to retract allegations to community and apologise
SSW representatives met with Council Leader Peter John and Environment Cllr Darren Merrill, at Southwark council's offices on 25th March, at which Head of Public Realm Des Waters and Parks and Open Spaces manager Rebecca Towers were also present.
At the meeting, Des Waters repeatedly accused campaigners of deliberately lying to gain support. This was absolutely refuted by SSW who lodged a formal complaint with Southwark after the meeting, about Mr Waters' behaviour.
SSW's complaint was upheld and Des Waters was forced to apologise and withdraw the allegations.
SSW has called on Council Leader Peter John and Southwark for a commitment to rebuilding trust and creating more open and positive communications with community groups about local issues. We have yet to receive a reply from him with this commitment.