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Southwark Council revealed on Wednesday that while they 'debated' the future of Southwark’s cemeteries, their own planning application to dig up woodlands and graves was already sitting on the Church’s desk.
At the July 8th council assembly, SSW petitioned on behalf of 8,500 people, including 3,500 Southwark residents, to cancel plans to develop acres of old woods and excavate thousands of old graves and memorials for new burial plots, and instead declare the Camberwell Cemeteries nature reserves.
This was then followed by a debate on a motion for a full and proper public consultation, tabled by the Liberal Democrats.
But this Wednesday, Southwark council admitted to the so-called Southwark Burial Strategy ‘Stakeholder’ Group that they had in fact applied to the church for permission at least a week before the council debate, two weeks before the so-called ‘stakeholder’ meeting and over three weeks before any vote by the council assembly would be ratified by the council Cabinet, at the end of July.
"We didn't know they had applied until we met the council this week at the Stakeholder Group meeting,” said Henry Blamey, from the Friends of Camberwell New Cemetery and Save Southwark Woods.
“I asked when the council intended to apply to the church for planning permission and Rebecca Towers said she had ‘forgotten’ to mention it, but that they already had. We then asked her when the application was due to be considered, and Ms Towers replied, “It might have been last night”.
It was. The Diocesan Advisory Committee had met the day before to discuss the application. Luckily, their Tree Advisor had asked for an extension of time to consider the application properly.
Rebecca Towers is the officer now in charge of Southwark's Burial Policy and leading what the council calls “public engagement” on it. This latest episode highlights again how the council values the public's and relevant bodies' engagement.
Today, SSW has written to ask council leader Peter John to explain how he could have avoided mentioning the planning application in the council debate, and to ask him whether such a breathtaking contempt for the democratic process is legal. SSW has also written to ask every Southwark councillor to declare if and when they knew about the planning application.
The Diocese yesterday also told SSW the application made no mention of the sites being Grade 1 SINC woodland and virgin native woodland. They were surprised as they had understood it to be a ‘standard’ landscaping adjustment, nothing special.
SSW requested respectfully that they postpone any decision on the application, until ongoing investigations into whether these woods are in fact Ancient Woodland, were complete. If they are, they would be one of the closest Ancient Woodlands to the centre of London, setting them in a different historical, environmental and legislative context altogether.
SSW has always presented a positive campaign, offering fairer, healthier and cheaper solutions that provide burial for all citizens of all faiths, while protecting natural, social and historical assets.
“This was a sham council meeting," said SSW spokesperson Blanche Cameron “Petitioning and debating in Southwark is now just a huge waste of anyone’s time. They’re not listening. They are making decisions undemocratically. They are an insult to the residents of Southwark.”
Who will hold them to account? Who watches the watchmen? One thing is for sure, the battle for Southwark Woods is only just beginning.
Council burial debate a sham - Southwark had already applied for planning permission
17th July 2015
One of the great Southwark Woods oaks at so-called 'Area Z' - Grade 1 SINC woodland at Camberwell Old Cemetery. The photo shows evidence that at least two large branches have recently been cut, on the left. This is being referred to the Woodland Trust and authorities.
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