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Last night, Southwark council voted to ignore a petition from over 8,500 to save Southwark Woods – including over 3,500 Southwark residents.
Outside Southwark council offices on Tooley Street, SSW campaigners and supporters gathered with Green Group Leader AM Darren Johnson, the Friends of Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries, Southwark Green Party, Southwark Friends of the Earth and others, to show councillors how much people care about saving these beautiful woods.
Foot stomping music from local band Les Zoings played the public into the hall, where councillors, suited and booted, waited for the fray.
Once the Mayor was seated, two eulogies were given, one for the undertaker Dr Barry Albin-Dyer, who sadly died recently from cancer. The tribute recognised his love and work for his community and employees, setting up an international foundation and also Kemnal Park Cemetery.
Then SSW presented the petition from over 8,500 people - including 3,500 Southwark residents - to save Southwark Woods, declare the cemeteries nature reserves and provide burial for all faiths at Kemnal Park.
Henry Blamey, from SSW and the Friends of Camberwell New Cemetery, spoke brilliantly and, if only for 5 minutes, Council Leader Peter John had to sit and listen to a community’s views.
The presentation exposed the council’s lack of public consultation, financial or development detail, the unequal burial provision for different faiths, the waste of money and the loss of acres of beautiful woods and heritage.
Then the politicking began. Labour councillors starting calling for 'the rights of the working class to be buried' – which is rich, considering Southwark’s appalling record at the Aylesbury and Heygate Estates.
SSW explained that proposals do not provide for Orthodox Muslim or Jewish faiths – do they want burial for some 'working class people' but not for others?
Councillors tried hard to turn it into a ‘class’ debate. Cllr Barrie Hargrove in particular was vociferous about the council effectively showing middle class greenies where they could stick their trees!
But Southwark Woods are in an Air Quality Management Area, in one of the poorest and most polluted boroughs in London. Does Cllr Hargrove think ‘working class people’ don’t have the right to woods and the clean air they provide? Clean air really is a poverty issue.
"We’re only cutting down 18 trees!"
This was bizarre to say the least. Has Cllr Merrill not read his own plans? For example, the council plan that lists 60 trees for felling at so-called Area D1, native woodland on the side of One Tree Hill? 3 mature 25 feet tall oaks are conveniently not marked, where a new access road is planned. What about the hundreds more to be felled in the Old Cemetery woods?
The council said they have carried out all assessments required to apply for planning permission. Are they a developer or a council? Southwark Woods are worth tens of millions a year to Southwark in essential services for air pollution and urban cooling. Where is their Environmental Impact Assessment?
Where is their CAVAT or iTree assessment? Their Equalities and Social Impact Assessments? Their cost benefit analysis - 'Value for Money' is Southwark's No. 1 Fairer Future Promise.
What is really driving this scheme? Getting rid of thousands of tonnes of embarrassing construction rubble, Barrie Hargrove’s ‘toxic dump’? Out of 60 test pits, only 1 showed any signs of contamination. Why not use natural remediation, and return it to public access for a fraction of the price and air pollution? Or at least explore the idea and compare costs?
On conservation of heritage, bizarrely several Labour councillors commended proposals to dig up thousands of graves and their memorials, while simultaneously demanding that campaigners respect Victorian heritage. More hypocrisy? Or just ignorance of the proposals and SSW’s alternative, which calls for graves and memorials to be respected and left in peace, along with protecting valuable woodland for the living?
Liberal Democrat Cllrs Anood Al-Samerai and David Noakes then proposed a motion - for a public consultation worthy of the name, and for the Scrutiny Committee to review the scheme for its lack of financial detail, public consultation or assessment of woodland, tree and heritage loss.
As expected, the Labour councillors voted down both the petition from 3,500 of their own residents – ten times the number who responded to their ‘survey’ – and the Lib Dem’s motion. Once ratified by Cabinet at the end of July, Southwark will apply to itself and the church for planning permission.
Last night, Labour councillors weren’t interested in what the public think. As SSW's Lewis Schaffer said to the meeting, ‘You’re not green, you’re not listening and you’re not good with money!’
When you don’t listen to the public, you risk your political life at the ballot box. London local elections are next year. Politicians ignore the people at their peril.
Meanwhile, the battle for Southwark Woods continues!
Watch the aerial video to see what's at risk:
Sign the petition to Save Southwark Woods:
Contact campaign co-ordinators for images and info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Southwark Ignores Petition by over 8,500 to Save Southwark Woods
9th July 2015
Save Southwark Woods demonstration outside Southwark council offices before the meeting
Save Southwark Woods team Kate Slattery, Henry Blamey and Lewis Schaffer before the presentation