Save Southwark Woods

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Probably legal – but definitely not right: Not enough legal grounds to challenge Southwark’s plans in court

16 November 2015

Last week, Save Southwark Woods met with some of the best environmental planning lawyers in the country – Carol Day of Leigh Day and Matthew Dale-Harris of Landmark Chambers.

According to their counsel, there don’t seem to be enough legal grounds to challenge Southwark Council’s plans in court. The Council plans to scar the ancient, historic hillside of One Tree Hill and destroy acres of woods and graves in Camberwell Old Cemetery. The lawyers advised it would be highly risky to for us to challenge it legally.

We put to the lawyers all the planning arguments we could think of.

The Council misrepresented its proposals for One Tree Hill, leaving trees to be felled off their plans, including three hard-to-miss 25-foot oaks and trees inconveniently in the way of the new road, and saying the area to be developed was one third the actual area.

But since Save Southwark Woods forced officers to finally admit this at the planning meeting, it meant councillors were aware of it when they passed the plans, even though the public had been misled.

We also proposed that the lack of any true public consultation on plans to fell hundreds of trees and desecrate thousands of old graves for a few years of burial made the Council’s plans invalid.

But the lawyers said that while more than 650 individual objections to the plans was astounding, it also showed people had been made aware of the plans – by us!

And the discrimination of creating burial on a steep 1:7 slope inaccessible to wheelchair users and the infirm except by car, nor the potential increase in flood risk were also not strong enough points in planning law.

Save Southwark Woods will keep fighting
Save Southwark Woods will keep fighting

In other words, we cannot look to the courts to stop Southwark’s destructive, unfair, wasteful, unpopular and environmentally dangerous plans.

Just when a one degree rise in global temperatures was announced, Southwark is planning to promote climate change by felling hundreds of trees for short term burial – felling living oaks for the dead.

More than ever, Save Southwark Woods will keep fighting – exposing the Council’s true plans and appealing for help from those who say they care about inner city woods and trees and people’s health.

“We left Leigh Day appreciative of the help – which was massive. We were angry but newly emboldened – released from the awful prospect of a legal battle.” Said Blanche Cameron, spokesperson. “Now we appeal to the Church to stop these plans. If they won’t we will go to a higher authority.”

As the land is consecrated the Church has the power to stop these plans. People who want to stop Southwark Council scarring the ancient and honourable One Tree Hill can object to the Diocese of Southwark until November 25th. Save Southwark Woods will help get these objections to Paul Morris, Registrar of the Diocese.

SSW will speak now for the trees that have no legal voice – and are calling on the public to do the same.