Southwark council has applied to itself for planning permission to fell acres of high quality inner city woodland, and excavate or cover up hundreds of graves at Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries, Southwark Woods. But vital information is missing.
The council claims this is to provide inner city burial for all Southwark residents – but none of the 4,500 plots would be accessible to Orthodox Jewish or Muslim residents.
Felling inner city woodland in an overheated, polluted city goes against European Directives, National Policy and the London Plan.
And crucial information is missing.
Trees are left off plans – including three 25-feet-tall Oaks on the rare virgin wooded hilltop landscape at the New Cemetery, and many more trees in the Grade 1 woodland at the Old Cemetery – so-called ‘Area Z’.
The council has also redefined a ‘tree’, from the Forestry Commission’s 75mm girth at 1 metre height, to a new 150mm, to reduce the apparent number to be felled.
‘Area Z’ is richly biodiverse Grade 1 SINC woodland for nature conservation, based on its rare protected woodland species such as bats and stag beetles. It also contains Ancient and Veteran Oaks. But Southwark has tried to deny it is woodland at all – even though it has far more than the Forestry Commission’s woodland definition of minimum 20% tree cover.
Southwark also ‘forgot’ to tell the Diocese of Southwark these are Grade 1 SINC woodlands, presenting their plans as simple ‘landscape adjustments’.
But most importantly of all, there is no Environmental Impact Assessment.
How did the council dodge an EIA of their proposals? They claim (wrongly) that these proposals take up less than an acre. They are in fact nearer 2-2.5 acres.
Why? Because an application less than an acre does not necessarily have to have an Environmental Impact Assessment. Hence fracking proposals often come in at 0.999 of an acre.
But this does not mean that an EIA is not required.
An EIA would reveal the huge negative impact of the plans on nature and people. For example, the air pollution from loss of tree cover and the destruction and disposal of woodland habitat, the months of construction and thousands of truck journeys to and from site, reprocessing illegally tipped rubble, and the impact on ground water collection from thousands of new burials.
“Southwark council’s applications for the Camberwell Cemeteries are a sham,” said Blanche Cameron, one of the spokespeople of the Save Southwark Woods campaign.
“Southwark council is hiding crucial information vital to the assessment of their proposals. This is no ‘standard landscape adjustment’ it is the destruction of rare landscapes for London, with no public mandate.”
A sham debate in the Council Chamber on July 8th discussed whether to proceed with proposals or not. But Southwark’s planning application to the Church of England was already sitting on the Diocese’s desk – a fact that Council Leader Peter John, Cllr Darren Merrill responsible for the development and ward councillors Gavin Edwards and Vicki Mills failed to mention during the meeting.
Following complaints by the Liberal Democrat councillors, the proposals have now been called in for assessment by the Scrutiny and Overview Committee on 17th September, to be presided over by – Gavin Edwards.
Over 9,000 people have joined the Save Southwark Woods campaign, as well as all 13 Southwark Liberal Democrat councillors, London MPs, AMs and 10 Mayoral hopefuls. They want the cemeteries declared 100 acres of Nature Reserves, with burial for all faiths at a fraction of the cost at nearby Kemnal Park.
But Labour-controlled Southwark council, led by Peter John, refuses to listen.
Southwark council has shown itself unable to follow objective democratic process, instead ignoring the people it is supposed to represent.
These valuable wild woodlands and the cemeteries’ 150 years of social heritage should be protected, and treated with the sensitivity and respect that they deserve.
Save Southwark Woods is now intent on revealing the truth behind Southwark’s smoke screen of secrecy and contempt for the public. The battle for Southwark Woods continues.