Last week I received an email from Wandsworth Council, out of the blue, announcing that Chestnut Avenue on Tooting Common would be closed for six months, or until the chestnut trees have been felled and replaced – whichever is sooner. This was quite a shock and I am sure will be for everyone who enjoys using our beautiful common.
I agreed with the majority of consultation respondents in the summer of last year that if the trees are diseased and dangerous, and they need to be cut down, then a replacement by a new avenue of yellow flowering lime trees would be better than losing the avenue. However, there is evidence that the trees could be saved, and that other ways to deal make the trees safe without cutting them down are possible. It will be awful to cut down our beautiful Chestnut trees in their prime if this doesn’t need to happen.
A reader of this blog said that I should have reported on the Avenue in my last blog. I was hopeful for change but had nothing new to report. At that stage I had been asking for the council’s plan for the felling and replanting of the avenue and how it would save the ‘good’ trees that the Community Services Committee agreed to save in response to my proposal in our meeting. I hadn’t heard a response on this – and still haven’t. The local campaign invited me to attend a meeting with councillors and officers but I was asked to leave the meeting right at the start. I hoped that both of these meant that the plan was being looked at again and a decision to reconsider the decision was being made and thats why it couldn’t be shared and meetings were top secret. But no, it appears that the council is just carrying on regardless.
This is my response to the council, and below the letter is further information about this issue:
To: Director of Community Services and Environment, Wandsworth Council
Dear Mr Chadwick
Thank you for your email regarding the closure of Chestnut Avenue. This was a big surprise to me, and will be both a surprise and a shock to users of Tooting Common.
During the committee meeting where we reluctantly made this decision, there was unanimous agreement that we should save healthy trees, and both during the committee meetings and since then I have asked for an updated assessment of which trees can now be considered ‘good’ and a plan for which these trees are. The decision in committee was not unanimous as there was a vote against the proposal so this email should be amended.
The response of the trees to the canker is dynamic and so an up to date assessment of the trees is needed – and hopefully some more trees are able to be saved, and we need to know this. Also some trees on the Tooting Bec Road end of the Avenue have been heavily pollarded to ensure their safety. I hope that these now do not need to be cut down. Despite asking for them, I haven’t heard results from any more recent survey which can tell us how many trees can now be saved, and whether the progress of the disease is as anticipated or not.
The whole project seems to be going ahead regardless of the high degree of local concerns and the desire of the committee to save trees which can be saved. If the action to save the trees by pollarding them is proving successful, the committee should be appraised of this and able to look again at the plan.
I strongly object to the very extended closure of the Avenue, and so will local residents. This long closure is very heavy handed, and contradicts the answer I was given in committee when I asked how long the works would take and was told it would be six weeks. Your letter hasn’t explained what will happen to the on-going users of the Avenue. Have arrangements been made with the café and the organisers of Park Run and the Pumpkin Parade, and for all users to cross over the common at the café, the lake and the changing rooms? I can understand that the playground can be accessed from the other side, but what arrangements are there for users of the tennis courts? What is the alternative route for cyclists?
The signatures of over 5,000 people opposing the cutting down of the trees show how unpopular this plan is, and the long closure of the Avenue will compound the unpopularity and increase opposition.
Please respect the Committee’s desire to save the trees if possible, reconsider this project in the light of new knowledge about the progress of the canker and measures taken which can save the trees, and if you do ahead in the face of public opposition, please reconsider the plan to close the Avenue for so long.
Cllr Fleur Anderson
Public anger over plans to close busy Avenue through Tooting Common for up to 6 months
Residents living close to Tooting Common have responded angrily to Wandsworth Council’s proposal to close Chestnut Avenue, which runs across Tooting Common, to all users for up to six months.
While the avenue is closed, the Council intends to fell an avenue of Chestnut trees which line it and replace them with saplings. The project is to be paid for using a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Chestnut Avenue is a well-loved landmark used by commuting cyclists, families, visitors to the tennis courts, the playground, the local cafe and participants in the weekly Park Run event and an annual pumpkin parade.
Speaking about the Council’s decision to close Chestnut Avenue, Fleur Anderson, a local councillor and Labour’s Speaker on Community Services, said; “I strongly object to the very extended closure of the Avenue, and so will local residents. This long closure is very heavy handed. The Council, which originally said the work would take no more than 6 weeks, has not explained what will happen to the on-going users of the Avenue, including commuting cyclists and families who use it daily”.
Opposition to the felling of the trees has been vocal with over 5,000 people signing a petition to oppose the council’s plans.
The Council has cited health and safety reasons for removing the trees. However, opponents of the plan point to a lack of evidence for the need to remove the avenue on health and safety grounds.
According to Fleur Anderson, “the committee which voted on the plans to fell the Avenue agreed to save as many trees as possible and there was unanimous agreement that we should save healthy trees. I have repeatedly asked for an updated report into the health of the trees but have yet to receive a reply”.
According to Jeremy Barrell, tree consultant and specialist in heritage tree assessments; “My assessment of the trees is that none are dangerous, none are dead, and most have the potential to be retained with limited intervention for decades. Wandsworth Council are justifying the removals on the basis of responses from a public consultation and the advice of experts. From what I can see the public consultation approach is obviously flawed and none of the expert reports advocate felling and replacement as the best or only option”.
Opponents of the plan to fell the Avenue claim that the Council’s decision to cut down the trees is motivated by the offer of a grant. They have arranged a final community event to mark the avenue’s final days, called The Final Draw when residents will be encouraged to record the trees by painting, drawing and photographing them.