• Norwood Forum

Cox’s Walk footbridge: campaign to save oak trees

Just over the borough border in Sydenham Hill Woods a resolute campagin is being waged to save two oak trees at Cox's Walk footbridge from being cut down by Southwark Council.  The Council's reasons for the removal of the trees can be read here.

The Council had hoped not to need to remove the trees and has promised to work with the London Wildlife Trust and plant two mature oak trees and other trees to replace those to be removed.

The Save the Footbridge Oaks Campaign (email: savefootbridgeoaks@gmail.com) writes:

" Yet another rollercoaster of a week.  But the Cox’s Walk Footbridge Oaks are still standing!  The Council’s planning permission to fell them lapsed on Thursday 3rd December.  At the moment they cannot legally be cut down.  Excellent result for National Tree Week!

The credit for this goes to the amazing women and men, led by Susan Haseldine, who kept watch over the trees 24/7 from 14th November, and all those who kept them going with food, hot drinks and friendship.  They had amazing support from nearly everyone using the woods – and there have been a huge number of visitors over the past few weeks.  Between the beginning of November and now, nearly 3,500 more people have signed our petition (current total 6,355).  Most of these are people who were in the woods but knew nothing about the threat to the trees until they spoke to the campaigners.  This is how you build a community – by being there and talking to people.

The drama of the week was when the Council took the tree defenders to the High Court to get an injunction to remove them.  This happened on Tuesday, only two days before the planning permission ended.  The injunction, if granted, would have put any campaigners getting in the way of the tree fellers at risk of contempt of court proceedings, which can carry both a prison sentence and seizure of assets.  We were greatly aided in fighting this action by barrister Paul Powlesland, founder of Lawyers for Nature.  Fortunately, the judge agreed with him and refused the Council’s application. 

But (why does there always have to be a but?), the Council has already submitted a renewal planning application, 20/AP/3537.  In a statement to Radio London yesterday, they said that there would be public consultation, but we don’t know yet what form that might take or what the legal requirements are, and we will be watching closely.  We will also be submitting our tree report and engineering alternatives to oppose the need to cut the trees down.  The application is currently open to public comments.

Reopening the planning process might also lead to delays in repairing the bridge.  However, we will continue to press the Council to adopt a two stage repair by removing the rotten timbers and installing a temporary balustrade now so that the bridge can be reopened quickly.  The structural repairs could be done later, once a best value design that retained the trees had been agreed.

The last eighteen months that we have been campaigning have shown just how much local people value these oak trees and the woods.  This is especially true this year, when so many more local residents have discovered and appreciated the woods.  The time seems right to set up a Friends of Sydenham Hill and Dulwich Woods group.    The woods are within easy walking distance of five boroughs: Southwark, Lewisham, Lambeth, Bromley and Croydon.  But when decisions like the bridge repair are considered, Southwark treated them as solely an amenity for the local Dulwich Wood Ward.  A Friends group would enable us to represent ALL the users of the woods, and to work with other interested groups, like the London Wildlife Trust, the Sydenham Hill Ridge Neighbourhood Forum, the Dulwich Estate and the Dulwich Society, to make sure that all decisions are in the best interests of the woods.  If you are interested in helping to set up a Friends Group, please get in contact.

Despite declaring a Climate Emergency in March 2019, Southwark Council has yet to show that it needs to change the agenda of all its departments to put the natural environment front and centre of is decisions.  It is currently carrying out a Climate Change Consultation until 15th January 2021 and we would encourage everyone to have their say and fill it in."