Goodbye to the trees: Wandsworth Council spend more than £20,000 on security against tree campaigners – including mums, retirees, and a vicar
Wandsworth Council spent £83,348 chopping down chestnut trees in Tooting Common, despite pledging it would be funded by a £45,000 Heritage Lottery Fund, figures show.
Just over a quarter of that sum was spent on security measures during the felling, including guard dogs, police and a ten foot metal wall.
The destruction faced a huge backlash from the Tooting community – 6,500 signed a petition urging the council to reconsider and a candlelit vigil was held by the Save Chestnut Avenue campaign group.
Candida Jones, Labour Councillor for Furzedown Ward, was one of the most vocal campaigners.
“This was done to save very small sums of money – up to 3 grand a year – which has now been reduced,” she said. “If you want to see the impact of cuts – have a look, here they are.
“It’s emblematic of a council that is totally incapable of revising its plans in light of what residents tell them.
“Wandsworth Council became so entrenched in the belief that this was a good idea they absolutely couldn’t revise that. They could show no ability to empathise with the local people.”
Public funds were used to make up the rest of the money the grant wouldn’t cover.
“I was absolutely, genuinely gobsmacked,” she said.
“And the issue wasn’t just an overspend that was eye-watering. There’s a playground that was needed in the Nightingale Square homeless hostel costing £40,000 and the council said we don’t have the funds for that.
“So we have 150 children in a homeless hostel with no outside space because the council can’t fund it, but here they can find 40 grand to chop the trees down.”
Of the £83,000, just £6,000 was spent on buying the trees – and £7,000 on planting them. A whopping two grand went towards “clearing up” costs and almost £400 was spent on road diversion signs.
Wandsworth Council decided to remove the trees on Chestnut Avenue after citing them as dangerous through old age and disease. An independent survey commissioned by Save Chestnut Avenue found no threat was posed by the trees.
“The thing that doesn’t get said by Wandsworth Council is that all the campaigners from Save Chestnut Avenue were totally supportive of dangerous trees being removed. They painted us as a bunch of crazies – even child-killers – because they didn’t think we cared about dangerous trees falling and hitting children.
“This is what Wandsworth Council missed entirely. They had some weird idea that people wanted some formal avenue with a certain number of trees. Nobody wanted this, they simply wanted trees that have been here for hundreds of years.”
A Wandsworth Council spokesperson said: ““Of the 51 trees removed all but seven were diseased or decaying and several in key locations – including adjacent to the children’s playground – were in a much more dangerous state than previously thought. We did what the majority of residents clearly felt was the best way forward and planted a new avenue of 64 small leafed limes for future generations to enjoy – just as our ancestors did for us.
“In terms of public safety it was vitally important to prevent people from accessing the site because trespassers could have ended up being hurt or seriously injured by moving machinery or the felling of the trees. Ensuring the site remained safe and secure was especially important in light of the threats from some protestors to disrupt the operation. We liaised very closely with the Met police and took their advice on site security in the light of these threats.”
An interactive exhibition commemorating the trees, called ‘That Old Chestnut’, will take place at Sprouts Arts Centre in Moyser Road from January 23rd to February 3rd.