Tree campaigners have failed to change the minds of Wandsworth councillors after attempting to re-negotiate terms over the dispute about diseased trees on Tooting Common.
Laurie Goering, spokesperson and campaigner for Save Chestnut Avenue Action Group, said that despite entering the meeting in the spirit of compromise they were met by councillors resolute in their decision.
A public consultation held by Wandsworth Council last year showed 74% of respondents agreed to replace all the trees affected by the bacterial disease ‘bleeding canker’ in one operation, but Ms Goering believes the options left little scope for choice.
She said: “They needed the consultation to come out the way they wanted it to and we think it’s a flawed public consultation, not least in that it didn’t offer the choice that most people want, which is to fell trees as they become unsafe and replace them, but not all at once.”
With a petition in motion to stop the felling of all the trees now reaching more than 5,000 signatures, Ms Goering believes it is time to find a way forward.
She said: “This is the way democracy works, right?
“When people feel strongly about something their elected representatives listen and we just feel like we are not being listened to and there is this pro forma democracy that is going on without it being real and it’s sad.
“I think it’s a moment to say let’s listen, let’s all work together and if they did that we would praise them up and down for working with us and for being reasonable.”
Due to the combination of old age and disease, a Wandsworth Council spokesperson said the trees now pose a safety risk to the public, with one falling over in February last year and another having to be removed on safety grounds last month.
A Wandsworth Council spokesperson said: “The public consultation overwhelmingly rejected the course of action being promoted by the protestors.
“All we are doing is removing trees that are becoming dangerous and replacing them with the same kind of avenue the Victorians generously gave us so that it can be enjoyed by future generations for the next 150-200 years.
“This has gone through a proper public consultation and a fully transparent and open democratic process.”
However, managing director of Barrell Tree Consultancy Jeremy Barrell, who produced an independent report on the trees earlier this year believes the ecological and psychological benefits of the trees must be weighed up against the safety issues.
After careful investigation, Mr Barrell’s report suggested that after removing the worst affected trees and pruning the remaining ones, a planning regime that replaces those trees on an ‘as necessary’ basis should be implemented.
The tree specialist said: “It is a completely acceptable normal management regime and it is quite feasible, there is no significant risk with doing that, they have been doing this for decades.
“Some of the trees are 120-130 years old so they have psychological or cultural connections with people who are no longer with us.
“It’s just a value that local people place on trees from a psychological viewpoint because they know that people who they knew or their ancestors walked around and lived around these trees.
“The public consultation showed images of trees that have just been hacked and severely pruned and very few trees in the avenue need to be pruned to that level, so what they didn’t do was show the public what the real options were, they just gave them one option or the other so that’s misleading.”
What began as a brief campaign has now erupted into a marathon and in the last few weeks Ms Goering has even received emails from people volunteering to chain themselves to the trees in a bid to stop the council.
“I don’t understand why Wandsworth Council is ignoring something that is so clear,” she said.
“We have gone out of our way to be polite, to try to offer compromises and options and to work with them, but we were just shut down.
“We don’t want to see it go and we will continue to look for avenues where we can try to help people see reason and do something sensible on the avenue.”
Also, weighing in on the issue MP Rosena Allin-Khan said: “It’s a huge campaign.
“Since October I have been lobbying the council, I have written to Cllr Jonathan Cook in the council twice and engaged with the heritage lottery fund.
“I have been there time and time again while they have been wielding the machinery to chop down the trees and I stand side by side with the community, we cannot allow this to happen.”