South London council fells dozens of trees before declaring 'climate emergency'

MARK BLUNDEN, Abbianca Makoni

A children's nature garden was destroyed and dozens of trees felled by a council days before a council declared a “climate emergency” over emissions.

Bulldozers rolled in to the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden after residents fought a lengthy battle to save it from developers.

But then four days later at a town hall meeting, Labour-run Lewisham council was accused of hypocrisy after calling for urgent action on the environment.

Residents say 74 trees, including silver birch, laurel and Indian bean, along with hedgerows, wildflowers, a pond and birds’ nests were lost when felling began at the wildlife garden on February 28.

Campaigners said the site gave respite from thick pollution cloaking local roads used by trucks and buses and would help bring down pollution levels.

The site in Deptford after the trees were chopped down (carl fox)

Data collected by Goldsmiths, University of London, revealed harmful PM2.5 particulates near Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden exceeded World Health Organisation limits.

The urban meadow originally formed part of a primary school site, which was moved to a new academy.

The council said there was an understanding that its community use was only ever granted “meanwhile use” after being earmarked for development in 2012.

The Peabody development will also see 16 flats demolished to make way for 209 homes, of which 117 will be for council tenants.

Lewisham has nearly 10,000 people on the borough’s housing waiting list.

Heather Gilmore, spokeswoman for the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign, said: “The children planted the garden with their parents and teachers, and it had huge benefits to people’s health and our lungs - you could smell the sweetness in the air, it made you want to take a deep breath.

“It was quite wild and children could play in a way that children play in the countryside.

“The trees were cut down and then a motion for a climate emergency was passed by the council.

“We know we need social housing, but they passed this motion which we found incredibly hypocritical.”

The council dispute the number of trees lost, saying 44 of 63 were cut down and 55 “semi-mature” species will be replanted in three small parks when works are complete.

Paul Bell, Lewisham’s cabinet member for housing, told the Standard: “Not all residents are up in arms, and not all of the protesters live there, and at the moment they’re preventing us from redesigning the site.

“We’ve got a housing and climate crisis, but there’s no easy decisions to be made.

“Ultimately we need to improve the air quality and there’s going to be 11 more trees on site than there were.

“You couldn’t go ahead with the sheer amount of housing on that site without removing some trees.