Wandsworth Council has publically agreed to consult on their plans to remove 77 trees which line Chestnut Avenue on Tooting Common the day after Sadiq Khan MP launched a petition calling for consultation.
The removal of the trees is part of the Council’s bid proposal for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the restoration of aspects of the common.
The proposal to replace the trees on Chestnut Avenue with saplings is a controversial one, which local groups, such as the Friends of Tooting Common, and residents have argued should be subject to public consultation.
However, no public consultation has taken place and the paper in which the proposals appear and which was made public on February 12, makes no mention of consultation. By contrast, the paper says the Council will consult on another aspect of the grant bid, namely the closure of Dr Johnson Avenue.
The Friends of Tooting Common has confirmed that “the FOTC were informed of the proposals, but were asked not to comment publicly or inform our members”.
Sadiq Khan, MP for Tooting said: “It is very worrying that the Friends of Tooting Common and the Tooting Common Management Advisory Committee were asked by the Council not to reveal these proposals to the public or indeed to their members. It is great news, however, that the council has now committed to consulting the local community on the future of this beautiful local landmark”.
letter from the Friends of Tooting Common revealing that the Council requested the organisation keep the plans to remove the trees "confidential". The letter confirms that the Friends of Tooting Common were "not consulted"
Some of the 77 trees in Chestnut Avenue have an infectious disease called bleeding canker. According to information sent by the Council to Sadiq Khan on 9 February “the Heritage Tree Survey…identified 20 Horse Chestnut trees currently being affected by bleeding canker disease, 2 as being dead and 2 as being in poor condition”.
According to the forestry commission: “removing affected trees can be unnecessary. Significant numbers of trees do recover”.
Sadiq Khan said: “It may be that all the trees do indeed need to be replaced, but it is important that the community has the opportunity to hear what all the options are before this decision is made. Without this opportunity, residents could be forgiven for suspecting their removal is motivated by the offer of a grant.”
Other options for the avenue include ‘interplanting’ between existing trees, which would avoid the removal of the 57 healthy trees and their associated ecosystems, the replacement of diseased trees over time, only when it is necessary, or the planting of a second avenue outside the first. The Council’s report states: “Not all these methods could achieve the result of a long term even aged avenue, which is necessary to meet the criteria for funding”.
Sadiq Khan said: “When the consultation promised by the Council did not materialise the community became understandably concerned. The Council’s u-turn shows what can be achieved by our community when it feels it is not being listened to. I would like to thank the Furzedown Community Network for their petition, the local residents who have agreed to come and speak to the Council at the public meeting and the members of both the Friends of Tooting Common and the Tooting Common Management Advisory Committee for keeping the pressure up” .
He concluded: “The Council’s track record on public consultation isn’t good. The Council did consult on the closure of Dr Johnson Avenue, another contentious proposal within the bid, but after the consultation it inserted a new element in the proposal which many motorists and residents disagree with. This wasn't in the proposal when residents were consulted and I know that many feel unhappy about its later insertion”.
Planted 140 years ago, Chestnut Avenue is a tree-lined path which runs from Dr Johnson Avenue, past the swings and slides to the café on the common.
Sadiq Khan’s petition, launched on February 15, currently has 241 signatures. Another petition, launched by the Furzedown Community Network, also on February 15, currently has 224 signatures. Both petitions call for the public to be consulted. Sadiq Khan’s petition is here. The FCN petition is here.
The meeting where the proposals will be voted on takes place at Wandsworth Town Hall on Thursday, February 18th. The papers are here.