The Council last night debated a proposal to accept a grant for the restoration of aspects of Tooting Common. The most controversial aspect of this grant is a proposal that the 77 chestnut trees that line Chestnut Avenue on Tooting Common should be felled and replaced by saplings.
The debate was very well attended by the public and two petitions were presented, with almost 500 signatures, requesting that any proposals to cut down the 77 trees on Chestnut Avenue should be subject to public consultation before any decision to cut down the trees is reached.
Verbal "assurances" were offered during the debate that consultation would take place. However requests to include the pledge in the proposals were declined.
Sadiq Khan MP said: “Residents wanted a promise to consult on the future of these beautiful trees to be written into the paper in black and white. While I am very happy that public statements were made last night confirming that consultation will now go ahead, I am disappointed that the Council was not willing to embed this promise in the proposals themselves, as residents requested. What are they scared of? Without inserting this commitment to consult in the proposals, residents could be forgiven for leaving last night’s debate with the impression that consultation is still not guaranteed.”
He added: “Many of the other proposals included in the Council’s bid will enhance and regenerate the Common, including improvements to the Lido, so it is a shame that some residents has been left wondering if their views on Chestnut Avenue will really count”.
Representatives from the Furzedown Community Network (FCN), the Friends of Tooting Common (FOTC) and the Tooting Common Management Advisory Committee (MAC) attended the meeting. All three, non-political, groups want the consultation embedded in the proposals.
The Tooting Common MAC, which was set up by the Council to advise it on issues relating to the Common, proposed an amendment to the papers to include public consultation. MAC Chair, Richard Glassborow, said: “Unfortunately the consultation has not taken place yet...as a result there is a great deal of public misunderstanding, suspicion and hostility. This is a highly controversial proposal and currently the paper makes no mention of public consultation. In the atmosphere that has developed some people just don’t believe the Council’s recent statements about public consultation because it’s not in the paper.”
He added, “There is a perception that the prospect of cutting down the trees is because it comes with funding whereas the other options may not”.
This concern was echoed by the Chair of the FOTC, Peter Ramell, who said: “Concerns have been expressed that this proposal is at least partly based on the fact that funding will be made available for the complete replacement of the trees. If that were the case that would be an inappropriate basis for pursuing that option.”
Canon Sue Clarke, who spoke on behalf of the FCN, said: “It would have been helpful if we had been told there was to be a consultation. With regard to the condition of the trees, we have to be careful about scaremongering and we need hard evidence.”
All three groups confirmed that they had not been consulted on the proposals and the FOTC and the Tooting Common MAC both confirmed that the Council had asked them to keep the proposals confidential and not share them with residents or members.
Sadiq Khan said: “It is very unfortunate that the Council cannot respond to the strength of feeling expressed at the meeting and that their dealings with the public so far have been murky at best. Why not guarantee an embedded consultation? Why ask local groups to keep information confidential? It makes residents rightly suspicious that deals are being done without their knowledge or consent and possibly for the wrong reasons.”
He added: “I will now do all I can to ensure the consultation verbally committed to at last night’s meeting does indeed go ahead and that this consultation is meaningful, transparent and based on the expert advice already received by the Council but not yet shared with interested parties. The future of these beautiful trees is too important to be decided on by council officials alone. We all have a stake in the future of the Common and our voices must be heard.”