Trees: War and Peace

It's not only fusty old local societies that need volunteers you know. Sometimes, funky, zeitgeisty, cutting-edge, virtual, 2.0 societies can do with a hand too. So it's with great pleasure that Brockley Central can formally welcome Brockley Kate in to its editorial circle of trust. This means that she now has the power to delete any one of us, at any time. We hope she uses it well.

Kate's Brockley Central career kicks-off with this report on yesterday's early morning summit with council officers regarding a tree - and trees more generally. It's an epic:

Lewisham Council is planning to cut down a tree in the Lewisham College car park on the corner of Lewisham Road and Tressillian Road because it is interfering with a local CCTV network.

After BC users expressed concern, council tree and CCTV officers offered to meet with us and local councillor Dean Walton to explain the situation in more detail.

The meeting took place yesterday. morning at 7.30am and was attended by Brockley Nick, Brockley Jon, me, BC reader Vikki, Cllr Dean Walton, Lewisham Council tree officers Sean MacBride and Rick Farr, and. Lewisham Council CCTV manager Anne Sharp.

They did a very good job of explaining the situation and many thanks to them for attending.

The basic facts are these:

- The tree affected is a large mature lime tree to the right of the car park entrance, which is at the top of Tressillian Road;

- There is a local CCTV circuit which encompasses three cameras: a. camera on the edge of the car park, pointing onto Lewisham Way; a camera further up Lewisham Way on the corner with Breakspears Road; and a camera directly outside St. Johns stain station;

- The tree is interfering with the CCTV circuit (Anne has promised to send me a technical report from the. council’s CCTV consultants explaining exactly how this happens, and I’ll summarise this for BC readers if you’d like me to);

- It would take at least £10,000 to re-configure the camera circuit and this cost would have to come out of the CCTV manager’s budget;

- The council’s tree officers found when they inspected the tree that it is already diseased: it is ‘multi-stemmed’ (has more than one main. trunk stem) with ‘included bark’ and it’s structurally unstable. These problems can be diagnosed and. solved through pruning in a tree’s early years, but this didn’t happen in this case (the tree is about 20. years old). Because of these problems the tree will need to be cut down at some future point regardless of the CCTV problem. The tree officers are not able to predict whether this might happen in 6 months or several years’ time.

Therefore the council has won planning permission to cut the tree down.

Anne Clark said: ‘I’ve been CCTV manager for three years and this is the first tree we’ve had to fell.’

The tree officers have promised to plant three trees on Tressillian Road to compensate for this one, one of which will be funded by the CCTV manager as a direct replacement. The other two are part of the Localities Fund allocation, an issue we’ve covered in previous posts.

The replacement tree won’t be planted on the site of the old tree because it could cause similar problems, and also the Lewisham College site is up for sale in 2012, including the car park, which along with its trees could be re-developed by the new owners. Therefore replacing the tree in the same position isn’t suitable in the long term.

Instead, the trees will be located:

- Outside 30 Tressillian Road, where there is a tarmac’d space where there used to be a tree;

- And at either side of the junction between Tressillian Road and Harefield Road, where there are two tarmac’d spaces where there used to be trees.

My view is that this sounds like an acceptable resolution to a situation in which there is no easy answer.

During the course of the meeting we heard some interesting background from the tree officers which I think sheds new light on this and other tree-related planning applications. Basically, Sean MacBride and Rick Farr have only been working for Lewisham Council for 18 months to 2 years; since they started they’ve been tackling a backlog of tree maintenance issues. This includes diseased and structurally unstable trees. Perhaps it’s therefore unsurprising that we’re seeing an increasing number of planning applications relating to trees as they sort out this situation.

The tree officers want to reach a point at which they can focus on pruning and maintenance rather than removal, but there’s some work to be done before they get there. They are currently surveying all the trees in the borough and working out what action to take with those that need attention.

They have emphasised to us that they would really like to have a clear policy of one-for-one replacement, but the cost of new trees comes out of their budget, which is currently primarily taken up with dealing with the backlog of ‘problem’ trees. Affordability, rather than intention, is a real barrier for them.

I was really impressed by the council officers’ enthusiasm for the conservation area and their efforts to explain the situation to a bunch of random spods off the interweb. I was very interested to hear about the tree officers’ wider role in keeping Brockley green and I’d like to thank them, Anna Clark and Dean Walton very much for their time and helpfulness.

BC poster Vikki also attended the meeting; here are her comments, which give more detail about the wider issues discussed:

On the cutting down of this tree - my general thoughts are that it’s understandable why it's happened and, as trees go, it's not a disaster, £10,000 is a lot of money and we shouldn't expend anymore energy working on this particular tree.

As a user of St Johns station, and one who uses the station late at night and quite often on her own, then I think the CCTV camera at the station is an important one. I do have concerns about endless CCTV cameras but that one I like.

I don't fully understand why this particular tree is a problem - I do get the basics but it generally seems similar in size to plenty of other trees so it would be good to see the stuff from the consultant as promised by the CCTV lady.

And whilst the tree will have got bigger/more spread out because of the multi-trunk issue, more joined-up working between council officers might have given more thought to trees when CCTV cameras were sited - the CCTV cameras have presumably been here for only a few years rather than 10-15 years so could these problems not have been foreseen in a tree-y area? This might be the first tree to be felled but will others follow? Will trees be considered when future CCTV cameras are put up?

However the most important thing that came out of the meeting (for me) is that trees in Brockley aren't systematically replaced when old/problematic ones are felled. This isn't strictly because there isn't enough budget but more because the council is playing catch up. One tree bod has been working at the council for two years and the other for 18 months. When they arrived it seems there wasn't great knowledge of where trees are and what state they are in. They are now undertaking the massive task of surveying all trees in the borough and part of this includes getting rid of the 'bad' trees. This may be why there is a spate of tree-felling at the moment. This means that in storms last year about 150 trees fell down in Lewisham and this year it was just about 10. That might reflect storm strength but I think there's something in what they say.

Once this programme of work is completed it seems the council plans to replace trees at the same time that they fell them - this is what I want. This means that replacing the CCTV tree would mean the council would have to find a brand new tree site rather than just a site that previously had a tree that was felled and not replaced. It would mean that we wouldn't spend locality fund money on two trees on old tree sites – again, these would have been automatically replaced.

Finally, whilst I'm okay with this tree going I do think that trees are a vital part of our local environment - I'm not going to be a conservation area bore but they are one of the things that really add to the nature of the Brockley conservation area. If we are to stop future trees being felled then we need to stop them at planning permission stage. It's not a massive problem that only the Brockley Society was informed and it's not their job to tell everyone else - we just need to be more active in the society! However I don't see why some consultation of immediate residents can't be done too, especially for council-owned street trees.


Anonymous said...

A Pulitzer Prize article if ever there was one.

As is often the case it's worth collecting the facts before launching into attacks on organisations - well done.

Sounds like the council have actually given this some thought, who'd have thunk it?

Still no harm in in letting them know that the people funding them are watching.

Remember kids (and Mayor Ken) "absolute power corrupts absolutely"

Anonymous said...

I see no reason why they cannot replace trees at the point when they are felled. Yes, it would be a slower process to get through the back log, but by their own omission a 'problem' tree could still be up for a number of years.

If the council has waited 2 years to conduct a tree survey, I see no reason why they cant slow down the process and concentrate on those most at risk first (and replace them immediately!).

patrick1971 said...

I agree, now that all the facts are known, what they're proposing seems like a good compromise. However, £10K for doing a bit of reprogramming sounds ludicrous to me (would be very interested to see a breakdown of that!), and more like a "we can't be bothered, so we'll quote a horrendous amount so we're not asked to do it" response.

I do agree with APP&P that replacement of a felled tree should be seen as part of the process of removing a tree, not something separate to happen later on.

Anonymous said...

Great to see action working. Consultation is what it is all about - and now that we know that the CCTV covers St John's station, I support the action. It's all about information.

Thnaks all who attended

Anonymous said...

Did they mention how much a tree costs? Is sponsorship of a replacement an option when one come down?

Anonymous said...

Possibly the "reprogramming" involves moving a camera?

One thing to note the TFL can chop down trees without warning along routes that are their responsibility.

Away from trees is it possible to clarify if all the Lewisham College buildings etc. are to be sold in 2012?

Anonymous said...

Excellent investigative work! I'm a little suspicious that suddenly that particular tree happens to be diseased so needs felling "anyway" and that it would cost £10k to "reprogramme" the camera... All a little convenient all of a sudden...

Anonymous said...

...However I am happy that they are suggesting replacement spots, and that they now know that we all care about the trees!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say thanks to Nick and Jon for trusting me enough to let me come 'behind the scenes' on the blog! I think BC is a great example of what the internet can do for local communities, and I'm honoured to be part of it.

Back to the trees issue:
I think that the tree officers would agree that provision of a replacement should be part of the cost 'package' when a tree is removed, and they're working towards that point. Hopefully as it's becoming so clear how passionate the area's residents are about their trees, the council officers will recieve support from our local councillors in budgeting for this.

On the issue of the Lewisham College site sale, I have to admit this was the first I'd heard of it but Cllr Dean Walton seemed to know a bit about it so perhaps he can clarify.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that people's minds have been put at rest, though I seem to recall when I argued that it was a reasonable compromise and that people might be better off finding out all the facts before making judgements, I was accused of playing 'Devil's Advocate'; charming.

As I said at the time, local goverment officials usually try and take account of most opinions. They're required to, and it's just a matter of using your political representation to ensure your opinion is noticed. They'll usually listen, from my experience of dealing with them, and will try to help.

Anonymous said...

It is an important issue.

I would even go one step further and contribute to a 'tree fund' to replace trees at private cost. Considering how important we all think this is, it could be a good way to develop and sustain our area.

could even be administered by the BXAG.

Can I also just clarify, all this info/awareness with regard to the trees. Does this just cover the brockley borough (i.e. east of the railway line) or does this cover also telegraph hill borough ( west of the railway line). I'm happy to contribute, but i have a feeeling that you guys have forgotten completely about west brockley...

Anonymous said...

LB - I think we were all saying that we wanted to know the facts and see statistics before blindly allowing it to happen...

Anonymous said...

This opens up a lot of questions regarding the CCTV contract.

Sounds like the old trick of going in low to win the contract and then clawing back profit by excessive charges for moves and changes.

Amanda said...

I am pleased that the decision to chop down the tree has been made clear. It's good to know that much thought had gone into the situation and that the tree's fate wasn't treated as casually as it appeared to be.

Obviously it is disappointing that a row of lime trees will be disrupted but...

Thank you to all that attended the meeting, on behalf of all us who care.

This business of Lewisham College and site being sold, what's going on now?

Anonymous said...

Just to reiterate Kate. I agree that the tree officers ideally want to ensure that provision of a replacement tree should be part of the cost package when a tree is removed, and they're working towards that point.

We talked around this a bit and I am confident that they pretty much agreed with Kate and I and that we accepted where they were coming from/the amount of work they are currently already undertaking.

Cllr Dean Walton did seem to know about the Lewisham College stuff. Would be good to hear more.

And yes - thanks to Nick and Jon for sorting. Even if it was a bit of an early start for us non-city-types ;-)

creepylesbo said...

God, you know they're just going to stick a block of flats there instead.

Brockley Jon said...

Yep, out and about by 7.30am - that's real commitment to the cause, esp. for us media types who don't start til 9.30!

Anonymous said...

The rumour I heard was that the college was all moving to the Deptford site and the Lewisham Way campus was going to become a school.........

Not if its going to be sold it isn't.....

Anonymous said...

Another school is needed (has been the subject of debate for years) and this site would certainly be better than the two proposed in Ladywell from time to time.

On trees in Telegraph Hill we have similar issues with orignal planting of London Planes being chopped down and not suitabley replaced (although the spate of such removals in response to standard insurance objections seems to have slowed). The THS has nearly finished (not gone public with it yet but will do soon on thehill website) mapping a survey of the whole area of what trees have gone and where and how they have been replaced. Done with the aid of a post war aerial photograph and looking at the replacement tarmac patches on the pavements.

Anonymous said...

Currently the site for the new school is at Lewisham Bridge. Despite insisting the new school must open by 2006 but in 2007 the Mayor has allowed delivery as late as 2012.

Part of Lewisham College was considered for the new school in 2002.

"It would be a good location for the new secondary school and would be likely to be sufficient in size and shape to accommodate, if
desired, the other complementary facilities such as key worker housing etc."

In a 2004 council report

"As part of its overall accommodation strategy the College intends to relocate all activity currently on the Breakspear Campus to Lewisham Town Centre and other locations."

"In order for the College to fund any relocation it needs to maximise its receipt for its existing site and buildings. The College has indicated a willingness to consider entering into negotiations with the Council on this and the purchase price would have to reflect potential for residential development."

The 2004 report assumed planning permission for Lewisham Gateway would be given in 2005 and the college would have moved there by 2007, but the Mayor felt this was too long to wait.

29 Feb found on

"Lewisham College is looking for a developer for a £127m, 430,000 sq ft facility in Deptford, south-east London.

The scheme will also feature 40,000 sq ft of commercial and 230 homes. The developer will receive the college’s former facility, also in Deptford. King Sturge is advising."

Dean Walton said...

I'll thank Sean & Rik for sorting out this visit on Wednesday - which was a direct result of the comments on this blog.

The site visit to see this tree was very helpful. Anne Sharpe has promised to send a copy of the technical report showing why this particular tree is in the way.

I also took the opportunity to show the tree officers the 'Upper Brockley Road' trees and then walked around Tanners Hill with a local resident to identiy 5 sites for street trees there.

So all in all a very useful day for trees in Brockley!

With regards to Lewisham College - I know little beyond what has been published on this blog - I will try and find out more and report back in due course.



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