By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter
Southwark council’s new planning application to cut down two healthy oak trees has received more than 90 objections and one comment of support.
The trees, in Sydenham Hill Wood, Dulwich, thought to be 155 and 115 years old, sit on either side of the western end of a footbridge in Cox’s Walk – the council says they must be felled so the bridge can be repaired.
Councillor Catherine Rose, cabinet member for leisure, environment and roads, previously said: “We have taken two years to explore other options, but, much as it saddens us, no viable alternative to our current plans has presented itself.”
Southwark set a date for the trees to be cut down in November as its two-year felling order was due to expire the following month.
But before the council could do so campaigners set up camp by the trees, guarding them day and night.
On the day the trees were due to be chopped down two men arrived with a chainsaw but were fended off by the group.
They are members of the Save the Footbridge Oaks Campaign, which was launched after the council gave itself planning permission to fell the trees in January 2019.
They say it is “not inevitable” that the oaks can’t be saved, and felling them is an “active choice” by the council.
The campaign has produced an alternative proposal for the bridge repairs, arguing the trees could be saved by using hand tools instead of bringing large machinery into the woods.
Southwark rejected the proposal, estimating it would cost half a million pounds.
Although it has not provided a cost breakdown, the council says even researching the alternative plan could cost thousands of pounds.
After the council was stopped from felling the trees, it applied for an interim injunction from the High Court, which would have made the campaigners’ protest illegal.
But Mrs Justice Cutts rejected the application on December 1.
Campaigners said they were “greatly relieved”.
After the council’s felling order expired in December, it submitted another in its place.
At the time of writing, 91 people had objected to the application online.
Many said the council had provided “no evidence” that the oaks were damaging the bridge, that the trees were invaluable to biodiversity, and urged the council to find a different solution.
They said the council’s plan to plant more trees would not be able to replace the benefit of the two mature oaks.
Two people were concerned about the length of time it was taking to get the footbridge in action again – one supported the felling while the other was neutral and told the council to “get on with it”.
The planning application is open for public comment until January 11.
Pictured top: A previous protest to save the oak trees
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