By Sian Bayley, local democracy reporter
A 50-year-old mother was among protesters camping out in the gardens of a council estate in Battersea this week to prevent more trees from being felled to make way for a new housing development.
Emma Buckley slept in a tent in York Gardens last Wednesday (April 21) with four others.
It is understood a small camp was constructed on Sunday night (April 18) in a bid to save 123 trees set to be cut down to make way for new homes.
She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that it was “freezing outside” and she only managed to sleep for 30 minutes.
“I was cold. My bones ache. I feel I need a serious massage, but I just thought it’s the least I could do. These young people are out there night after night doing this because they are switched on, they understand what’s at stake.”
Ms Buckley was part of the original protest against the felling of a black poplar tree on the site, in which tree protectors occupied the tree for 23 days to prevent it from being cut down.
She is not a member of Extinction Rebellion, and only found out about the protest on the local social networking website, Next Door.
When the tree was felled on March 16 she said she felt “hopeless” and assumed the protests were over.
When members texted her last week to tell her about the new plans she said: “I’m not camping out, I can’t do that, I’ve got a job, I’ve got a family, I’ve got a three-and-a-half-year-old son, I’m 50. It’s not me. I can’t do that.”
But she soon changed her mind when visiting the site.
“There was something in that funny little pallet built camp that just made me think, ‘yeah, we don’t know what’s gonna happen. We’re probably gonna lose but we’re gonna be part of the fight for it and to raise awareness.’”
She argues that residents on the Winstanley and York Road Estates need new homes, but she disagrees with the felling of so many trees.
“Why can’t they have both? A nice new flat and a black poplar, thanks.”
A spokesperson for Wandsworth Council said the site is needed to provide 136 new council-owned social rent homes for residents on low incomes and in housing need “especially those currently living in cramped and overcrowded conditions.”
They added: “Alongside these vitally-needed new council homes we are planting around 450 new trees around the estate and providing a new 2.5 hectare public park so that residents have newly created green outdoor space to enjoy.
“To ensure Wandsworth remains one of London’s leafiest and greenest boroughs we constantly plant new trees. Over the past three years we have planted more than 1,200 in our streets and parks and this winter planting season another 750 are being added.
“Overall we look after more than 50,000 trees in our streets and open spaces. We take these important responsibilities seriously and will only agree to a tree being lost if there is no alternative and only if a greater number are planted as replacements.”
Last week Extinction Rebellion Wandsworth also started a new campaign called ‘Wake Up Wandsworth’ to hold the council to account for what it sees as “failures to address the climate emergency.”
Members gathered outside the town hall and delivered a giant envelope with demands and pasted them on town hall doors.
A council spokesperson said Wandsworth was implementing “a whole range of measures” to help it achieve its target of becoming a carbon neutral organisation by 2030.
They said this includes action to “green” its vehicle fleet and pension fund, plant thousands of new trees, explore food waste recycling, support the switch from petrol and diesel to electric vehicles and introduce energy efficiency measures in housing blocks.
They added: “Our efforts have been applauded by Kevin Frea, managing director of Climate Emergency UK which has developed a database of what councils are doing to tackle climate change.
“Quoted in the Local Government Chronicle he said that unlike many councils which had done little or nothing to take concrete steps to achieve carbon reductions, “Wandsworth for example is doing a lot”.
Council leader Ravi Govinida also cited a report by UCL which evaluated councils on their administrative capacity to lower carbon emissions, and rated Wandsworth third of all the councils it looked at.
He said: “That is two independent bodies who judge us to be delivering real action against our climate change commitments; who judge us as out-performing other local authorities; and cite us as a good practice in terms of a council which has maintained momentum on addressing climate change without pausing it due to Covid.”
The Local Democracy Reporting Service contacted Kevin Frea for additional comment.
Mr Frea said: “As a Conservative council they are doing better than a lot of their peers. But they don’t really get the urgency, that’s what I’ve heard.”
He said this was a problem with most councils who had declared a climate emergency, adding: “I would say there’s probably only a handful of councils who are understanding not only what’s needed, but actually trying to do what’s needed.”
He praised Wandsworth as making a “good start” particularly with its youth commission and the training of staff in carbon literacy, but said “it’s really nothing compared to what’s needed”.
He said councils need to create “really genuine community collaboration and engagement” by setting up bodies that are “genuinely representative of the whole community” and having regular consultation with them, instead of one-off commissions.
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