High Court rejects Southwark council order to remove protesters protecting trees

Campaigners defending two healthy oak trees are “greatly relieved” after the High Court rejected Southwark Council’s plan to get them out of its path.

The trees in Sydenham Hill Wood in Dulwich, thought to be 155 and 115 years old, sit on either side of the western end of a footbridge on Cox’s Walk – the council says they must be felled so the bridge can be repaired.

But campaigners, who have been guarding the trees day and night since mid-November and have more than 6,200 signatures on their petition to save them, say it is “not inevitable” that the oaks can’t be saved and felling them is an “active choice” by the council.

The Save the Footbridge Oaks Campaign was launched after the council gave itself planning permission to fell the trees in January 2019.

It 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, though it has not provided a cost breakdown.

On the day the trees were due to be chopped down last month, two men arrived with a chainsaw but were fended off by campaigners.

The council then applied for an interim injunction from the High Court, which would have made their protest illegal.

Councillor Catherine Rose, cabinet member for leisure, environment and roads, told the local democracy service: “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.”

But Mrs Justice Cutts rejected the application on December 1

Two campaigners, sisters Susan and Colette Haseldine, were represented in court by Paul Powlesland, founder of Lawyers for Nature.

The organisation is dedicated to directly representing nature, as well as those protecting it through the courts system.

A statement from the campaigners said: “Had the local authority request been granted, peaceful protest to protect the trees would have been outlawed.

“As it now stands however, since the claim was rejected by Mrs Justice Cutts, the peaceful vigil will continue to defend the trees as it successfully did on the day, November 16 when chainsaws were turned around and left the site.”

The council’s two-year felling order expires later this week.

The campaigners say this “will allow a fresh process that will fully engage with a public now well informed of the need to preserve this mature woodland”.

“Now that the planning permission to fell the trees is lapsing, we hope that instead of reapplying to get the trees down, the council will work with ourselves and other local interested organisations like the London Wildlife Trust, the Sydenham Hill Ridge Neighbourhood Forum, the Dulwich Estate and the Dulwich Society to find the most cost effective way forward to re-open and repair the bridge and safeguard the trees and protect the nature reserve they are growing in,” the campaigners said.

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