Protesters are derailing Council’s plan for Winstanley & York Road estate redevelopment

Author: Cyril Richert

Tree protectors are currently occupying York Gardens in order to force the Council to review their plans to redevelop the whole Winstanley and York Road estates.

On Wednesday 3 March at 12pm, tree protector Marcus, who has become the most recognisable face of York Gardens tree protest, came down from the 100 (50 or 80)-year-old black poplar tree he has been living in for 10 days.

The protest began at dawn on Monday 22 February when three tree protectors climbed into the tree in support of a long running campaign by local residents to save it from being cut. They arrived overnight on Sunday 21st/Monday 22nd February, and two of them have been in the tree continuously since then despite numerous attempts to evict them: Four security guards used barking dogs and bright lights to keep people awake and removed their possessions out of the tree, including food and personal items. Fortunately, they received plenty of food later once the police allowed it again.

With Marcus descending the tree, this is not the end of the protest. He has passed the baton to his friend Bradley, “who’s really well and happy and committed to staying for as long as it takes“. Marcus says his friend isn’t daunted by the prospect of being alone in the tree. He describes him as “a very spiritual guy, who looks at it with a meditative mindset and is looking forward to reading a book on The Secret Life of Trees that he’s just been given“.

The protest has revealed that the Council has been claiming false support

According to Wandsworth Council (PR January 2020), “the Winstanley and York Road plans were developed following extensive consultation with local people“. They have also mislead the GLA, making them write that “Demolition was supported by the majority of residents at the initial event and ongoing consultation and engagement has maintained this“.

In reality, Wandsworth Council systematically dismissed all concerns and ignored local residents for the past 11 years. We demonstrated that in our article: Consult, then ignore. Make policy, then ignore = the full process of planning decisions in Wandsworth!

Minutes after climbing down from the poplar tree, Marcus said :

“The way the planning of this estate has been going has been appalling. They’ve done very little to include the voice of the people that are actually affected by this changes.

About 70% of the mature trees in the vicinity are due to be cut down for this redevelopment. And what for? Mainly profit! Mainly flats that are luxury flats. Something around 900% [actually 800% – CJAG report]  more of those and just 8% more [actually a decrease in number of the social units – CJAG report] of the so much needed Council flats.

We need to give people a chance to have a better housing, but it’s not a solution to build and build and sell them overseas.

We need to ask people! We need citizen’s assembly!”

The tree occupants have received overwhelming support from the local community. John, a local resident, supports the stand against having the tree chopped down and said:

“The only thing that people are driven to, is to protest this way!”

Wandsworth Council and Taylor Wimpey (the private partner) claimed that they have no over option that to cut down the black poplar and that it’s impossible to save this one tree. However, on Facebook Pat Squires posted:

“I have received the following from Thames Water, CEO’s Office, which implies that Taylor Wimpey  has had the option of a relaxed exclusion zone since last year!

Thank you for getting in touch with Sarah Bentley about the tree felling in York Gardens, she’s very sorry to hear about the distress this is causing you. We spoke to the developer last year and said that we would consider relaxing the 3 metre exclusion zone, if they took steps to assess the ground and propose a solution to make sure the sewer is protected when they carry out their work. They came back to us to say they’d done some ground analysis and proposed to do their work 4 metres away instead. However, if the developer believed this would help, we would still be willing to amend the exclusion zone if they do the preparatory work and submit a suitable solution that protects the sewer.”

The Council has approved planned to rip off greenery and most of the trees for decades

This beautiful, much-loved tree, visible from all around the estate, was due for felling on 22 March to make way for the laying of a new electric cable. You can read more information on the Twitter thread from Glyn Goodwin.

Black poplar trees are very rare and this is likely to be an hybrid black poplar tree, but the major point is that it is one of the largest tree which forms a very big canopy and help protecting from the pollution. And although the Council claims that Wandsworth is one of the greenest London borough, it has some of the most polluted spots in London. Clapham Junction is even designated as an Air Quality Focus Area due to the high levels of pollutants on the main road [Wandsworth draft local plan 2020].

Winstanley & York Road estates in 2018

The developers have already removed several large true for the construction of their phase 0 along Grant Road (read our article HERE). Each available inch in front of Sendall Court was marked for the development site and all trees (mostly mature trees) have been cut and all the area covered with hard surface, with one single tree planted at the corner of the area.

All mature trees removed.

We have published a full case against the current plans for redevelopment of the estates.According to the COuncil approved plans, the current York Garden will be bulldozed (and should give place to a 31-32 storey tower at least), Ganley Court freehold terraced houses should be destroyed (with their gardens) and a new smaller green space created.

At the centre of the masterplan is the newly designed park

In reality, the new open space will be smaller and only likely to be completed around 2035. York Garden is totalling 3.68 hectares (Google map measurement – 2.52 ha according to Planning Officer’s report 2019/0024) and the press release revealed that the new open space will be only 2.49 hectares (-32%) while the number of homes should grow by 236%! The 2019 report from Wandsworth Council says (p31):

“The development would result in some loss of area. It is proposed that 0.86 ha (8,600 sqm) of York Gardens Park would be completed within the detailed proposals, with the remainder being completed later in the programme up to 2031”.

The 2031 date being just an assumption (see the delay of the Peabody’s project in Battersea – St John’s Hill that should have been finished by now, and is just currently building phase 2 with major disruption for the neighbourhood!) that might actually extend to … 2040 (choosing 2035 is therefore a conservative assumption for the delivery). For most of the next 15 to 20 years, a major green space in the area should be replaced by dirt, dust, hazardous substances and heavy machinery.

This is confirmed in the report, which states:

“During the demolition and construction works, the majority of [York Garden] would be cleared, resulting in the applicant’s opinion “temporary moderate adverse effects”.

Over 173 trees, a staggering amount of 124 are marked to be chopped down, most of them being large mature and semi mature trees. Those figures are available on page 284 of the 2019 report, and show that 71% of the existing trees should be removed!

The local protesters want the development to be paused and reconsidered

The campaigners now want the whole development to be paused and reconsidered in the light of the climate emergency and the strong support among local residents for the protest. The tree is now home to nesting birds, so it would in any case be illegal to cut it down before the end of the nesting season.

Trees take hundreds of years to grow and seconds to cut down“, said actor Jason Flemyng, who visited the protesters and brought them food supplies on Monday. “In an ever-expanding metropolis it is difficult and expensive to develop around living trees, but we owe it to our kids to let them play under the branches of urban green spaces and not in barren concrete pens.

In future, say the campaigners, rather than focusing on new developments, all empty homes in the borough must be looked at instead. There are currently 268,000 long-term empty homes in England.

The tree protectors have issued the following demands to Wandsworth Council:

  1. The tree is here to stay (THE RED LINE)
  2. Halt/pause the project
  3. Present all options considered to save the tree
  4. Support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill
  5. Commandeer all empty properties and make them available for people (just like in wartime, as we are in an emergency)
  6. Arboricultural assessment + treatment of the branches that were hurt on the poplar

Call for action

The campaign team has set up a petition, already signed by more than 200 people (on Saturday 6 March). On the petition page they say:

“This redevelopment project plans to fell 124 mature trees, including the iconic Black Poplar, beloved by the community. As well as demolishing several existing buildings to increase the number of homes from 739 to 2550, there will be no increase in the number of social homes.

The project and its handling goes against the consensus reached through public consultation with the local community, who are adamantly against this destruction as it sets to decrease the green space available by five times.

The wider initiative is to ensure the York Gardens project is halted indefinitely until a thorough re-evaluation and sincere consultation with local residents is carried out.

Due to the magnitude of the impacts of this project, we are seeking to ensure that the development’s re-evaluation is to be determined by an independent, citizen-led body.

Here’s to change in a world that needs it.”

Plenty of local supporters are left comments HERE.

You can follow:

You can read also very good reports on:

READ our article: The full case against Winstanley & York Rd scheme: social cleansing and contempt for local residents

And even after 10 days in the tree, Marcus is quickly back to ground problems: “I’ve got my mask here, to protect from Coronavirus”

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