Author: Cyril Richert
Protesters who occupied York Gardens since February to block Wandsworth Council project to destroy the park have been evicted on Friday and now most of the mature trees have gone. They will make space for three buildings up to 14 storeys, with a mix of shared ownership, social rented and private owned accommodations.
“Tonight I’m going to camp in York Gardens. It’s not me, I’m 50-year-old, I have a young son, I don’t do camping. But I think I must do it to help them, Dmitri convinced me”, said Emma Buckley (a local resident living near Lombard Road) over the phone last month. We were April 21st. It was an unusually cold night for the season, she did not sleep more than 30 minutes, she said the day after.
Protesters occupied the park of Winstanley and York Road estates for nearly a month, from April 18th, to stop Wandsworth Council plan to destroy most of the trees in the area, in order to build a range of towers to house a mix range of Council, affordable and private dwellings. On May 13th, they were woken up at 1.30am by security sticking eviction notice on their tents and guards installed several layers of fences around the area. with no warning and before the court hearing!
Dmitri Barsoukov, who lives in Penge House, just in front of York Gardens, has been protesting against this housing development plan for months. On Thursday at 10:30am last week he was facing a trial held remotely by the High Court. While campaigners claimed the occupation was legal under Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1997, which makes forced entry into the premises a criminal offence, Wandsworth Council and lawyers for the Winstanley and York Road regeneration project brought the legal action by issuing a claim form for the possession of property.
At 2pm that same day the judge decided against the protesters and even before the court case was closed, chainsaws came into action to fell the trees, protesters still up on some of them! They stopped after cutting about 6 trees and came back the day after, Friday 14th, to evict the remaining protesters still in the trees and destroy their camp. By 4.30pm the job was done and all the mature trees in pieces.
The protest began at dawn on Monday 22 February when three tree protectors climbed into a 100-year-old black poplar 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.
After a few weeks, the police came back on Friday 12th March to remove the last occupier and developers started to cut the tree immediately after.
The tree occupants have received overwhelming support from the local community. John, a local resident, supported the stand against having the tree chopped down and said:
“The only thing that people are driven to, is to protest this way!”
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!
The Council has approved plans to rip off greenery and most of the trees for decades
We have published a full case against the current plans for redevelopment of the estates. According to the Council approved plans, the current York Gardens 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.
The truth is that the new open space will be smaller and only likely to be completed around 2035. York Gardens 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”.
This is confirmed in the report, which states:
“During the demolition and construction works, the majority of [York Gardens] would be cleared, resulting in the applicant’s opinion “temporary moderate adverse effects”.
The Council is hiding the scale of the destruction
Initially, the developers claimed that over 173 trees, a staggering amount of 124 were 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!
To make things worse, the protesters who occupied York Gardens, and who are supported by XR Wandsworth, initially thought the plans would see at least 124 trees cut down, but , discovered, after reading planning documents, that the total number of trees to go would be significantly higher at 413.
Protesters say that the Council is destroying millions of pounds worth of trees here, when they could and should have built around them
- Wandsworth Council and Taylor Wimpey have already started to flatten York Gardens but activists have published a new petition (with nearly 200 signatures already) to keep some of the remaining trees until construction starts. You can sign the petition HERE.
The current destruction of the park will make space for 3 buildings
Block 5: three buildings referred to as 5A (14 storeys – 65 shared ownership accommodation), 5B (6 storeys – shared equity and social rented accommodation for decant) and 5C (12 storeys – shared equity and social rented accommodation for decant)
Block 6: 8-storey building with a mixed tenure of 127 units, providing 54 social rent, 9 shared equity and 64 private homes
The report highlight that the construction of Block 6 is still dependent on equity increase from Council and Taylor Wimpey as it requires significant CPO related cost (however, Block 6 is actually replacing the Battersea Baptist Church needed to be destroyed and rehoused in phase 0 by end of 2021).
See more media coverage on the protest:
- MyLondon: Mum, 50, camps out in bid to save trees on council estate
- SWLondoner: York Gardens protester facing High Court over three-week occupation to save the trees
- MailOnline: Council threatens legal action to stop XR-backed protesters who set up make-shift camp to ‘save more than 400 trees’ by halting plans to build 136 homes in London
- MyLondon (about the previous protest to protect the black polar tree): Londoner, 70, taken to hospital after being sat on by security guards at tree protest
- BBC London News:
UPDATE: 19/05/2021: Taylor Wimpey has confirmed to protesters that they won’t remove the remaining trees and bushes along York Road before the start of phase 4, scheduled to be 2022 at the earliest (probably later as everything is running a few years late at the moment).