On 6 October, the council’s own Planning Committee passed an application from Southwark Council to clear 10 acres of urban woodland in Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries to create 5,000 spaces for new burials.
This wild oasis in our borough, a Grade 1 Site of Importance for Nature Conservation, is a “green lung” in south London and a sanctuary for wildlife. Local residents have been fighting to save it for more than a year, and Save Southwark Woods’ petition has so far been signed by nearly 10,000 people, including 1,500 in the surrounding Peckham Rye ward. The planning application itself received more than 600 individual objections – no easy feat, considering how difficult it can be to register an objection on the council’s website.
There were no supporters of the application present when campaigners put forward objections to the Planning Committee on 6 October. Calls for a public consultation had previously been rejected, although the council had agreed to a review by its Overview and Scrutiny Committee. This committee was chaired by Gavin Edwards, Labour councillor for Peckham Rye. Unsurprisingly, the committee found in favour of the council.
Southwark Green Party has supported the SSW campaign from the start. We are deeply concerned by the council’s decision to destroy the woods, which are much valued by walkers and local residents. The council is ignoring the pledge in its own New Southwark Plan “to provide more green infrastructure and to promote opportunities for healthy activities”.
The planned works will cause air, water and noise pollution, with the excavation and reprocessing in the woods of 4,000 tonnes of illegally dumped construction material, and the transporting of a further 8,000 tonnes of rubble off site over many months.
Labour councillors seem determined to press ahead with these disastrous plans despite strong opposition from people in the area. According to Save Southwark Woods, Peckham Rye Ward Councillor Vikki Mills ‘ignored the opposition of more than 1,500 residents in her ward to back these destructive plans’. (More about the Planning Committee’s decision can be found here.)
This Thursday, there will be a by-election in South Camberwell, the ward that council leader Peter John also represents. In the 2014 elections, Southwark Green Party came second in this ward with more votes than the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives combined. We are now calling on voters across the political divide to support our candidate, Eleanor Margolies, who has a strong track record on fighting to protect trees and green spaces in Southwark. A Green vote in South Camberwell is a vote for woodlands, for wildlife and for local democracy.
Words: Tracey Beresford