Stay of execution for tree but council are ‘environmental vandals’
by Andy Tong | 23rd November 2018
MORE than 1,200 people have signed a petition calling on developers Assura to save a tree on the boundary of a new medical centre they are about to build in Tonbridge.
Protesters have labelled Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council ‘environmental vandals’ over the proposed felling of a mature horse chestnut tree on River Lawn Road, saying: “They do not care, they do not listen.”
The campaigners gathered on River Lawn on Friday [November 23] to voice their objections to what they see as the unnecessary loss of the tree – with some of them climbing into the branches to make their point.
Over the weekend, supporters guarded the tree in shifts to keep the momentum going, while hundreds joined forces with the Keep River Lawn Green movement online to voice their support.
The Hartley Morrismen came and performed under the branches on Sunday while they were taking part in the Tonbridge Christmas Festival on the adjacent High Street.
At the start of National Tree Week, local people have also been tweeting employees of Assura to try to obtain their backing, including the Head of Public Affairs Claire Rick. To sign the petition, visit https://www.change.org
The conker tree is one of nine that adorn the public space but it has been scheduled for removal as part of plans to build the new medical centre on the site of the old Teen and Twenty Club.
The premises have been sold to Assura at a discounted rate to ensure that the new GP facility can be built, and development was due to start on November 1.
The works on the super-surgery have been delayed, however. The tree was due to be cut down on Thursday, then Friday, but a stay of execution has been granted by Assura.
Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council [TMBC] have justified the decision on the grounds that the tree is diseased, following an inspection by an arboriculturalist.
But the pressure group Keep River Lawn Green [KRLG], which is trying to stop the sale of the land adjacent to the building, says the tree is healthy and has been providing a cornucopia of conkers for local children this autumn.
Mark Hood, chair of KRLG who was among the protesters, told the Times: “The latest is that the tree fellers came to take the tree and we managed to get here before they did.
“We managed to get into the tree, and they have now left. They have given us assurances they will not take the tree down today but we are not so sure, so we are staying in the tree."
The campaigners stress the damage that removing such stately trees can do to pollution levels in the town, since they are regarded as suppliers of clean air.
And there are fears that when the sale of the adjacent River Lawn area goes through for housing development – which was approved 12 months ago – the remaining chestnuts will also be endangered.
Mr Hood said: “It has provided a marvellous supply of conkers for generations of children in addition to improving the air quality in the second worst polluted area in the borough.”
He quoted the Air Quality Management Area status report for Tonbridge High Street from Vale Road to the Botany.
“Anyone would think that an organism which positively contributes to mental and physical welfare should be safeguarded against destruction instead of being regarded as collateral damage,” said Mr Hood, who is also a member of the borough’s Green Party.
'Its destruction is completely unnecessary.
The architect confirmed that it could be
easily accommodated in the final design'
He argues the architect had agreed that the tree, which is on the boundary of the medical centre site where a fence would be erected, could be saved by tweaking the blueprint for the new building.
“Its destruction is completely unnecessary,” he said. “The architect confirmed that it could be easily accommodated in the final design for the building with a slight alteration to the upper floors.
“Even without a redesign, it is not certain that the tree would not survive the disturbance to its root system.”
He added: “The medical centre is coming and we accept that, we simply want them to leave our tree to enjoy many more seasons to the delight of schoolchildren yet to come.
“Keep River Lawn Green has campaigned to preserve all the trees and the open space in River Lawn Road against the council’s short-sighted sale of its property assets.
“We are devastated to be losing the best loved of all our trees, it will be especially missed by our children in the autumn when they will have nowhere to forage for conkers.”
The sale of River Lawn was passed by TMBC’s six-person Cabinet on October 11 last year without a vote by full council.
The decision followed a several demonstrations, a door-to-door questionnaire and a march down by the High Street by the protesters.
Mr Hood, who is a member of the Barden Residents’ Association added: “Our council has demonstrated its complete indifference to the views of residents.
“Last year they ignored a 450-strong march through the town to save this area and a 3,200 strong petition which we delivered to the Full Council meeting which our representatives also addressed.
“They do not care, they do not listen, they are environmental vandals.”
Local resident Fran Long, who said the tree had also been beneficial when the area around Barden flooded over Christmas 2013.
“There is a feeling among local residents about this tree,” she said. “It is ancient and beautiful, and generations of children have collected the conkers.
“It also helps to prevent flooding. This area flooded in 2013 and they are still going to propose to build on it – obviously the roots suck up water.
“But the real point is that when they had the consultation at the Angel Centre about the medical centre I spoke to the architect.
“The architect said we could quite easily leave that tree – it’s a very minor adjustment. That is particularly irksome.”