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Southwark Green: Mature trees felled in the week of a ‘code red’ warning

This week, Southwark Council felled mature trees in a Peckham park, lumbering on with building plans made decades ago, writes Eleanor Margolies…

Two years after acknowledging the climate emergency, in the week we were given a ‘code red’ warning to take action, did no one in power say – let’s think again?

Jocelyn Street Park (the so-called ‘Flaxyard site’) has been ‘a temporary open public space’ since 1999. That’s exactly how Burgess Park began. Visionary councillors like Jessie Burgess saw that people need space for play, sport, fresh air and rest. Green space is more essential in cities than ever: grass and trees soak up floodwater and cool the air in heatwaves.

Labour councillors obsessed by building seem to ignore the empty homes across the borough. Data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government shows that one in every 24 homes in Southwark was empty in 2020, up an astonishing 600 per cent from 2019. With thousands of council homes awaiting demolition on the Aylesbury Estate, luxury ‘investment’ properties, second homes and thousands of flats listed on Airbnb, the number of homes that have been empty long term in Southwark doubled last year.

Next door, the council still plans to demolish Peckham Arch: a covered public square, sheltering the market and diverse cultural and social activities. The first reason given on the council website is that demolition will ‘permit development’. And having ignored calls to establish Sumner Road as a proper alternative cycle route to relieve the busy Surrey Canal path, they now give the ‘problematic’ cycle route as an excuse to demolish this landmark.

On Rye Lane, the council wants to take away road space that’s currently given over to people walking and using wheelchairs, bikes and buggies. These ‘social distancing measures’ have brought new life, letting people wander freely between shops, lifting the tension caused by crowded pavements. Given the chance, I’d add an electric shuttle service between the station and bus stops for anyone who finds walking difficult, or just to help with heavy shopping. But the council wants to take us back to 2018.

This is a snapshot of council plans for just one neighbourhood of Southwark, in the week we were warned to take emergency action. Do they reflect your hopes for the future?

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