Footbridge Oaks to be felled next week as campaigners appeal for more time to explore ‘viable alternative’

Katherine Johnston (11 November, 2020)

More than 3,000 people have signed a petition calling on the council to save the trees

40384A banner outside the footbridge on Sunday, November 8, 2020

Two years and a £2,600 fundraiser later, Southwark Council says it cannot save two mature oak trees in Sydenham Hill Wood.

The two-hundred-year-old oaks, which straddle Cox’s footbridge, will be felled early next week. A notice, put around the trees by Southwark Council, explains that despite the decision being a ‘sad day’, Tooley Street and the trust which manages the site is faced with ‘ecological damage’ caused by a walkway that has sprung up in place of the unsafe bridge. It  claims the cost of keeping the trees while structural work is completed is not a fair use of public funds.

The council says felling the trees, completing the repairs, and planting two new oaks in their place will cost £232,000. It claims an alternative plan campaigners have put forward would be more than double; at £482,000.

More than 3,000 people have signed a petition, set up by Pennie Hedge, calling on the council to save the trees. In a campaign update, Ms Hedge said: “The case for taking them down has not been made. They ignored our arboriculturist report, our engineers’ answers to their questions, our survey of over 160 bridge users and our request for an interim repair.

“At no point did they approach all the work we had done with support from the community Crowdfunder, in a positive way and say ‘let’s see how we can make this work.’

Campaigners say their alternative design is ‘viable’ and would actually increase the longevity of the bridge, as felling could make the land more unstable.

They are calling on the council to buy more time by removing rotten wood and making the balustrade secure, so the bridge can reopen, before doing more detailed work for a repair that protects the two oaks.

But, in an email seen by the News, a senior officer at Tooley Street confirmed the council will press ahead.

“Officers will now work with the London Woodland Trust and key stakeholders to  source two large oak specimens, to be planted in a location just to the north-west of the bridge that will frame Cox’s Walk without compromising the structural integrity of the restored bridge,” the email outlined.

“With correct positioning, robust care and a commitment to provide a maintenance programme, these two large trees will help create a mature canopy at Cox’s Walk comparable to that currently enjoyed, adding to the amenity value, whilst also allowing the council to safely secure the bridge’s future for another 100 years.”

Cllr Catherine Rose, Cabinet Member for Leisure, environment and roads, said: “We regret that after every effort to try and find a way to save this pair of oaks, and repair our historic footbridge, no viable solution has been identified.

“We thank all of those who have attended our meetings and shared their ideas over the last two years. We have investigated many of the suggestions put forward, in addition to employing a contractor to come up with more.

“However, we are working against a number of constraints; the first is our responsibility to spend public funds fairly and wisely. But there is also the risk associated with delaying this scheme for another year and the impact this would have on the woodland.

“We too had hoped to save the oaks, but we will continue to work together with The London Wildlife Trust and campaigners, to plant two new, large oaks and many more trees, in addition to those already agreed.”

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