Friday, April 27, 2007

"Greens backed tree massacre" (according to Labour Ladywell Rose)

I generally despise tit for tat party political point scoring, and get fed up in council meetings when parties start off on how good Labour/Lib Dem/Tory controlled such and such a borough is, or how low their council tax is compared to Labour/Lib Dem/Tory controlled XYZ. Maybe when Greens control a council, we will end up doing the same, but I'd hope not. In our newsletters, we prefer to focus on our achievements, and if we are critical of other parties, to suggest constructive alternatives. However, having read the Ladywell Labour Rose that came through my door today, I am rising to the bait, gloves are off, and I'm furious at the misrepresentation, if not downright lies it contains.

In brief Labour's leaflet says that Ladywell's Green Councillors "backed a tree slashing programme to cut down 68 trees" in Ladywell Fields. It goes on to say "at a special consultation meeting in Ladywell on 1st February, Green Councillors defied local people and gave their backing to the cutting plan. Thankfully, Council planning officers could see the strength of local feeling and revised the plan so that 31 of the trees were saved and a tree planting programme was increased from 20 to 49. Questions are being asked about why Green councillors are not representing the views of the local people who put them in office and why they are so eager to cut down trees in the park. Local Labour representative Paul Newing, who attended the meeting and backed local residents said: "The behaviour of Green councillors in Ladywell is a long way from the soft and cuddly image they like to portray" [not quite as cuddly as the last Ladywell cllrs, IMHO ;)] "The Greens need to learn that they can't just make up their minds - they should listen to local people. What are councillors for, if not to represent the people in their ward? Labour Action Team Members are keeping a close eye on things in Ladywell and will continue to step in when the Greens decide that they know better than local people."

OK, now for a bit of background info and some facts.
1. The plan to which they refer is the QUERCUS project, which involves £460,000 of EU money being spent on improvements to the north field in Ladywell Fields. The Labour run executive of Lewisham are fully behind the scheme, as reflected in Cllr Susan Wise's comments in this recent press release. The planning application details can be found on Lewisham's planning website.
2. Ladywell Fields are actually in Lewisham Central ward, but as a lot of residents from Ladywell use the fields regularly, we take an active interest in them and Mike has been an active member of Ladywell Fields Users' Group for many years.
3. Ladywell Fields Users' Group and a number of other stakeholders were closely involved throughout the development of the plans for the Quercus Project.
4. When the planning application was submitted, members of Ladywell Society, Ladywell Fields Users' Group and residents were somewhat shocked to find it involved the removal of 68 trees of various species and age, which was not mentioned during earlier consultations. As a result of this, 12 objections were received by the planning department, compared to 3 letters in favour. When there are more than a few objections, it is common practice for the planning department to arrange a public meeting so that residents and applicants can discuss the application further, prior to the application going to a planning committee.
5. The public meeting was arranged for 1st February, which unfortunately clashed with planning committee B, which Mike is on, and the Ladywell Safer Neighbourhoods Panel meeting, which Ute went to, so I was the only one of us able to go to the public meeting on the Ladywell Fields application.
6. A few weeks before the meeting, a planning officer asked me if I would be willing to chair the meeting. I said I could, but wouldn't it be better if one of the Lewisham Central ward councillors chaired it, as it was in their ward. However, none of them could make it to the meeting (probably for perfectly good reasons) so when I got there I found out that I was chairing.
7. 16 people attended the meeting on 1st February, included ex-cllr Paul Newing, who is quoted in the Labour Ladywell Rose. I was careful to remain strictly neutral both as chair and because I am on a planning committee (you can't have made up your mind about an application before it comes to your planning committee, you are expected to keep an open mind).
8. Council officers outlined the application details, including what trees they planned to remove and why they felt it was necessary. There was then time for residents to comment on the scheme, and the vast majority of those who spoke expressed concern about the tree loss. As far as I remember, ex-cllr Paul Newing did not speak at all, either for or against, but another former Labour councillor, Nick Taylor, who is currently chair of Lewisham Environment Trust, made a number of constructive comments.
9. None of those present at the meeting expressed outright opposition to the QUERCUS scheme as a whole, the sticking point was the number of trees earmarked to be cut down. In the hope that a compromise could be reached, it was agreed that officers and objectors would meet at Ladywell Fields the following Saturday and have a walkaround to look at the trees together, and see if any compromise could be reached. 7 residents and 3 officers took part in the walkabout, neither ex-cllr Paul Newing, Vikki Mills (pictured holding a "protect Ladywell trees" placard on the Labour leaflet) or Cllr Edward Mark (Labour councillor for Lewisham Central) attended.
10. After the walkabout, which both sides felt was constructive, a revised plan was submitted which involved 37 trees being removed, rather than 68 and extra replanting so that there would be a net gain of 10 trees. Not all objectors were happy with this, but others felt that a reasonable compromise had been made, and the chair of the Ladywell Fields Users' Group commented that he felt it had resulted in a better scheme overall, as did Lib Dem councillor for Lewisham Central Andrew Milton.
11. The application went to planning committee B on 15th March and was passed. As Mike has been so involved with Ladywell Fields Users group, Ladywell Society and Lewisham Environment Trust over the years, as well as the fact that the company he works for, Envirowork Lewisham had the contract for some of the work for the QUERCUS Project, he withdrew from that part of the meeting and took no part in considering the application.

So, just to clarify, at no time have the Green councillors in Ladywell been pushing for 68 trees to be chopped down in Ladywell Fields and there was no gallant intervention by Paul Newing or, for that matter, the Lewisham Central Labour councillor to save 31 trees from the clutches of evil chain-saw wielding Greens, far from it. At the 1st February meeting, NO Green councillors "defied local opinion and gave their backing to the tree cutting plan"; I was the only one of us at the meeting, and as chair and a planning committee member, I remained strictly neutral.

We have been broadly supportive of a scheme that is likely to improve the north field of Ladywell Fields considerably, as are the Labour Mayor and Cabinet and Andrew Milton, the Lewisham Central councillor who takes an active interest in Ladywell Fields. I think we were all pleased that the council officers listened to local people's concerns at the 1st February public meeting.

Mike is an ecologist by training, has been heavily involved with the Ladywell Fields Users' group for many years and was involved with the QUERCUS project from early stages. He is 100% committed to working to improve Ladywell Fields and has worked closely with officers and LFUG at every stage of the project. Mike knows his stuff on biodiversity, much more than I do, and I'm happy to trust him on these matters. Precisely because of his involvement over the years and his job at Envirowork, he was right to withdraw from the planning meeting for this application.

We recently received a letter from a local couple expressing concern at the "environmental vandalism" they felt was taking place in Ladywell Fields, with shrubbery where song thrushes nest being cut back. Mike was on holiday at this time and as the work had been carried out by the company he worked for, Ute and I thought it best to go and take a look ourselves. A small area of shrubbery had been cleared, but we were assured that the area was checked for birds nests beforehand and no nests from this year were found. I accept this explanation, as does Cllr Susan Wise according to her press release. Envirowork Lewisham are doing great work training up young people for jobs in parks management and conservation work and I have no reason to believe they would be destroying birds nests. I accept that there will be a short-term loss of wildlife habitat and biodiversity while the project is in progress, but I am optimistic than there will be a significant long-term gain, both to wildlife and local residents.

This latest Labour Ladywell Rose is the cheapest, most underhand and most inaccurate bit of political propaganda I've come across in my (admittedly fairly limited) time in politics and Paul Newing should be ashamed of himself. As for the line "What are councillors for, if not to represent the people in their ward?" - exactly - isn't that a lesson the previous Ladywell ward councillors learnt to their expense on election day last year?

Having got that off my chest, I'll now get back to the serious business of representing the views of residents in Ladywell, dealing with casework enquiries, pushing for better youth provision and the countless other things we do as councillors.

Oh, and by the way, the Ladywell Fields Kids Wildlife Club last Saturday, that Green councillors helped to set up, was a huge success, with more than 30 children turning up and all enthusiastically saying they would be back next month.

2 comments:

weggis said...

Brilliant graphic. But I can't imagine the good people of Ladywell being fooled by such tosh.

You have to ask yourself why they did it. Such tactics are often borne out of fear and are mostly recognised as such. yes it was a tad too detailed response. Just grit your teeth and carry on doing what you're doing, that's what is upsetting them.

Sue Luxton said...

Thank you.