Wandsworth Council has admitted that the cost of felling and replacing a mature avenue of chestnut trees on Tooting Common was in excess of £80,000.
This figure included £21,377 which the Council spent on security measures, including £9,100 on the erection of a 10’ metal wall, £4,274 on the provision of private security staff and guard dogs and £8,003 on parks police.
The total £83,348 figure is almost double the £46,000 grant the Council received from the Heritage Lottery Fund to pay for the replacement of the trees. The purchase cost of the new trees was just £5,824 of the total.
Commenting on the figures, Fleur Anderson, Labour’s Speaker on Community Services, said: “I am shocked. The project cost almost twice what the Council received in funding, meaning that almost £40,000 of tax payers’ money has been spent replacing trees that the community wanted to keep, as witnessed by the 6,500 people who signed the petition asking the Council to rethink. The Committee which voted on the proposals to cut down the trees were told the project would be funded by a grant, not by the tax payer”.
She added : “It has now been confirmed that many of the trees were healthy. The cost of managing the trees that were diseased and did need to be cut down was far less than the extreme measures of cutting them all down”.
According to Candida Jones, Furzedown Labour Councillor: “Quite apart from the waste of public money, what I also find shocking is the Council’s total disconnect from the people it purports to represent. Rather than listening and adapting their plans, the Council literally bulldozed through their proposals, against the wishes of so many residents, and spent over £20,000 ensuring the whole awful business was done behind a 10-foot-high metal wall, protected by guard dogs and private security staff. This isn’t just a Council that doesn’t listen. It’s a Council that treats its residents with contempt”.
A representative of the Save Chestnut Avenue group and local resident, Adam Seymour-Davies, said: “What was the Council so scared of? We met them several times before the felling and they knew us personally. In the event, a small group of us did turn up at the felling, including a local vicar, and we held a peaceful candle-lit vigil at 6:30am, to a backdrop of a van of barking security dogs. As far as I’m concerned the £20,000 the Council spent keeping us away is the cost of failing to engage with residents and is nothing short of gross financial mismanagement”.
Now that the new trees are in place other concerns have been raised by residents, namely:
- The size of the trees. The Council had promised to plant trees that were “approximately 20 foot tall”. The tallest tree planted is approximately 13 foot.
- The budget for maintaining the trees. Only £2,048 of the £80k budget has been allocated to maintaining the new trees.
- The condition of the felled trees. Despite the Council’s repeated claim that the trees were dangerous and despite requests that the Council provide a numbered breakdown of the condition of the trees, no breakdown has been provided.
Mr Seymour-Davies concluded: “This whole sorry affair has left residents feeling like the Council does not listen, cannot be trusted and treats its residents with high-handed suspicion. We have lost our beautiful avenue of trees and nothing can change that. But to learn that £80k of public money was spent doing it has added a large amount of salt to the community’s wounds.”