Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Update - Chesterfield Tree Clearance/Network Rail Meeting

I am a Whitstable resident, a television scriptwriter/author (for my sins, I
wrote Eastenders for 20 years) and I wanted you to know about a vigorous
campaign being fought in Whitstable by local people to save local trees
earmarked for destruction as part of Network Rail's aggressive tree
clearance programme. There is a public meeting with Network Rail scheduled
for this Thursday (3rd May) at 6.30 at the Whitstable Umbrella Centre in
Oxford Street.



Here is some background information for you:-


Work began here two weeks ago in Belmont Road, Whitstable and later in
Chestfield - where a huge area of trees was lost last week. Crowds forme to
witness, and film, the clearance made by heavy equipment.  However, an
aggressive campaign was fought by people in Cromwell Road, who dissuaded the
contractor from continuing on this site by reporting his company to the
police and the RSPB. (It's the bird breeding season and illegal under the
Wildlife Act 1981 to destroy wild birds, nests or eggs at this time.)


With relentless complaints, not least about the lack of notification about
the work, since there is correct procedure to follow including proper
consultation with residents and the council, (none of which had been
followed as the contractor simply dropped a letter through selected doors
less that 24 hours before the work was scheduled to start,) the residents
managed to get an unusual stay of execution for their own trees - pending a
public meeting at The Umbrella Centre on this Thursday. (Network Rail
initially tried to invite people to a hastily arranged meeting last week but
it was boycotted and, as negotiator for the group at that time, I managed to
get a postponement.)


In the past week we have done, and been given, an enormous amount of
research on Network Rail's policy regarding tree clearance. Network Rail's
own consultants claim their clearance programme will destroy an area the
size of the Forest of Dean. An ecological disaster. There are many groups,
up and down the country locked in battle with Network Rail, but the company
has a strange status and displays a  lack of accountabiliy (eg it is not
under ministerial control). One such group of campaigners, who lost their
own battle last year, together with hundreds of trees in the Grange Park are
of Enfield, have offered us support and are travelling down for the meeting.


So, while we await  the meeting on Thursday, and the full response to the
questions posed to Network Rail's CEO prior to that... everything hangs in
the balance - not just for us in Whitstable but for residents up and down
the country who have lost, and are continuing to lose whole areas of trees
to NR's tree clearance programme - in some instances going back as far as
100 ft from the lines. Hundreds of trees were lost in Grange Park, Enfield
(in fact, to show this, I have a 'presentation' on the Grange Park
devastation I can give you, as well as a message of support from one of
their residents,) and yet, because of the protest, our trees are still
standing - but for how long?


In Whitstable, the posters are up in the windows, there's a website in
place, a mailing list of over 200 names that's growing daily, messages of
support coming in from other groups. Are we going to win the case for the
trees survival? One thing's for sure, even if we don't, it won't be the end
of it, just the beginning. We, like many others, have fallen victim to
Network Rail's strategy of marginalising local communities and their efforts
to organise and engage fairly and effectively with them and we're not
prepared to put up with it.


The potential scale of this trackside clearance project (cost - �15 M per
year to the taxpayer), is a national environmental disaster story.
Behind the technical excuses for clearance work (soil instability caused by
tree roots - evidence disputed by many geotechnic experts - I have a report
to the contrary,) there seems almost to be a hidden agenda here -
preparation for more freight transport? The using up of old budget, plans to
use the land for future development? It all needs further investigation but
Network Rail have been stonewalling their trackside neighbours and MPs for
years. (See Hansard 3/6/2003 Debate on Tree Management Network Rail -
nothing's changed from the situation then).  I wrote to Network Rail's CEO
and was promised a 'full response'  by yesterday but it is yet to arrive.
Many people, including local children, have written to MP, Julian Brazier,
in the past week - as well as to the national press. The campaign has
snowballed due to 'click activism' - a story in itself!


So... will the consultation on Thursday be an opportunity for dialogue and
compromise? Or will the chainsaws be ready to start up again early next
morning? One of the contractor's workmen was seen doing a 'bird study' among
the trees only yesterday afternoon. 'What qualifications have you got to
make an assessment of breeding species at this time?" asked one concerned
neighbour. The tree feller replied. "I've got birds in my garden." That says
everything you need to know about Network Rail's environmental policies.



I am attaching a press release that went out yesterday - to Ferrari, who
want to cover the story - and others. Both Kent Messenger and KRN newspapers
are doing stories this week.  The press release is written as an article,
has all the salient facts and makes the point that the protests taking place
up and down the country against NR's tree clearances seem to be viewed by
the press only as local stories. No-one in Fleet Street seems yet to have
joined up all the dots to form a bigger national picture - and a great
story!


Please give us your support - the meeting has significance for

- anyone living near a railway embankment


- anyone concerned about the loss of trees and wildlife corridors for bird
and animal species


- the lack of accountability from a company that owes its continued
existence to the taxpayer. Network Rail's current debt to us - is �24.5 B
billion. (closing debt at 2010 - 2011)


Please contact me for more info.


Julie Wassmer
36 Cromwell Road
Whitstable Kent CT5 1NW
01227 266910 (Mob) 07400 926053