Plans to fell a 90-year-old tree have sparked a protest that has seen members of a campaign group sitting in it around the clock to prevent developers from culling it.
A rota of ten people have sat in the horse chestnut in Tonbridge, Kent, for 24 hours a day since tree surgeons initially came to hack it to pieces with chainsaws.
It has been earmarked for destruction as part of the building of a new three-storey ‘super surgery’ medical centre in the commuter town.
A rota of ten people have sat in the horse chestnut in Tonbridge, Kent, for 24 hours a day since tree surgeons initially came to hack it to pieces with chainsaws
But as the site of the town’s annual conker championship, proposals to remove it and donate the carved stump to a local school have caused outrage.
Now the campaign group behind the sit-in has vowed that they will stay there for months – or until they are legally removed – if that is what it takes to save the tree.
As well as having a protestor in the branches 24 hours a day, they also have local businesses and homes that overlook it on a watch system.
Signs read ‘Conkers not Concrete’ and ‘Notice: Public execution…The councillors of Tonbridge and Malling under Mssr Heslop have, with no fair consultation of the community, found this tree GUILTY of obstruction of private profit. It will therefore suffer death by dismemberment at an appointed time in the near future.’
Plans to fell a 90-year-old tree have sparked a protest that has seen members of a campaign group sitting in it around the clock to prevent developers from culling it
The tree was planted by veterans in 1926 when the then Tonbridge Urban District Council bought the land near the river – known as River Lawn – to protect it from development as the town grew.
Now the space is earmarked for a medical centre, which will replace a former community hall, and work was supposed to start on November 1.
Mark Hood, 50, chair of the Keep River Lawn Green (KRLG) campaign group, was high up in the branches when tree surgeons turned up with their chainsaws at 6am last Thursday.
They were forced to leave after several hours when they realised that they would not be able to approach with their equipment.
The tree, pictured, been earmarked for destruction as part of the building of a new three-storey ‘super surgery’ medical centre in the commuter town
Mr Hood said his protest mirrored similar ones across the country designed to make local councils think about the effect of removing trees and bulldozing green space.
And he said that unless people took direct action their towns and villages would be reduced to grey concrete piles.
Mr Hood, a gardener, has taken time off work to organise someone being in the tree 24 hours a day.
He said: ‘We have people here during the night. We also have people who live across the road and I live around the corner. We are keeping an eye on it all the time – it’s a 24-hour sit-in.
As the site of the local conker championships, proposals to remove it and donate the carved stump to a local school have caused outrage.
‘I’m not exactly the new Swampy. We just want to ensure that our children have somewhere to collect conkers next year and somewhere to enjoy the candelabras. It’s incredibly pretty in the spring.
‘We have to make a stand or they will keep taking.’
He added: ‘The whole site was bought in 1926 by the Tonbridge and District Council to stop development and they planted the trees here then, but our current council have very different ideas.
‘They are going to build on the green space here as well as allowing the medical centre.
Now the campaign group behind the sit-in has vowed that they will stay there for months – or until they are legally removed – if that is what it takes to save the tree
‘Everyone is resigned to the medical centre – it’s a missed opportunity on the part of the council – but at least it’s a community use. But we really object to building on the remaining grass and trees.
‘Kids have picked the conkers for decades here. My mum and dad had a flat adjacent to the green and I used to come out here looking for conkers when I was a child.’
Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council – led by councillor Nicolas Heslop – granted permission for the medical centre in March and it will be built by healthcare real estate trust Assura.
They will then lease it to Tonbridge Medical Group.
It will employ 30 full time staff and amalgamate two of the town’s current surgeries, boosting capacity from 150 12-minute appointments a day to 225 as the population increases.
The council’s cabinet also voted to sell off the River Lawn site despite several demonstrations and a 450-strong march through the town.
Protestors say the site for the GP surgery is wrong and plans for flats nearby would damage the area’s leafy outlook.
At the weekend the local Hartley Morris Men danced underneath the branches – where above another protester had climbed.
Council bosses believe the tree is diseased and removing it is a safety issue – but locals disagree
Jade Langridge, 46, has also been taking it in turns to spend hours up the tree. He said: ‘We are taking turns and we have loads and loads of support.
‘Local people have been bringing us food and nearby cafes have provided tea. They’d only have to move the design six inches or so to save this tree.
‘But this is going on in towns across the country and people need to take a stand.
‘I’m not so bothered about the political side of things – I’m just a man who cares for the tree. We will be here until they legally remove us.’
Danny Eisawy, nine, has also protested with his brother Jojo, seven. Their mum, Charlotte Raveney, 42, who works in publishing, said the pair were determined to save their favourite tree.
She said: ‘They’ve been involved from the start. There was a moment last week when they thought it was going to get chopped down and they both ran off after school and held a protest there.
‘We just want the council to listen.’
Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council – led by Cllr Nicolas Heslop – granted permission for the medical centre in March and it will be built by healthcare real estate trust Assura
Assura is a British-based property business with its headquarters in Warrington, Cheshire.
It designs and builds, invests in and manages GP and primary care buildings. In the six months to September, it posted profits of £37.4m and has a £1.8bn property portfolio.
Bosses believe the tree is diseased and removing it is a safety issue.
A spokesman said: ‘At the very earliest stages of this project, we explored with the council planning team and independent experts all possible options for working around the tree and if there had been a solution, we would have supported it – removing a tree is never a decision which is taken lightly.
‘The tree has bleeding canker and so there is a high risk of it becoming unstable when foundations are laid for the new medical centre – creating a safety issue for patients, staff and the wider public.
‘The council approved its removal based on an independent arboricultural report and after taking their own specialist advice, as detailed in the planning officer’s report. We’re keen to find a new place for the trunk in the community for the future, and are exploring options for this.’
Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council did not wish to comment.