Saturday, 24 November 2018

Tidemill trees

Since the heavy-handed eviction of Tidemill Garden almost a month ago, the site has been guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week by a workforce of at least 50.

I covered this in my previous blog post, the contents of which came as news to many observers in the wider SE London area who were aware of the eviction but not the ongoing levels of security and associated cost. In the last few days, with fencing now erected around the site, the number may have been reduced but security staff still remain on the public land around the perimeter of the site, and there are guard dogs inside the former garden. With little to do, the dogs spend their days and nights barking - another unnecessary disturbance for neighbours.

There has been no official word on why the eviction took place when it did, given that there is still an ongoing legal procedure. Although the judicial review that campaigners funded was rejected, they are still going through the appeal process. Neither the council nor the developers is permitted to start work on the site until the legal process is complete.

Councillor Joe Dromey claimed on Twitter that the council is paying the cost of security until the appeal is heard, after which developer Peabody will take it on. As far as I am aware there is no specific deadline for the decision to be made, so no-one can predict what this will cost.

If the council really was concerned about the cost of evicting the campaigners and securing the site, why didn’t they wait till the legal process was complete before initiating this expensive procedure? With legal arguments out of the way, if they had been successful they would have been able to come straight in and take possession at minimal cost. Why choose such a provocative course of action?

Cock-up or conspiracy? Evidence certainly favours the latter, with no senior council members or officers willing to stand up and take responsibility for what is going on, and a deafening silence from Lewisham’s elected mayor Damien Egan.

The latest act of provocation from whoever is directing operations at Tidemill was the arrival of tree surgeons on the site last week.
They cut back all the overhanging foliage around the site perimeter, some of it heavy with berries that would have been a valuable food source for local birds this winter, and felled several young trees within the site. A neighbour speaking to the staff doing the work was told that they had also been instructed to fell the larger trees.


But after two days on the site, contractor Artemis Trees announced that they were pulling out of the job, without pay, having found out about the campaign and the backstory to the work they were doing. They were reported as citing ethical reasons for pulling out. 

Once again, official communication from the council on the subject has been nil, other than councillor Joe Dromey attempting to respond to some of the questions on Twitter. He tweeted a copy of a letter from fellow councillor Paul Bell that he said had been sent to residents - but seemingly not to those living opposite the site on Reginald Road. The letter makes no mention of the campaigners' legal action and unresolved appeal, preferring instead to paint them simply as troublesome protestors. 

Dromey also posted a letter that had been received from the bailiffs County Security, in response to complaints about staff covering their faces during the eviction. Eyewitnesses know that the 'skull mask' was not an isolated case - many of those carrying out the eviction covered their faces, and the only 'ID' they carried was a high-viz vest with a number on it. Given that the eviction of any site is potentially a contentious procedure, the council should have been closely involved in scrutinising how the operation was carried out and who was managing it on the day. Someone in authority should have been present to ensure that the procedure was followed to the letter.

Campaigners, neighbours and members of the local Deptford community are genuinely distressed at the utter lack of respect they are being shown by the council. Even if elected officials are not willing to engage with the campaigners, there is an overwhelming case for explaining their actions to the electorate and reassuring local residents that they are following due process.

This week it also came to light  that the council is recruiting an assistant director of strategy and communications to assist the mayor, who as we know is famously heading off in a  'new direction'. 

The job was actually advertised last month and initial interviews were due to be held last week. With Egan's remit officially covering 'planning, emergencies and communications' at least he will have one strand covered. 

"Communicating effectively with our residents is very important for the council," News Shopper's story quotes the council as saying. "Good communications informs and engages residents on all aspects of the council’s work."

Yes of course it does. 

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