We have an exciting opportunity to take the Campaign forward. An independent, local engineer has come up with a repair proposal for the footbridge that both retains the oak trees and the main features of the existing historic design. We have shown this proposal to an arboriculturist, a conservation architect and another structural engineer who all agree that it is feasible, of low risk to the trees and meets the Council’s longevity criteria. More than that, we also believe that this design is likely to save tax-payers’ money. This is a positive campaign to fund detailed design work and an independent arboriculturist’s assessment. We do not agree that it is necessary to remove the trees to repair the bridge and urge Southwark to utilise this proposal.
In January 2019 Southwark Council gave itself planning permission to fell two mature, healthy oak trees growing close to the footbridge on Cox’s Walk. This is a footpath running from Dulwich Common on the South Circular A205 to Sydenham Hill, and leading to Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods, a conservation area of ancient woodland. The trees are growing in the Sydenham Hill Wood nature reserve managed by London Wildlife Trust, whose objections to the planning application were overruled (although 14 young oaks were planted as compensation – 2 of which have already died). The Council argued that essential repairs to the footbridge could not be carried out with the trees in place. The public consultation over the removal of these trees was held for two weeks over Christmas 2018.
The loss of these two trees seemed to many of us who love these woods, a high and probably unnecessary price to pay for repairs to the bridge. The trees have a value of over £240,000 as assessed by the Capital Asset Value of Amenity Trees (CAVAT). Their value as wildlife habitats and for carbon sequestration would take many decades for the young trees to replicate. The footbridge was originally built in 1865 to cross the High Level Railway to Crystal Palace, and although repaired and rebuilt many times, retains its main historic features. The railway is long gone and the cutting is now part of the LWT nature reserve. We started a petition, asking the Council to reconsider and to look for alternative repairs that would retain the trees. The petition has over 2,800 signatures.
Recognising the strength of public opinion against felling the trees, the Council obtained two design proposals from its consultants that would repair the bridge and retain the trees. However, it still concluded that they were too expensive and risky, and is currently persisting with its original plan. But Highways has said that it is open to other proposals, and this is what we have the opportunity to present to them now.
What we are crowdfunding to pay for
The independent engineer volunteered his time to produce the outline proposals for the bridge repair. However, more detailed design work is needed to get the proposal to the stage where we can present it to the Council, and we need to recompense him for the time he would need to do this. We also need a full report from the arboriculturist to present as evidence that retaining the trees would not pose a risk to either the work or the trees themselves. We are working in association with the Friends of Gipsy Hill to adminster the project.
What the Community thinks
As well as the petition, which showed the strength of local feeling in favour of retaining the trees, we have also conducted a Survey on how people used Cox’s Walk and the footbridge, and their preferences for its future (the bridge was shut in January because some non-structural timbers supporting the parapet were rotten). This clearly showed that keeping the trees was of paramount importance to over 90% of respondees. Keeping the historic design of the bridge was also important to many. The design we are now proposing achieves both. Please help us to take this forward by donating now.
“We like the trees and we like the bridge…. Do the right thing by keeping the trees and repairing the bridge.”