response to masterplan pt one; did somebody say trees? evidently, we did…

CAVAT Southwark piloted CAVAT in 2008, but massively undervalued the Forest at £700,000 [and held to that figure in to Summer 2011, post Phase 1 demolition and destruction of trees] a figure which only emerged after long campaigning for it and the completion of a People’s CAVAT through winter 2010-11. The latter was directly inspired by a proto Forest School talk by Jim Smith of the Forestry Commission at Balfour Street in October 2010. The People’s CAVAT valued the entire Forest at 18 million, the part valued in the document above [‘the Heygate’] at about £15 million. Urbanforesters do not make cheap points!
Download LL’s CAVAT here;
http://www.elephantandcastle.org.uk/pages/consultation_dialogue/90/elephant_c…
Download Masterplan imagery/boards [caution most of the green around the park is private, two-storey podia; so look hard at and for detail!] here;
http://www.elephantandcastle.org.uk/pages/consultation_dialogue/88/elephant_c…

NB: reposted from original ECUF site [now defunct, content archived] 3 November 2011 with permission of its author.

A first response to the dramatically revised master-plan released by Lend Lease and shaped by MAKE is to celebrate its recognition of the existing place, water-tight case for the trees in the heart of the Forest and the ground that they protect for us all in the form of a much larger ‘public’ park too.

It’s important to celebrate this for what it is -as anyone that has been involved in campaigning on this particular issue [existing trees, the Forest that they are and public welfare values they represent] over the last year or two knows very well. It is both a success for ground-up protest and sustained campaigning and demonstrates that developer and masterplanners not only in the end ‘got it’ but have understood and taken the issue to heart to a significant degree.

Further posts will examine the remaining distance/detail constructively and firmly, but even now it’s important to say that the big strategic effect and shift has occurred. The argument made has been won, accepted, even embraced, so the road ahead ought to involve more cooperation, conversation and effort to extend and optimise what it all means in practice.

Firstly though, again, a deliberate and unreserved hooray!

Secondly again, thanks and acknowledgements where appropriate to all involved.

Thirdly, given the ‘private’ but mostly public demands [they never pretended to be requests!] that this particular urbanforester has made [and which ECUF has been amplifying], of/ before/ to Lend Lease and MAKE face to face, before crowded rooms and in the Forest itself, a quick reckoning needs to be made in the same arena/s. The most recent digest of those demands was given at the EAN Visioning Day in early June and is linked to again below [since it is no longer on the ECUF site]. Specific demands were made at the end and this urbanforester wishes to, in fact must, take responsibility for them honestly now and acknowledge where they’ve been addressed.

So;

1st – Hooray!

2nd – This urbanforester and perhaps others would like to thank those at Lend Lease and at MAKE who have taken on board a series of ideas and arguments to sufficient degree that an original masterplan with no trees, a narrow hard-surfaced strip of ‘park’ and dominated by a grid of new roads with shopping dressed podia everywhere, has now got an actual heart to it in the form of a wide green ‘public’ park, formed around the retention of almost all of the individual trees, clusters of trees and specific peace garden that we’ve been arguing for, walking LA civil servants and political leaders and many others around for some eighteen months -as well as a whole summer season of Saturday Walkers- making the case tree-by-tree vs a road-by-road plan -more or less.

No churlishness though! -and yes there’s more work to do and all of that is vital, but given where things where and where they are now, acknowledgments and thanks are in order and are freely, happily given.

None of us, however, would be here without the following list of names who have helped make the strategic argument to enable its effect as seen in the present master-plan, beginning in April 2010 and worked at exhaustingly ever since.

So this urbanforester thanks Tim Tinker and his team of Borough Architects who planned and planted the Forest, Ron Melville, Sue James [wow!] and TDAG in general [http://www.tdag.org.uk/], Jim Smith [especially warmly], Jenny Jones, Darren Johnson and staff, other GLA, DfL, CLG people who remain anonymous, Valerie Beirne, Keith Moore [BBC], Pat Brown [whom at her earliest involvement gave up significant time to listen to, walk through and convey the arguments, more than once], and then in no particular order; Norma, Celia, Jason, Tom, Jon, Luke, Lili, Jerry, Adrian, Sanna, Mara, Chris, Seeta, and others who know who you are, also Oliver Stutter, Dave Ware [who embraced the argument before our eyes in the months before retiring]. Others listened [Martin Seaton, Darren Merrill, Peter John and let’s credit Fiona Colley here, because we like ‘ladies who are for turning’! Seriously; good for you/her!], eventually came around, attended a presentation/event/talk or walked. Thanks also to Richard Reynolds who largely put together the website, persuaded me finally to take up twitter! as @urbanforesters [until Dec. 2011, content archived] and maintains a Facebook presence.

All are acknowledged but these thanks are directed at specific moments, remarks, forms of direct help or encouragement. They also date to the earliest stages of the campaign which eventually embraced many other wonderful people! You, for example!

The point is that without deliberate and organised protest we would not have been able to persuade MAKE or Lend Lease to take the trees and our Forest seriously enough to so significantly change the masterplan and in particular to scrap the infrastructure of new roads which they’d planned and agreed with Southwark Council to drop on the trees. Protest worked and always will so long as it is strategic and so long as everyone’s investment is clear [ethically open-ended].

3rd – Here is the boring part where this urbanforester has to make a kind of reckoning. The context should not be misread or abused as referring to the belated ongoing consultation which, with respect especially to Soundings who have been so committed to making up for lost time and ground, is only recently begun. All the work and strategic effects achieved with the trees/Forest took place before any consultation process began.

Lend Lease, to their credit, heard the message in no uncertain terms in December 2010 when they first ‘went public’ in owning their role in the Regeneration at the Community Council. To their credit they agreed to a meeting designed to precede their consultative mapping exercise [to make certain that trees/the Forest was the FIRST not the last, as usual, consideration] in the first days of January and listened for hours to the argument [thanks to Rachel Broughton and Susie Wilson]. An argument which LL themselves say they didn’t ‘get’ viscerally until summer, at which point  -in June they say- they set to work to revise the whole thing, starting with recognition of the existing trees at the heart of the Forest. @urbanforesters and certainly many other people wish they’d been more open and trusting with us all about that but we are where we are…

Here follow notes made to give in a workshop on the trees and our Forest on June 4 [along with many other brilliant contributions that day linked here; http://elephantandcastleurbanforest.posterous.com/from-peoples-cavat-to-peoples-consultation-im ]. During the summing-up session, with LL’s Project Director present [much to his credit] amongst others, this urbanforester did specifically make the point that despite a friendly accusation of being ‘obsessed with trees’ the point was and remained an obsession with “strategic effect”; forcing change on the whole masterplan to a significant degree. My judgement was that the trees and Forest gave the community the only really effective tool/lever and means of ensuring that the LA and developer recognise the place and the people of the place, sit down and have to engage in meaningful conversation, partly because the argument was a very strong one, albeit one not yet activated in existing policy elsewhere.

We probably had to set a precedent, but we had the means to do it. So far so good. What happens here at the E&C will [already] influence future urban redevelopments, especially with regard to existing habitats and trees. These are some of the bigger things at stake.

Here follows Did Somebody Say Trees? It’s very basic and was intended as notes but is also very crisp and clear in its argument…

Did Somebody Say Trees? by GM-A [Workshop Paper June 4 Visioning Event]

Of those five points at the end, then;

1. Big issue obviously. Walworth Road; all gone! Heygate Street; north side all but 3 [?] gone, and Balfour Street; no replacements for destroyed trees or those now destined for destruction with 2 remaining made ‘low priority’. Trees on perimeters were perceived to have some value because they act as a screen so a few might have survived anyway. Otherwise, see 4 below on replacements.

2. Success! This was the hardest thing to achieve, as Southwark’s Tree Officer will confirm and as the destruction of all mid-site trees at Phase 1 and ongoing refusal to recognise that fact, underscores. We drew attention to these clusters of woodland, animated them with names and identities as well as CAVAT values in £s and Lend Lease understood in the end what they represent, to the existing place now but also the character that they will give their scheme if retained/enhanced. Good for them; these are good signs which reflect the rightness of the argument but also come with costs, notional and otherwise, for the developer [actually, they win even here, the scheme is improved!]. The regeneration lacked any pretence at ethical substance, here it is -potentially.

3. Walworth Woods. As it stands, 80-100 maturing trees of varying but often perfectly robust condition, will be destroyed, one by one, to make way for big shops [near the bigger shopping centre]. This was always a very likely outcome and, as every Saturday Walker and others know, this urbanforester has long tried to make the case for partial retentions but always knew and said that it would be a difficult case to win. However, all the feedback to the Masterplan so far has alighted on this, the weakest part of the scheme; a massive development wall on a road that needs softening and more not less character.

The well-rooted suggestion, put variously, is to retain clusters, starting at the corner junction of W. Rd and Elephant Rd, a visual link with St Mary’s Churchyard [and enabling the completion of the cycle bypass of the unchanged roundabouts], and then at the two entrances to the main site working southwards. Another is to push back the whole development, widen pavements, and retain a line of 20-30 mostly very healthy large species trees in their own flat ground on the edge of Walworth Road there.

This is achievable and will improve the flawed plans for Walworth High Street too. Lend Lease and MAKE seem to understand this; it should not be too difficult to make these small but significant improvements. This will still mean that scores of trees will be felled, so the next phase of this argument reverts to replacements.

4. Replacements. Having finally concede a need to value the trees according to public welfare and benefits using the nationally recognised mechanism of CAVAT, Lend Lease and MAKE know the argument here. They promise no net loss of trees but early signs are that this does not mean much.

Large species, ecoservice rich, existing canopy-producing trees [big enough to offer shade to buildings too!] must not be destroyed and then replaced with a potted Olive tree, bunches of little Silver Birches, or Bamboos in the middle of a paved area, whatever. Decorative/toy trees like these -and anything planted in a metre or two of soily rubble in podium courtyards] require vast amounts of water forever, will never grow tall and in no sense replace existing trees even if the ratio were 1:6. In any case, let us be absolutely clear: a rich habitat and continuous, maturing canopy already actually exists… There is now a Mayoral commitment to increase such canopy cover by 5% by 2025; a very difficult target to hit.

Since masterplanners and developers have understood these arguments, and presumably employed Grant Associates to take the matter seriously, the issue is easily resolved by the formation of a body and mechanism to ensure that the Community, perhaps in the form of ECUF, with developers, landscape architects and LA if necessary ‘bank’ the value of the existing Forest and together discuss/formulate a Legacy Plan to implement the replacements of what at present are well over 300 maturing trees.

Where these trees will be replaced is essential to agree and priorities are clear;

. Firstly, within/throughout the site.

. Secondly, radiating directly from the site outwards and/or into directly linked streets and neighbourhoods.

. Thirdly, if there are replacements left [and at present the plan is to destroy over 300 big trees, which replacement ratio is between 1 and 6. This urbanforester has suggested replacing a 50 year old tree with a minimum of 3 25-year old large species trees as a reasonable starting point. In financial terms this is an incredible bargain for the developers, more importantly it will enhance their scheme now that it has a heart/focus!] then those must be within the closest possible relation to the site where they presently thrive, and certainly within the Opportunity Area as presently defined. They should be added, one tree at a time, working away from the existing Forest in the direction of the Thames and its directly linked bridges, Burgess Park and so on. So far, there has been talk of off-setting these trees in East Walworth by replacing them somewhere-anywhere in Southwark -as if they were confetti, or ‘affordable housing’ [see Eon/ Eileen House schemes]. The answer to that is a categorical NO.

5. Legacy. A Forest Bank or similar needs to be described, established and covenanted or made integral to the Outline Masterplan Application due at present to be submitted as early as March 1st.

At present the site is an actual existing Urban Forest, unique in London, especially unique in Zone 1 -which it straddles. To lose a single tree deliberately is outrageous. One day [perhaps in the lifetime of this scheme, i.e. before 2025] such destruction will be criminalised. Until then, developers and masterplanners, even congratulated heartily and genuinely here, need to take their understanding just a couple of steps further. They do need to try to understand how repellent the idea of destroying any of these trees is to the entire community and in more abstract terms to the broader central London area. It is an outrage and no nice words will make up of for it. The question is what to do. It seems a very simple thing to agree to take this extremely seriously and invest the potential ethics in process as well as outcomes.

That requires that every tree in receipt of a death sentence is seriously examined by all of us, one by one, case by case. The case for the destruction of any, let alone every single tree has not been made and if these plans are to proceed then that case needs to be made. Not sweepingly, not half heartedly and with no more talk of muchaspossible but with honesty, exact and full disclosure of information to hand. If time is tight then slow down. One by one these precious communal resources need to be weighed and if it is agreed that they stand in the way of crucial change, then their value and replacement in all dimensions needs to be fully recognised now, not at some future date.

It is easy to do this, takes a bit of organisation, is not much to ask but would again be a first. What a brilliant precedent ‘green’ Lend Lease have in their power to set! Let’s hope they regard this as an opportunity instead of a burden!

More of this in Part 2 which will offer a broader critique and propose ways ahead now that @urbanforesters believe MAKE and Lend Lease have grasped the issue at the core of this regen; existing place, green infrastructure, public welfare of existing and future residents; our Urban Forest.

So, to a quick tally?

With those caveats, it is still appropriate to take down some of the banners, as it were. This campaign has been about principles and achieving “strategic effect”, it is not an intentional hobby! This urbanforester does not believe that MAKE or Lend Lease in particular think that the job is done. Clearly it is not, but both deserve praise for embracing the issue in this way and urbanforesters are very happy to do that. They, we all, benefit from this change and if it materialises along with a good few additions/ alterations and of course with that legacy of the Forest Bank enshrined [which is not a big deal and signals/offers a mutually beneficial, common pathway ahead] the regeneration will be very significantly better than it was ever going to be.

There are other issues too, sure, all no doubt to be pressed. But what we have achieved between us is a much improved early Masterplan for the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle. We achieved it through focused protest and sustained campaigning, through frozen fingers measuring each and every single tree trunk and canopy in the Forest that everyone else [custodians one and all of public welfare, amenity and property] denied knowing anything about. We achieved it by sheer insistence. We should take pride in that and offer thanks from a position of confidence. Imagine what else we can achieve…
Let’s explicitly imagine making this into the unique regeneration within an Urban Forest that it can be; a real beacon that boldly anticipates and actively shapes the future. And let’s imagine doing it together with all parties to this regeneration; in conversation, engaged, even fierce at times, if necessary, but like adults  with a broadly shared vision if not entirely matching values around tables, drawings, wild and humane legacies, under tree canopy and over tree pits!

2 thoughts on “response to masterplan pt one; did somebody say trees? evidently, we did…

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