Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Shame: a local winter's tale

Following so much Palermitan arboreal profusion, here's a footnote about leaner times back home. The trees are down that we fought so hard to save. This is a local issue tied to the still-beautiful but constantly despoiled square in which I live. Yet for me the larger picture of which it is only a part gives quite an insight into power and how reluctant people are to relinquish it - namely one of our residents who presumably started out with the best of intentions back in the 1980s and still holds a key position after all these years.

That larger picture includes the destruction of a thriving ecosystem in our back yard, set up more than two decades ago by the delightful ladies who used to live in the two flats downstairs - flowerbeds,trellissing and a small pond among the features. 

I tended it when they moved away. It was uprooted lock, stock and barrel when the 'common parts' needed repaving. Difficult to say how much damage the resulting stress caused (though I think I know). The big picture also includes the removal of a huge diversity of plants in our front gardens, replaced with ugly, low-level shrubbery that's sterile for bees or other wildlife. Other horrors have included mid-May tree-pruning and the unadvertised devastation of another little garden patch I used to manage on the other side of the Gardens (this peony was one of the transplants).

It was a legacy from the late and avidly campaigning Barry Rutson - whose widow Stella still joins the fight (she's second from the right in the Normand Park shots below, taken before the chop by fellow neighbour and professional photographer Rowena Chowdrey). It was bulldozered to make way for building storage and rubbish.

Those of us who campaign can never win so long as the majority which lives in the 250 flats here remains apathetic and the rule of one vote per flat owner means that the absentee landlords can always hold sway. There are too many transient residents, too many rentees afraid of their renters' reaction (a multiple flat owner sits on the board, even though he doesn't live here). A residents' association until recently strongly linked to the managing board didn't help either. Anyway, some two dozen of us fought in this case, ultimately in vain, and for the record I lay out the facts as I tried to state them clearly as background for the brief report in the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle.

On 19 June 2009 residents received a letter from the management enclosed with the service charge bill informing them that the 24 black poplar trees behind the garages on the south side of the estate were to be felled, because they were causing subsidence to the prefabricated garages.The reason given was to protect our insurance policy with Norwich Aviva re the garages, which we were told the company refused to insure against subsidence unless the trees were removed. 

We asked for evidence on this. We were not satisfied with the documentation. Hammersmith and Fulham Council took up the issue on our behalf. They also were not satisfied with the answer, which is why they issued a temporary tree preservation order in September 2009. Our documentation had included a petition of 500 signatures, including those not just of QCG [Queen's Club Gardens] residents but also of local people who use Normand Park.

From the correspondence advertising that intention on the residents’ website, the Board would surely have known about it when the Tree Company started felling the trees on 21 September 2009, even if they had not received the order officially. Six trees were lost before the order was served on the spot
[hence the gap in the row of teeth below].

 On 29 September the management denied access to the council’s attempts to hand-deliver to residents notification of the temporary TPO on 29 September. It did this on the grounds that it was inaccurate to state the gap can be seen from Normand Park (any photograph will tell the opposite story [and the one below does]). A letter from an arbicultural officer of H&F council backs up the details in the attached Doc. 1.

Some of the garages were/are owned by members of the QCG Residents’ Assocation committee, closely linked at least at the time to the Board, with one member owning several and the Residents’ Association itself leasing out another (the reason behind this was never clarified). Their concern was understandable; they wanted to see their property protected. Not all garage owners, however, are convinced of the necessity for the trees' removal

The relatively low number of garage owners is charged through a separate service charge. The general service charge, however, lands the costs for tree removal with all of us. It could be argued that the trees come with the estate, and should be dealt with by all. The garages, however, do not.

The Tree Preservation Order was made ‘permanent’ on 5 March 2010. In late August/early September 2011 it was revoked on further application from QCG Ltd. My entry pointing out a major discrepancy in the original TPO and the new ‘survey’ is attached as Document 2.

[Contradictory quotations from the official TPO report and the later revocation report:

Original, section 5.15: ‘The Council’s Principal Arboricultural Officer has stated that the trees are middle aged specimens and appear to be in good condition. The trees are some of the largest in the immediate vicinity and are regarded as making a positive contribution to amenity within the local area and to the setting of the Queen’s Club Gardens Conservation Area. The trees act as a green foil to the surrounding development and have a high degree of amenity value for local residents whose homes surround them, in particular for Queen’s Club Gardens residents whose homes face Normand Park and the rear wall of the Fulham Pools building. Trees within the Tree Preservation Order are visible from the street in Normand Road and from within Normand Park where they form an attractive backdrop to the recently refurbished park. It is considered therefore that the loss of the trees would be detrimental to the visual amenity of the surrounding area, particularly in the light of the lack of conclusive supporting evidence to justify the loss of the trees.'

Now here's the opposite conclusion drawn in the revocation, Inspector John Feldgate's report, section 10, backing up his comment in section 9 that the trees' visibility constitutes 'entirely private rather than public vantage points': 'From the public realm, viewpoints are surprisingly limited. From most of Normand Park, despite the difference in levels, the trees in question are mostly obscured by the pool building, or by the numerous other trees within the park itself [see above photo for the nonsense of this]. From the cafĂ©, play area and tennis courts there are partial views, but from none of these areas do the appeal trees appear as an important feature in the context of the park as a whole.. .it seems to me that the trees in question make no more than a minor contribution to the area’s visual amenity.']

We were told that this decision was final so there was nothing more to be done. The felling of the trees is due to go ahead in a few days’ time. Our only option was to make this public through a newspaper article. 

The stand was made, the trees went in February. The F&HC reporter got no further than we did with the council's reasons for tergiversation. Leader for Transport and Technical Services, Councillor Victoria Brocklebank-Fowler told him only that 'regrettably the Planning Inspectorate has overruled our decision [to issue a Tree Preservation Order]'. Why? And what good did our belated protests do, asked one disgruntled older resident? They served as a testimony and a memorial for all the hard work put in over the years.An RIP, then, for another bit of natural resource in the city gone for good.

We can only live in the hope that all bad regimes fall in the end. On which note - I like this epitaph the best - Iron Lady, rust in peace.


David Damant said...

I have been on innumerable committees and boards, at home and abroad, and I am convinced of the need for rotation - not too rapid, but regular and unavoidable. At times that will mean that the best person for the job is rotated off, but that will be a small price to pay for a fresh mind or rather more exactly - much more important - the arrival of someone who does not necessarily see the world in the fixed pattern that will always be created in the mind of an established figure

David said...

Wise words as ever, Sir David. The funny thing about our cankerous residential regime is that its members ARE slowly dying off, not that I wish that on anyone. And not that anyone else is willing to take on the fearful busybody's work.

Anyway, I'm relieved you didn't rise to the Thatcher bait. Let's not go there any more.

David Damant said...

Well you cannot both provoke me and cut me off. May I urge you in the bowels of Christ to consider that you may be wrong ( was that that bold bad man, Cromwell?) But we can now leave the your blog

David said...

In the words of a rather more extreme blogger than I consider myself, 'this is not a democracy: my blog, my rules'.

That was rude of me; but I am hiding from the rolling drone of pro and con obsequies as much as I can. All the same, I started it. I think those five words say absolutely all I want to read on the subject. And here are six more: Sic transeunt gloria et superbia mundi.

Later - I have to just add, though (as you see I can't leave well alone, and here's one instance where I'd like to join the Facebook hubbub but WON'T), that Glenda's rhetoric in the House of Commons today was just magnificent. With barely a hesitation, deviation or repetition, the voice just faintly atremble with savage indignation. Remarkable. And I thought we'd written her off on the political front.

Susan Scheid said...

This is tragic. Absentee owners are an anathema. We worry here, too, as the 27 acres behind us (a beautiful forested ridge is what we see), is owned by an absentee couple who are divorced. We looked into it when we were looking to buy our house, remembering the ravages wrought by wrong-minded people on Long Island. Our realtor friend looked at us quizzically, wondering why we'd begin to worry about such things (won't ever happen here, she thought). Well, not long ago a forester knocked on our door to see if we might be amenable to having our driveway used to haul logs (!). It was so ridiculous to contemplate, I barely knew what to say (but managed a clear no). Turns out our absentee owners were thinking to "harvest" their forest of oaks--in other words, denude the land. Nothing has transpired since then, but I think it's only a matter of time.

Susan Scheid said...

In your comments, are you referring to Glenda Jackson? I've wondered from time to time how she fared in that role. What was the issue about which she spoke?

David said...

In a way, that's even more upsetting - the destruction of country oaks, of all trees. I was very struck by a curious book, Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust, about walking; she contrasted our UK network of footpaths and how in America you've either got national parks or precarious, mostly private land where the 'don't walk!' sign usually prevails. Can you campaign or is there nothing to be done if they're the owners?

Yes, Glenda Jackson indeed, railing against the Thatcher years. I'd understood she had been a rather ineffective Labour MP for Hampstead and Highgate, but as a speaker yesterday she was absolutely magnificent. I'm sure this sequence is out there to view on the web, I'll check it out because I'd like to 'keep' it as reference.

David said...

As I thought: just go to YouTube and enter 'Glenda Jackson Thatcher', and a number of versions will pop up. Make sure you plump for the full eight minute speech.

David Damant said...

There is no hope of convincing those who do not realise that Mrs Thatcher brought enormous benefit to those Glenda Jackson thought she ( Mrs T ) was hurting.

David said...

No, none at all.

Colin Dunn said...

I was moved by this. The loss of ecosystems and habitats is very hard to bear. Last year we lost two mature trees in our back garden. One was a hawthorn that gave a home to families of tits (blue, long-tailed and great) and the haws fed the birds during the long winters. The other was a ground elder. Not the most exquisite of trees, it did a similar job to the hawthorn and was a valued presence to the wildlife. Sadly they were removed according to the desires of the freeholder without a jot of consultation. We arrived back from work one evening to find them gone, which left us speechless and enraged.

David said...

Every little tale helps to build a memorial to these (un)natural deaths which are happening all over the world (and, of course, on a far worse scale in the 'developing' part of it). So thanks for that, Colin, and sorry as well as sympathetic to hear it

Susan Scheid said...

I listened. A powerful speech, indeed. The Edu-Mate, as it turns out, had already had it passed to her by our good friend J in London. No question but this speech had to be most welcome by those who experienced the Thatcher era directly and were dismayed by the great dismantling. The parallel for me is the rewriting of history about the Reagan era here. We could have used a speech like this. (I appreciated the Speaker's handling of the alleged point of order, too.)

As I listened, I was particularly horrified to be reminded of how many of the terrible social problems Jackson mentioned are par for the course over here, and without an understanding that it doesn't have to be that way. In the same vein, as to Solnit's observation, yes, it's true, and as there is no established tradition of rights of way, very difficult to change. Organizations exist that try to buy up land and probably to get easements, things like that, though I don't really know what all is involved.

The UK's extensive rights of way are unlike anything I've experienced elsewhere, though you have traveled more widely and may know of other examples. I was shocked when we went to Ireland to realize that rights of way were far less extensive there. I regard the UK as precious goods, in particular, for the ability to walk the land. So many beautiful memory images come to me--strolling across the Dales to the Bronte home, as if we were in that time; a right of way cut through a field of waving wheat. We'll never have anything like it here.

David said...

Don't think I can add anything by way of comment to that, Sue, except that it moved me to read and that you expressed it all so well as ever.

Today I actually found myself in a rage talking to a friend about the Thatcher years on the phone - all those old feelings were rekindled so strongly. And there was I thinking I could detach myself from most of the present rumblings.

wanderer said...

The Glenda Jackson speech had come to me by another source only last night and now, pedaling fast to catch up, I find it referenced here. I will return after a morning's urgent work in the garden before the desperately needed rain arrives.

And what a wonderful obituary you have written for Sir Colin Davis. As if yesterday I remember sitting in those marvelous cheaper (or they used to be) seats immediately behind the conductor at ROH (where a dear friend's mother worked in the box office) and behind the curls I heard my first Ring, twice - first from his mouth and seconds later from the stage. 1980 and I hear and see him still.

David said...

Good to hear from you again, wanderer. It looks as if Glenda's speech is to go down in the annals of history.

As for Sir Colin, in a way I wish I had more vivid individual favourites among his performances, as I did in the case of Sir Charles, but I'm very grateful for much he did at Covent Garden, not least the Zemlinsky double bills. Maybe the Mozart Clemenza stands out among core rep. And the Elgar symphonies on LSO live are wonderful.

David Damant said...

Maybe I could take up Susan's point that "it doesn't have to be that way". [David - this is not about Mrs T !!] In fact we do NOT understand macro-economics.For that we need several decades and another Keynes. The solution of the neo-Keynsians ( poor Keynes) of spending money to put things right can frequently lead to worse problems ( as the UK saw in the seventies, a point recognised by James Callaghan the Labour Prime Minister) Also many of the actions that appear so helpful can have unintended consequencies ( if specific problems are targeted, strains are often seen elsewhere) And the main proof of this is that when governments get things wrong the electorate votes against if the methods were known governments would adopt those methods. This is not an argument for giving up in putting problems right but it is an argument for not assuming that the right moral decisions can easily lead to efficient solutions.

David said...

It's good to have an expert's opinion on a subject I don't pretend to understand at all, and I think we would all be roundly in agreement with everything you say, David. Many thanks.