Yesterday local residents Alison Risby and Tom Druitt from the Save Our Tree campaign aiming to stop the felling of a rare and beautiful elm tree at the Seven Dials roundabout met with senior officials from Brighton & Hove City Council, following the council’s decision to grant a temporary reprieve on work to fell the tree. Here’s my full account of the previous day’s direct action to save the elm tree.
During the meeting the officials gave a formal undertaking not to do any further work on the tree or the railings next to the tree (which are embedded into its roots) during the course of the next week (ending Friday 15th March). During this time the council will explore the alternative ideas that the Save Our Tree campaign put to them. The Save Our Tree campaign will write to the Chair of the Transport Committee requesting the decision on the elm tree to be reviewed by the committee. The council will organise an email address where local residents can voice their concerns over the felling of the elm and will communicate this to the Save Our Elm campaign on Monday 11th March. The two parties will meet again on Friday 15th March to discuss the next stage.
Stephen Hendry, one of the two who have been up in the tree for two days, said, “This is fantastic news. We have won the battle but not yet won the war. I’m looking forward to a hot bath but will be back in the tree if necessary.”
The last couple of days has featured an emergency defence of the tree. It has mobilised local residents and reminded the nation that the spirit that led Brighton to save its elms in the 1960s is still very strong. Now the focus needs to shift. Specifically, we need to:
- contact experts in various disciplines (Wildlife, Highway Engineering, Road Traffic Accidents, Disabilities, et cetera.,), put neutral questions to them, receive their written opinions, present those to the council. (Partisan questions undermine the legal integrity of evidence.)
- Collect more signatures in favour of retaining the elm tree.
- Prepare proper plans to merge the wonderful redesign of the Seven Dials roundabout with a scheme to protect the elm tree (which could be either returning to the original scheme of converting Vernon Terrace to a one way street, closing off the junction between Vernon Terrace and Seven Dials so as to convert the Montpelier Crescent/Vernon Terrace into a cul-de-sac or simply raising by means of subtle ramping the pavement and road around the tree).
This is a big ask in a week, especially since the original consultation took many weeks to complete. I know how to organise all of the above and am ready, willing and able to coordinate the work listed above, if the campaign wishes. I’m sure that we would all prefer not to revisit the entire consultation again but it may be that the extra time afforded to the campaign is insufficient to marshal the evidence required.
Therefore, we must be prepared to go to the High Court in London to apply for judicial review of the entire consultation. Without going into detail now, that would be expensive for the campaigners and also for the council. I’m confident that we could win that case, for reasons which legal wisdom prevents me from detailing here (no point in explaining the legal merits to the council lest it just helps them prepare their defence). At some point this weekend I’ll set up a fund to raise the necessary monies to fight that case. If we win a judicial review case, the council may well be obliged to restart the entire consultation. I imagine that the Transport Committee will prefer to avoid that unnecessary expense and the attendant loss of time to progress their plan to make Seven Dials safer.