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Yesterday, SSW withdrew from the Church Court hearing under threat of being charged tens of thousands of pounds in Southwark Council’s legal costs.
SSW is fighting the UK’s multi-billion pound burial industry which wants to dig up or mound over every old grave to sell off as ‘new’ burial plots, destroying hundreds of thousands of graves and potentially hundreds of acres of inner city woods in the process.
The Church of England is one of its biggest players.
Southwark Council has applied to the Diocese of Southwark for permission to cut down two acres of woods in Camberwell Old Cemetery to mound over 48,000 graves for 750 ‘new’ burial plots, and fell up to sixty trees in Camberwell New Cemetery on historic One Tree Hill for 145 plots.
SSW became a party to the Church Hearings into Southwark Council’s applications, to argue against the destruction.
But at the preliminary Hearing last week, the Church Court told SSW if they wanted to even MENTION why acres of woods should not be cut down, they would very likely be hit with Southwark’s legal costs.
SSW yesterday wrote to Philip Petchey, the Diocese of Southwark’s Consistory Court Chancellor, stating SSW could not continue under such a huge financial threat.
In January, the Chancellor told SSW it was extremely unlikely they would be liable for any of Southwark’s costs if they argued to save the trees. Now he has said in fact it would be extremely likely.
The Diocese called a Hearing into the Council’s applications when SSW and over 800 residents wrote to object to Southwark’s devastating plans.
“We met with the Diocese in January to warn them Southwark Council was about to cut down hundreds of trees on consecrated ground without Church permission” said SSW Chair Blanche Cameron.
"We pleaded with the Chancellor to issue an injunction. The Chancellor rejected the request, instead writing to Southwark for more information. Four days later, Southwark went ahead and cut down two acres of woods.”
“Awarding Southwark Council’s huge legal costs against a small community group would be absurd. The Diocese should have thanked us for bringing the imminent destruction to their attention in January. Instead they did nothing to stop it.”
“Now we are in the ridiculous situation of the Church holding a Hearing to decide whether to give Southwark permission to cut down the trees they have already felled. And we can’t mention the trees in court.”
The Diocese of Southwark’s environment policy ‘Taking Care of God’s Creation’ promises to show "renewed respect and reverence for the natural world”.
But the failure by the Diocese to even allow mention of the value of trees in this hearing appears to make a mockery of this policy. The Diocese’s Consistory Court says it ‘has no powers’ to stop the destruction.
“This is a blow for woods, trees and nature and all the health, wellbeing and climate change benefits they bring us. It is also a blow to the consecrated graves and memorials and a blow to the families who have loved ones and ancestors buried in the Camberwell Cemeteries.”
The eight hundred objections including SSW’s will stand, but SSW refuses to be a party to a Church Court that cannot and will not defend nature.
The Diocese of Southwark’s Consistory Court Hearing into Southwark’s applications will be public and is set for 26th September. SSW will be attending to witness and monitor the hearing and its outcome - that won’t mention the trees.
Ten more acres of woods are still under threat from Southwark Council, not to mention tens of thousands of graves and memorials.
Save Southwark Woods Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries will fight on.
Save the Heritage and Beauty of Britain's Cemeteries
Skull and bones in full view dug up by Southwark Council in Camberwell Old Cemetery 2008. Image courtesy of South London Press, read article here...
Two acres of woods felled without Church permission in February at Camberwell Old Cemetery
Letter from Save Southwark Woods Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries to Diocese of Southwark's Chancellor Philip Petchey:
26th May 2016
Dear Chancellor Petchey,
Withdrawal as a Party to the Proceedings
This is to notify you that we are withdrawing as a party to the proceedings for the hearing into Southwark Council’s application for faculties which involve cutting down two acres of woods in Camberwell Old Cemetery (already carried out without your permission) and as many as sixty trees in Camberwell New Cemetery on historic One Tree Hill.
Southwark Council yesterday confirmed via their barrister to Charles Streeten they will not pursue us for costs if we withdraw as a party to the proceedings. I have copied in Southwark Council.
The reasons for our withdrawal as a party on behalf of Save Southwark Woods are as follows:
Firstly, at the Directions Hearing on 16th May you indicated that if we did wish to defend the woods and trees at the Hearing, it would be likely that Southwark Council’s legal costs would be awarded against us. This goes against what we were led to believe from our meeting with you on 27th January, when you indicated this would be extremely unlikely.
Secondly, you also mentioned that if we fail to convince you that Southwark’s actions must be stopped due to the desecration of graves we may still be liable for Southwark Council’s legal costs.
We are a small, unincorporated community group without the funds to take such a risk. We represent thousands of Southwark residents. But you have told us we cannot defend the woods and trees, graves and memorials in this case in the Diocese of Southwark’s Consistory Court without potentially incurring a huge financial penalty.
Please note we are not withdrawing our objections to Southwark’s plans which are offensive to so many people on so many levels. Please confirm that our objections and the objections of eight hundred residents will be taken into account at the Hearing in September.
We will be monitoring the Hearing closely.