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Save Southwark Woods campaigners have today written to all Southwark councillors to highlight fundamental flaws in Southwark’s so-called ‘public consultation’ on burial, back in 2011/2012, and the appalling public engagement process ever since.


Southwark council want to chainsaw 10 acres of Grade 1 woodlands and wooded areas and excavate hundreds of historic graves and memorials, to make way for 4,800 burial plots in Southwark Woods (Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries).


But Southwark’s so-called ‘public consultation’ was so bad, they even carried out an internal Risk Assessment, to see if they would be open to legal challenge for insufficient consultation.


A motion by the Liberal Democrats at next week’s council assembly will call for a proper public consultation on the burial strategy, highlighting fundamental flaws:


•  The ‘consultation’ focused on proposals to develop Honor Oak Recreation Ground


•  It therefore failed to highlight proposals to fell hundreds of trees and destroy 10 acres of Grade 1 woodland – the word ‘trees’ is only mentioned once


•  The majority of respondents to the survey were from Lewisham, as the council targeted its survey at households around Honor Oak Recreation Ground


•  Consultation was not sought with any of Southwark’s religious groups other than Christian (for example, orthodox Muslim or Jewish faiths specifically require burial)


•  Lack of any financial detail or cost benefit analysis on the proposals


•  Lack of any assessment of impacts on social, environmental or economic value


•  Lack of any comparison with alternatives such as Kemnal Park


•  Out-of-date – Southwark has a rapidly rising population and many new residents have moved into the borough since 2012


This is bad enough. But some say the public engagement exercise has been even worse. Since 2012, residents have been trying desperately to get more detailed information on the proposals, including the full extent of the felling of woodland, the impact on its Grade 1 SINC status, or any kind of financial detail on the council’s proposals.


Just before Christmas 2014 in response to public outcry, Southwark put up a poorly advertised mini exhibition – six panels with tiny writing that got 50 attendees – and set a deadline of 9th January for the public to respond. This is over Christmas and New Year when most people’s attention is elsewhere.


Residents set up the campaign to Save Southwark Woods to raise awareness and call for the cemeteries to be declared a 100-acre Nature Reserve (the petition now has over 8,000 signatories). SSW called for a Public Meeting on 11th February, with standing-room only – and the council gave 9 days to respond! When SSW requested an extension to 28 days, the council refused.


Southwark instead set up a so-called ‘stakeholder group’, a fig-leaf after years without proper consultation and only months before planning. The ‘stakeholder group’ has no representation from groups other than Christian, and the newly formed Friends of Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries have serious criticisms of the council-led process.


One member of the Friends’ Group said, “Our severely limited role was brought home to me when I queried why they were ignoring our requests to look into just capping the Area Z rubble. The answer was "because it's not in the strategy.” “


Does this reflect any real attempt by Southwark to engage or listen? Their utterly inadequate ‘public engagement’ process seems to suggest not.


SSW believes Southwark has no public mandate and needs to carry out a properly constituted public consultation relevant to their proposals, with sufficient financial, social and environmental detail and analysis of alternatives for people to be able to respond.


SSW believes Southwark could have a superb double win: declaring Southwark Woods a 100-acre Memorial Park Nature Reserve, to benefit the borough’s health and wellbeing for generations to come, and provide burial for all faiths at a fraction of the cost at Kemnal Park Cemetery, 6 miles from Southwark Woods.


Will they bulldoze public opinion? Or will they start listening to their citizens?


Southwark's Burial Strategy has No Public Mandate

1st July 2015

Southwark Woods, at Camberwell Old Cemetery