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Community campaigners Save Southwark Woods have written to Council Leader Peter John asking for him to keep to his promise not to start work at Southwark Woods for thousands of new burial plots.


At a meeting with campaigners on March 25th, Cllr Peter John and Environment Cllr Darren Merrill promised not to carry out any works other than standard scheduled maintenance at the cemeteries, until a formal decision on their future had been made by Council.


Parks & Open Spaces manager Rebecca Towers also promised to provide copies of standard maintenance schedules for 2015, still not received. This was to reassure residents that any works taking place were maintenance and not preparation for development. The council want to clear woodland, fell potentially hundreds of trees and dig up hundreds of old graves.


Save Southwark Woods is calling for the cemeteries to be declared nature reserves and has earned the constitutional right to present its petition to council on July 8th. Until this time, no decision can formally be made, allowing the people’s voices to be heard by their elected representatives.


But campaigners were shocked this week to hear that in fact Southwark had been planning to bring diggers in to start work at Camberwell Old Cemetery on May 7th, General Election Day.


These works were cancelled at the last minute for reasons unknown, but campaigners fear Southwark intends to jump the gun, and have written to Peter John reminding him of his promise.


If the council listens to the thousands calling for the woods to be made nature reserves, these works would be redundant – and also a waste of tax payers’ money.


SSW has also heard there may be two large WW2 bombs or shells in Camberwell Old Cemetery that have not been located and could potentially be lying under the waste tip in Area Z – not an ideal scenario for moving thousands of tonnes of earth and rubble.


Thousands of Southwark residents via online and paper petitions are calling for these cemeteries to be declared nature reserves, with respect for the dead and their memorials, and woodland for the living. Campaigners recently nominated Southwark Woods as Assets of Community Value, under the Localism Act of 2011, to demonstrate their value to local communities.


“These beautiful woodlands and wild green spaces are essential to our communities, for access to wild nature, health and well-being, for reflection, play and education, air quality and summer cooling,” said Kate Slattery, local resident and SSW spokesperson.



SSW’s letter to Council Leader Peter John is as follows:


Dear Peter John,


It has come to our attention that Southwark council had been planning to carry out works at Camberwell Old Cemetery on Area Z this week, in preparation for the potential creation of new burial plots.


We are pleased to have heard that this work, originally planned for today May 7th General Election Day, has been cancelled. We presume this is as a result of your commitment, made to Save Southwark Woods at a meeting of 25th March, that no works will be carried out at either cemetery other than standard scheduled maintenance, until Council has made a formal decision about the strategy.


We attach the transcript from that meeting which includes your commitment as follows:

“We are not going to do any preparatory works for these areas until a final decision has been made.” (Cllr Peter John, page 21)


Cllr Darren Merrill also stated, “We are doing no works in advance.” (page 19) and again on page 21: “I think there’s one thing we can say which is no preparatory work for the areas that we’re looking at here, but there is general maintenance work.”

We presume that constitutionally a final decision cannot be made by the Council, until after we present the petition to Save Southwark Woods to the council on July 8th. Presumably a decision would then be made whether to apply for planning permission or not, after this presentation, presumably at the following Cabinet meeting?


Please confirm whether this is the case?


Please also confirm that your word still stands, and that no works will be carried out until a formal decision has been made democratically by Council.


We are also still waiting for the following information, which you agreed in the meeting to provide:

1.Copies of all standard maintenance and work schedules planned for 2015. (Rebecca Towers: “I shall get our normal maintenance management ones drawn up and we will share that.”)

2.How many people are buried each year, how many come from within Southwark, how many are obligations that the council provides for free, and how many are residents from other boroughs? Please provide figures for the last 20 years to give an idea of the trends, or direct us to documents where these figures are available. (Page 3, Page 16)

3.What works are planned and which companies are currently contracted to carry out works at the cemeteries? (Page 20)

4.Rebecca Towers promised to inform Anne Stanesby about any activity taking place at Camberwell Old Cemetery. We requested information about any works at both cemeteries should also go to Save Southwark Woods to be passed on to a wide body of people. (Page 22) Please confirm this please.


We look forward to receiving your response and also to our previous letter to you of April 30th.

Grade 1 SINC woodland at Camberwell Old Cemetery woods


Will Peter John keep his promise not to start work at Southwark Woods until Council makes its decision?

9th May 2015

1 Cam-Old-Cemetery photo credit Grey Lipley