Southwark to spend £232,000 fixing footbridge, but campaigners question method and cost

Southwark Council is set to spend close to a quarter of a million pounds on fixing a faulty footbridge, as its budget faces a shortfall of up to £46.8m next year due to coronavirus.

This decision comes as a council official says that “the impact of Covid-19 on our communities and finances cannot be underestimated”.

According to council officials, two 100-year old oak trees obstruct the areas needed for repair on the footbridge, which is located in Sydenham Hill Woods.

Southwark Council has applied for a court injunction to prevent protesters getting in the way of felling the trees.

A decision is expected today, as planning permission to carry on the works expires at midnight.

This decision follows a failed attempt to cut down the trees back earlier this month, when protesters refused to move from the site.

The council says repairs are urgently needed to fix the bridge’s abutments, which provide support beneath either side of the bridge. But campaigners say they have submitted alternative plans for the repairs, which have not been considered properly by the council.

Campaigners have been camping out 24/7 ever since the council announced its intention to proceed with the felling.

Alternative designs rejected

In the summer, the campaigners worked with an engineer and crowdfunded an alternative design which could see the bridge repaired, while keeping the trees intact.

The council claimed the alternative designs would cost twice as much as their own, bringing the total from £232,000 to £484,000.

Campaigners have disputed the council’s calculations, which were carried out by Conway/AECOM, a council contractor responsible for the original design.

The council says the alternative solution submitted by the campaigners would cost almost half a million pounds, but the figures are disputed by the campaigners.

Due to the council’s current financial hardships,  campaigners also proposed a solution where only work necessary for the bridge to re-open would be carried out. The council refused this proposal.

According to Southwark Council’s most recent budget, prepared in July, “the ‘most-likely’ projected funding gap for planning purposes is £26.2m in 2021-22, but this is in a range of £12.8m best case to £46.8m in the worst case.”

Council ‘paying lip service’

Campaigners claim the council is “paying lip service” to their environmental commitments, after declaring a climate emergency in March 2019.

According to the campaigners, Southwark Cllr Andy Simmons said that “the comments received from the campaign group are a relatively small minority of the views that I’ve received overall.”

This statement was released as more than 6,000 signatures were collected for an online petition asking the council to reconsider felling the trees.

6,000 signatures received
Campaigners have gained more than 6,000 signatures, but say the council is not open to dialogue.

Southwark Council released a statement saying: “We know the closure has been disruptive for local people but we promised local campaigners that we would explore every option.

We have now explored all options to preserve the trees, and have taken external advice, but unfortunately removing the trees is the only option.

The trees will be replaced with 15 oak trees which have already been planted, and to include two new, large oaks to be planted at locations to be decided by the London Wildlife Trust (LWT), ideally as close to the current location of the oaks as possible.”

Campaigners however, feel that the council has not explored all options to preserve the trees.

Campaign leader Pennie said that the trees, which stand on council land, are not likely to be saved. In an interview she admitted that as it’s the council who wants them cut, their chances of success are slim.