Southwark speaks out – campaigners reply
As a committed open space campaigner, it would be transparent hypocrisy of me were I to pretend that I am an unbiased editor. I believe that Southwark, which has allowed a library project to collide with a long-term food growing and biodiversity project has de facto mismanaged the situation.
After World War II, the library was set up in emergency accomodation in shops in Camberwell Church Street. The powers that be have had nearly seven decades to come up with a better plan. The answer to the problem of having the childrens’ section in a windowless basement isn’t to remove some of the childrens’ green space, particularly green space which has stood as a vital symbol of how children themselves can make a difference to their environment and leave a lasting legacy.
Also, Southwark’s claim that we are going to get more biodiversity by beefing up an existing reserve (which Southwark could have done anyway) fails to understand the fact that biodiversity depends on the way that the landscape works for wildlife. If wildlife can’t have continuous corridors (impractical in a densely built up area), it can be helped by having sites like the Orchard as stepping stones.
Dr. Martin Heath, Friends of Belair Park.
The following exchange has been reproduced unedited from emails.
From Councillor Veronica Ward (London Borough of Southwark):
Dear Friends of Belair Park,
Thank you for all your e mails. Firstly In relation to suggestion that Southwark is seeking the erosion of green space, can I refer you to the Councils Open Spaces Strategy. Here is a link:
The Council takes seriously the need to keep our open green spaces and the decision to build the library in this space has not been made lightly. The Council will be consulting on the planting of the space around the library and I will ensure that this is forwarded to you when the proposal is finalised. Unfortunately we are not able to build on the other side of the forecourt area in front of the Magistrates Court as below that area there is a car park, drains etc for the Magistrates Court. The tree and biodiversity officers put together a report for the Planning Committee considering the Camberwell Library application. Their report concluded that the trees are not of a quality for which a case can be made for preservation and there are no features on the site which must be preserved. Please will you seriously consider the point that these officers fight to keep trees in our Borough. Surprisingly a number of residents are always asking for trees to be cut because they say they cause subsidence to their house, cut out light etc. If the trees are to be preserved or have a Tree Preservation order on them already our officers fight to keep them. So for these officers to say these trees are not of a quality, I really do believe them and I would urge you if you doubt my word to speak to the Tree Department yourself about the quality of the trees.
The Council has made a commitment to increase planting in the whole space around the Green so that what is lost is replaced with more. Please note that a nature park in Benhill Road is being developed and there are plans to create green links between the library area and Camberwell Green through to Burgess Park. John Kissi the Council’s flood defences officer has also put in a bid for green streets in this area linked to flood alleviation work.
Jenny Jones heard again about the alternative sites that might be available for a Library. Can I reiterate, Southwark owns very little land in Camberwell and therefore does not have options on where to build the Library. The sites quoted are not available for a Library building and never have been.
The Leisure Centre Car Park: this would require a sizeable building to fill a space at the back of shops and dwellings and this would not be be acceptable as far as the Planning Department is concerned. The Planning Department is disconnected from Council decision making for obvious reasons so other departments may want to or consider a site but if it is not considered suitable
by the Planning Department then another Department cannot overrule that Again if you need confirmation I would urge everyone to contact the Planning Department themselves to confirm this position.
The Job Centre Development: This is a private development 272 -274 Camberwell Road and Medlar Street and 286- 304 Camberwell Road. Our systems are showing that there have been several planning applications in for this site and currently 13/AP/1213 is showing as not yet decided. The Council would however be subject to commercial rent for anything that is built.
This has no prospect of providing a Library building at the present time. I can only reiterate that a has promised a library elsewhere in the Borough.
The Camberwell Police Station: if it was available the Council would still have to pay several million for the site and more millions to build because present building is totally unsuitable. It is also unsuitable as a police station but with the changes to policing arrangements in Southwark, Camberwell Police station has become the centre of operations for the south of the Borough. What ever we may think about the unsuitablility of the building for policing and the unsuitablility of the station to serve the south of the Borough, this building has a new role as a police HQ and is therefore not available for a Library.
The closed road at the rear of Butterfly Walk: is a Highway. I am sure everyone will understand that closing a highway is not an option even though it is presently blocked off and has trees planted in it. Again please approach the Highways Department is you want confirmation of this.
Various other brownfield sites: since the Council owns little land in Camberwell the Council would have to buy a site. Even if the Council could go through this process, it would be many years before Camberwell would have a new Library.
I need to reiterate the situation of the present Camberwell Library. It is in three rented shops opened as an emergency Library after the war. The building is now very poor and deteriorating space. All previous Councils have been very slow to revitalise Camberwell is my comment on the time it has taken. This Council does not want to wait any longer. Adequate access to IT with the benefit changes many people are suffering and access to information about training and work is a must for all our Libraries. Study space is also very important. The residents of Camberwell are looking forward to a decent childrens LIbrary which is attractive and welcoming. We need public space for meetings and information points which we will be providing in the new Library.
As a resident of Camberwell for the past 40 years I am confident when I say that the residents of Camberwell want the new Library. They may not have answered a consultation document or a questionnaire. The Library will also create links to the regenerated Elmington estate and improve the layout of the centre of Camberwell as a whole. This administration made a commitment to improve Camberwell when we came into power in May 2010.
Councillor Veronica Ward,
Labour member for South Camberwell,
Cabinet member for Culture, Leisure,Sport, Olympic Legacy and Volunteering.
Save Camberwell Green Orchard campaign group response:
Dear Friends of Belair Park,
Many thanks for allowing us to respond to the letter from Cllr Ward re Southwark Council’s proposed bulldozing of Camberwell Green Community Orchard to build a new library.
The councillor’s statement is truly alarming as it means that in future when the council wishes to build a new community facility, it will build first on our precious open spaces rather than using existing buildings or brown-field sites. The proposed bulldozing therefore of Camberwell Green Orchard is an attack on ALL of Southwark’s open spaces, including Belair Park.
The councillor says they think long and hard before bulldozing mature trees. However in the last two years alone they have agreed to bulldoze nearly 2,000 mature trees across the centre of the borough including two other community woodlands and the Heygate and Aylesbury urban forests.
The councillor insists that the orchard is the only place a new library can be built despite the fact that Camberwell Green is full of vacant brown-field sites. The council is proposing to spend £11 million on tarting up Camberwell Green by the next election so they have the funds to buy a brown-field site on the Green for the library.
The councillor rightly says there are proposals to link Camberwell Green with Burgess Park in a green-chain walk but fails to tell the Friends that the location of the proposed library would be actually built on this proposed walk and so seriously sabotaging it.
National Planning Guidance says that if a council builds on open space, they have to provide an equal and alternative site instead. Not a single square meter of open space is being provided by the council, they instead suggest planting a few trees in Camberwell Green will suffice for the loss of the precious semi-natural orchard.
The council’s own expensively commissioned Open Spaces Strategy identifies Camberwell Green as one of the areas in the borough most in need of additional open space. To then propose to build on Camberwell Green itself, (the orchard is part of the remit of the Friends of Camberwell
Green) makes a mockery of the strategy.
The councillor finishes her letter by saying that despite their own surveys showing a two to one majority opposing the building of the library on Camberwell Green, she says she is “confident” local people want it built there. This undermines ALL council consultations if a councillor’s intuition rather than the actual facts dictate the outcome. The Friends of Camberwell Green, the Wells Way RTA, the Friends of the Earth, Peoples Republic of Southwark, Save Camberwell Green Orchard Campaign, numerous members of SE5 Forum and members of the Camberwell Society and over 200 local residents all oppose building the library on the orchard. Not a single resident wrote or spoke in favour of the proposal at the planning meeting.
The council has the money to buy a building or brown-field site by the Green. It is possible to have a win:win outcome for future generations. Build an eco-friendly library and protect our last precious open space in the heart of Camberwell.
To get in touch with the campaign to save this green gem, email
Or join us on Facebook – Save Camberwell Green Community Orchard Campaign
A whole plethora of campaign events are being planned over the summer – so do get in touch.