As Lewisham Council Spend £1m Guarding the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden from the People of Deptford, Who Will Be Their Tree-Killers?


'Stunning apartments': a reclaimed sign brought to the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden prior to its violent eviction on October 29, 2018 (Photo: Andy Worthington). Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.


A week last Friday, the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign — which I’m part of, and which is trying to save a community garden and a block of council flats in Deptford, in south east London from the wrecking ball of the cynical ‘regeneration’ industry — received some unwelcome, but not entirely unexpected news.

In the High Court, the court of appeals upheld an earlier decision not to accept a judicial review of the ‘regeneration’ plans, which centred on issues relating to the right to light of tenants in a block of flats next to the proposed building site.

In a statement for the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign, I responded by saying, “This is a disappointment, of course, but it doesn’t affect the campaign against the proposed destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and Reginald House. We continue to insist that the garden is too important as a barrier to pollution, and as a communal green space, to be destroyed, and that there is no acceptable reason for a structurally sound block of council flats to be knocked down for new housing that purports to be ‘social housing’ but will actually be at ‘London Affordable Rent’, which, in Lewisham, is 63% higher than social rents.”

I added, “The council — and Peabody, the developer — need to go back to the drawing board, and to come up with new plans that spare the garden and Reginald House and that deliver new homes at genuine social rents.”

Campaigner Andrea Carey Fuller, who had worked closely on the judicial review applications with the campaign’s solicitor, explained why they were so disappointed. “This case has wide implications for all future developments with regard to Councils using the BRE [Building Research Establishment ] Guidelines to properly assess the impact of daylight/sunlight on existing residents, when new developments are proposed”, she said, adding, “The expert who wrote the BRE Guidelines, Dr. Paul Littlefair, agreed that the guidelines had been applied incorrectly in this case — knowledge which was put before the High Court.”

Whilst it seems clear that a ‘right to light’ precedent has been ignored in this case — which, perhaps, indicates a refusal on the part of the courts to fundamentally challenge councils regarding housing developments — most campaigners only ever regarded the judicial review as a delaying tactic, and on that front it succeeded spectacularly, giving us a justification for occupying the garden on August 29, when the council wanted the keys back, after letting us know that they were terminating the “meanwhile use” lease of the garden that had allowed the local community to become so attached to it over the last few years — to add to the many, many local people who remembered the garden and had strong feelings about it, from the 14 years that it existed as the garden of the Tidemill primary school.

Created with input from teachers, pupils and parents in 1998, the garden drew concentric circles on the landscape, and included amphitheatrical elements, a pond in the centre and over 70 trees, including two wonderful Indian bean trees planted when it was created. Across Deptford, untold numbers of children and parents experienced its magic before the school shut in 2012, and guardians then took over the old school site, opening up the garden before they too were evicted, and the local community were given the keys to it — in 2014.

Throughout this period, the council was working on plans to re-develop the site (the school, the garden and the site of the 16 flats of Reginald House), with the housing association Family Mosaic (who later merged with Peabody) and the private developer Sherrygreen Homes, and while doing so they persistently refused to listen to the local community’s requests for the plans to be re-drawn, to spare the garden and the flats.

When the council finally approved the re-development plans in September 2017, the campaign stepped up. More and more local people became involved, and the garden became a thriving autonomous space, where all kinds of free events — music, exhibitions, gardening events — took place. The local community also launched a fundraiser to fund the application for a judicial review, and this was ongoing both when the garden was occupied, and when it was violently evicted two months later, sharpening local opposition to the council’s arrogant disregard not only for the feelings of the local community, but also for the law.

After the news broke about the application for a judicial review being turned down, Cllr. Paul Bell, the Cabinet Member for Housing, suggested to the News Shopper that the council was now “in discussions with developer Peabody to sign the land over, with work planned to start ‘as soon as possible.'”

However, we fail to understand how this is possible. The garden is still full of trees, all of which must be felled for the building work to go ahead. The last time the council tried cutting the trees down, in November, the garden’s defenders rallied immediately, confronting their operatives on the ground, emailing them and leaving messages on their Facebook page, and complaining loudly on social media. One campaigner briefly re-occupied the garden, prompting the police to be called, and one other campaigner, who had been shouting at the tree-fellers and hurling small projectiles into the garden was actually arrested by the police, on the instigation of the bailiffs. His case came to court just last week, and was thrown out by a magistrate who was profoundly unimpressed with the behaviour of the bailiffs, and clearly rather incredulous about the lack of communication between the council ad the bailiffs, and the latter’s apparent lack of understanding that there was a legal challenge in place at the time Artemis began their ill-fated felling of some of the garden’s trees.

Back in November, after our concerted campaign against Artemis, they withdrew from their contract after just two days on site, stating, very publicly, “Artemis Tree Services have heard the voice of the Lewisham people and have decided to remove themselves from the Tidemill Project.”

After we deluged Artemis with complaints, it was clear that they not only understood that a legal challenge against the council’s plans was ongoing, but also that they were responding to the highly-charged atmosphere around the garden, with bailiffs guarding it 24 hours a day, as though it was some kind of a war zone, and with very bad feelings locally — completely unaddressed by the council — regarding the presence of the bailiffs, the endless barking of dogs, the use of floodlights in the garden at night, and the occasional destruction of structures within the garden. In addition, there was wider discontent with the way that the council refused to listen to the local community, and to re-draw their plans, sparing the garden and Reginald House, and either building with greater density on the old school site, or building some of the new homes planned on another site in the borough — perfectly valid options that the council has, sadly, never shown any desire to consider.

With all of this in mind, we wonder, therefore, who Cllr. Bell, the council and Peabody intend to appoint to take up where Artemis left off, as “the voice of the Lewisham people” is as loudly opposed to their plans as was the case back in November — and perhaps even more so now, as it has been revealed that the council has, to date, spent over £1m guarding the garden from the local community.

The ball’s in your court, Lewisham Council — so how do you propose to proceed? We’re watching you very closely.

Poster by Tyler Worthington for a Tidemill benefit gig at the Birds Nest on February 17, 2019.Note: For further information about the wider resistance to Lewisham Council’s lack of accountability and their broken housing development model, see this article by lawyer and activist Franck Magennis for Novara Media, written after we had the first ‘New Cross and Deptford Community Dialogue’ meeting in Deptford on January 28, which was attended by over 70 very engaged local people. You can also check out my archive of articles about the Tidemill campaign here and here.

And if you want to support the campaign, please also come along to the Birds Nest pub on Sunday evening (February 17) for the latest solidarity gig and fundraiser, featuring the theatrical singalong satire of the Commie Faggots, longtime supporters of the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign, Flak Punks, anarcho-tribal punks featuring Tidemill campaigner Roll Rizz on vocals and drums, Berlin-based post-punk electro filth via Das Fluff, and the militant, melodic rock and roots reggae protest music of my band The Four Fathers, who are also longtime supporters of the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign. Entry is free, but, if you do come along, please make a donation to support the campaign!

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

6 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, providing a round-up of the latest news regarding Save Reginald Save Tidemill, the ongoing campaign to try to save a community garden and a block of council flats in Deptford from destruction by Lewisham Council and the developer Peabody as part of the cynical juggernaut of the ‘regeneration’ industry. After our two-month occupation of the garden, and its violent eviction at the end of October, we were waiting to hear whether the last legal avenue open to us would be successful. This was an appeal against a High Court decision not to accept a judicial review into an aspect of the proposed development that involved the ‘right to light’ of a neighbouring block of flats.

    The most significant recent news is that our appeal was turned down a week last Friday, but we remain committed to stopping the development, because, as I describe it, “the garden is too important as a barrier to pollution, and as a communal green space, to be destroyed, and that there is no acceptable reason for a structurally sound block of council flats to be knocked down for new housing that purports to be ‘social housing’ but will actually be at ‘London Affordable Rent’, which, in Lewisham, is 63% higher than social rents.”

    Crucially, the council now has to find a way to employ a tree services company to cut down all the trees in the garden so that their proposed development can proceed – but, to be honest, we have no idea how they intend to do that, because the first company that they employed, Artemis, who came to the garden in November to begin cutting down trees, very publicly resigned after we deluged them with criticism. The legal avenue may have been shut off, but morally, socially and environmentally, we still have the upper hand, and we’re watching the council very closely indeed.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    An interesting comment about Peabody on a thread on Facebook, via Gordon Breingan, who says, “Peabody had a turnover of £609 million in the last year; its profit (or ‘surplus’) after paying interest to investors was £175 million. That is a profit margin of 29%, massive for any business. And as a charity, Peabody can keep even more of that money, as it doesn’t have to pay corporation tax.”

  3. Damo says...

    The regeneration juggernaut steams ahead nothing stands in its way, it seems that most of these so called labour councils are actually more harmful that torie councils nowadays selling everything that’s not nailed down

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    What’s needed is much more direct action, Damo, but I don’t know if people have the appetite for it, or the vision. All of the profiteering that involves knocking down people’s homes would become such less attractive of those profits were eaten up dealing with people coming with all manner of creative ways to delay or derail developments. And it would be such fun if people did it in significant numbers. The spirit of the M11 Link Road protest all over again!

  5. Dee says...

    Do we know what the local Green Party’s view on this development was? I’d be interested to know if they were actively campaigning against it.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Some campaigners are Green Party members, Dee, and there has been local Green Party support. Also, we had a visit in October from Sian Berry, after I asked her down, followed by a great statement:

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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