Lewisham Council Still Mired in Controversy Six Months After the Violent Eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford

29.4.19

A photo taken during the violent eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford on October 29, 2018 (Photo: Harriet Vickers).

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Exactly six months ago, the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, a beautiful community space and environmental asset, which had been occupied for two months by members of the local community (the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign) to prevent its destruction by Lewisham Council for a housing scheme, was violently evicted by bailiffs working for the notoriously aggressive — and, historically, union-busting — company County Enforcement.

The garden was part of the old Tidemill primary school, which closed in 2012 and moved to a new site nearby, and the council’s plans are to hand over the site to the housing association Peabody to build new housing for sale on the old school site, and housing for rent or shared ownership where the garden stood, and where Reginald House, a block of 16 council flats, still stands. 

The garden, sadly, was completely destroyed two months ago, by SDL Services, a tree services company from Gloucestershire — in the same week that the council, with no sense of shame or irony, declared a climate emergency! — but building work has still not begun, and campaigners are still calling for the scheme to be scrapped, and for a new plan to be created with the local community, which reinstates the garden and saves Reginald House.

In the meantime, the council has not been winning hearts and minds. The eviction, which involved 130 bailiffs, protected by dozens of police, cost over a million pounds, and the council has since spent at least another half a million pounds guarding the empty garden from the local community. After much criticism, County Enforcement were eventually removed from Tidemill, but they remain employed elsewhere in the borough, and, at Tidemill, tens of thousands of pounds a week is still being spent on guards from a new company, whose identity has not been disclosed. 

In addition, the council has spent over a million pounds to have the old Tidemill school site next to the garden guarded 24 hours a day over the last few years, meaning that, in total, the council has spent at least two and a half million pounds at Tidemill with nothing to show for it.

Moreover, although, in March, the council confidently went to Bromley County Court to seek possession of the green next to the garden (which is also intended to be part of the building site), under sweeping legislation that prohibits illegal encampments, and is aimed at the homeless, they failed to recognise that it was actually a protest camp, and that therefore those involved in it — continuing the campaign that involved the occupation of the garden — were able to claim that the camp’s existence should be protected under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. 

A court date has been set for May 23, when the council’s lawyers, and barristers representing the campaign, will present their arguments to the court. 

In the meantime, a number of events have taken place on the green, including the creation of 74 white crosses to commemorate the 74 trees killed in the garden’s destruction, and a pedal-powered screening of short films about the garden. 

Another film screening is taking place this Thursday, May 2, at 7.30 pm, so please come along if you can. It’s part of the New Cross and Deptford Free Film Festival, and there’ll be a short introduction from campaigners, and snacks and drinks.

As the campaign continues, it’s also worth bearing in mind that the council remains embroiled in numerous other contentious developments across the borough: to name just a few, Amersham Vale, the former site of Deptford Green school, secretly twinned with Tidemill, where the homes could be built that would spare the Tidemill garden and Reginald House; and Besson Street, another potential replacement for Tidemill, where, instead, the council is entering into a partnership with Grainger plc, one of the country’s biggest companies making private homes for rent, which, shamefully, will involve it, for the first time ever, putting its name to homes at full market rent.

The most shameful recent development, however, is No. 1 Creekside, across Deptford Church Street from Tidemill, and next to the Birds Nest pub, where a private development was recently approved by the council, even though it had been well flagged-up in advance that it involves the destruction of trees by the side of the heavily polluted Deptford Church Street (whose pollution the trees at Tidemill had helped to mitigate until their destruction), and, in particular, that the developers had conceded that people living in the development would need to be advised to keep their windows shut at peak traffic hours, because of the pollution, and also that the development, insultingly, involves ‘poor doors’, separate entrances for owner-occupiers and those renting. 

After these facts were exposed by local journalists, including Crosswhatfelds and the Deptford Dame, the story was picked up on by the mainstream media, including the Guardian, the Times, the Daily Mail, Sky News and the Independent, whose coverage added to the council’s humiliation. 

And finally, as we mark six months since the violent eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, we’d also like to welcome some new players to the debate about questions relating to the environment, sustainability and social justice in Lewisham — namely, Extinction Rebellion, whose Lewisham branch secured a big boost in membership after the extraordinary central London occupations that began two weeks ago. 

We’re anticipating that they may well want to get involved in some creative campaigning, but for now, as we remember the violence of six months ago, and the council’s subsequent shambolic behaviour, it seems to me that a moment’s silence is appropriate to remember the beautiful green space and social space that was the Tidemill garden, and to reflect on how badly we are served by the councillors — and the unelected officials who actually take the decisions about how the council operates — who have an unaccountable Mayor and Cabinet system, and 100% of the available council seats, even though only around 20% of the registered electorate vote for them.

* * * * *

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, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, 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.

9 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, marking six months since the violent eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, which had been occupied for two months previously by campaigners — myself included — to prevent its destruction by Lewisham Council for a housing development.

    Six months on, the council has spent around £1.5m on the eviction and on guarding the garden from the local community, and has shamefully destroyed all the trees in the garden, but building work has still not begun, in part because campaigners have been challenging the council in court regarding the proposed eviction of the green next to the garden, where a protest camp was established after the eviction.

    To campaign requires hope — and our hope is still that the council and Peabody scrap their current plans, re-plant the garden, save the 16 flats of Reginald House next door, and come up with new plans for genuine social housing with the local community.

  2. Damo says...

    Tories, laBORE just two cheeks of the same saggy shriveled shit filled old arse.. Pigs in the same trough.. At least with the vile tories we know they hate us and want to harm us but laBORE are like the worst snakes in the grass so two faced yet were else is there to turn ukip I don’t think so lol that other party I forget what their called lol.. Where do they expect us to live at least in America they have trailer parks

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, that really ought to be the definitive verdict on the failures of the two-party first-past-the-post system, Damo! So “The Independent Party” isn’t memorable enough, eh? I quite like the potential for mockery involved – for example, that they’re independent of any actual support! And don’t forget the other new party, tipped to win big in the European elections on May 23 – yes, it’s F*ckwit Farage and his Brexit party! Has there ever been a bigger gulf in the UK? XR on the one hand, Farage’s miserable pack of gammons on the other.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Oops! Forgot that ‘The Independent Party’ is now ‘Change UK’, Damo! That’ll sort out all our problems, eh?

  5. Empty gestures says...

    […] If a local authority is really intent on making their borough carbon neutral, one of the things they would consider doing is planting trees wherever possible. Lewisham Council did the exact opposite by destroying trees in a community run pocket park as part of a so called ‘regeneration’ scheme in Deptford: Lewisham Council Still Mired in Controversy Six Months After the Violent Eviction of the Old Tidemil… […]

  6. Damo says...

    I just don’t trust or believe any of them the UK political system needs to be wiped clean and started again but we’re a divided society who could anyone believe?? Just seems Andy if your not the wealthy elites your being driven into the ground by both the tories and labour ukip would kill us and the other party’s are of no consequence

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    That sounds about right, Damo, although the most significant aspect of yesterday’s results, with the Greens and Lib Dems making advances, is that some of these people will be better councillors than the Labour and Tory candidates they defeated – although that isn’t, of course, why they got voted in, which was, instead, Remainers turning their backs on both Labour and the Tories.
    And then, in contrast, in many other places, voters turned their back on Labour and the Tories not because of their general failings, but simply because they’re rabid, endlessly psycho-angry Brexiteers, who have no interest in anything but trying to force a blinkered racist suicide note on all of us. What a mess.

  8. Damo says...

    You can imagine them twisted up in rage.. Coiled in fury.. LEAVE MEANS LEAVE.. Lol lol I saw a post on fb about a couple living in Spain who were rabid leave means leave, Andy their faces when told they would then not be covered by the nhs and would need medical insurance or pay for and medical services lol lol.. Need I say more

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    That captures the rabid Leaver insanity in a nutshell, Damo. What were they thinking?!?

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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, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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