Outrage as developer fells mature trees in Walthamstow

Walthamstow residents are “bitterly disappointed and angry” after a developer cut down two mature trees despite a massive community effort to save them.

More than 50,000 people signed a petition urging Pocket Living to keep the horse chestnut and cherry trees at Ross Wyld Lodge in Forest Road, where it plans to build 90 new affordable flats.

Pocket Living cut both trees down on Saturday July 10, just over 12 hours after residents received an email explaining they would be felled “at the appropriate moment”.

Katy Little, who organised the petition, said the situation was handled “badly and insensitively”, adding: “The level of emotion around these trees has been largely dismissed.

“Many residents spent time talking to the Pocket Living development director, who was on site at the time of the felling and simply repeated the same spiel until the trees were at ground level.

“I could talk all day about the complete injustice of it all. We’re in the middle of the most serious climate crisis to date, yet lessons just aren’t being learnt or taken seriously.  

“The need for more housing across the borough is understood but why can’t this be done in harmony with established trees? Surely there is a better way of doing things?”

Waltham Forest Council granted planning permission for the new homes, which will be sold at 20 per cent below market-rate homes, last October.

A spokesperson for Pocket Living said the developer received “only two objections that mentioned trees” before October but had since “actively explored” if it could at least save the horse chestnut.

However, on advice from the council, it concluded keeping the tree would “unfortunately cause too many detrimental impacts”, such as “substantial disruption to the pavement and cycle lanes”.

They added: “We understand the strength of feeling in the community about these trees and that some people will be disappointed by their removal. 

“No decision to remove trees from a site is taken lightly. We have full permission and a clear legal right to continue with this course of action in order to build affordable homes. 

“We will be replacing the two trees with a semi-mature tulip tree as planned and there will be no overall loss in the number of trees on site once the development is completed.”

Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy wrote that she was “sorry to see a developer fail to explain themselves”, encouraging those “concerned by such bad faith behaviour” to raise it with the council.

The council’s cabinet member for housing, Simon Miller, released a statement two days later insisting the council “recognise[s] the strength of feeling among residents” and “share[s] their disappointment”.

He said: “Over the past five years we have planted over 10,000 trees, bringing the total in Waltham Forest to over 100,000 – more than at any point in our history.

“This year, we are giving every schoolchild in the borough the opportunity to plant their very own tree as part of the first-ever Waltham Forest great tree giveaway.

“The Pocket Living scheme will deliver 90 much-needed high-quality affordable homes for first-time buyers, to be marketed to local residents as a priority.”

Council leader-elect Grace Williams and Pocket Living’s development director also met with community campaigners last night.

Katy Little said they received “a promise which will not be forgotten” that the council will “learn from this” and strengthen its system to “protect trees in relation to private development”.

Little added: “Going forward, the energy this has created will not be lost and will be channelled into making positive changes.

“The Ross Wyld trees will not have died in vain if we can prevent this happening in the future and we are an extremely determined bunch.”

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter