The long-awaited planting plan for Turnham Green, the result of the discussions at and after the AGM of the Friends of Turnham Green that led to the #Cherrgyate controversy, was published in late November. Except that it wasn't what many were expecting. Background information was missing - no names and numbers of trees already on the green; no biodiversity and ecology context; no map showing existing trees against which to assess possible new planting. A map showing coloured shapes where new planting could be was clear but lacked detail. Consultation methods were far too limited, largely online. The survey was flawed not least because there was nothing to stop everyone from completing it half a dozen, a hundred or more times. Cllr Joanna Biddolph emailed Cllr Samia Chaudhary, cabinet member responsible for Hounslow's open spaces, and others asking for clarification and improvement.
I am writing to express the very strongest concerns about this "survey" and to ask that it be paused so it can be recrafted. It is far from ready. It does not to justice to this important open space. It doesn't meet the objectives agreed in discussions since the AGM at which the controversy first arose. It is of great regret to me that I have to ask for this but I cannot endorse the current plan.
There must be a consultation, everyone wants that, but it must be well-informed and fair and that means residents need more information; that information must be helpful not misleading; taking part needs to be easier for more people; the process is open to abuse and needs to be tightened; the timescale is absurdly short and needs to be increased; without additional information to compensate for the fact that it is winter and hard to assess impact of trees in leaf, the timing is appalling.
This is National Tree Week and this issue is being treated as if it were a nuisance the council wants to get out of the way. It appears as if LBH is not taking it seriously.
The survey appears to have been devised in a rush, without comprehensive thought of what is needed by residents and others who use the green to help them make informed responses. It does nothing to build a sense of trust or a sense of community, or defuse the division caused by the lack of democracy initially, or demonstrate that the council wants to do all it can to reach an outcome that will leave people feeling their views were heard. It does not take into account any lessons learned from the "consultations" and "surveys" held during the pandemic. Even if it has been considered in great detail behind the scenes, it appears to be inadequately thought-through. It does not build confidence. The process was challenged immediately.
I am responding both on my own account and because I have now heard from several residents who have said that the information provided, the process, and the timescale are wholly inadequate. It is clear it is renewing the division that arose around this issue initially, and it is causing increased division in Chiswick. This next stage had the potential to bring the community together. Instead, it has immediately created a great deal of anger, worsening the division. It requires much more thought and work.
These are the main and most serious concerns:
Lack of information: there is no context to help people decide what is best
- Where is the background explaining the reason for the consultation? This must, of course, be neutral and brief but it must not be ignored, even if it is difficult to draft. There is no mention of the AGM where the proposed cherry tree planting raised so much concern and what that concern was about (it was about the lack of democracy, the lack of any assessment of what was needed on the green overall, the lack of options, the lack of reasoning). There is no mention of the agreement that there would be a proper review of all the trees on Turnham Green with reasoned suggestions for what would be best where in relation to additional trees. There is no mention of the follow up to that AGM, that it led to a review of the constitution of the Friends of Turnham Green, nor is there any mention of what that has led to. There is no explanation of how the planting options have been reached - who has proposed what and why.
- Where is information on the current trees on Turnham Green? The map showing areas where new trees might go shows no other trees whatsoever; the result is that the map is wholly misleading. Officers might have that knowledge but the majority of residents have none or next to none. All existing trees should be shown on the map showing them to scale. In addition, there should be a list of the existing trees - each type, how many of each type, the benefits of each type - to help people decide what would be best for new planting. Instead, we have no information beyond some coloured shapes of land where new trees could be.
- Where is information on trees that have been lost creating gaps that need to be, or could be, filled? Some trees were lost in storms. Others have died or been removed. Logs on the green demonstrate that trees have been lost so it's not a secret but perhaps only half a dozen people know which trees have been lost from where and, therefore, where new trees could usefully be planted.
- Where is information on trees that have been lost but where there has been natural infilling leaving no gap to be filled? This applies, I know, to the existing rows of cherry trees where, in winter, there appear to be gaps between the trunks but there are no gaps when the trees are in leaf and blossom. This is valuable information which is needed to guide decisions about what could be planted where.
- Where is information on the new trees and the height they will reach, or the extent to which they will spread? Without this, and without information about what is nearby already, the choices are impossible to make.
- Where is information on existing bio-diversity and the gaps in bio-diversity that could be filled? There is nothing about the ecological benefits of each type of tree currently on the green and nothing about what could be usefully introduced or increased from which type of potentially new tree.
- Where is an explanation from an arborist? LBH has arborists whose knowledge is immense. Why hasn't that been drawn on or, if it has, where is the knowledge, advice and reasoning provided?
- Where is an explanation from an ecologist? Local resident Jan Hewlett has great respect for her extensive knowledge yet there is no information from her on the various options on the map and what is missing from or would benefit the green.
- Where is the information about the fact - fact - that Turnham Green should have an open aspect which means trees should be on the perimeter, not in the centre? This was one of the concerns raised by people who objected to the 2020 cherry tree option. Their objection was not primarily the problems created by fruiting cherry trees (despite scurrilous reporting claiming that was the reason) but also the location of the trees as well as the type of tree and the process for deciding which trees should go where.
- Where is the information about the fact that the setting of the Grade II listed church should be protected? There are already several trees close to the church; planting more will go against this very important well-established principle. Crucially, this is impossible to assess as the current map doesn't show where the existing trees are or what they do to the setting of the church when in full leaf or blossom. Many consider the church is already over-obscured.
- Where are photographs to illustrate important points? Photos should show the green when trees are in full leaf and/or blossom, in autumn to show colour, and in winter (is it important to have evergreen options?). They should show a variety of views and aspects. They should also show each type of tree already on the green and each type of tree proposed. Not to provide this very basic information means residents don't have the information they need to make a good decision; expecting everyone responding to look up each species wastes residents' time or puts them off from responding.
- Where is the link to the most recent review of the appraisal of the Turmham Green conservation area? This is important background which should be linked to the "survey" so the wider context is understood.
- Where is the proposal assessing the whole green? Since the 2020 decision to "postpone the planting so discussions could take place" discussions have focused on the tenet "the right tree in the right place" and the recommendation was that there would be a plan for the whole green, with reasoning. That is absent - yet it is fundamental to any decision. Any decision on the current suggestions neglects to look at the whole green - there is no information explaining why trees have been chosen and why their locations are appropriate.
Wider impacts including safety and anti-social behaviour
I raised this point when commenting on proposals to plant more trees on Chiswick Back Common - would they create either areas of darkness, raising concerns for people's safety, or convenient cover for anti-social behaviour such as drug dealing or mugging. That proved to be relevant and the planting plan was changed.
It is impossible to tell from the proposals for Turnham Green whether any of the suggested groups of trees, or specific trees, would create corners of concern, It is possible to say that another avenue of trees next to a path - or avenue of any tree that spreads across a path and shrouds out local lighting - will create dark spots as that currently happens along the existing avenue of cherry trees, particularly when they are in full leaf. We must be very careful not to build in increased risk, or increased fear, by injudicious planting. This point must be made in the background information that needs to be supplied, as explained above.
The process is open to abuse - as tested by me multiple times
When I first looked at the survey, and saw that there was no requirement to provide an address or an email address, or any other information that might restrict the number of times anyone can complete the survey, I wondered if it was open to abuse - that individuals could complete it more than once and therefore encourage others to do the same to skew the result.
So I have just tested it. I completed it four times, including by using two email addresses twice - see attached screengrabs. I could continue completing it as often as I like, without providing an email address and/or by providing the same email address multiple times. This is wholly wrong.
As it is possible for anyone and everyone to submit several responses, there is nothing to stop any individual or group from encouraging others to make multiple responses - skewing the result. This must be changed. It will be very easy to cause doubt on the outcome of this survey, regardless of the other concerns some of us have about the way it will be analysed.
Of course, any survey that uses email addresses as a limiting factor can still be abused by people with more than one email address. Even so, it is nonsensical to have no limiting factors - particularly as this is such a controversial issue.
NB: Please delete three of my responses; I have no wish to abuse the system, only to test it. I used my council email address: email@example.com and my personal political email address: firstname.lastname@example.org so please delete both of the responses using my personal political email address and one of my responses using my council email address.
Taking part needs to be easier for more people: much greater thought is needed to inform people about the survey, to enable them to respond
- Posters: These are too small. When the survey has been revised, posters need to be much larger and much more prominent as well as include information to encourage people to seek out more information and complete the survey.
- Library: While having paper copies in the library is a logical option, it is happening very late and with very little publicity - and in the run-up to Christmas when many already have competing priorities. The points above about the lack of essential information applies. There isn't enough information for anyone to make an informed decision whether online or on a paper version picked up at the library.
- Church: What has happened about this suggestion - the church being involved in promoting the survey? The points above about the lack of essential information applies. There isn't enough information for anyone to make an informed decision whether online or on paper picked up at the church.
- Phone number: Again, while this is a logical option, it is happening too late and in the run-up to Christmas. More importantly, I expect people who phone will ask questions about the trees - what each would bring to the green in terms of bio-diversity/ecology as well as what is already on the green, what the proposed new trees are like in the autumn, etc - which means those answering the phone will need that information. If they have it, it should be made available to all - but it hasn't been provided.
- Businesses: It is right to acknowledge the part the green plays in the lives of people who come to Chiswick to work but their connection with the green will be different from that of a resident; their understanding of the principles that need to be followed could be very low, perhaps non-existent. They will need more information, as explained above. Regardless, what is to be done to reach them? When the survey information has been revised, will you ask the Chiswick Shops Task Force to help promote the survey to business owners and their staff?
Timing and timescale
Both the timing and the timescale say more about wanting to get this irritant off desks than wanting to find out what people think, based on providing the information they need to make an informed decision. The timing - in the run-up to Christmas - is inappropriate.
There is time now to revise the background information needed to avoid accusations of treating this important issue without appropriate care and attention - and to allow for a longer consultation period to avoid the busy Christmas period - and still plant trees that must be planted during the winter, in the winter. Some of the suggested trees are best planted in autumn (already too late) or spring (months away) so delaying the outcome will not affect them.
There is no rush. The process must not therefore be rushed. There is time to provide more information, as required for such an important issue on such an important open space.
Survey analysis is flawed
While being "able to understand where those who have completed a survey live, which will be interesting" is a fact - it will be interesting - it won't necessarily disclose anything relevant such as whether all those who respond actually use the green. As happened during the pandemic consultations, people from all over the UK and indeed beyond the UK are on emailing lists of organisations and groups and might well respond - despite never having been to the green. We must set up a survey that minimises, not enhances, the chances of the results being skewing.
The survey is not ready
I urge you please to pause and provide the essential information our residents, and our business workers, need to make a good long-term decision for Turnham Green.
Councillor Joanna Biddolph | Turnham Green
Mobile: 07976 703446