Judge Sycamore and the Friends of Durning Library’s hellish Tree of Heaven 

tree of heaven durning library
tree of heaven durning library

Photo from Tradescant Road and South Lambeth blog. Copyright unknown.

There hasn’t been such a to-do about trees around here since the national press caught on to the Friends of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens support of Lambeth Council’s chopping down  of mulberry trees on the historic  site to make way for £300,000-worth of black concrete columns. The tangled tale of the Friends of Durning Library and their logjam over a Tree of Heaven has nothing to do with such vandalism. As with all that black concrete, however it has everything to do with Lambeth’s wastefulness. 

Now it’s probably fair to say that to a man and woman, the Friends of Durning Library are also friends of trees, usually, that is. But not of the species Tree of Heaven, or at least the one that Lambeth Council says ‘is located in the grounds of Durning Library’.  That’s putting it mildly, for this particular Ailanthus altissima (a fast growing breed) is ‘located’ around, beneath and above the English Heritage-listed Victorian library building itself. ‘Woodperson, don’t spare that tree!’might sum up the Durning Friends’ position. The Durning tree already projects well above the rear of the building. Roots and suckers, already strongly established beneath and beyond the structure, are reaching for adjoining properties. To hear the Friends of Durning Library talk, their infernal Tree of Heaven could soon be coming up through the library floor.

Lambeth councillors might from time to time wish that Trees of Heaven would throttle all the borough’s public libraries, so saving the council money and even more bad Press. For all that, there’s an expensive council consultation under way, ending Monday 23 February. This Tree of Heaven should be sent to meet its maker forthwith, the Friends of the Durning say. A Chinese immigrant, Ailanthus altissima has yet to make it onto the banned invasive species list, the garden-centre industry being no less vigorous in defence of this fast-grower than the Tree of Heaven is in self-defence.

Lambeth Council is terrified that its insurers will no longer cover the Durning if the tree stays. There is already ‘trespass’ of branches and roots onto neighbouring properties and if someone’s badly hurt, Lambeth’s consultants say, the personal liability could go all the way up the Lambeth Council tree to the new Chief Executive, Sean Harriss. If the council’s lawyers are good enough, the claims might not also cite Harriss’s predecessor Derrick Anderson, who left at the end of 2014, or  the Council Leader, currently Lib Peck.

The question of lop-or-leave has been in out of court for two years and may soon be back there. When Lambeth decided to lop in 2012, it did so without doing its homework. There was protest from a local resident or residents, one of whom is reputed to have said that the tree does a valuable good job in blotting out the view towards nearby council homes.

In 2013, the opposition secured an injunction giving tree a stay of execution, followed by permission to put the council’s decision to judicial review. In June last year, the exquisitely-named Judge Phillip Sycamore quashed the council’s decision because it failed to take account of the tree’s being in a Conservation Area. On the other hand, the Durning tree ‘belongs’ to Lambeth Council (as does the library), and is not subject to a Tree Preservation Order.  Lambeth might be free to reach for the chainsaw if the council can show that the current consultation does cover the Conservation issues, and that the Tree of Heaven is doing more harm than good to the Kennington Conservation Area. That’s assuming there’s no fresh legal challenge to the tree’s removal. Meanwhile, around the Durning Library ‘a number’ of other Trees of Heaven are now reaching for the celestial sky.

Had Lambeth Council done its homework before having a go at this Tree of Heaven, it could have saved many thousands of pounds of public money. But at least the lawyers are happy.

‘Tree of Hell threatens native plants’: www.independent.co.uk

Official report: www.lambeth.gov.uk

The stay of execution:


Friends of Durning Library: www.durninglibraryfriends.org.uk

The Blob: Now it blobs up in Oval and Kennington

aerial view of development area oval gasometers

aerial view of development area oval gasometersYour well-known local property developer Lambeth Council is this August to ask itself for the go-ahead to redevelop the lucrative gasometer site next to the Kia Oval.

This Lambeth will do in cahoots with a private developer, Berkeley, that via deals with the likes of Lambeth, leapfrogs the normal planning system. Berkeley assumes some of the role of a public body such as its partner Lambeth in the acceptance or rejection of applications for planning permission from the likes of itself, ‘itself’ being Berkeley. Or maybe Lambeth. Or maybe both. Call it Lamberkeley?

The chums have declared this plum development opportunity to be the ‘Oval and Kennington Development Area’. In a ‘Development Area’ whatever Lamberkeley wants to do it can and will.

Lamberkeley has engaged forty shillings, a PR firm that claims to be ‘opinion movers and opinion shakers’. This mover and shaker firm enables its clients to ‘take the essence of grassroots campaigning to build and execute bespoke campaigns that shift the agenda and get you results’.

The Oval and Kennington Development Area agenda is to be shifted between now and August when a ‘masterplan’ will go to Lambeth Council for ‘review’. Agenda-shifting kicks off with a six-week ‘public consultation’ in May-June.

Essential to ‘the masterplan process’ is ‘local input’. This ‘input’ will be put in via a ‘public feedback exhibition’ at the Kia Oval on Tuesday 24 February between 4pm and 8pm.

Lamberkeley have yet to say what they’re going to do to the gasometer site, but will give some idea at the exhibition, where Lamberkeley functionaries will be on hand to dodge such questions as ‘How is The Oval The Oval without a  gasometer?’ or  ‘Since Lamberkeley is judge and jury, what chance has “the public” got of making any changes Lamberkeley does not want?’.

What is ‘The Blob’?

Oval gasometers to go? (The Telegraph)

Oval and Kennington Development Area Masterplan exhibition material (from Wednesday 25 February)

The Blob: first it came for Vauxhall Bus Station, then it came for Vauxhall

the blob science fiction film 1958

the blob science fiction film 1958Well, dear resident of ‘Vauxhall’ did you know you no longer live in Vauxhall,?  Whatever you may think, you now apparently live in ‘Nine Elms on the South Bank’. Where? Never heard of it before? Well, according to ‘The Blob’, NESB ‘covers an area from the Albert Embankment at Lambeth Palace in the London Borough of Lambeth to Queenstown Road in the London Borough of Wandsworth’.

And ‘The Blob’?

Like ‘NESB’, ‘The Blob’ is another made-up word, this one borrowed from the 1958 and 1988 science-fiction films of that name. Back then, The Blob meant ‘an alien life-form, without soul or vertebrae, that consumes everything in its path as it grows and grows.’ Around here, it still does and as we see it in Vauxhall is presently composed of a faceless mass of local government functionaries and PR persons. Supercharged with money, public and private, and freed from local consent or regulation (such as a requirement that 40% of new homes should not be for the rich), The Blob slithers on and on.

Thus, you go to sleep in Vauxhall and wake up in NESB. Who says so? The Blob. Where did the Blob come from? Not from outer space, it seems, but from the office of the present and preceding Mayors of London, one Labour, one Tory, both of whom Think Big. So big that the thought became the deed, or at least The Blob. Around here, it began as ‘VNEB’ (for Vauxhall Nine Elms and Battersea). To this was tacked on ‘Opportunity Area’, so launching in the Middle and Far East a property gold rush along the Vauxhall bank of the Thames .

Blobbing along the riverbank little can grow in its wake except tall glass. It’s trying to do away with Vauxhall Bus Sation. Now The Blob apparently has engulfed and done away with ‘Vauxhall’ itself, a name dating back to the early 13th century. Vauxhall wasn’t consulted about being abolished in The Blob’s eyes, and there’s still a bit of Blob called the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership, but for how long the ‘Vauxhall’ bit will last, who can say? For box-ticking reasons, The Blob – through Richard Buckle, Head of Urban Design at the Mayor’s Transport for London – now seeks your thoughts on a ‘Public Realm Design Guide’. That’s the odd inch of green stuff between the swathes of ‘private realm’ or ‘all those absentee-owner flats and Chinese-owned hotels’.

Consultation (until 16 February):


What did The Blob ever do for you?


Save Vauxhall Bus Station online petition:

Sign the online petition

Read about the Save Vauxhall Bus Station campaign

Northern Line Extension: legal challenge withdrawn

northern line extension

northern line extensionLooks like it’s full speed ahead for the Northern Line Extension after the rapid-fire withdrawal of a High Court challenge to an Act of Parliament nodded through at Transport for London’s bidding.

The Transport Works Act OK’ing the start of building work on NLE sailed through Parliament on 13 October 2014.

But then notes for Lambeth Councillors ahead of the 9 February meeting of the Lambeth Cabinet referred to a ‘legal challenge’. A Thomas Bartlett had on 15 January been granted an injunction that would ‘delay the start of the [NLE] project, even if the challenge is quashed.’

But not to worry. Lo and behold, on 9 February, the very day of the Lambeth ‘Cabinet’ meeting, the High Court announced that Thomas Bartlett had withdrawn his objection. No details were given. A deal, it would seem, has been done. At a time of austerity and great financial and market uncertainty, Transport for London is now free to splash out vast sums of public money on an uncosted project of dubious value.

Except of course to Wandsworth developers and to TfL, which will operate NLE. With nobody willing or able to say how much NLE will cost, and given the propensity for public projects costs to balloon, it is still not clear that NLE will ever be completed,

Lambeth Council regards itself as a partner in NLE and is even putting money into it. NLE involves digging up Vauxhall to drive a second Tube tunnel under Vauxhall homes, many of which already have the noise and vibration from the Victoria line.


Read previous Vauxhall Society posts on the Northern Line Extension

Northern Line Extension hits a snag, but surprise, surprise, Labour Councillors find ‘early indications of strong support’ for ‘remodelling’ Vauxhall Bus Station

vauxhall bus station by christian richter

Did you know there are ‘early indications of strong support’ for the removal of the gyratory at Vauxhall and the remodelling of the bus station’? As far as The Vauxhall Society can tell, there’s no support at all for the ‘remodelling’ (i.e. halving) of Vauxhall Bus Station except for that of property-development partners Lambeth Council and Transport for London. As to the gyratory, it’s widely understood that it will remain, but become two- rather than one-way, in which case it will be as big a mess as it is now or else TfL/Lambeth would have designed it as two-way to begin with.

Be that as it may, this ‘strong support’ is noted on page 33 of the agenda for the meeting of the Lambeth Council ‘Cabinet’ on Monday, 9 February. Could it be that this very ‘strong support’ springs from Lambeth’s elective dictatorship, 59 line-toeing Labour Councillors to three Tories and one Green? Wherever this ‘strong support’ is located, it is enough for Lambeth to agree a business case for the project. In the meantime, council officials declare, the ‘main site’ has been marketed and ‘a new development partner’ is to be announced shortly. When not busy having fits about Chinese and Middle-Eastern civil rights records, councillors continue to hand out to the business and interests of these same regions planning permissions for ‘major development’ in Vauxhall/Nine Elms. Progress on these projects is being hampered only because they block out people’s right to light.

Lambeth and TfL previously announced ‘strong support’ for the Northern Line Extension (NLE) from Kennington to Wandsworth, again to oblige developers, support so strong that building work is now held up by a legal challenge to the necessary Transport Works Act approved on 13 October 2014. The NLE ‘consultation’ struck a new low in our public life and set the pattern for dodgy Lambeth/TfL ‘consultation’ from that day on.

How provoking if the Vauxhall Gyratory/Vauxhall Bus Station’ remodelling’ were to hit a legal snag similar to that holding up NLE. Who knows what the future holds?


Monday, 9 February Lambeth ‘Cabinet’ Agenda, all 321 pages of it

Kate Hoey: ‘You will now understand why the local community have been so clear that they did not trust TFL or Lambeth over the Vauxhall bus station plans. The community are usually proved right’

Vauxhall Bridgefoot TFL plans

Vauxhall Bridgefoot TFL plansWell, there you have it.

It’s as The Vauxhall Society has argued all along.

Transport for London is a property developer on the grand scale. Lambeth Council is TfL’s partner in Vauxhall, where travellers, buses and bus stations keep getting in the way.

And all the endless TfL/Lambeth ‘consultation/regeneration’ palaver about making the Vauxhall Gyratory two- rather than one-way? About the ‘need’ for doing away with Vauxhall Bus Station?

It’s all just that, palaver (OED: ‘talk intended to wheedle’). And wheedle? (‘to do a person out of thing by such action’). A smokescreen for property development.

TfL’s boss, Mayor Boris Johnson has announced that TfL is to become London’s largest commercial property developer.

No longer will TfL automatically sell ‘unwanted’ properties from its vast estate. Many will be retained to develop through commercial partnerships. Among the first of these ‘partnerships’? Why, Vauxhall Bus Station, of course.

Graeme Craig, TfL’s commercial development director, tells Property Week that his eye is on ‘development opportunities’ that include Vauxhall Bus Station, Kidbrooke Railway Station and Morden town centre.

In TfL’s book, one reason Vauxhall Bus Station has to go or be radically trimmed is to make way for shops. But The Vauxhall Society in the past has drawn attention to loose talk from a TFL employee about plans for a TfL skyscraper HQ on the bus station site.

If true, that would release for development another TfL site or sites in central London, or make TfL a big office landlord. The TfL announcement has prompted one man, Harvey Pettit, to investigate ‘rumours that TfL plans to build an HQ at the [Vauxhall] bridgefoot’.

Mr Pettit says that after looking closely at TfL drawings at a KOVF public meeting in December it became clear to him ‘that the reason for truncating the bus station was to release a tract of land at the bridgefoot’.

Mr Pettit backs up his contention with a TfL drawing of an oval space at the bridgefoot, adding ‘Curiously, the key does not indicate what this oval is meant to be!’.

He asks: ‘Do I detect [TfL] obfuscation as early as 2013?’ One of a number of TfL drawings he has annotated is one from January 2013. This reveals the ‘much reduced’ area to be occupied by the bus station if TfL and its partner, Lambeth Council, get their way.

The ground lopped off from the bus station, according to TfL, is being ‘released’ to make ‘a new public space and an opportunity for development’.

Observes Mr Pettit, ‘And so it seems that our bus station was planned as a sacrificial lamb all along’. He gives the last word to an artist, and rounds off his picture show with Evelyn de Morgan’s ‘The Worship of Mammon’.

The news that TfL has fessed up to playing the property game (‘to help bear down on fares’) has led Vauxhall Labour MP Kate Hoey to fire off a fizzer of an open letter to Val Shawcross, Labour’s transport spokesperson at the Greater London Assembly. It reads:

Dear Val
I presume that you will now understand why the local community have been so clear that they did not trust TFL or Lambeth over the Vauxhall bus station plans. The community are usually proved right. I take it you will be out defending the bus users and all who love the station rather than supporting a half sized bus station and a greatly reduced service for bus users who live and work and pass through Vauxhall.
Best wishes Kate

To which a clearly rattled Val Shawcross replied:

Dear Kate
I didn’t expect to see this – I had no warning from them at all. We will get all the details of what they are planning here, but my guess is that it is part of their programme to intensify their revenue income from stations by developing shops and cafés inside station facilities.

Valerie Shawcross AM
LONDON Assembly Member
Lambeth & Southwark
City Hall
The Queen’s Walk
London SE1 2AA
020 7983 4371

That Transport for London announcement

Sign the petition to retain the Bus Station

Vauxhall Bus Station: ‘Since when was it the job of English Heritage to do Lambeth’s dirty work for it?’

vauxhall nine elms aerial shot showing the roof of the bus station

vauxhall nine elms aerial shot showing the roof of the bus stationThat’s the question asked by respected transport blogger Daniel Wright as English Heritage refuses an application by The Vauxhall Society to list Vauxhall Bus Station as a building worthy of protected status, a refusal upheld on appeal to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

Vauxhall Bus Station, ten years old this year, is under threat from a coalition of Lambeth Council and Transport for London. They are vigorously opposed by The Vauxhall Society and the Save Vauxhall Bus Station community group’s online petition. Transport commentator Wright ridicules English Heritage’s judgement that the bus station’s ‘prominence and visual impact is compromised… by poor visual integration with its immediate surroundings’.

EH also asserts that ‘the external hard landscaping, designed by others, is utilitarian and relates poorly to the architecture’, affecting the bus station’s ability to’ act as a catalyst for regeneration’.

If so, that’s hardly down to the bus station, argues Daniel Wright. ‘The poor landscaping around Vauxhall Bus Station is the fault of Lambeth Council and TfL.’ The Vauxhall Society appealed against EH’s decision to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which then weighed in to ‘catch Vauxhall Bus Station in a trap’, ruling that ‘the bus station has failed to be a catalyst for regeneration, and the proof is that Lambeth Council wants to demolish it.’ In other words, Lambeth Council wanting to demolish the bus station is proof that the bus station deserves to be demolished. Doh!

Yet the poor surroundings don’t affect the inherent quality of the bus station, and EH overlooked its green credentials as an early example of solar voltaic cells being fully integrated into the design rather than added on later.

And as for ‘failure’ to catalyze ‘regeneration’, Daniel Wright points out that The Times (30 December 2014) ran an artist’s impression of all the ‘regeneration’ (skyscrapers) that are planned for Vauxhall–Nine Elms. And in the middle of all this pictured ‘regeneration’ we see… Vauxhall Bus Station. What’s more, The Nine Elms Vauxhall ‘public/private partnership’ promptly pounced on The Times picture for its website, Vauxhall Bus Station and all.

And who is a member and financial supporter of ‘Vauxhall Nine Elms’ (which is quietly dropping the ‘Vauxhall’ in its name)? Why, Lambeth Council of course.

The problem for the ten-year-old Vauxhall Bus Station, Daniel Wright says, is that the inherent quality of a building may not be apparent for decades after it is built. St Pancras Station (1888), he points out, was once nearly demolished in its early days – and look at it now.

Royal Academy exhibition names Vauxhall Bus Station as ‘best of its year’ in a century of British architecture:

Failing the grade? Vauxhall Bus Station, London, UK

Vauxhall Bus Station: make mine a Worthington?

Vauxhall Bus Station art competition
Vauxhall Bus Station art competition

Vauxhall Bus Station, as seen by a young local resident

Oh, dear. Could someone have shot Lambeth Council and Transport for London’s fox? The Save Vauxhall Bus Station community campaign is brandishing a new plan for the redevelopment of the Vauxhall Cross one-way gyratory. TVS member Martin Worthington’s plan, campaigners say, would deliver the two-way traffic system the powers-that-be have set their hearts upon. But it would also be cheaper than the Lambeth/TfL proposals, not least because there’d be no reason to do away with Vauxhall Bus Station. Indeed the bus station could be extended to handle even more bus routes. The Worthington Plan would shift to South Lambeth Road the ‘town centre’ ludicrously planned by Lambeth/TfL to replace the ten-year-old bus station. The Save Vauxhall Bus Station campaigners also say the Worthington Plan would mean much less noise, mess and disruption during building work, and much more simplified junctions, better and safer routes for cyclists, as well as green and pedestrian space.

Martin Worthington tells The Vauxhall Society:

‘This plan is based on my thoughts alone and based on the lack of any significant movement between each version of the TfL proposals.  I was worried something would get implemented (and a lot of money spent) without it being perfect.

‘My personal interest is I work on Bondway, and use the bus station and cycle regularly through the Gyratory.  I have been a witness to one accident and many near misses, and want to help ensure changes are made before more people are killed.

‘I tried to meet the objectives set out by TfL and then add on the other issues raised, such as retaining the bus station centrally,  and loading  busses from a single central island.’


‘Oh do stop messing about’, transport writer Christian Wolmar tells Lambeth councillors: www.wolmarforlondon.co.uk

The Oval Gasometers: how straight a bat are Lambeth and Berkeley Homes playing?

aerial view of development area oval gasometers

What to make of the latest load of ‘consultation’ now plopping onto Vauxhall doormats? Lambeth Council and house-builders Berkeley Homes are in cahoots to ‘develop a masterplan’ to build on the Oval gasometer site, decommissioned last year. Part of the ‘masterplan’ is to designate the land as a ‘Development Area’, which could mean releasing Berkeley and Lambeth Council from the council’s own requirement that at least 40% of the homes should be ‘affordable’.

This ‘consultation’ is off to a bad start, with a letter inviting local cannon fodder to a ‘one day feedback exhibition’ on a Tuesday, when the accompanying leaflet speaks of a Thursday and a Saturday. This ‘consultation’ is to grind on for at least six months, but given the council and the developers are partners in the grandiosely-entitled ‘Oval and Kennington Development Area Masterplan’, just how much of a toss would you say they give for what the locals think? Consider South London Press reporter James Cracknell’s story (18 November) that neighbouring Wandsworth pushed through planning approval for the redevelopment of New Covent Garden Market despite receiving more than 1,000 formal objections and not one, not one, comment or letter in favour? As the newsletter of The Vauxhall Society associate member, The Fentiman Road Residents Association, remarks ‘If you suspect that LB Lambeth politicians are over-inclined to think that they know rather better than you what is good for Vauxhall, you might be thankful that you don’t live in Wandsworth’.

That South London Press story in full, courtesy of www.slp.co.uk:
new covent garden south london press story

That Oval and Kennington ‘masterplan’

Catch-up on responses to Vauxhall Cross development

Vauxhall Bus Station: has thumbs-down from South London Press readers sent Lambeth Council shopping for support?

vauxhall bus station south london press story

vauxhall bus station south london press storyEach week that passes strips more and more credibility from the Lambeth Council and Transport for London PR campaign to kid people that doing away with or otherwise messing up Vauxhall Bus Station is a popular idea, except with property-developers, i.e. Lambeth and TfL. The area’s oldest-established newspaper, the bi-weekly South London Press, asked readers (19 December) to write in and have their say on Lambeth/TfL’s plans, for or against. And guess what? Of the six letters printed, only one was in favour of tampering to suit Lambeth/TfL’s property-development dreams. It is not clear but seems doubtful whether the writer was either around before we got Vauxhall Bus Station ten years ago, or if he was, is unable to remember what a risky, toxic place Vauxhall Cross could be for bus passengers. If not, he should be careful what he asks for. Just read the other five letters, apparently from people who were around, and you’ll see what a mess we had until we got the bus station, and what a muck-up we’re heading back to if feeble on-message councillors allow Lambeth and TfL’s bean-counters to get their way with the rigged ‘consultation’ campaign that the SLP readers so deplore. Even Vauxhall’s Labour MP Kate Hoey hates what Council Leader Lib Peck is up to. Meanwhile, the Save Vauxhall Bus Station Campaign’s online petition now has over 1900 signatures and rising. Who’ll sign now and push it over the 2000-mark?

Lambeth Council is spending your money on the Campaign Company, ‘an independent research and engagement company’ to ‘carry out engagement work… around the significant changes taking place in the area’ and ‘help the Council understand what people think and to get them involved in helping to shape the area’. So far, this outfit has interviewed 400 residents door-to-door in Princes, Oval and Stockwell wards, and picked out 50 ‘stakeholders’ (business and ‘community representatives’). The interviews cover not just Vauxhall Cross and the Transport Hub, but people’s views on what’s best about the area, the ‘challenges’ faced locally, how we think development has been managed and what we think should happen in the immediate future.

The report is due end of February and will be available online, unless perhaps the replies/conclusions are insufficiently ‘engaging’. 450 is a fiddling little sample, but for what it is worth, Campaign Company say they’ll read any email you send and may even phone you. You may have thought helping a council understand what people think is what councillors are supposed to do. Could it be that in a one-party state like Lambeth, the ‘Cabinet’ has to buy in advice because it already knows what councillors think, having told them what to think?

Email Will Heywood: will@thecampaigncompany.co.uk, copying in david@thecampaigncompany.co.uk.

Save Vauxhall Bus Station online petition